GPO Historic Shelflist

The GPO Historic Shelflist is the U.S. Government Publishing Office's (GPO) historic card catalog covering tangible U.S. Government documents from the 1870s to October 1992. The cards were digitized in 2012, so that a copy of the Shelflist can be maintained for cataloging projects, and for any future internal processing needs. The GPO Historic Shelflist contains:

  • Over one million digitized 3x5 cards arranged in Superintendent of Documents (SuDoc) order;
  • Bibliographic information for U.S. Government documents from all three branches of the Government in a variety of formats including monographs, maps, serials, microfiche, and posters;
  • Digitized cards representing documents that were distributed to libraries in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) and documents that were not distributed but required by the Cataloging and Indexing Program, as required by U.S.C. Title 44;
  • An estimated 455,000 OCLC digitized cards that were produced by GPO through OCLC beginning in July 1976; and
  • An extensive collection of bibliographic information, but not a complete inventory of publications distributed through the FDLP.

Shelflist Projects and Descriptions

Project 1: Transcription of cards (Complete)

In January of 2010, the GPO began working with contract staff to transcribe the approximately 600,000 relevant cards into MARC 21 records. Contract staff created brief bib records, enhanced with one Library of Congress Subject Heading, and one corporate name authority. The project contract ended on 12/31/2018. Contract staff had cataloged 75% of the HSL drawers.

Project 2: Digitization of Cards (Complete)

As part of its records management requirement, GPO is planning for the eventual transfer of the Shelflist to the National Archives and Records Administration. By digitizing the Shelflist, GPO will be able to maintain a copy for any future internal processing needs. The digitization project was completed in April 2012.

Project 3: Cleaning Up the Catalog (In Progress)

GPO staff are working to create a clean and accurate resource in the CGP. This step involves the resolution of SuDoc classification problems and the identification and resolution of duplicate records that occur after Shelflist records are in the CGP. This is an ongoing project, and will continue into the foreseeable future.

Project 4: Cataloging of Cards (In Progress)

The GPO began a new contract in October of 2021 to catalog the approximately 66,000 to 88,000 remaining cards into MARC 21 records. These records are then made available through the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP). As part of the cataloging, holdings and item records for continuing resources are being created as well. GPO is also enhancing the records by adding one Library of Congress Subject Heading and one corporate name authority.

How to Locate and Retrieve Shelflist Records

The processed Historic Shelflist records are available through the CGP. The records are identifiable by the phrase "Historic Shelflist" in the 955 field of the MARC record display. Federal depository libraries are able to retrieve these records for their own use by searching the CGP (conduct an ‘expert’ search with the phrase “wcat=historic shelflist”), by searching OCLC, or via Z39.50. Historic Shelflist records are also included in the monthly CGP On GitHub record set (a specific record set of the Historic Shelflist is not yet available), and in the Catalog Record Distribution Program (CRDP). For more information on utilizing these sources of GPO cataloging records, please see the Sources of GPO Cataloging Records webpage.

The CGP also has a dedicated collection for HSL records, which can be searched by specific criteria (see Catalogs to Search “Historic Shelfist” at the top of the CGP home page,). For example:

Searching the HSL record collection on the CGP with the phrase “Drawer 20”

Yields 550 results