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In the broadest definition, government information is a government publication or other information product created or compiled by employees of a government agency, at government expense, or as required by law. It is the provenance, rather than the format, that makes the information unique.

A government information product is a discrete set of government information in a tangible physical format or made publicly accessible via a government electronic information source. The format may be a book or monograph, a periodical, a map, or a machine readable data file made available on compact disc or over the Internet. Papers and correspondence generated within government offices which are not "published" or made publicly available are considered part of the agency's records or archives.

International intergovernmental bodies, such as the United Nations, frequently make a distinction between "document" and "publication". The term "document" is used to designate written material officially issued with the agency's symbol regardless of the form of reproduction; in practice, it is applied mainly to material offset from typescript and issued under a mast head. "Publication" is interpreted as written material which is issued by the body to the general public or made available for sale. The electronic dissemination of information has blurred the distinction.

This material is based on the Web site created to support a series of colloquia in historical research offered by the Yale University Library. The initial site was prepared in August 1996 by Suzanne Lorimer, Susanne Roberts, Margaret Powell, George Miles, Fred Musto, Emily Horning, Cesar Rodriguez, Nancy Godleski, Richard Williams, Elizabeth Pauk, and Martha Brogan.

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