Government Information in Canada: Access and Stewardship

Book edited by Amanda Wakaruk and Sam-chin Li: “Government information is not something that most people think about until they need it or see it in a headline. Indeed, even then librarians, journalists, and intellectually curious citizens will rarely recognize or identify that the statistics needed to complete a report, or the scandal-breaking evidence behind a politician’s resignation, was sourced from taxpayer-funded publications and documents. Fewer people will likely appreciate the fact that access to government information is a requirement of a democratic society.

Government Information in Canada introduces the average librarian, journalist, researcher, and intellectually curious citizen to the often complex, rarely obvious, and sometimes elusive foundational element of a liberal democracy: publicly accessible government information.

While our primary goal is to provide an overview of the state of access to Canadian government information in the late-twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, we hope that this work will also encourage its readers to become more active in the government information community by contributing to government consultations and seeking out information that is produced by their governing bodies. ….

One of our goals is to document the state of government information in Canada at a point of transition. To help orient readers to today’s sub-discipline of librarianship, we offer four points that have been observed and learned over decades of working with government information in academic environments.

  1. Access to government information is the foundation of a functioning democracy and underpins informed citizen engagement. Government information allows us to assess our governing bodies — access that is required for a democracy to function.
  2. Government information has enduring value. The work of countless academics and other experts is disseminated via government information. Government publications and documents are used by academics and social commentators in all areas of intellectual output, resulting in the production of books, reports, speeches, and so forth, which have shaped our society and understanding of the world. For example, the book that introduced the public to the science of climate change, Silent Spring, was full of references to government information; furthermore, legal scholars, lawyers, and judges use legislative documents to interpret and apply the law; journalists use government documents to inform the electorate about their governing bodies. Government information is precarious and requires stewardship.
  3. The strongest system of stewardship for government information is one that operates in partnership with, and at arm’s length of, author agencies. Most content is digital, but this does not mean that it is posted and openly available online. Furthermore, content made available online does not necessarily remain accessible to the public.
  4. Government publications and documents are different from most books, journals, and content born on the Internet. Government information does not fit into the traditional dissemination channels developed and simplified through customer feedback and the pursuit of higher profits. The agencies that produce government information are motivated by different factors than those of traditional publishers…(More)”.