Libraries and Archives

Is library stock, including books, considered to be information held by an authority within the meaning of the Act?

Yes, the Act covers all recorded information held by a public authority.


Can books and other material held by a library be subject to an information request under s.1 of the Act?

Yes, although in many cases the library would be entitled to consider whether the exemption in s25 of the Act would allow them to claim that the information is "reasonably obtainable" and therefore otherwise accessible.


Should public authorities create a class in their publication scheme which includes the stock of libraries and archives?

The stock itself should not be included in a class, but any materials generated by the authority such as guides, indexes, catalogues, rules and regulations on access, reproduction facilities and charges, should be included, where these are themselves accessible to the general public. The authority should consider publishing such guides if they are not currently produced or available. It is accepted that large electronic catalogues may only be available on the web or by inspection.


If library and archive stock is excluded from the publication scheme, as recommended above, is it still "reasonably obtainable" and therefore exempt from s.1 requests?

The Publication Scheme can include a statement either in the preamble/introduction, the definition of a class, or the section on media/format, which states that documents in the catalogue are available subject to the archive/library's published rules and regulations on access. Whether this makes information "reasonably obtainable" in terms of s25 will depend on such variables as how restrictive the access is, the nature of the individual request, and on occasion the personal circumstances of the person requesting information. Where an individual cannot visit an archive or access the material at a reasonable cost under the rules and regulations, the authority may not be able to claim the exemption.


Can material in an archive that is not readily accessible, such as uncatalogued material, be subject to s.1 requests?

If the material is not capable of being made available in terms of the publication scheme, i.e. if it is not listed in a catalogue that is itself published, then it is not "reasonably obtainable" and will be subject to section 1 of the Act.


What happens if access is restricted in accordance with conditions imposed by an outside person or body depositing the material?

Where material has been gifted subject to access conditions then the exemption in s.36 on confidentiality may apply. Normally authorities would have to demonstrate that restrictions had been agreed as a condition of accepting the material. However, authorities will be aware from the s.60 Code of Practice that, in future, any such condition of confidentiality should be avoided wherever possible, and donors should be encouraged not to restrict access.


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