A History of State Documents Classifications

Christopher Straughn
Northeastern Illinois University

This website is part of a larger project to trace the history of state documents classifications and to situate them within the context of library history and of history at large.

This website was originally created to accompany my poster presentation at the 2023 ALA Annual Conference & Exhibition. An expanded version was posted to the Library History Round Table's News and Notes blog.

Further information is needed for the following states:

Thank you to the many, many employees of State Libraries who helped me in this endeavor. Support funding for State Libraries!

A Timeline

I have had to guess at certain dates, as there is often little information on when a classification system was created or how. Whenever possible, I have provided the date that a system was created. Otherwise, I have defaulted to the earliest date available, usually the date a description of the system was published.

1870-1910: the Birth of Modern American Library Science


The American Library Association is established
Dewey Decimal Classification is published


Cutter's Expansive classification is published


First Carnegie Libraries are built


The Printing Act of 1895 establishes the role of the Government Printing Office and the Federal Library Depository Program


Adelaide Hasse introduces the earliest version of SuDocs classification


The Dutch manual of Archival Description and Arrangement is published


Library of Congress Classification is published


Universal Decimal Classification is published

From the beginning of World War I to the end of World War II, the conventions established in previous decades were generally sufficient for the operation of libraries. During this time a number of topic-specific schemes were created (e.g. Bellevue for nursing). Bliss Bibliographic Classification emerged at this time as well (1940-1953), although it had little success in the United States. The only major documents classification system created at this time was the League of Nations scheme, which lasted from January 1920 until April 1921.

1944-1961: the Post-War Era

Immediately after World War II, documents classifications tended to be universal in nature. That is, these systems could classify federal, state, local, and even international documents. These schemes also often organized materials on the basis of subject, rather than provenance.

The 1950s saw the introduction of the first classification system designed for the documents of a specific state. Designed by Mary Schell in the mid-1950’s, CalDocs classification demonstrated the need for provenance-based schemes that could adequately represent the structure of a state’s government. After this point, state documents classification schemes proliferated.


Swank's A Classification for State, County, and Local Documents


Jackson's A Notation for a Public Documents Classification
United Nations Classification Scheme is introduced




Mary Schell creates CalDocs


Sangster Parrott creates North Carolina Documents Classification

1962-1985: the State Documents Era

In 1962 a revision of FDLP governance expanded the number of possible depository libraries. Combined with post-war patriotism and a growing interest in government affairs, this led libraries that previously saw government documents as the purview of State Libraries to collect and disseminate government documents themselves. The mid-1970s saw a massive increase in the number of schemes created. This neatly aligns with three major events that further increased public interest in government affairs: the Vietnam War (1964-1975), the Watergate Scandal (1972-1974), and the U.S. Bicentennial (1976).

Of the many different schemes that were created, only some are still in use. Many State Libraries have reverted to Dewey or LC.

The fact that most GovDocs are now born digitial means that it is unlikely that new classification systems will be created.


Houk's Classification system for Ohio State Documents


Florida Atlantic University creates the Keyword-in-Context (KWIC) system
Kirkwood's Maine classification




Helgeson’s A classification system for South Dakota state publications


Anderson’s Illinois scheme at the Rockford Public Library




Nakata & Strange's Classification scheme for Illinois State publications











Undated Schemes

I have located a number of classifications for which there exists some documentation, but no information as to the history of the scheme:

Other Selected GovDocs Schemes

A variety of other GovDocs-specific classification systems have been proposed over the years. Many are able to classify state documents, but that is not their primary purpose. Aside from Swank (1941/1944) - mentioned above - these systems have had little impact on the creation of state-specific schemes.

Selected GovDocs schemes from Castonguay (1984)
Harvard1913SubjectLocal, State, County, Regional, National, Territorial, Foreign, International, NGO
League of WI Municipalities1932SubjectLocal, Regional
Rochester Public Library1939ProvenanceLocal, County, NGO
Glidden & Marchus1942SubjectLocal, State, County, Regional, National, Territorial, Foreign, International, NGO
NY City Planning & Housing Library1963SubjectLocal, State, County, Regional
National League of Cities/United States Conference of Mayors1970SubjectLocal, State, National
Plain "J"1972ProvenanceLocal, State, County, Regional, National, Territorial, Foreign, International, NGO
Harvard revised1973SubjectLocal, State, County, Regional, National, Territorial, Foreign, International, NGO
SUNY Albany1973ProvenanceLocal, State, County, Regional, Territorial
University of Nebraska1973ProvenanceLocal, NGO
UT El Paso1976ProvenanceLocal, State, County, National, International, NGO
University of Dayton1980ProvenanceLocal, County, NGO

Family Trees

Classification systems seldom arise out of thin air. Rather, they are usually inspired by other systems. This appears to be the case for Adelaide Hasse's creation of SuDocs, which likely took inspiration from developments that were occuring in archives at the time. I have identified a number of family trees of state documents classifications, either through direct acknowledgement in their documentation or through examination of their structure.


  • ARDocs
  • LADocs
  • Nakata & Strange (IL)
  • OHDocs
  • Chicago Public Library (IL)
  • Kirkwood (ME)
  • KSDocs
  • WyDocs
  • Florida Atlantic KWIC
    • AZDocs


  • TXDocs
  • Helgeson (SD)


  • SCDocs

What Systems Do State Libraries Use?

Although many unique state documents classifications have been proposed, the most successful are those created and maintained by State Libraries. Many of the other systems are employed at just one or two libraries, while the State Library employs Dewey or LC classification.

Map showing classifications employed at State Libraries Alabama Alaska Arizona Arkansas California Colorado Connecticut Delaware Florida Georgia Hawaii Idaho Illinois Indiana Iowa Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Maine Maryland Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota Mississippi Missouri Montana Nebraska Nevada New Hampshire New Jersey New Mexico New York North Carolina North Dakota Ohio Oklahoma Oregon Pennsylvania Rhode Island South Carolina South Dakota Tennessee Texas Utah Vermont Virginia West Virginia Wisconsin Wyoming District of Columbia How do State Libraries Classify Their Materials? *For states without a State Library,the State Law or Judicial Library was consulted.†Neither Delaware nor Georgia has a state library or state law library. Dewey LC Swank Unique * * *



General Resources

Castonguay, Russell. 1984. A Comparative Guide to Classification Schemes for Local Government Documents Collections. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.

Dale, Doris Cruger 1969. “The Development of Classification Systems for Government Publications.” Library Resources and Technical Services 13.4: 471-483.

Hartman, Ruth D. 1975. “Bibliography of Classification Schemes Used for State Document Collections.” DTTP: Documents to the People 3.4: 23-24.

Hartman, Ruth D. 1976. “Bibliography of Classification Schemes Used for State Document Collections: Supplement Number 1.” DTTP: Documents to the People 4.5: 23-25.

Jones, Denise. 2023. “GODORT Affiliate: State Documents Collaborative Group.” Last modified April 12, 2023. https://godort.libguides.com/State-Docs-Collaborative-Group.

Lane, Margaret T. 1981. State Publications and Depository Libraries: a Reference Handbook. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.

Morrison, Andrea. 2023. "Cataloging Toolbox for State & Local Government Information." GODORT. https://godort.libguides.com/catstates.

Rosenkoetter, Paula. 1973. "Treatment of State Documents in Libraries." Government Publications Review 1: 117-134.

Straughn, Christopher. 2023. "Documenting Classification Systems: A Case Study and Considerations" Library Resources & Technical Services 67.1: 16-25. https://doi.org/10.5860/lrts.67n1.16.

Classification Schemes

Anderson, P. Genene. 1972. "Classification Scheme for State Documents." Illinois Libraries 54.6: 426-429.

Black, Elsa and Carl Cross. 1993. Arizona Documents Classification System. Phoenix: State of Arizona Department of Library, Archives and Public Records Research Division.

Classification of Iowa state documents by the State Library of Iowa. 1982. Des Moines: State Library of Iowa.

Classification Scheme for Hawaii Documents. 1970. Honolulu: Hawaii State Library.

Foos, Ferol and Alison Foster. 2002. Louisiana State Documents Depository Manual: a Handbook for Participants in the Louisiana State Documents Depository Program. Baton Rouge: State Library of Louisiana. http://www.state.lib.la.us/empowerlibrary/STATE%20DOCUMENTS%20MANUAL%202002%20FINAL.pdf.

Harmatuck, Loretta and Sally J. Drew. 1994. Wisconsin Document Depository Program: Manual for Depository Libraries. Madison: Wisconsin State Department of Public Instruction.

Hatfield, V. Sue. 1983. Kansas State and Territorial Documents Classification Scheme, Encompassing Materials Issued from 1854 to 1982. Emporia, KS: School of Library and Information Management, Emporia State University.

Helgeson, Estella Hansine. 1971. "A Classification System for South Dakota State Publications." South Dakota Library Bulletin 57.2: 185-190.

Houk, Judith Ann. 1962. Classification system for Ohio State Documents. Columbus: Ohio State Library.

Inness, Virginia J. and Florence Winslow Jones. 2019. Colorado State Publications Classification Schedule. Denver: Colorado State Library. http://www.cde.state.co.us/sites/default/files/docs/stateinfo/CSPCS2019.pdf.

Jackson, Ellen. 1946. A Notation for a Public Documents Classification. Stillwater: Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College.

Kirkwood, Richard E. 1966. "Suggestions for Classifying Offical Maine Publications." Bulletin of the Maine Library Association 26/27:3-4.

Mages, Keith C. 2011. "The Bellevue Classification System: Nursing's Voice upon the Library Shelves." Journal of the Medical Library Association 99.1:40-50.

Missouri List of Classes 2002. 2002. Jefferson City: Missouri State Library.

Muir, Loise. 1972. "State Documents and Classification Scheme: Discussion with Linda DeFato." in Government Publications...Awareness is the Key. Proceedings of a Workshop, edited by Jane A. Julien. Flagstaff: Northern Arizona University.

Nakata, Yuri and Michele Strange. 1974. Classification Scheme for Illinois State Publications: As Applied to the Documents Collection at the Library, University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, Chicago, Illinois. Urbana: University of Illinois Graduate School of Library Science. http://hdl.handle.net/2142/3824.

Nebraska Library Commission. n.d. "Guide to Nebraska State Agencies." http://nlc.nebraska.gov/Govdocs/guide.aspx.

New Mexico State Library Technical Services Bureau. n.d. "New Mexico State Documents Classification System." https://docs.google.com/document/d/14EX0Fed_VUNHb13RohqXoxS3xDLRu1VhbMiCD7XaSfg/pub.

New York State Library. 1995. Nydocs: New York State document classification system: the arrangement of New York State documents in libraries. Albany: University of the State of New York.

Sanders, Nancy, editor. 1969. A keyword-in-context index to Florida public documents in the Florida Atlantic University. Tallahassee: Florida State Library.

Shelton Olds, Brenda F. 1976. Texas State Documents Classification & Almost Compleat List of Texas State Agencies from Statehood to the Present. Austin: Legislative Reference Library.

South Carolina State Documents Classification System. 1986. Columbia: South Carolina State Library.

Swank, Raynard. 1941. A Classification for State, County, and Municipal Documents. Boulder: University of Colorado Libraries.

Williams, Janet L. 1992. WyDocs: the Wyoming State Documents Classification System. Cheyenne: Wyoming State Library.