6 December, 1996Secretary Joint Publications Committee Room SG 25 Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600 (fax 06 277 3448)
Dear Mr Brown,
Proposed Discontinuation Of The Parliamentary Papers Series.
We ask that the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Publications consider the two issues of access and preservation, before it discontinues a practice which has long ensured ready access to important government information.
If it is assumed that all documents tabled in Parliament are worthy of being maintained as part of the public record, then it is essential that they be readily accessible to the public. This means that the public should either be able to find the document in a library or at the AGPS, or else should be able to consult a widely available directory which provides purchase or access details.
Currently, not all documents tabled in Parliament are ordered to be printed. Of those which are not, some are accessible from AGPS, but others must be sought from their individual publisher. Information about what they are, and from where they can be obtained, is not readily available. The discontinuation of the PP series will only exacerbate the problem of availability of government documents.
(The comments in bold are taken from your letter to Government Publications Librarians, 24 October 1996)
The series has existed to ensure:
sufficient copies of important reports are available to those persons or organisations which may wish to acquire a copy; and
a permanent record of government and parliamentary activities is maintained in a numberical series.
The raison d'etre has diminished validity. Most important reports receive wide circulation, and in some cases are available in other forms. A growing number of government organisations is placing more information on the Internet. AGPS is also encouraging this practice.
"Most" important reports; "in some cases" available in other forms; "a growing number" being placed on the Internet; AGPS "encouraging" this practice. All these phrases imply that some access will be possible, but that full-scale access is certainly not here now. Until the Committee has assurances that the material "will" be available, and "will" be accessible (ie appropriately listed and indexed and able to be obtained by a library or a member of the general public within a reasonable time at a reasonable cost), then the Committee "must" not recommend discontinuation of the series which currently seems to provide the only reliable access to a subset of Australian government documents.
The availability of Parliamentary Papers through public and university libraries, who catalogue, index and provide assistance in using them, is still the cheapest and most efficient form of public access to these publications. The move to electronic access and closure of print access in deposit libraries will make the parliamentary papers inaccessible to many taxpayers. Most of the population, even in universities, is not yet technologically adept or has sufficient access to technology to ensure that access to the documents is better than is now possible with the print.
There will no longer be a single numbered collection of major documents tabled in Parliament which is readily available in the major libraries.
The numbering of the series is of less importance than its ready availability and accessibility. Provided that the listing and indexing is maintained, and that either the originating organisation or the AGPS has a duty to make the documents available, then the documents are accessible.
Demand for tabled papers could be accommodated by including such requirements in tabling quantities or by AGPS obtaining the copies separately from authors.
AGPS could certainly play a role in both these options, preferably a combined option, e.g. all tabled documents printed in sufficient quantities to provide copies to deposit libraries, with the AGPS listing, indexing and making available copies to other libraries and the general public.
There has been the suggestion that AGPS is also facing budget cuts. Will they be able to support the government publication gathering role? The Parliamentary Papers series provides a one stop shop for many publications. How would this role be effected electronically unless AGPS gathered the material and ensured that HTML links to various WWW pages for government publications were maintained?
When the Chief Government Information Officer has standardised the electronic output of publications across government departments, and has provided a suitable, publicly available Internet search facility across all government departments, then will be the time to review the production of the PP series.
It is a duplication in many respects, and is a considerable cost.
A duplication "in many respects" implies that in some respects it is not a duplication. It surely must be possible to eliminate duplication without reducing availability and access.
The long-term availability and accessibility of electronic publications is already receiving the attention of the best minds in the information industries. They haven't solved this one yet. It should make us all extremely cautious before placing any reliance on electronic records as a replacement for print, especially if long-term access is essential, as it is for public records.
It should make the Committee extremely cautious before it reduces the role of deposit libraries in this long-term access to Australian Government publications.
Yours sincerely,Diane Costello Executive Officer
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