All or Mostly Online Federal Depository Libraries

  • Last Updated: August 30, 2022
  • Published: November 20, 2014

The Federal Government and GPO have shifted toward the publication of online resources, and many Federal depository library collections reflect that shift. In August of 2014, GPO revised the Legal Requirements and Program Regulations of the Federal Depository Library Program so that FDLP selective depository libraries no longer have any required item numbers to select. Therefore, new selective libraries joining the FDLP can create a depository collection that is entirely comprised of online resources. Current selective libraries who have tangible publications in their collection may utilize established selection profile and weeding processes to shift to a more online focus within five years.

A mostly online depository is a selective depository library that emphasizes selection of and provision of access to online depository resources. They only select a few Federal depository resources in tangible (print, microfiche, CD/DVD, maps, etc.) formats, and weed or have weeded the bulk of the library’s historical tangible collection.

An all online depository is a selective depository in the FDLP that is not selecting any tangible depository resources by item number and does not intend to add any. Current selective depository libraries may transition to become all online over time by deselecting all tangible format item numbers and by properly weeding all tangible depository publications in the library’s collection. The transition to become all online is expected to take five years for current depositories because of the five-year publication retention requirement for most Federal depository resources.

Note: Libraries do not receive digital files or copies of electronic content when they select an online (EL) item number. While libraries are not required to select online item numbers, reasons for selecting them are outlined below.

Online depositories must continue to provide free, public access for patrons in person, just like other Federal depositories.

FDLP Value and Mission Continue

Every library that joins the FDLP commits to providing free, public access to the tangible publications distributed and online resources cataloged by GPO, and to providing assistance with that material to users. Tangible materials distributed through the Program remain Federal property and must be maintained and handled accordingly. Online FDLP resources may be made visible through library catalogs, Web pages, or other means.

Each depository library should evaluate its own goals, institutional mission and strategic values, and user communities to determine what materials to select or make accessible through the FDLP. Libraries should continuously revisit these factors over time.

The value of participating in the FDLP includes:

  • The tangible and online materials identified, cataloged, and distributed (when in tangible format) by GPO
  • Access to subscription-based agency databases
  • Access to cataloging records from the national authority on U.S. Federal publications
  • The FDLP network of expert government information librarians
  • Educational opportunities related to U.S. Government information
  • The unique possibilities for significant collaborative work among GPO and FDLP libraries for the advancement of government information services and collections in all formats
  • Helping libraries advance government information literacy, an area that is essential to all library users and all fields of study
  • The collections and services of regional Federal depository libraries

The mission of the FDLP does not change when libraries opt to work with all or mostly online materials. In general, the following applies to ‘all online’ and ‘mostly online’ depositories:

  • All depository libraries are subject to FDLP Legal Requirements and Program Regulations, including management of any tangible publications previously and currently received through the FDLP, and to providing free, public access.
  • The library must provide access to FDLP content and remain a visible depository library through substantial efforts towards cataloging, development of Web pages or guides, or other methods that highlight online resources for the community.
  • The library building must be open to all depository users, including primary users and the general public, and reference services must be provided by knowledgeable library staff, so that patrons may access depository resources in all formats.

Online Depository Collections

When describing online depositories, reference is commonly made to the library’s online “collection”, a group of online resources that the library chooses to focus on. This consists of online Federal information products that the library determines best meet the Federal Government information needs of the community served. The information products include:

Resources are identified through selection by item number or other review, such as systematic review of the CGP New Electronic Titles Lists. They are made visible and promoted to the user community through a combination of ways, including activities such as cataloging or inclusion on library Web pages or guides. Reference and other public services are provided for them. Public services and visibility are naturally focused on areas that take advantage of the subject expertise of the library and those that have been determined will best meet the information needs of the community.

Determining preferred publication formats for your library

While the primary consideration regarding the selection of a publication for the library collection is whether the information content falls within the library’s subject scope, you should also consider the following when deciding upon format(s) to collect.

Perform a community review to determine patron format preferences
  • Identify if patrons prefer any titles in particular formats based on available usage data, patron requests or surveys, importance of various titles, etc.
  • Identify the long term needs for the titles, and whether one format is more suited for future patron access. Frequency of publication, a library’s previous holdings, or any difference in the content of different formats may be factors.
  • Consult with the regional depository library and others to determine if any formal cooperative collection development agreements are in place or if informal agreements are in place for libraries to select and retain certain publications. Any changes in your collection should be shared with other libraries that may rely on your library for patron referrals.
Review public services assets, limitations, and needs
  • Access considerations:
    • Bibliographic access for different types of formats
    • Physical building, collection locations, and space allocation
    • Onsite computer and Internet access
    • Building security
    • Americans with Disabilities Act compliance
    • Access by all user groups, including the general public
  • Equipment availability/collection housing:
    • Microfiche reader/printer/scanner (if the library holds that format)
    • Computer access
    • Photocopies, printers, disk drives, storage devices, scanners
    • Library building or alternate housing site space/storage capacity
  • Reference services:
    • Interlibrary loan
    • Instruction classes
  • Staff time and training
    • Who will build (catalog, link to, etc.) the collection?
    • How will staff share news and other information about future resources?
  • Promotion/visibility
    • How will the collection be promoted or made visible?
    • If the collection is uncataloged, how will patrons learn about it?
Consider the benefits of keeping and/or selecting tangible resources

There are many reasons why a library might want to continue selecting, receiving, and building a collection of tangible depository resources. These could include:

  • Some publications are preferred by users in paper format.
  • Paper may offer more security for preservation and access.
  • A core collection, with historical or current materials in tangible formats, may benefit the needs of many users.
  • Some content is not online.
  • Online access features may not be user-friendly.
  • Some online resources are not official like their print counterpart.
  • Some agency Web sites only provide access to the current issue of online resources.

Depending on the findings of the community review and the assets, limitations, and needs of the library, adjust the goals of the future collection accordingly.

Strategies to Become an All or Mostly Online Depository

After determining the collection needs and goals of your selective depository library, you can click on one of the five strategies below:

For existing depository libraries


Strategies For the Historic Collection I currently have, I want to... For the Future Collection being developed, I want to...
Transition depository collection to an all online depository  ...Weed everything I currently have in my tangible collection ...Only work with new online depository material
Keep some or all of the tangible collection and only work with new online depository material ...Keep some or all of my tangible collection ...Only work with new online depository material
Work with all formats ...Keep some or all of my tangible collection ...Work with a mix of new online resources and new tangible receipts



For new depository libraries
Strategies I want to...
Join the FDLP as an all online depository library ...Join as an all online depository library
Join the FDLP as a mostly online depository library  ...Join as mostly online depository library that collects both tangible and online material