San Francisco Public Library was designated a federal depository library in 1889. The Federal Depository Library Program is part of the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) under Title 44 of the United States Code. Depository libraries provide free, local access to publications of public interest and educational value from all branches of the Federal government. The SFPL collection is one of the largest and oldest in Northern California and includes documents in many formats, including print, maps, CD-ROMs, DVD-ROMs, microfiche, microfilm, and online. Subject strengths include census publications for all decennial censuses, economic censuses, statistics, annual reports, legislation, statutes, codes, regulations, treaties, military history, and major publication of federal departments, for example, the U.S. Geological Survey's Professional Papers or the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Bulletin. Congressional publications include extensive holdings of the Serial Set, hearings and House and Senate reports and documents.The collection is partially accessible to the public in the reference area on the 5th floor but, because of the size of the collection, most documents have to be requested from the staff. Bibliographic access to the collection is through the online catalog or the in-house card catalog. Several databases, available through the library's Electronic Resources, are also finding aids to the collection. The databases are WorldCat, GPO, Congressional Universe, and Statistical Universe. The collection does not circulate but CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs can be borrowed for a short time on special permission.
With the increasing reliance upon the Internet to disseminate government publications, depository libraries provide computer equipment for library users to access online and other electronic government information. Depository libraries also make available the following GPO services to help users of all ages find Federal information:
- GPO Access is mandated by law as the official government information online source.
- U.S. Government Online Bookstore is the official source for Federal Government publications sold by GPO. It provides easy online ordering.
- Ben's Guide to U.S. Government for Kids serves as the educational component of the government, providing learning tools for K-12 students, parents, and teachers. It has a locator service to other U.S. Government Web sites developed for kids.
There are 23 Bay Area libraries that are also part of the Federal Government Depository Library Program. Federal depository collections are available for use by everyone. These collections include documents in print and electronic formats on a wide range of topics. The size of the depository collection will vary from library to library.