Digital Developments: the Scottish Perspective

The Scottish Parliament has recently developed a variety of digital working practices that are designed to transform current approaches to many of the organisations core business activities. The main aim is that anyone will be able to consume services digitally, enabling them to connect, communicate and collaborate more successfully with others.

A number of recent innovations are already in place aimed at realising some of the core benefits of the ‘digital by default’ philosophy not least of which is the Open Data project, now in its first phase.   The objective of the Open Data Project is to open our parliamentary business data so that you can freely re-use it with no restrictions other than attributing it to the Scottish Parliament.   The Scottish Parliament Open Licence enables you to do this and the approach to opening our data is consistent with methods applied by the UK Government as set out in the Open Data White Paper.   The ultimate objective is that parliamentary information can be linked to other third party data allowing for participation through multiple online channels. It is hoped that this approach will eventually lead to the publication of parliamentary business in an open, standardised, machine readable format in a way that means it can be easily linked to other data and used in new and innovative ways.

Underpinning the standardisation of this information is the development of a common data model which the data architecture project has recently put in place.   This, in turn, enables consistent, good quality information that can be used across business systems and rendered to different platforms including mobile. The Official Report (the substantive verbatim account of plenary and committee business) is a good example of how a core business publication has benefited from digital functionality with extra features that allow convenient ways for people to share links to parts of the OR on social media. The Official Report PDFs now have clickable links on the contents page and bookmarks which make searching quicker and easier. Research briefings have also become more graphically interactive, with the recent Commonwealth Games briefing specifically designed in an ebook format.

As in many organisations, mobile working is certainly a major focus for the Scottish Parliament; and a move towards facilitating this reflects behavioural changes across society. The ‘self-service’ approach for the submission of Motions, Questions and Answers introduced in 2012 enables a much more accessible, transparent and ‘real time’ overview of current business. Anyone can get accurate and up-to-date information using the MAQA search facility on the website; and the extensive filtering options enable the end user to search in a variety of ways that suit them. Other digital services are completely new such as Live Chat managed by the visitor services team which offers the chance of instant interaction. Not only does this offer members of the public an additional way to engage with the Parliament in a real time context, it acts as a measure of how important it is to facilitate access that helps to circumvent the limitations that sheer geography would have hitherto presented. People from all over the world have been asking questions (from Edinburgh to Delhi to Toronto) about the Parliament on all types of topics; from parliamentary motions to questions about the Parliament’s architecture and some simply messaging to say hello.

Digital consumption is certainly high on the agenda for government departments, agencies and parliaments alike, and the Scottish Government service MyGov.Scot is a high profile example of this approach to service development., launched earlier this year, is a place for people in Scotland to access public services that are easy to find and simple to use. Available 24/7 via the device of your choice whether that be a tablet, mobile phone, laptop, games console or desktop computer, the site even hopes to offer motion sense technology for mapping and exploring content. The transactional services it provides such as paying a fine or registering a birth completely replace traditional face to face interactions, and present cost effective benefits both for the organisation and the end user.

Offering digital first has many benefits. Decreasing paper consumption has contributed significantly to the Scottish Parliament achieving its environmental targets. But a move towards a print on demand service also ensures that those who choose not to use digital for whatever reason are not excluded; and inclusiveness, at all levels, remains at the heart of service delivery.

Helen Costello, Information Officer, Scottish Parliament 

This article originally appeared in Refer 31 (2) Summer 2015

Collecting and Access to Government Information: the Scottish Perspective


There is no doubt that the political landscape in Scotland has changed after the 2015 General Election: the way that government information is created and delivered in Scotland has been changing for many years; and the 2014 Referendum on Scottish independence has created a greater public interest in Scottish politics as never before. By increasing the use of digital technology government departments can make their publications more widely available in various formats and of course reduce their expenditure.

The Scottish Government back in early 2012 was the first UK Government administration to make an official publication available in digital download format for devices such as iPad and Kindle with the publication of Your Scotland, Your Referendum as an e-book.

These changing formats have put pressure on the Legal Deposit Libraries who aim to collect, preserve and make accessible this information.

As the Scottish Government was producing e-only publications well before the Legal Deposit Libraries (Non-Print Works) Regulations came into force in April 2013 the National Library of Scotland, under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Scottish Government, worked closely with its Digital Team to ensure that all of its e -publications were collected and accessible through the National Library of Scotland’s Online Public Access Catalogue.

The Scottish Parliament, as part of its current Digital Parliament Project, will be aiming for all its business publications to be published in digital format only from mid 2015. These will all be archived and made available via the National Library of Scotland as well as being available on the live Scottish Parliament website.

As the Curator responsible for ensuring that all of this material is collected comprehensively by the NLS, my experience is that it is crucial to liaise with the bodies involved at an early stage in their transition from print to electronic. This ensures that the process of receiving this material can be as automated and seamless as possible. Once collected we can then make this material available to the other legal deposit libraries throughout the UK.

As well as collecting individual digital publications we are harvesting web sites as part of the UK Web Archive project, which has unrestricted access as well as the Legal Deposit Web Archive which is accessible in any of the Legal Deposit Libraries.

Due to the disparate nature of official publishing these days, there is more of a need than ever before for networking groups for information professional working with government information. The Scottish Working Forum on Official Publications (SWOP) and the CILIP ISG Standing Committee On Official Publications work to ensure dissemination of information amongst the profession, respond to consultations and provide training and support across libraries in the UK.

SWOP was formed in 1989 to produce a directory of holdings of official publications in Scotland. The Directory still exists in an updated format and is available on the SWOP website. Our SWOP Blog provides a mechanism for sharing a diverse range of news items connected with government information. We also hope to produce short training guides to assist those working with government information which we intend adding to our website in the future.

As well as our website we have a twitter account, a closed discussion group on the Knowledge Hub and a JISCmail email account in order to connect with a wide range of audiences. Membership of SWOP is open to anyone who has an interest in official publications. It provides a great opportunity for professional development or portfolio work for Chartership. Please do contact SWOP if you would like more information about the group or get involved in any of the work that we are engaged in.

This article first appeared in referisg, summer 2015

Fiona Laing, Official Publications Curator, National Library of Scotland

Public Library Subsidy

Please be aware from the 20th September 2015 the Public Library Subsidy will no longer be eligible for a large number of official publications. Publications which are freely available on the internet will not be covered by the subsidy.

To include:

  • Government Command and House of Commons Papers
  • Parliamentary House of Commons and House of Lords Papers
  • House of Commons and House of Lords Bills
  • Statistical publications
  • Gazettes
  • Other organisational publications which are only published online

See the ‘Important changes to the Public Library Subsidy’ letter dated 20th March 2015 to interested parties from  Malcolm Todd, Head of Information Policy.

For more information on the scheme and what is still eligible for the Subsidy please see the ‘Public Library Access Scheme’ pages at The National Archives.

Hannah Chandler, Official Papers Librarian, Bodleian Libraries

UK Web Archive Blog

News and views from the British Library’s web archiving team and guests. Posts about the public UK Web Archive, and since April 2013, about web archiving as part as non-print legal deposit.  Interesting article on curating the 2015 General Election  As the 2005 and 2010 general elections have been archived it is now possible to show the growth in the utilization of the web by all political parties and how campaigning has developed on social media.

Hannah Chandler, Official Papers Librarian, Bodleian Libraries