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Hawaiian 605: Ka Hana Noi'i (Research Methods): Search Tips

Introduction to Government Documents

Publications vs. records

Government publications refers to works published by  a government agency either in print or online. Government records arer the individually recorded transactions of the government. In libraries, the term government documents refers to publications, while government records are unpublished and are usually stored in archives or records centers. Together, government publications and records constitute forms of government information. Understanding the difference between government publications and government records will help you to know where to go to find this information, or whether there is any possibility of viewing it.

Example: Census surveys

Individual responses to census surveys are records stored at the Census Bureau. They are embargoed for 72 years, at which point they are released by the National Archives.

Aggregate census data is published continuously. It usually takes two to three years for data to be aggregated and published. However, reporting of census data and other types of data is subject to population thresholds to preserve privacy.

Political Jurisdiction

To complicate matters further, it can sometimes be difficult to determine which government agency is "in charge" of an area or issue. For example, let's look at invasive species. At the federal level, you might expect that invasive species generally would fall under the Fish and Wildlife Service. However, there are dozens of agencies whose mission includes invasive species. For example, the U.S. Geological Survey has a division that deals with plants and animals. Even the U.S. Army has an environmental command that engages in habitat restoration and invasive species removal on Army lands. Confused yet? Remember who inspects your luggage for forbidden plants and animals at the airport? That's right, it's the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And let's not forget the National Marine Fisheries Service, which deals with marine animals.

At the state level, a variety of agencies may also be at work keeping out invasive species or working to control or eradicate them. Here are some examples:

Hawai`i Invasive Species Committee (part of the Department of Land and Natural Resources) coordinates efforts across the Hawaiian Islands.

California has a long list of agencies and organizations that monitor and combat invaders.


Online Availability

Federal government information is usually available online back to the late 1990s. While some historical data has been scanned and is online, it often happens that there has been no effort to digitize the older material.

Where to look for online versions of government documents:


Internet Archive

Google Books

Agency repositories, e.g.,

Pitfalls in full-text searching

  • Uncorrected Optical Character Recognition (OCR)-generated text
  • Misspelled words, especially Hawaiian names and place names

Search Engines is a search engine that searches federal, state, and local government web sites. It offers an advantage over Google because commercial and personal web sites are eliminated from the search results. There is also an A to Z index of federal government agencies.

Use Google, Yahoo, or your favorite search engine to restrict your search to a particular domain. For example, if you only want to search the EPA web site, enter your search like this:

Alternatively, use the Advanced Search option, which can be found under the settings menu in Google or Yahoo: