In Sierra Leone the terms ‘official publications’, official documents’, and ‘public documents’ are synonymous with government publications. Government publications, simply put, are documents created by government and local and quasi-government bodies explaining and integrating views and polices. They represent the historical and current development authorities of government and provide data on a wide variety of subjects to include Political Science, Economics, Finance, Statistics, Labor, Industry, History, International Relations, Agriculture, Geology and Meteorology. Katz (1997) classed these publications into: (1) records of government administration (2).research documents for specialists including a considerable number of statistics and data of value to science and business (3).popular sources of information. Their physical form being either a book, pamphlet, magazine, report monograph or electronic, especially CD-ROM (p.387).
Bibliographic control in many parts of the world is seemingly unsatisfactory due largely to lack of awareness of the importance of bibliographic tools in research in government publications. The United States of America, for example, was for a long time a pioneer in this field. As far back as 1895 the Printing Act of January 12 of that year (28 statute, 601-624) not only established centralized printing and distribution of federal documents but also instructed the Superintendent of Documents to provide appropriate tools for bibliographic control of the documents published. Great Britain is an outstanding exception for as far back as 1807 collections of parliamentary papers were printed. Countries such as Sweden, Italy, Netherlands, Germany and Japan began separating government document bibliographies mainly in the 1920s and 1930s (Palic,1975). However a great need for the use of government publications was felt following World War 11 (1939-1945), when there was an increased interest in the authoritative information contained in such publications as posited by child’s (1942) in his introductory notes that ‘more and more the importance of government documentation is being recognized despite the refractory nature of some of these materials’
In parallel the emphasis made on the usefulness of government publications in Sierra Leone is associated with the development of printing which can be traced as far back as the founding of the Colony of Sierra Leone in 1787. Although the industry didn’t survive the French attack of 1794 the foundation stone of what later became known as the Government Printing Department was laid in 1925 when it was charged with the production of small notices for official use. Currently the Department prints all government publications and supplies stationery and office equipment of government departments. It also undertakes a fair amount of commercial printing as income generating measures.
Government publications usually have the advantage of being among the best in their subject fields often not easily available to others (Smith, 1993). In lieu of the extent and complexity of government activities there is a need for the widespread dissemination of information about these activities and for popular integration of government policy. No wonder why government publications have special value to academic library collections and their authority is permanent. In academic libraries in Sierra Leone these publications are put aside into a special collection manned by a curator as at Fourah Bay College Library. Some are kept in vertical files; others are placed in pamphlet boxes, while those like maps and surveys are given specialized storage. These publications are acquired mainly by purchase, deposit, donation, exchange and photocopying. The Government Printing Department is responsible for their publication
DIVISIONS OF GOVERNMENT AND THEIR PUBLICATIONS
The expansion of government in Sierra Leone’s post-war reconstruction era at local, national and international levels has resulted in increasing her influence on the life of the citizenry. Simultaneously with this expansion is the proliferation of official and semi official agencies, commissions and bureaus which continue to publish works such as directories, regulations, reports, bills, Acts and technical literature which many a researchers, educators, public service functionaries, welfare recipients and the unemployed can not do without reference to such publications. Since librarians serve as interface between users and government they have for long recognized the problems which such a plethora of collection can pose and have been making tremendous strides to address the issue. The essence here is to provide systematic controls to avoid the disappearance, into oblivion, of essential official publications.
In Sierra Leone government publications fall within three general classes: Executive, Legislative ands Judicial. The Executive publications include those issued by the Offices of the President and the Vice President, and various independent offices and establishments such as National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA), National Revenue Authority (NRA), Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), National Commission for Privatization (NCP) and the Office of the Ombudsman. Also included are government ministries such as the Ministries of defense; Education, Youth and Sports; Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation; Tourism and Cultural Affairs; Local Government and Community Development; Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security; Trade and Industry; Internal Affairs; labor and Industrial Relations; and Development and Economic Planning.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry, for example, is responsible for both internal and international trade and the promotion of exports. It has powers over customs and excise, tariffs, insurance, patents, trademarks, standards, weights and measures. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is responsible for Sierra Leone’s relationship with foreign and Commonwealth countries while the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security is responsible for administrating government policy on agriculture, horticulture and food security. This Ministry offers practical guidance to farmers, commercial producers of horticultural crops and research.The Ministry of Internal Affairs deals with the maintenance of law and order, the Police and Fire Forces, administration of the prisons and the treatment of offenders. Other miscellaneous matters dealt with by this ministry include explosives, firearms, dangerous drugs, prisons, shops, public safety, entertainment, cremation, bylaws and good rule and formal business. The aforementioned functions and similar ones carried out by other ministries require the creation and maintenance of publications. There is also documentation of press briefings given by the varied heads of ministries and newsletters, which are channels for respective ministries there-by making them more public-relations conscious.
Legislative publications include the records and debates of Parliament and the reports of hearings of the varied Parliamentary Committees. Included here also are multiple policy statements in reply to parliamentary questions. The Hansard is another rich source for public matters as it provides official information and views about parliamentary debates.
Publications from the Judiciary branch of government consist mostly of reports of government decisions by the Magistrate, Appeals and Supreme Courts. Found in this arm of government are law books, ‘annual registers’, state trials and rulings, the constitution, international treaties, protocols, peace accords, Acts, bills and digests of local newspapers. These publications provide the judiciary with pertinent information on multifarious legal matters. Such information is required to be factual and politically impartial.
The City and District Councils, being quasi-government institutions, provide documents classified as government publications. These include building codes, educational development, health and sanitation, regulations on waste disposal, use of firearms and fire machines. Also there are government departments which provide statistical information on a vast range of economic, industrial and social demographic data. Of central importance are Statistics Sierra Leone (formerly Central Statistics Office-CSO), responsible for national population census and home surveys; the Office of Births and Deaths which registers and produces annual statistics of births and deaths in the country; the Office of the Registrar General responsible for statutory registration of marriages, patents and trademarks; the Chamber of Commerce which specializes on business information. These offices bring together important economic and social statistics supplied by government departments. Other important government departments are the Meteorological Office, which continues to give pertinent weather information, and the National Archives, which serves as repository of all non-current government publications inclusive of national newspapers. The afore-mentioned government publications vary in size and length. Written by experts in the subject, government publications are not only authoritative but also timely published and deal with topics of current interest. Their purpose, according to Katz (1969), is to provide information and answer questions and not to provoke discussion or organizational cataloging and administration. They are useful primary reference sources.
ACADEMIC LIBRARIES IN SIERRA LEONE
Academic libraries in Sierra Leone are those in the constituent units that form the country’s two universities, namely the University of Sierra Leone and the University of Njala. These libraries represent the bibliographic foundation of the nation’s research interest. They participate actively in the distribution and exchange of book and non-book materials to sister institutions all over the country. Collectively these institutions serve students, faculty, scholars and researchers that are engaged in work in the sciences and humanities as well as the general public. These libraries have combined resources of over 500,000 volumes, most of which are of unique scope and quality. Included in these massive collections are government publications such as treaties, Acts, statistical tables and compilations, conventions and records of diplomatic relations, reports of government departments, committees, bureau and commissions, census schedules, proclamations and laws. The maintenance, preservation and development of these publications are responsibilities shared by academic librarians as their libraries continue to serve as national resources.
JUSTIFICATION FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF GOVERNMENT PUBLICATIONS IN ACADEMIC LIBRARIES
Varied reasons have been advanced for the inclusion of government publications in academic libraries in Sierra Leone. The purposes of the country’s universities are teaching, service, research and interpretation and dissemination of research. Society views government as a reliable and impartial source of authoritative information that should be accessible to its citizens through its numerous publications. Since academic institutions deal with students who in turn will be future citizens these should be informed accordingly. Government’s stance should be known when there is public discussion on health, international relations, education, agriculture, social security and trade, to cite a few examples. Thus the need for the development of government publications in academic libraries as such materials could speak for the government in varied activities. Further academic libraries have the objectives of preservation, conservation and service. And government publications form part of society’s cultural heritage which need conservation and preservation not only for research purposes but also for posterity as tangible primary sources of information which academics can constantly refer to. Little wonder why as a measure of bibliographic control of these publications librarians continue to provide catalog’s, checklists, guides, indexes, accessions lists and selected general bibliographies containing substantial information on government publications.
1991-2001 was a period of doom in Sierra Leone as it marked the civil war. Fought as a result of bad governance, nepotism and massive corruption it led to the un-wanton destruction of lives and properties. Essential government buildings0 destroyed to reckless abandon included the National Treasury, Sierra Leone Police premises, law courts and the offices of the Freetown City Council all of which housed important documents constantly consulted by researchers, government functionaries and the public. Not withstanding the country is gradually recovering with the re-establishment of local government, multi-party democracy, improved human, women and child rights, the provision of a conducive atmosphere to investment, and a new system of education (6-3-3-4), to cite but a few developments, the effective operation of which requires constant use of government publications.
The broad programs in academic institutions include many areas of life with the teaching of historical and geographic concepts; scientific studies are undertaken for improved health and food security; international relations and inter-religious understanding are fostered. Also modern community life and the philosophy of democracy, peace and conflict resolution, good governance, human rights and other ideologies are taught in order that intelligent decisions could be drawn. These designed educational programs bring enrichment and information to students in such fields as economics, government, health and sanitation, agriculture, international relations, human rights and diplomacy. In support of these varied disciplines academic libraries provide huge collections to include local materials some of which are in the form of government publications whereby students, faculty and researches could share their experiences and interests and develop satisfactory personal adjustment with regard varied government functionaries in society. By so doing students are provided the opportunity to grow in social usefulness and develop their intellectual interests and capabilities in order to become responsible members of society. This in turn could help promote nationalism. In lieu of these factors academic libraries attempt to provide liberal collections to include books, serial publications, audio-visuals and government publications.
Government publications are among the most useful materials in academic libraries in Sierra Leone. Apart from the public library, the national archives and parliament library which serve as repositories for such publications academic libraries continue to develop these publications in their huge collection. However such moves are not bereft of problems. These range from poor formats through lack of trade bibliographies to unsatisfactory methods of distribution. The basic problem to all these libraries is the volume of publications received, much of which is nothing but raw data and statistics used to support arguments or gathered more for the sake of gathering rather than for any specific reasons. Since these libraries have limited space to house their numerous collections the continued acquisition of government publications poses problems to staff.
Academic libraries acquire government publications mainly by donations although a few are acquired by purchase, exchange and photocopy. Once these materials are received they are expected to be processed and organized for use in the library. Sadly there has been no fixed pattern in classifying and organizing these materials in these libraries. Their organization is either by government ministry/department, subject or format which is often confusing to users. At Fourah Bay College library, for example, these publications are placed separately from the general collection which often constrains users in having to leave their reading area to consult these materials with limited sitting accommodation. Libraries at Njala University College, Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM) and the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (COMHAS), which are relatively small in size integrate the publications in their general collection thereby posing retrieval problems to users.
Keeping track of government publications is another problem as there are no trade bibliographies printed out to help trace them. Hardly are these publications mentioned in the national bibliography, Sierra Leone Publications, prepared by the public/national library. Besides the Government Printing Department responsible for the production of government publications does not have any comprehensive lists of its publications. Most times these publications are either returned immediately to the respective ministries/departments owning them upon completion or sent to the Government Bookshop for sale or sold by the Government Printing Department upon completion, thus making it difficult to locate retrospective publications. Worse still both the Government Printing Department and the Government Bookshop are not interested in publicizing these publications and as such many customers including academic librarians are not aware of the availability of relevant government publications for acquisition thus causing lapses in the development of these materials in academic libraries. In parallel one would expect academic libraries to compile comprehensive lists of such publications but this has not been the case due to the limited number of staff manning this collection and the quantum of work they have to perform especially during peak periods when libraries are heavily used which is time consuming.
There are also problems of collection development. Academic libraries are under-funded and therefore librarians prioritize their collection development needs. Purchasing government publications has not been a priority for academic librarians as they always look forward to the Government Printing Department for donations which are frequently not forthcoming. Hence many relevant government publications are not found in academic library collections. What is more this limited collection is grossly misused and abused by users (especially undergraduate student users) in their academic pursuits. Thus most of these publications have dingy covers; others have a couple of pages either written on or pilfered while some are intentionally mis-shelved to deprive colleagues of using them.
The incorporation of government publications in the mainstream of academic library services should be considered a priority by university authorities and academic librarians in providing access to government-produced information in Sierra Leone. Representing a significant and integral part of the national resources government publications are major sources of information in practically every field of endeavor and are crucial to informed public-decision making. Academic librarians should therefore review their collection development strategies and processing and organization methods of these materials if they are to be persistently used by their numerous clientele. Especial thought should be given to increased funding, resource sharing, compilation of lists and adequate staffing, sitting accommodation and storage space if they are to maintain standards in serving their numerous clientele.
John Abdul Kargbo is Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Library, Information & Communication Studies at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. Mail can be sent to him on