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Reference and User Services Association Division of American Library Association Business Guides

2021 BRASS Program - Follow The Money: Public Records Requests (e.g. FOIA)

Resource guie for "Follow the money: Help watchdogs, whistleblowers, and our communities find and understand financial trails and organizational relationships".

About Public Records

  • In the U.S., many records that a government agency creates are required by law to be made available to the public.
    • The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) pertains to the executive branch of the federal government.
    • The Presidential Records Act pertains to the office of the president.
    • State and local governments have varying Public Records Acts and Sunshine Laws.
  • There are exemptions, so not everything has to be released and your request can be denied.
  • It can take a lot of time (months or years) to submit a request and get a response (which you can often appeal if it is initially denied).

Resources

These resources will help you learn more about public records requests and how to submit requests. Some will even help you submit and track requests online. Others also include online collections of previously requested and published public records.

Federal FOIA Requests

Guides & Help Submitting and Tracking Requests

State & Local Public Records Requests

Requesting public records at the state or local level can often be faster than at the federal level. However, the public records laws vary by jurisdiction so below are some resources to help you research what your state's public records laws are and local support groups.

To find information for your state or jurisdiction, search online for [location] + [public OR open] + [records]. Example: Obtaining records in Washington State.

Online Collections

It is worth checking for records that have already been requested and posted online. Many government agencies have public websites or reading rooms where you can view documents, and there are other websites that contain online collections of public records. Some suggestions are:

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This site was created to accompany the BRASS Program at the 2021 ALA Annual Conference. Questions and comments can be directed to the BRASS Conference Planning Committee.

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