The National Archives: Changes to public access to government and official publications – petition

The National Archives have confirmed the intention to no longer subsidise the printing of some government and official publications which are born digital.

This decision forms part of a conclusion to a review of the Public Library Subsidy Scheme. The scheme was introduced in 1924 to assist public libraries in purchasing official information.

The news came in a letter from the National Archives dated 20 March 2015, sent to all ‘Main Intermediaries’ of the PLS Scheme and can be read here.

The National Archives recognise many official publications are now accessible on Government and Public Sector websites in accordance with the government’s ‘Digital by Default’ strategy. These online publications are free at the point of access, no longer require visiting a specific physical location to access, and can be re-used under the open licencing with which they were published.

The letter from the National Archives states:

It is difficult to justify a subsidy for print publishing at a time when the main thrust of government policy is to publish online

From mid-September 2015 publications which are available on official websites and will fall into this category will include:

  • UK Government Command papers
  • Parliamentary House of Commons and House of Lords papers
  • Parliamentary Bills
  • Statistical publications
  • Official gazettes
  • Organisational publications born digital

The National Archives have confirmed certain primary and secondary UK legislation will not be affected and will continue to be within the Scheme. However it does state the scope of the review is on-going.

A petition to ask the National Archives to rethink the decision has been set up. It highlights issues of online-only access, including:

  • Relies on access to online technology
  • Relies on user expertise of online technology
  • Can be difficult to search for very specific information online
  • Large documents are difficult to read online
  • Multiple documents are difficult to read online
  • Costs transfer onto users who require to print out publication

Should you wish to sign the petition, please do.

The decision of the National Archives also raises some potential concern to the future direction of Scottish Government and official materials, which remain being currently printed in hard copy with at least one copy held by the National Library of Scotland.

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