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Newsletter of the Federal Depository Library Program

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Cumulative Table of Contents Vol. 1 - present [ PDF ] ( includes current issue )

August 15, 2003

GP 3.16/3-2:24/10
(Vol. 24, no. 10)

Physical Copy vs. Web: How Reliable Are Online Versions of U.S. Federal Publications?

Permanent public access (PPA) to Federal publications was historically provided through the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) with its network of partner libraries located across the United States and in U.S. territories. In recent years with the emergence of the online environment, the implementation of GPO Access and the transition to an electronic depository library program, this responsibility has shifted to the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO). While clearly not the only Federal agency with a responsibility for the permanence of information, GPO has been a leader in establishing a broader understanding of the PPA commitment in the Federal information community.

GPO made a strong commitment in the early stages of electronic information to provide permanent public access to online Federal publications. PPA is achieved by maintaining GPO Access files, archiving publications from other agency Web sites at the time of cataloging and by entering into partnerships with Federal agencies and depository libraries. This strategy is described in "Managing the FDLP Electronic Collection: A Policy and Planning Document" that is online at <http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fdlp/pubs/ecplan.html>.

One of the avenues for including a Web publication in the FDLP Electronic Collection is GPO bringing that publication under bibliographic control. GPO cataloging records for Web publications include persistent links to the online content. These Persistent Uniform Resource Locators (PURLs) are verified on an ongoing basis, and any nonfunctioning links are restored. In addition, GPO downloads and archives a copy of any Web publication that lacks a tangible counterpart in the FDLP.

At present more than 60% of the publications made available through the FDLP are online publications. Public Printer Bruce R. James recently forecasted that soon this percentage would reach 95%. Online publications are accessible through the hyperlinks contained in the bibliographic records of the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP), available at <http://www.gpoaccess.gov/cgp/index.html>. The New Electronic Titles (NET) service alerts users to online titles that were recently added to the CGP. NET is online at

Depository libraries are permitted to substitute online versions for their tangible copies, provided certain stipulations are met. PPA is one of those stipulations. The substitution guidelines, which were implemented in May 1999, are online at <http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fdlp/coll-dev/subguide.html>.

Currently GPO is working with the depository library at the University of Arizona on a pilot project to develop an electronic depository collection. The University's selection profile is used as the basis for this project. The yearlong project, which began September 1, 2002, focuses on identifying and changing formats to online electronic resources whenever possible. For more information on the University of Arizona/GPO pilot see:

Title 44 of the United States Code is the statutory authority for GPO's Federal Depository Library Program, the Cataloging and Indexing Program, and current and permanent access to Federal electronic information. GPO takes this mandate very seriously and would not consider taking action that might jeopardize the public's access to its Government's information. If GPO questioned the reliability and stability of online information, the transition to an electronic depository library program would not be happening, electronic depository collections would not be considered and libraries would not be allowed to substitute tangible materials for online publications. In fact the online environment allows GPO and depositories to provide increased access to publications referred to as "fugitive documents." In the tangible publication paradigm, documents whose printing was procured outside of GPO frequently were not available for distribution to depository libraries. Today, in the online era, publications formerly unobtainable in tangible format are identified, cataloged, archived and made accessible to the public.

If there are any questions about online Federal publications or related issues, please send them to askLPS@gpo.gov.