Access to Collections

  • Last Updated: January 14, 2022
  • Published: October 15, 2012

Collections are Federal depository resources in all formats that meet the Federal Government information needs of the general public.


Unpacking depository materialNew depository shipments must be unpacked in a timely manner. Timely processing of new receipts is important to provide satisfactory access, as the content of most depository resources is time-sensitive.

If materials are temporarily housed in a staff area while being processed (e.g., you are waiting for a monthly load of bibliographic records), the publications should be arranged in some finding order to facilitate retrieval if requested by a library user. All library staff should be aware of how to retrieve these resources for use as needed.


Your library must be able to provide services supporting access to your depository collection in a reasonable timeframe. The timeframe for delivery of depository and non-depository services must be comparable. The library must have hours of serve that best suit easy access to depository resources.

Bibliographic records (i.e., catalog records, shelflist, or other piece level records) must be readily accessible by the public. Bibliographic control must be available for all items distributed to depositories. At a minimum, public services personnel must facilitate the practical use of the collection for patrons.
At reference desks or virtual reference, patrons should be able to obtain assistance with the identification of relevant depository resources. Library staff must provide the timely, appropriate degree of professional expertise and assistance to the patrons. Patrons should receive guidance on the use of depository resources and relevant secondary resources such as indexes, databases, search engines, and other reference resources.

Regional depository libraries must provide interlibrary loan and reference services to staff at their selective depositories within a reasonable timeframe.

Housing Location

Libraries must house depository materials in a manner that facilitates timely access. Once processed, resources should be available either in open stacks, or retrievable from closed stacks and remote storage. When using other housing arrangements, librarians need to consider how alternate storage methods affect patron access to the material and make adjustments accordingly.

Tangible publications housed in remote or offsite storage facilities must be retrievable for all library users within a reasonable and comparable timeframe.

For more information about access to materials in closed stacks or remote storage, see “Best Practices for Storing and Retrieving Depository Materials in On-site and Off-site Storage”.

You must continue to provide free, public access to materials if your library experiences a temporary disruption of service that is out of the ordinary (e.g., building remodeling, collection relocation). Your options for providing access are through retrieval of tangible publications and/or access to electronic equivalents where feasible.

Your library may not be able to provide service in as timely a manner as normal during periods of disruption. In order to meet a patron's timeframe, you may refer patrons to another library where you know that needed resources are located. Alternately, you may share resources through the regional depository library or other libraries.

For more information on contingency plans, see Depository Users and Service Expectations.

Physical Access

The depository operations' environment must provide access to and promote use of depository resources. The depository operations should be well lit, clean, and have sufficient work space and seating. Library equipment must facilitate use of the depository resource content, including viewing, downloading, photocopying, and printing.

DVDs and CDs
The library must allow for circulation of that material or provide another way for patrons to access the content in question when the media format for a depository resource cannot be used within the library. Make arrangements to assist users with access if your library does not have computers to install and run CDs or DVDs. If your library does not have the equipment to install and run CDs and DVDs, you must circulate the resources or provide alternate means of access to the content.
Microfiche readers must be available in libraries with depository issued microfiche. Providing additional capabilities for microfiche readers, such as printing, scanning, and saving or sending digital files generated from microfiche resources are strongly encouraged.
Regional depository libraries are responsible to assist selective depository library staff with reference questions and interlibrary loan. If you are at a regional depository library you will want to maintain microfiche equipment with as many capabilities as feasible.

Content that is on tangible electronic media may also be available online; if so, the library has the option to provide alternate access to that content.

If you are unable to assist a patron with an urgent information need, contact your regional depository, other Federal depository libraries, or your resource sharing network for assistance. No one library is able to meet all potential library user needs. Regular networking with other libraries and cooperative collection development will support access to materials that a library does not hold.

Web Page Filtering

Mediated services must be available to ensure access to official FDLP information if state laws, network security measures or other factors require filtering of Web sites. Depository libraries should advertise or otherwise communicate available workarounds to the filters. Library-wide signage and policies must communicate these workarounds as well.


All facilities housing depository materials must meet the standards set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Libraries that are unable to meet ADA requirements must have advertised workarounds so all researchers may acquire needed services or material.

During a public access assessment, GPO may ask you to describe access to building entrances, seating areas, stacks, public computers, and other areas within the library. Additionally, you may have to describe access to building entrances, seating areas, stacks, public computers, and other areas within the library. You are strongly encouraged to provide assistive technologies for access to electronic resources.

Learn more about library ADA requirements at:

Department of Justice