Science and Technology: Government Documents

comp bookOver the past decade, the United States federal government has shifted from a paper-based to a digital system for information dissemination providing anywhere, anytime access to government information. The introduction of new online tools and websites is providing easier access to information from a wide variety of government agencies. Librarians will find many of these new information sources useful in addressing the needs of information seekers.

According to Johnson (2014, 17),

“The federal government has made considerable investments in health information technology, providing the national information structure that has supported the work of health information professionals…However, little evidence supports that this infrastructure has improved the health literacy of the public at large.”

Government Documents LibGuides of interest include:

Government resources are useful in many social science areas. Explore the following government information sources and think about how they might be used to address library client questions.

General Science and Technology Resources

Many individual agencies are focused on specific areas of science and technology. However, a few agencies provide leadership in the general area.

The National Science Foundation "promotes the progress of science and engineering by supporting research and education" (US Govt Manual).

Many government agencies are working together to create cross-agency gateways that allow easier access to information. For instance, 19 organizations in the area of science work together to produce science.gov. This website allows visitors to search for authoritative information available at government websites. It also features web-based projects such as SuperTracker. This website allows users to look up nutritional information, track food intake and physical activity, set goals, and save recipes.

try itTry It!
Explore the Science.gov. Choose one of science topics from the list. Explore three of the website in this area. What types of questions could be addressed with information from this website. List the name and URL of three websites. Then, write three questions and answers that could be found using these information sources.

Scenario Stumper
I keep hearing conflicting information about the impact of fracking on water quality and the chemicals used in the process. What are the facts?
The USGS has recently released two new reports on hydraulic fracturing. You can read the Scientific Investigation Report and the companion Data Series online.
The Bottom Line: The practices for fracking have evolved since the procedure was first applied in 1947. You can find details about the chemicals used in the process in the report.

Library of Congress has many historical resources related to science.

LibGuides can be useful sources for government information. For instance, do a search for Libguide government information science technology and you'll find Government Information Sources in Science & Technology from St. Mary's University.


The Department of Agriculture "develops agricultural markets, fights hunger and malnutrition, conserves natural resources, and ensures standards of food quality through safeguards and inspections" (US Govt Manual). Resources include:

United State Department of Agriculture Library is a good place to go for additional information sources.

The Department of the Interior "protects America’s natural resources and heritage, honors our cultures and tribal communities, and supplies the energy to power our future" (US Gov't Manual).

Scenario Stumper
I'm planting a garden for the first time. Many of the seed packages refer to choosing the right seed for my zone. Can you help me find my zone?
Information about farming, gardening, and ranching can be found at US Department of Agriculture websites. The seed packets are referring to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone. You can use the map at the US Department of Agriculture website. Or, simply enter your zip code and it will tell you your zone.
The Bottom Line... the hardiness zone is based on average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones. The numbers go from 1-12 with subzones in some cases.

Science Agencies

Agencies across the federal government handle science agencies.

Air and Space Science

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration "reaches for the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research to benefit all humankind." (US Govt Manual)

Air and Water Science

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the Department of Commerce includes the following resources:

Scenario Stumper
I think I felt an earthquake. Did anyone else feel it? Is there somewhere I can check?
The USGS Earthquake Hazards program monitors and reports earthquakes. The Did You Feel It? website is where people can check for recent earthquakes and even provide their own reports. Some states also maintain their own reporting systems.
The Bottom Line... Yes! You can see the earthquakes on a map and even report your experience.

Energy Science

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is a good starting point for information related to energy.

The Department of Energy "advances the national, economic, and energy security of the United States; promotes scientific and technological innovation to support that advancement; and ensures the environmental cleanup of the national nuclear weapons complex" (US Govt Manual). Examples include

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management website provides information about oil and gas energy programs, renewable energy programs, environmental stewardship, and regulations and guidance for area along the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) along the east and west coasts.

Scenario Stumper
What coastal areas of the United States have the greatest potential for offshore wind power?
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management provides information about Offshore Wind Energy. A discussion of needs along with a map showing wind speeds can be used to make some choices.
The Department of Energy provides a map and information about offshore wind projects.
The Bottom Line: There is lots potential for offshore wind power along the coastlines of the US.

The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (U.S.NRC) websites provides information about nuclear reactors, nuclear materials, radioactive waste, and nuclear security. The NRC Library contains basic references, ADAMS (Agencywide Documents Access and Management System) public documents, photos and videos, and other documents.

Scenario Stumpers
Could the disaster resulting from the nuclear disaster in Japan happen in the United States?
The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (U.S.NRC) website contains in-depth information regarding all-aspect of nuclear energy concerns. Doing a quick search for Japan brings up a page titled Japan Lessons Learned containing a wealth of documents related to this topic.
The Bottom Line: "The NRC has taken significant action to enhance the safety of reactors in the United States based on the lessons learned from this accident.

Environmental Science

The Environmental Protection Agency "protects human health and safeguards the environment" (US Govt Manual. Resources include:

United States Department of Agriculture has information and databases related to flora and fauna.

The United States Department of Interior contains information about protecting federal lands.

Scenario Stumpers
I've been told that a vine growing along my fenceline is Japanese Honeysuckle and I should get rid of it because it's an aggressive invasive plant. It has flowers and fruit so the birds love it. How do I identify it? When I go to Google Images, I'm not sure if it's the correct plant.
To be sure, go to the USDA's PLANTS Database and do a search for Japanese Honeysuckle. Be sure to check Common Name. You'll find a map with the invaded areas and lots of high-quality images you can check against your plant.
The Bottom Line... it's best to use USDA's PLANTS Database rather than your neighbors for advice on plants.

Across Agencies

Agencies across the federal government area focused on environmental issues. In the executive branch, information can found from the following groups.

Medical and Health Information

Medical and health information can be found at a number of different government agencies.

The National Network of Libraries of Medicine provides an excellent starting point for information about medicine.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services "strengthens the public health and welfare of the American people by making affordable and quality health care and childcare accessible, ensuring the safety of food products, preparing for public health emergencies, and advancing the diagnosis, treatment, and curing of life-threatening illnesses" (US Gov't Manual).

Scenario Stumper
My husband wants to go on a Disney Cruise with the grandchildren, but I'm a little freaked out by all the food poisoning that seems to happen on these ships. Is there a place I can go for information about their safety records?
The Center for Disease Control maintains a database of cruise ship inspections.
The Bottom Line... A search for Disney ships shows that all four have ratings of 99 or 100. You can also view the report.

Databases of interest from the National Institutes of Health include.

According to Forte, Hartnett, and Sevetson (2011, xviii), PubMed has provided a "prominent role in the movement toward open access to scholarly, medical, and scientific literature."

The United States Department of Agriculture has lots of information about health.

Many websites for children contain quality health information

For more ideas, go to Health Care Links.

try itTry It!
Spend some time exploring the institutes within the National Institutes of Health. Each institute focuses on a different area of health. Everyone has family health connections. Librarians are often involved in assisting library users in locating health information for their family members. Choose one of the institutes that's connected to you or your family personally. List the name of the institute, the URL, and your personal connection.

try itTry It!
Explore the Center for Disease Control website. Notice that some areas contain information for particular audiences such as children, parents, nurses, doctors, or researchers.

Safety Science

Many agencies explore the science of safety.

The United States Department of Labor "promotes the welfare of job seekers, wage earners, and retirees by improving working conditions, advancing opportunities for profitable employment, protecting retirement and health care benefits, matching workers to employers, strengthening free collective bargaining, and tracking changes in economic indicators on a national scale" (US Gov't Manual).

The Consumer Product Safety Commission "protects the public by reducing the risk of injuries and deaths from consumer products." (US Govt Manual)

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission "ensures compliance with occupational safety and health standards in the Nation's surface and underground coal, metal, and nonmetal mines." (US Gov't Manual)


Technology is woven through the United States government. For example, Research and Innovative Technology Administration from the Department of Transportation.

The DigitalGov website is a good place to start an exploration of technology.


Forte, Eric J., Hartnett, Cassandra J. & Sevetson, Andrea (2011). Fundamentals of Government Information: Mining, Finding, Evaluating, and Using Government Resources. ALA Neal-Schuman.

Johnson, David J. (2014). Health information seeking behaviors. In J. Huber & S. Swogger, Introduction to Reference Sources in Health Sciences, Sixth Edition. ALA. Google Preview Available: https://books.google.com/books?id=UJr9AwAAQBAJ

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