Agencies and offices of national, state, province, and local governments produce census reports, statutes, statistical reports and data sets, and other materials that serve as primary sources for research in a range of humanities and social science fields. The years since World War II also gave rise to a number of intergovernmental organizations, like the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Health Organization, NATO, and others, which also aggregate and generate important statistical, financial, and economic development-related information.
Until the 1990s, materials produced by governments and intergovernmental organizations were largely published in print, microform, and CD-ROM, and distributed gratis to repository libraries and national libraries. They were acquired by other libraries through exchange agreements and purchase. Laws, statutes, treaties, and other legal materials published by foreign governments were also distributed widely to repository libraries and actively collected by many of the major law libraries in the U.S., as source materials for the study of international law.
Since the 1990s, national and state governments in most countries, and many intergovernmental organizations, have posted their publications and data directly to the web, making current materials much more widely available than in the past. In most instances, however, only the most recent or current documents tend to be maintained on government websites. Content that is not current—or that is objectionable to the current regimes—but still may be important for research purposes, often disappears. Moreover, data provided by many emerging nations is often not structured in ways that make it difficult to reaggregate and use.
Globalization and declining public-sector funding have made information about foreign governments, and analysis of that information, highly marketable commodities. For commercial publishers like LexisNexis and Westlaw, and analytical services including Bloomberg, McKinsey, and the Economist Intelligence Unit, aggregating and synthesizing government- and IGO-produced information, and making that material available in derivative, added-value products, have become a lucrative trade.