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Government Information: Legislative - Congress

The Government Information guide is a gateway to information produced by the government, including an overview of the government documents collection at Connecticut College.

Overview of the legislative process

The Legislative Process - short videos with text transcripts 

How Our Laws Are Made - from

Glossary of Legislative Terms - concise explanations of congressional jargon

Numbers and dates of Congressional sessions

Each Congress lasts two years and is divided into a 1st section (the first year) and a 2nd section (the second year)

Years of the Congresses (1789 - Present)

Session dates of the Congresses (1789 - Present)

Who's Who in Congress

Legislative Histories

A legislative history traces the chronology of the legislation and provides citations to the various documents relevant to the bill. *

General sources

Keeping up with Congress

Almanac of American Politics - in-depth analysis and comprehensive profiles of every congressional district, state, governor and member of Congress.

CQ Almanac - original narrative accounts of every major piece of legislation that lawmakers considered during a congressional session (1948-2000), arranged thematically, it distills, and cross-indexes for permanent reference the full year in Congress and in national politics. Available in print only at Shain Library.

CQ Roll Call - detailed reporting of activity on Capitol Hill. Coverage of policy areas, influential staffers, lobbying, and more. Register to set up email alerts.

CQ Weekly - news and analysis of key people and events in Congress, including bills and legislation. 

Congressional Digest - a presentation of opposing views on contentious national questions. Available in print & online via Shain Library.

Congress and the Nation - an authoritative print reference resource on congressional trends, actions, political and policy controversies that guides readers seamlessly through the national legislature with breadth and depth, providing a unique retrospective analysis (1945-2016); organized by policy area, each chapter contains informative summaries of legislative activity.

GovTrack - an advocate for open government information, find the status of federal legislation, information about your representative and senators in Congress including voting records, and original research on bills and votes.

The Hill - news that focuses on the workings of Congress, policy makers, and the way decisions are made.

National Journal - news coverage of Congress and politics.

OpenSecrets - a clearinghouse of information on money in politics.

Politico - news on Congress and Capitol Hill.

ProPublica Represent - profiles on everyone in Congress with updates on their latest activity.

New York Times - can provide good analysis and context for what's happening in Congress; link to library database access.

Washington Postcan provide good analysis and context for what's happening in Congress; link to library database access.

Congressional Record

The official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress. For every day Congress is in session, an issue of theCongressional Record is printed by the Government Printing Office. Each issue summarizes the day's floor and committee actions and records all remarks delivered in the House and Senate.

The Congressional Record began publication in 1873. Printed by the Government Printing Office, it is the fourth and final series of publications containing the debates of Congress. It was preceded by the Annals of CongressRegister of Debates, and Congressional Globe. The Record is far more comprehensive than its predecessors in reporting Congressional debates. *

There are two editions of the Record, a daily one and a bound version. The daily edition reports each day's proceedings in Congress and is published on the succeeding day. The bound text is an edited, revised and rearranged edition with an index containing a history of bills and resolutions.

ProQuest Congressional - includes the Congressional Record Bound (1789-1997) and the Congressional Record Daily (1985-).

Congressional Record (FDsys) - contains volumes 140 (1994) to the present.

Congressional Record Index - in print in Shain Library from volume 131 (1985) to the present.

What is the Congressional Record? is a good introduction for anyone doing research with the Congressional Record.

The appendix of In Time of War: Understanding American Public Opinion from World War II to Iraq offers an interesting explanation of the history and organization of the Congressional Record from the perspective of using it for research purposes.


Bills and Resolutions

A bill is the most common form of legislation; it proposes to create a new act or to amend or repeal existing law. Typically there are thousands of bills before a Congress, only a small percentage of which will become law.

Bills may be either public or private. They have a prefix of "H.R." when introduced in the House, or "S." when introduced in the Senate, followed by a number assigned sequentially as bills are introduced during a two-year Congress. *

On its way to becoming a law, a bill is introduced in the House or the Senate. It is assigned a number that, along with other key information, is recorded in the House Journal, before the Speaker refers it to the appropriate committee. This is reported in the Congressional Record. Information about, and the text of, bills can be found here:


After a bill is debated in the House and Senate, reported on, and approved by the President, it is assigned a public law number (slip law), before being compiled in the Statutes at Large.

There are 4 types of federal law: Constitutional - the US Constitution and its amendments; Statutory - the laws that Congress makes; Case law - laws originating in the court system (judicial branch); and Administrative law - found in the rules and regulations of the executive departments and agencies.

All public laws enacted by Congress are compiled chronologically in the United States Statutes at Large.* Each session of Congress is considered a statute; each law a chapter. 

For the first hundred years of the nation, each law (statute) appears in Statutes at Large in the order in which it was passed, but there is no numbering system. Public law, or P.L., numbers were first used to number the laws in 1901.

The first law enacted during the 111th Congress is designated as Public Law 111-1; the second, Public Law 111-2. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is Public Law 88-352 - the 352nd law passed by the 88th Congress. *

Because Statutes at Large presents only laws as they are passed, however, and not necessarily the current law,  which may be the result of numerous modifications over the course of years, a codification is needed.

That codification is the United States Code - the law of the land. 


Congressional committee hearings serve to gather information from witnesses that can be used to inform the work of Congress: development of legislation, oversight of executive agencies, investigations into matters of public policy, or Senate consideration of Presidential nominations.

Congressional committee hearings are the source of a tremendous wealth of information on a wide array of topics. Community leaders, scholars, and public citizens are among the regular cast of witnesses called to testify. And the published hearings include the reports, exhibits, and other documents that they submit for consideration during their testimony. *

Serial Set

An invaluabe record of American history, the Serial Set is a massive collection of reports and documents published by the House and Senate from 1817 onward. It also includes special reports to Congress, communications from the president, and reports from executive branch agencies.

This overview of it from the Law Librarians' Society is helpful in understanding how it is organized.

If you look at the SuDoc Call Numbers, notice the details for Congress - the Y1s are components of the Serial Set.

Additional finding aids:


Subject Guide

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Andrew Lopez
Charles E. Shain Library
Connecticut College
270 Mohegan Ave.
New London, CT 06320
(860) 439-2656

Library Assistance

The Government Documents librarian is available for:

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Please use the contact information in the box above to get in touch.