Looking for government documents is an important part of Legal Research. Whether you’re sourcing for a journal, trying to find an old committee report, or looking for some legislative history, most law students don’t escape the clutches of legal education without having to look through some federal government publications.
While there are free sources that provide access to government documents, coverage, availability, and location can be challenging to navigate. Publications can be spread across several different sites, each containing different coverage and search interfaces. This is why, when a student swings by the reference desk to ask about researching federal government documents, I send them to Proquest Congressional.
Proquest Congressional is an expansive collection of government documents. It includes historic congressional bills, member records, hearings, debates, executive orders, and much much more. Typically the coverage goes back to the 1700’s to the initial publications of the United States and sometimes even before. If it is a government document cited in a brief, article, or case, I would bet that Proquest Congressional has it.
Beyond containing a lot of information, it also has simple, intuitive navigation. The advanced search allows you to pick which collection to search without presenting an overwhelming number of options. It also provides several fields which are incredibly useful if you’re looking for a particular person, date, or piece of legislation. The “search by number” function, available in the Legislative and Executive Publications dropdown menu, makes searching for a citation a breeze. Search by number provides prompts for almost any congressional document with fields designed to change with the selected publication. This way, there is never a question about how to enter a citation, where to put a dash, or how to abbreviate a publication.
Proquest Congressional is something everyone should explore. While you might not need it on a day to day basis, knowing the navigational basics makes you a much more powerful researcher. The day that a government publication question comes, and trust me it will, a basic knowledge will let you find what you’re looking for in minutes instead of hours. You’ll look like a gov docs whiz and impress the boots off of your editor, professor, or boss.