Access to the College Green area of campus will be restricted until further notice. PennCard holders and some Penn affiliates may enter and exit Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center through the Rosengarten Undergraduate Study Center on the ground floor, and may enter and exit the Fisher Fine Arts Library through the 34th Street entrance to Meyerson Hall. See our Service Alerts for details.

This policy governs the Library's collecting activities regarding documents issued by foreign national governments and international governmental organizations (IGOs). Although these publications have different issuing agencies, they share similar distribution networks and are usefully linked in the collection development process. The Library has the largest collection of such materials in the Delaware Valley and is an important resource for area students and faculty. All documents, whether domestic, foreign or international, are housed at the appropriate place in the stacks by subject or in the Microforms Section. Members of the Reference Department are best able to help readers identify and locate documents. The Library does not maintain a separate documents unit.

Accordion List

Documents of foreign national governments and IGOs are selected like other materials to support the research needs and curriculum of the University. Older documents comprise primary source material for historians, and recent documents are of greatest interest to the various social science departments and programs, and those programs of the Wharton School which have an international business component, e.g. the Lauder Institute.

  1. Foreign Governmental Documents

    The Library has collected documents from foreign countries since its foundation in the eighteenth century, and for this reason the strongest distinctive feature of the collection is its historical depth. However, only the most general observations can be made about collection patterns over this long span of time, and the reader must search diligently (and often with the aid of a librarian) before concluding that the library lacks what is sought.

    At Penn, documents are catalogued, and the principal means of bibliographic access will therefore be Franklin and the card catalogue. In addition, the Reference Department compiles in-house documentation on British government publications, foreign government publications and United Nations and international governmental organizations publications, which the reader is advised to consult for more detailed information. It is important to note that the Biddle Law Library has extensive holdings of foreign documents, access to which is provided by LOLA, Biddle's online catalogue and through its card catalogue.

    The historical collection, housed mainly in Van Pelt and, due to space considerations, in storage, is especially strong in nineteenth-century legislative and diplomatic documents (including treaties) from Great Britain, France and Germany and includes lesser collections of Austrian and Russian documents. There are extensive holdings of the Journal Officiel, which includes, among other things, the debates of the French parliament, legal texts, and administrative decrees and orders. Many of these collections are now on microfilm. The library has maintained complete parliamentary publications from the United Kingdom to the present day and continued to purchase French legislative materials until around the mid-1980s. Other historical collections are strong up to the 1970s.

    A distinctive feature of Penn's foreign documents collection is its extensive holdings in material from the countries of South Asia. Since the PL 480 program began in the 1960s, the library has acquired numerous documents from South Asia, many of which are routinely sent to the Biddle Law Library.

  2. Documents of International Governmental Organizations

    The Library has an extensive collection of documents issued by international governmental organizations. It is a depository for documents issued by the Bank For Reconstruction and Development (World Bank), the European Community, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the United Nations.

    The Library has been a depository for the United Nations and its principal organs since its inception in 1945. The depository publications include materials published by the principal organs of the UN: the General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, Trusteeship Council and the Secretariat. Most special bodies such as the Disarmament Commission are also included. However, specialized agencies are not included in this arrangement but Van Pelt purchases all UNESCO books and pamphlets in English. WHO is collected by Van Pelt and Biomedical selectively while Lippincott selects some FAO materials in English.

    Documents from the European Union date from 1964. These materials are dispersed throughout the library facilities depending on subject. Van Pelt retains materials in the social sciences while legal and judicial and legislative materials are in Biddle Law Library, and Lippincott houses the economic and business titles.

1. Chronological

There are no chronological limits, but in practice most documents currently acquired deal with contemporary affairs. Older documents are acquired as demand and resources permit.

2. Formats

About evenly split between microform, electronic and paper format. Access materials, e.g. indexes, are now almost exclusively acquired in electronic form.

3. Geographical

There are no geographical limits, and most nations are represented in some type of publication.

4. Language

No language restrictions. When material is offered in several languages, English is chosen.

5. Publication dates

Current materials primarily.

Some of the publications of foreign governments are purchased directly from the issuing agencies, and others are purchased on microform from the commercial suppliers. Manuals and statistical handbooks come primarily through the sponsoring government.

Bibliographers regularly review the Journal of Government Information and the special annual documents review of Library Journal. The most substantial outline of the materials from foreign governments is the Guide to Official Publications of Foreign Countries (1997) sponsored by the Government Documents Round Table of the American Library Association. Two guides by Vladimir M. Palic still remain useful: Government Publications: a Guide to Bibliographic Tools (1975) and Government Organizational Manuals: a Bibliography (1975).

Foreign Documents

The Library collects statistical handbooks, central bank publications, and government manuals as extensively as possible, and such additional items as historical inventories, museum catalogs and national atlases as need and resources permit. Beyond this general policy, however, acquisitions patterns vary widely based on local need.

Legislative documents are acquired from the United Kingdom and from the countries of South Asia.

The Library also collects extensively the following types of materials: registers which list the organization and officials of a particular government, specialized statistical handbooks, and official collections of foreign policy documents.

Documents of International Governmental Organizations

United Nations


Van Pelt Library is a depository library for nearly all printed and "letterhead" UN documents and publications in English, including periodicals. Some of this collection is retained in paper, but most is held in microform and in machine-readable form via the Internet. The depository program does not include material published by the specialized agencies of the UN, such as WHO, UNESCO, and FAO. These are received separately. In addition to the depository program, Van Pelt purchases all UNESCO books and pamphlets in English.


World Health Organization


Van Pelt and Biomedical acquire WHO publications selectively.


Food and Agriculture Organization


Lippincott has a standing order for some FAO yearbooks in English.


European Union


Penn has been a depository for EU publications since 1964. The collection is dispersed among three libraries: Biddle Law Library generally contains the judicial and legislative documents, the Lippincott Library contains most EU documents relating to economics and business and Van Pelt has publications pertaining to the political and educational aspect of the EU.

No subjects are excluded other than those that are excluded in other policies.

Biddle Law collects the statutes in official or unofficial format for the following countries: Australia, Canada and its provinces, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, South Africa and the Ukraine. Codes are selected from more than twenty-five countries, legislation from about forty countries and Supreme Court reports from five. The primary consideration is that they be available in English. They have a subscription to Polish parliamentary proceedings and commercially produced collections of labor law and intellectual property law.

All GATT / World Trade Organisation documents are purchased except tariffs. This collection goes back to the beginning of GATT. Other collections include: some ILO Legal material, Council of Europe including parliamentary proceedings; all International Court of Justice. Collections of texts for Labor Law and International Law.

The Demography Library has extensive collections of foreign census materials and is noted for its strong collection from Africa. It complements the Van Pelt Library holdings.