Category Archives: Courts

Government Information 101: Part 2, Gov Resources

Uncle Sam With Magnifying GlassIn the previous post, I discussed the basics of U.S. government (its levels, branches, and how to approach finding government information). Now I'll list some of the best places to find government information, both by government branch and with a list of popular documents. First, here are a few places to start a search for government information, particularly when you're not sure what branch or agency might have collected the information that you need:

Government Resources, by Branch

Information for many federal government agencies is centrally located in FDsys (the Federal Digital System).

Legislative Resources

Executive Resources

Judicial Resources

Other Popular Government Areas & Documents

Government Information 101: Part 1, U.S. Gov Basics

New to the U.S., or just need to brush-up on some government basics? Here's a quick run-down of U.S. government at various levels and how to find government information. (I'll be writing two follow-up posts that tell where to find primary source information for each branch of government, and show an example of a gov info search.) First, here is a U.S. government chart and three basic guides to the federal government:

Levels & Branches of Government

The United States has several levels of government: federal, state, and local (county/city). Federal is the overarching national government, which has three branches:


NYC Borough Counties:

Each state has its own government which echoes the federal government in its three-branch organization. The Legislative branch is composed of the state senate and house (or assembly), the Executive branch is composed of the Governor and typically many departments (structure varies by state), and the Judicial branch is composed of the state court system, headed by the state supreme court. There are different local government offices at the county and the municipal (city/town) level. Typically, cities follow a similar pattern to federal and state government, with a Mayor acting as the chief executive officer of a city. Usually, a county is larger than and encompasses many cities and towns. However, New York City is made up of five boroughs, which are each actually counties (listed at right).

What Topics are Covered by Government Documents?

The U.S. government covers a surprising number of programs, and thus data and information is available on nearly any topic you can think of, including:

  • Data & Statistics
  • Health & Vital Statistics
  • Politics & Law
  • Business & Economy
  • Treaties
  • Scientific & Medical Research
  • Technology
  • Intellectual Property (patents, trademarks, copyright)
  • Historical Events (primary resources)
  • Consumer Information
  • Grants
  • Starting & Financing a Small Business
  • Recipes & Nutrition
  • Maps
  • Education, Teacher Resources
  • Rules & Regulations
  • …and you can use Browse Topics or the US Gov Portal to find more!

Some of the few topics that aren't covered well in U.S. gov info include:

  • Literature
  • Arts
    • Exceptions: arts funding (NEA, NEH), nonprofit finances, & some gov-funded museum exhibits are covered; in addition, Whistler briefly worked for the Coastal Survey and produced engravings
  • Music
    • Exception: music copyright and copyright cases are well covered

CRS Reports on Journalists’ Privilege

Looking for Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports on Journalists’ Privilege?  CRS Reports examine Supreme Court and other court decisions and legislative proposals related to journalists’ privilege and rights to refuse to disclose information on sources in news gathering. 

Try these 2 sources: 

Open CRS  (freely accessible to public; note:  reports do not become public until a member of Congress releases the report, so not all reports will be available through Open CRS.)

  1. in the Search Open CRS box, type:   journalists’ privilege
  2. click Go

Lexis Nexis Congressional (Columbia University Libraries subscription database; use UNI and password to authenticate)

  1. click on "Congressional Publications" in the menu on the left
  2. go to the Advanced Search tab
  3. uncheck all the boxes except "CRS Reports
  4. (1916-present)"
  5. in search box, type:  journalists’ privilege
  6. click Search

Congress Shall Make No Law Except…

This periodically updated report on exceptions to the First Amendment comes from the Congressional Research Service, and is archived on the website of the Federation of American Scientists, since the CRS does not have its own public website. The report summarizes Supreme Court interpretations of freedom of speech and press.

How to…Get the AP Day Schedule

If you want to pull up the New York daily schedule from the Associated Press, and are not in a Journalism School computer lab with access to the ENPS system, just connect to Factiva) (access restricted to current Columbia affiliates). 

Once connected, in the “Free Text” box at the top, type:

nyc daybook

exactly as they appear above.  Then, select a date or date range (e.g. In the last week, In the last day, Enter a date range, etc.)

BEFORE running the search, verify under the “More Options” section at the bottom that the option to exclude “obituaries, sports, calendars” has not been checked (if it has, just un-check it).

Then, run your search!