The framework of the present depository library program was established in 1857when a resolution was passed directing that printed documents be circulated to the public through official sources. In 1859, the statutory authority and responsibility to distribute all books printed or purchased for the use of the Federal Government was given to the Secretary of the Interior, except those for the special use of the Congress or the executive departments.

In 1860, Congress established the Government Printing Office to serve its printingand binding needs as well as the needs of the Executive Branch. The Printing Act of 1895 relocated the Superintendent of Public Documents from the Department of Interior to the Government Printing Office. Today, this position continues to be an important function ofthe Government Printing Office in disseminating Federal information to the public through both the depository library program and publications sales program.

Congress established the Depository Library Program based upon three principles:

  1. with certain specified exceptions, all government publications shall be made available to depository libraries;
  2. depository libraries shall be located in each State and congressional district in order to make Government publications widely available; and
  3. these government publications shall be available for the free use of the general public.

There are Regional Depository Libraries which receive all publications of the Depository Library Program. There is usually one Regional per state with some exceptions.
There are selective depositories which receive a portion of the U.S. publications available.Most of these were designated as depositories by Congressional District; in 1969, a category of selectives was created for law school libraries.

There are two Regional Depository Libraries in Texas. The one serving the selectives in the Houston Area is the Texas State Library in Austin. The other Regional is the Texas Tech University Libraries in Lubbock.

The U.S. selective Depository Libraries in the Houston Area are: Lee College, Carlson Learning Resource Center in Baytown; Rosenberg Library in Galveston; Houston Public Library; North Harris College, Learning Resource Center; Rice University, Fondren Library; South Texas College of Law Library; Texas Southern University, Thurgood School of Law Library; University of Houston, M.D. Anderson Library and O'Quinn Law Library; and University of Houston - Clear Lake, Neumann Library.

Chapter 19 of title 44 of the U.S. Code is the authority for the establishment and operation of the depository program.

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