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Ensuring access to government publications
Ready access to information about government policy, services, research and development is a fundamental right of every Australian citizen and provides the basis for our democratic processes and underpins social justice and equity.
Government information is usually made available to the public through government publications. These publications take many forms: books, research reports, working papers, journals, newsletters, pamphlets and information leaflets. Since 2000, Federal government policy required government agencies to make available online all publications and information created for public use. Most agencies now produce limited numbers of printed publications and use their website as the primary means of providing access to their publications and services.
It has become clear that, as a result of these policy changes about how government information is delivered, the Australian public no longer has easy and effective access to Australian government publications.
In 2005, ALIA and other library organisations are campaigning to raise the awareness of politicians, government and the Australian public about this critical issue.
ALIA members are encouraged to write to Members of Parliament. A letter which you can adapt to your own librarys experiences by including examples of the difficulties of accessing government publications for your users is available below.
Links and further information
Digital amnesia: challenges of government online seminar, 21 April 2005
New business model for access to and distribution of Australian government publications: a review by the ALIA Expert Group on Government Publications
Dear [Minister; Member of Federal Parliament; other]
Public access to Commonwealth Government publications
I am writing to inform you of an issue that is of major concern to Australian libraries: the Australian public no longer has easy and effective access to Australian Government publications as a consequence of changes in policy regarding how material will be delivered.
Ready access to information about Commonwealth Government policy, services, research and development is a fundamental right of every Australian citizen and provides the basis for our democratic processes and underpins social justice and equity. Access to information is a basis for an informed community and in this particular case it is usually made available to the public through Government publications. These publications take many forms: books, research reports, working papers, journals, newsletters, pamphlets and information leaflets. In 2000, the Government introduced its Government Online Strategy which requires agencies to make available online all publications and information created for public use. Most agencies now produce limited numbers of printed publications and use their website as the primary means of providing access to their publications and services.
While online publications have the potential to reach wide audiences and are faster, cheaper and easier to produce than printed publications, Government agencies have not developed effective policies and procedures to ensure that the Australian public has access to their online publications. Libraries have traditionally played a strong role in collecting and providing access to Government publications. Since the change to online publishing libraries have experienced significant difficulty finding out what is being published by Government agencies. Even when a publication is identified, libraries often find that the limited number of printed copies (if indeed printed copies exist) means that they must rely on providing access to the online publication. Many of these online publications are difficult to locate on agency sites, and may disappear from agency websites after a short period. In spite of a strategy for improved access to Government publications through a new business model for the distribution of these publications announced in May 2003, the ability of libraries and the general public to obtain copies of printed government publications or access to online government publications has declined.
[Example from your library's experience of the difficulty in trying to meet the public's requests for government publications]
Any Government agency that publishes information has a responsibility to ensure that it remains accessible to the Australian public for the long-term. However it is clear in the current environment that policies on persistent URLs and archiving have not been addressed. Current information must be accessible so that the public can use government services and participate in public debate. Historical or non-current information is equally important particularly for research purposes and must be made available for legal, cultural and historical reasons.
At a meeting of peak Australian library bodies hosted by the National Library of Australia on 10 December 2004, it was agreed that access to Commonwealth Government publications was a priority for libraries in 2005. The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) will hold a forum on Thursday 21 April 2005 at the National Library of Australia to discuss this issue. I urge you to attend the forum, Digital Amnesia - the challenges of government online, so that an effective solution to this important problem can be developed. Information about the Forum is available on the ALIA site at http://www.alia.org.au/events/moreinfo.html?933.
Public access to Commonwealth Government publications is a critical issue that can be addressed successfully by Government in collaboration with the Australian library sector.