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Federal Government Documents Tutorial

SuDoc numbers

Most depository libraries arrange their federal documents collections using a call number sequence that arranges the material by the issuing agency, not by the materials' subject matter.  This arrangement is chosen for pragmatic reasons:  it's quicker to use numbers that GPO supplies along with the publications than it is to send the federal depository material through the technical services processes within the library.

A trade-off to using these numbers in documents collections is that they may not remain constant over time.  If the agency that publishes a given document is shifted from one department to another, or undergoes a name change, a new spot in the classification scheme will be made for the agency's new place in the government's organizational chart.  The Homeland Security Department, created in 2002, resulted in a large number of call number changes in documents collections.

The same title may have multiple call numbers in a documents collection.  Here's what has happened to one title over the course of sixty years:

The Child
L 5.35: v. 1 - v. 10 1936 - 1946
FS 3.207: v. 11 - v. 15 1946 - 1950
The Child became...
FS 3.207/2:
FS 14.109: v. 10 - v. 14 1963 - 1967
FS 17.209: v. 15 - v. 16 1968 - 1969
HE 21.9: v. 17 - v. 18 1970 - 1971
Children became...
Children Today
HE 21.9/2: v. 1 - v. 2 1972 - 1973
HE 1.459: v. 3 - v. 6 1974 - 1977
HE 23.1209: v. 7 - v. 14 1978 - 1985
HE 23.12: v. 15 - v. 24 1986 - 1997

This numbering scheme, used in most depositories for federal documents, is called the Superintendent of Documents (or SuDoc) classification system, named for the office within GPO that sends documents to depository libraries.  Material on your topic could easily be separated throughout the federal document collection.  It won't all be in one place, and so it is impossible to browse a SuDoc collection as you might browse for books in the main collection in the D.H. Hill library.

"A Practical Guide to the Superintendent of Documents Classification System," and a list of the call numbers used in the federal documents collection, are found in the publication, Guide to U.S. Government Publications.  This tool is frequently identified solely by its editor, Andriot.  The most recent copy of "Andriot" is available at the Reference Desk at Z1223 .Z7 G8.

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