The State Library has been used as a reference center beginning close to its foundation as the Missouri Library Commission. In 1908, the Commission formed a legislative reference department to serve the needs of legislators and state officials. The General Assembly was pleased by this new initiative and passed House Bill 173, creating a library consisting of legislative journals, state documents, and any other materials that would be useful to them. The Secretary of the Library Commission was given the authority over this new division and sent personal letters to legislators to find out each one's areas of interest so that they could gather materials before the next session began.
In 1929, the Library Commission received a rise in appropriations that allowed them to hire their first reference librarian. This new position took over answering the many requests from many individual citizens of Missouri.
Ten years later, in 1939, the legislative library became a separate entity to exclusively serve the members of the General Assembly. But, while the Library Commission no longer housed this division, it continued to provide a reference service for the many other state agencies in the Missouri Government.
In 1996, the State Library was reorganized by Secretary Cook into the three divisions it is today: Wolfner, Library Development, and Reference Services. In this form, Reference Services is able to serve the state and public citizens of Missouri as a center for Missouri state documents and information.
In 1971, Missouri's first government documents librarian, Meryl Atterberry, was hired and given the project of developing a state documents depository system. Many other states at the time had created their own program so Meryl did extensive research on the process of developing such a system and the organizing structures that other states used. The goal of this project was to promote Missouri citizen's right to full access of information, particularly government publications. A depository system would be more efficient as it would automatically place publications in library collections, making it more easily available to the public, and agencies could print in lesser quantities and still be assured of wide access.
A great deal of work had to be done before the system could be developed. Meryl spent the next three years researching, gaining support, and publicizing the project to Missouri librarians. A bill was finally drafted in October of 1974 that allowed any public or academic library to become a full or partial depository, have the Missouri State Library the authority to collect a sufficient number of government documents and then distribute them to depository libraries. Two more years were spent researching and perfecting the wording of the bill before it was finally entered in the Second Regular Session of the 78th Missouri General Assembly as House Bill 1172.
House Bill 1172 passed the House in March of 1976 129-0, without any changing of the original wording. However, when it reached the Senate, it was stripped of 80% of its contents, losing the necessary authority to collect agency publications. Meryl and the MLA subcommittee who originally drafted the bill, again drafted the needed amendments. The original bill and its additions were then added as an amendment to House Bill 1021, which finally passed 25-0. The bill was finally signed by Governor Bond in June of 1976 and work could finally begin to implement the new depository system.
The MLA Subcommittee on State Documents alongside Meryl Atterberry had much to work out before fully launching the state document depository system. They needed to develop a set of standards for the depositories and figure out what documents full and partial depositories would receive. First, a "core" list of documents were created based on their value in helping citizens understand or gain access to their government. Partial depositories would receive these "core" documents, and all the publications of at least one of the major departments of state government. The partial depositories were free to choose any state agency to collect from. Full depositories would receive all publications from all state agencies.
In December of 1976, ten full and eighteen partial depositories were approved and distribution of the state documents began a month later. The next fight was for a set of regulations or standards for these new depositories. The MLA Subcommittee submitted a draft to the Coordinating Board for Higher Education, but it was not codified into the Missouri Register until September of 1977. It took another month after than to fully implement the system of distribution and to hire a state documents cataloger to enter documents into the OCLC database using the MODocs classification scheme, which paralleled the SuDoc scheme for U.S. government publications.
In 2004, the Depository Program was changed to the State Publications Access Program by 181.100-181.110RSMo, with a provision that an electronic depository be created and maintained by the Missouri State Library. Each state department is responsible for appointing a designee who sends digital copies of new publications to the Reference Services Government Documents Librarian. The collection of digital state documents, Missouri State Publications, is hosted on the Internet Archive. This is the program that Reference Services continues to maintain today.