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National Library of Canada
Collections Management Policy
Official publications of foreign governments (2002)

Definition of an Official Publication

For the purposes of this document, an official publication is defined as a publication issued by a government or government department, either in a series or as an isolated publication. The UNESCO Convention concerning the Exchange of Official Publications and Government Documents between States (1958) considered the following, when they are executed by the order of and at the expense of any national government authority to be official publications: Parliamentary documents, reports and journals and other legislative papers, administrative publications and reports from central, federal and regional governmental bodies; national bibliographies, state handbooks, bodies of law, decisions of the courts of Justice; and any other publications as may be agreed.

I. Introduction

1.1 History of Collecting Foreign Official Publications

The National Library of Canada has been building its collection of foreign official publications since the 1950’s primarily through exchange agreements with foreign countries and through gifts and transfers of collections from other Canadian libraries, most notably the extensive retrospective collections that were transferred from the Library of Parliament. Despite efforts over the years to standardize the approach to collecting the official publications of foreign countries, the development and management of these collections has been somewhat ad-hoc and uneven. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, the National Library established numerous formal exchange agreements with foreign countries and the official publications of these countries were actively collected. In the 1980’s, policy changes were initiated which narrowed the collecting scope for foreign materials and subsequently the exchange agreements with many foreign countries were modified or discontinued. In more recent years, some collections have been developed through purchase mechanisms such as subscriptions and standing orders. For a small number of countries, including the United States, France, Great Britain, Australia, Germany, and Belgium, extensive collecting of official publications continued through the 1990s. Bibliographic access to the Library’s foreign official publications has been limited in most cases to that provided by on-site manual card files. This situation has meant that knowledge of these collections has not been widespread in Canada and correspondingly the use made of them has been seriously restricted.

1.2 General Reasons for Policy Revision

Changes in the publishing and dissemination practices of many governments has meant that wider and easier access to at least the current core official publications (legislative and executive) of a country can be achieved through electronic means. Access either through government Web sites or electronic document delivery is thus minimizing the need to rely on physical collections. In addition, the recent trend of some governments towards cost recovery and outsourcing of production and dissemination of their official publications has meant more publications are no longer distributed without charge through exchange or depository arrangements but must be purchased.

As the National Library faces new collecting challenges, especially in the area of networked electronic publications, the highest priority must be to focus resources on the comprehensive collection of Canadiana in all formats. At the national level, it is felt the Canadian public is better served by having physical collections of foreign official publications in Canadian research institutions that have a commitment to maintaining comprehensive collections and who have the research programmes, reference collections, and personnel necessary to support individual country research. The National Library has therefore decided be more selective in acquiring and building collections of foreign official publications and will concentrate collecting on those foreign official publications that contribute directly to the goal of developing a comprehensive national resource for the study of Canada. The National Library will continue to maintain strong country-based collections of official publications for only the United States, Great Britain, France, and Australia. Collection responsibility for other countries will be shared through increased emphasis on cooperation and partnerships with various academic research and federal libraries in Canada.

1.3 United States, Great Britain, France, Australia

The National Library will continue to collect a wide range of official publications issued by the United States, Great Britain, France and Australia. Official publications from these four countries will therefore fall outside the selection criteria and guidelines that follow. Current collecting of the official publications of United States, Great Britain, France and Australia will be undertaken up to the Research level in recognition of the continuing major impact and influence of these countries on Canada. The retrospective collections from these four countries have been consistently developed over many years and each collection constitutes a major asset in terms of research. Official publications from the United States, Great Britain, France, and Australia are seen as highly relevant in terms of the formation of Canada, the historical development of Canadian society, and the many shared interests and experiences Canadians have with these countries. The retrospective collections of these countries will therefore be retained and maintained according to the National Library’s established retention policies.

2. Scope of collecting

2.1 Objectives of current collecting

In the collecting of foreign official publications, the National Library will build on the existing strengths of its collections to support research needs in Canadian studies. In particular, publications featuring Canada in comparison with one or more other countries or dealing with a concept or issue of special interest in the Canadian experience will be collected. One objective will be to provide Canadians with an understanding of broader global political, social, cultural, and economic developments and of those issues and global events of major or developing significance to Canada.

The collecting of foreign official publications will reflect the changes in Canada’s relations with the rest of the world and the general global developments that directly impact on Canada. Some of the changes expected to intensify in the coming years include: increasing involvement with countries in the Asia-Pacific and South America; decreasing involvement with individual European countries; increasing involvement with European bodies of economic and political union; and increasing participation by Canada on international and inter-governmental bodies and agencies.

2.2 Collecting Intentions

The Library will collect only those official publications of foreign governments that fulfill the heritage side of its mission, i.e. the building of a world-class national resource to enable Canadians to come to know their country and themselves. The Library will be selective in identifying the foreign governments, the general subject areas, and the types of publications collected. Selection will be rooted in a subject-based approach, not a jurisdictional, or source-based approach. The requirement to support resource sharing within Canada will not in itself be considered a sufficient enough reason to collect the publications of a particular country. Subject matter for selection will take into account the Library’s emphasis on the humanities and social sciences and the particular needs and strengths of the Library’s reference collection. The Library will acquire publications by the most appropriate means (e.g., purchase, gift, exchange) and in the most suitable format, depending on the long-term need for the publication. The processing of publications will be mainstreamed and publications will be incorporated into the general collection. An appropriate level of bibliographic access will be provided as per the established guidelines for levels of cataloguing. Official publications will be available for on-site and off-site use with access provision in some cases being determined by the method of collecting, e.g., electronic access to the publication via a link maintained by the Library.

A distinction will be drawn between current collecting practices and the historical relevance of retrospective collections. Retrospective collections of countries will be reviewed for pertinence and deselected publications will be devolved to other institutions in Canada where possible.

2.3. Exceptions

The official publications of the United States, Great Britain, France, and Australia will be collected and retained on a comprehensive, jurisdictional basis as outlined in 1.3 above.

3. Selection guidelines and criteria

When applying the collecting policy outlined in sections 2.1 and 2.2, the following criteria and guidelines are to be used.

3.1 Level of Government

The National Library will generally concentrate collecting on official publications at the federal/national level in the subject areas outlined. Collecting publications issued by levels of government below the national level (e.g., the state level) will be done on a title-by-title basis according to the relevancy of the subject matter of the publication.

3.2 Chronological Coverage

The National Library will concentrate collecting on current official publications. Retrospective publications may be collected where deemed appropriate.

3.3 Geographical Coverage

Individual official publications or official publications in series that are within the collecting scope and meet the selection criteria will be collected selectively regardless of the country of origin.

Existing Collections

The retrospective collections of foreign official publications will be reviewed on a country-by-country basis in order to determine which publications, if any, have historical or current relevance. Any non-pertinent publications, or collections of publications, will be devolved to libraries in Canada where possible, or to institutions within the country of origin. (See Section 4)

3.4 Language

The National Library will collect publications predominately though not exclusively in the heritage languages of Canada. While emphasis is given to English, French, and the other languages existing in Canada (e.g., Chinese, Spanish, Hindi, Italian, etc.), publications in additional original languages of a country may be collected where deemed appropriate.

3.5 Subject Areas

The National Library will collect foreign official publications in those subject areas directly related to its mandate. As with other types of publications issued outside Canada, a foreign official publication can be designated as Canadiana if it deals substantially with Canada as a subject, i.e., if one third of the work is considered to be Canadian in subject.


The following subject areas will be collected in recognition of the National Library’s responsibilities as a centre for leadership, both nationally and internationally, in the areas of library and information science, information technology, and information policies and practices, and as a reflection of its role in facilitating access to information resources worldwide.

(a) national bibliography
(b) library and information science
(c) bibliography
(d) history of the book
(e) disciplines related to the development of information and information policy
(f) preservation
(g) copyright
(h) publishing trends and policy
(i) cultural/heritage policy
(j) education/learning policy

Canadian Context/Comparative

The National Library will focus collecting in the following subject areas to the extent they support comparative research and study related to Canada.

(a) government structure
(b) public policy development
(c) political systems and policies
(d) constitutional issues and constitutional development
(e) Aboriginal issues
(f) multiculturalism
(g) topical issues (e.g., the North, the environment)

Canada Specific

The National Library will collect publications in the following subject areas as they relate to specific Canadian content, participation/involvement, or impact.

(a) diplomatic history
(b) foreign relations
(c) treaties and international agreements
(d) development of Canadian society
(e) Canadian music
(f) Canadian literature

3.6 Publication Types

The publications selected according to the above criteria could include, for example, the following types of foreign official publications:

(a) legislative (e.g., gazettes, debates, proceedings and papers)
(b) legal (e.g., laws and statutes, regulations)
(c) reports of legislative, executive, and judicial bodies
(d) departmental publications
(e) central agency publications
(f) reference material (e.g., handbooks, bibliographies)
(g) statistical information

3.7 Publication Formats

The National Library will concentrate its collecting on published materials in all formats, i.e., print, microfilm, sound and video recording, and electronic (physical format and on-line). Unpublished materials may be collected where deemed appropriate.

3.8 Access

Individual foreign official publications will be classified and placed in the appropriate collection according to their subject matter. Individual publications will receive the appropriate level of cataloguing and will be included in the National Library’s on-line catalogue, AMICUS. Publications deemed to be Canadiana will receive the appropriate level of cataloguing and will be included in the national bibliography, Canadiana. Publications will generally be made available for both onsite and remote use.

3.9 Retention

The National Library will retain individual foreign official publications as per established retention guidelines for National Library materials.

3.10 Method of acquisition

The National Library will acquire foreign official publications on a title-by-title basis by the most appropriate means, including purchase, gift, exchange agreement, electronic capture, and linking electronically to the publication.

3.11 Cooperation with Other Institutions

The National Library currently has cooperative agreements in place with a number of Canadian libraries whereby the National Library is the official exchange partner and signatory to an exchange agreement with a country while allowing a Canadian library to act as the Canadian repository for the official publications of that country. The National Library will continue to maintain the official exchange agreements that fall under these existing cooperative arrangements. The National Library will also develop new cooperative agreements of a like nature with Canadian libraries where appropriate. The development of such cooperative arrangements will be contingent upon the foreign exchange partner granting permission to allow its official publications to be held in a Canadian institution other than the National Library.

Existing Cooperative Agreements

University of Alberta, Humanities & Social Sciences Library: Official publications of Germany.

University of British Columbia, Asian Studies Library: Publications from China, Official publications of Japan.

4. General guidelines for the retention and discard of retrospective collections

4.1. Small, unrepresentative collections which contribute little to overall National Library collections are suitable for de-selection. This applies to both processed and unprocessed material.

4.2. Where the rationale for collecting efforts of the past was aimed at comprehensive research level collections, these collections are a valuable national resource. Relocate collections to suitable Canadian institutions.

4.3. When relocating materials to suitable Canadian institutions, collections should be kept as whole and integral as possible. Retain individual publications for National Library collections where deemed appropriate.

4.4. Publications in collections for which a current exchange agreement exists should be relocated to other Canadian institutions only when approval to do so has been received from the donor country/exchange partner.

4.5. Relocation should be equitable in terms of geographic and linguistic distribution and as relates to the number and depth of collections sent to any one institution. Relocation is to be done in consultation with all the institutions involved.