Government Publications to go paperless by 2014

May 7, 2012 | Richard

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Government of Canada Publications recently announced the decision "to completely transition all publications published by the Publishing Program and publications provided by departments to the Depository Services Program from traditional print to exclusively electronic publication in two years."

ShiftThis announcement marks a shift in the official position of the government with respect to their strategy for future access to publc information. The change especially affects those familiar with using libraries like the Toronto Reference Library - a full depository member for decades - with its comprehensive and rich collection of government documents in print.

The Depository Services Program (DSP) was created by an Order-in-Council in 1927 "to acquire, catalogue and distribute federal government publications in all formats to a network of depository libraries as well as parliamentarians." The DSP acts as an "information safety net, collecting current and archival government publications and making them widely available to the Canadian public." And with the advance and spread of information technology, new expectations and capabilities arise.

Government information first made an appearance on the internet through applications such as 'gophers' and 'ftp' sites. In less then 20 years, more and more information has become available on the web. Consider these "Key Statistics" for 2011-2012 from the Services for Depository Libraries page: there were 84,421 electronic publications available for download, 225,652 viewable bibliographic records, and a total of 10.2 million downloads of electronic publications.

Presently, Retention Guidelines for depository libraries recommend what sorts of government information should be held, for how long, and in what circumstances. With the transition to 'exclusively electronic publication', these guidelines will only apply to past collections since the Goverment will become the sole distributor of current publications through its website.

Publications Canada will need to develop and apply its own policies for the retention of electronic documents to ensure digital authority control and future long-term access to materials that would have otherwise been preserved in print. In other words, Publications Canada will need to provide Canadians with a new and different kind of information safety net . . . one that is digital . . .