May 15, 2022

New CRS Report: Federal Depository Library Program: Issues for Congress

Direct to Full Text CRS Report (22 pages; PDF)
via Federation of American Scientists


R. Eric Petersen
Specialist in American National Government

Jennifer E. Manning
Information Research Specialist

Christina M. Bailey
Information Research Specialist


Congress established the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) to provide free public access to federal government information. The program’s origins date to 1813; the current structure of the program was established in 1962 and is overseen by the Government Printing Office (GPO). Access to government information is provided through a network of depository libraries across the United States. In the past half-century, information creation, distribution, retention, and preservation has expanded from a tangible, paper-based process to include digital processes managed largely through computerized information technologies.

The transition to digital information raises a number of issues of possible interest to Congress. This report discusses those possible concerns as they affect FDLP. These issues, which are in some cases interrelated, may not only affect FDLP, but also extend beyond the program to a variety of contexts related to the management of government information in tangible and digital forms. Issues include the following: maintenance and availability of the FDLP tangible collection; retention and preservation of digital information; access to FDLP resources; authenticity and accuracy of digital material; robustness of the FDLP Electronic Collection; and the costs of FDLP and other government information distribution initiatives.

The emergence of a predominantly digital FDLP may call the capacity of the statutory authorities GPO exercises into question. Whereas GPO is the central point of distribution for tangible, printed FDLP materials, its responsibilities are more diverse, and may be less explicitly specified, regarding its distribution of digital information. In some instances, GPO carries out activities to distribute digital information that are similar to its actions regarding printed materials. In other instances, GPO provides access to digital content that it does not produce or control. The agency has archiving and permanent retention authorities for tangible materials, but those authorities do not envision digital creation and distribution of government publications. Digital distribution authorities provide for online access to publications, but are silent on GPO’s retention and preservation responsibilities for digital information. These concerns may be addressed in their own right, or in the context of user demand for FDLP information, for which there is no uniform metric.

A number of efforts related to FDLP have been initiated by GPO and groups representing a number of libraries that participate in FDLP. These have included certain regional library activities; studies of the program by a private organization; proposals by a consortium of FDLP libraries to advance the consolidation, digitization, and cataloging of tangible collections; and a study of FDLP coordinated by GPO.

See Also: An increasingly-digital FDLP could challenge GPO authorities, says CRS (via FierceGovernmentIT)

See Also: Digital information may strain GPO and library system, CRS says (via

Direct to Full Text CRS Report (22 pages; PDF)
via Federation of American Scientists

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.