Skip to Main Content

Technical Reports & Standards Collection Guide

The Science Section's Technical Reports and Standards Collection holds over 5 million current and historical technical reports and standards on microform, digital media and paper.


The Library of Congress is completing a project to update and modernize Library reading room websites. As a part of the process, “The Technical Reports and Standards Collection” is in the process of being updated and migrated to this new platform. The process has not yet been completed and the guide remains subject to change.

Researchers with questions about the collection are encouraged to contact a science or business librarian using the Ask-a-Librarian: Science and Technical Reports or Ask a Librarian: Business online form, by phone, at (202) 707-5639, or in person, at the reference desk, in the Science and Business Reading Room, on the fifth floor of the Library's John Adams Building.

Technical Reports

Justus Lipsius. Apparatus for shooting large arrows. 1599. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Technical reports are designed to quickly alert researchers to recent findings and developments in scientific and technical research. These reports are issued for a variety of purposes:

  • to communicate results or describe progress of a research project
  • to convey background information on an emerging or critical research topic
  • to provide lists of instructions or procedures for current practices
  • to determine the feasibility of a technology and recommend if research should be continued (and how to evaluate any further progress made)
  • to detail technical specifications (materials, functions, features, operation, market potential, etc.)

Technical reports first appeared in the early part of the 20th century. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) published a series of professional papers beginning in 1902, and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) issued its first report in 1915. But, the format gained importance during World War II, emerged in the postwar era, and remains, to this day, a major tool for reporting progress in science and technology, as well as in education, business, and social sciences research. The names given to series of these publications vary, but are often such generic terms as "technical reports," "working papers," "research memoranda," "internal notes," "occasional papers," "discussion papers" or "gray (or grey) literature." In the physical and natural sciences, "technical report" seems to be the preferred designation. For reports dealing with business, education, and the social sciences, on the other hand, the terms "working paper," "occasional paper," and "memorandum" are often the designations of choice. Other, more specific types of technical reports include "preprints" and "reprints." Preprints generally are versions of papers issued by researchers before their final papers are published by commercial publishers. Preprints allow researchers to communicate their findings quickly, but usually have not been peer reviewed. Reprints are typically released to heighten awareness of the research being conducted in a particular field or at a single institution. The term, "technical report" encompasses all of these designations.

Since many of these publications are intended to provide just a temporary snapshot of current research in a particular field or topic, they may contain the some of following distinctions:

  • Rapid communication of new research results
  • Dissemination to a targeted audience.
  • Detailed methodologies, in order to facilitate review of research results by others
  • No peer review, though there is often another selection process for publication (grant, contract, or institutional affiliation)
  • Not published by typical commercial publishers (instead reports are issued or sponsored by government agencies, professional associations, societies, councils, foundations, laboratories, universities, etc.)
  • Corporate authorship, where present, is typically emphasized

Unfortunately, uncertain availability, limited print runs, and decentralized distribution patterns with little bibliographic information are also often characteristics of this literature.

The Federal Government issues many different types of technical reports. An overview of some of these can be found in a May 2001 GAO report, "Information Management: Dissemination of Technical Reports." Government issued or sponsored reports contain an additional characteristic - they may be subject to distribution restrictions linked to their classification status. Although references to classified reports may be found in technical reports literature, the security status or limited distribution of reports may make them unavailable to the general public and to the Library as well, as the Library holds only titles in the public domain. Those interested in locating such materials can consult the U.S. Department of Justice's Freedom of Information Act site for guidance in obtaining these reports.

To enable them to be identified and located, technical reports are assigned report codes by agencies or organizations involved in their production or distribution. These codes may be referred to as "accession numbers," "agency report series numbers," "contract numbers," "grant numbers" or by other names, and include dates and individual report numbers. Typically, reports are assigned multiple codes and these codes help to identify the sponsoring agency, the organization performing the research or the organization disseminating the report.  Most technical reports held by the Library of Congress are not cataloged, and, for these reports, one or more report codes is required for Library staff to check the collections for a report or to locate and retrieve it. For more information about the current Standard Technical Report Number format (STRN) see ANSI/NISO Z39.23- 1997 (S2015) Standard Technical Reports Number Format and Creation


Standards are specifications which define products, methods, processes or practices, and are known to have existed as early as 7000 B.C., when cylindrical stones were used as units of weight in Egypt. According to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-119, as revised in 2016, the term "standard" or "technical standard" refers to:

  • common and repeated use of rules, conditions, guidelines or characteristics for products or related processes and production methods, and related management systems practices;
  • the definition of terms; classification of components; delineation of procedures; specification of dimensions, materials, performance, designs, or operations; measurement of quality and quantity in describing materials, processes, products, systems, services, or practices; test methods and sampling procedures; or descriptions of fit and measurements of size or strength; and
  • terminology, symbols, packaging, marking or labeling requirements as they apply to a product, process, or production method.

Technical standards are not "professional standards of personal conduct; or institutional codes of ethics." (p. 15).

Standards are typically generated by governments or by professional associations and organizations interested in or affected by the subject matter of particular standards. For example, U.S. government standards mandated by the Fair Packaging & Labeling Act (FPLA) have standardized the labeling required for packaging in which consumer commodities is sold. Standards set the basis for determining consistent and acceptable minimum levels of reliability and safety, and are adhered to either voluntarily or as mandated by law. For a more complete overview, see the NIST report  "The ABC's of Standards Activities" by Maureen A. Breitenberg (2009).

The Library of Congress standards collection includes military and other federal standards, industry standards, and a few older international standards from Russia, China, and South Africa. Material from the collection is available in various formats, including digital, print, and microform materials. The majority of the Library's standards collection held in the Science Section's Technical Reports and Standards Collection. The collection remains largely uncatalogued, and as a result, most items from this collection are not discoverable in the Library's online catalog. Inquires on Library holdings can be sent to the Science Section using the Science and Technical Reports Ask-a-Librarian form. Some standards, however, are housed in the Library's general collections and discoverable by searching the online catalog -- the ASTM standards are one example. Other standards are in custody of appropriate specialized research centers, such as the Law Library, which maintains OSHA standards and some building codes.

About the Science Section

Part of the Science & Business Reading Room at the Library of Congress, the Science Section is the starting point for conducting research at the Library of Congress in the subject areas of science, medicine and engineering. Here, reference specialists in specific subject areas of science and engineering  assist patrons in formulating search strategies and gaining access to the information and materials contained in the Library's rich collections of science, medicine, and engineering materials.