Government Information in Canada/Information gouvernementale au Canada, Volume 4, number/numéro 1 (Summer/été 1997)

Government and International Organization Information:
Two Courses at the University of Toronto Faculty of Information Studies

Peter I. Hajnal (2)

This article describes the teaching of two government information courses at the University of Toronto Faculty of Information Studies: Government Information and Publications (with heavy emphasis on Canadian Government information) and International Organ izations: Their Documents and Publications (which concentrates on documents, publications, and electronic information produced by international governmental organizations). The scope, objectives, and student assignments of both courses are presented, wit h a discussion of experience gained and of the place of these resources in the education of future information professionals.

Cet article décrit l'enseignement de deux cours sur l'information gouvernementale à la Faculté de l'information et de la recherche de l'Université de Toronto: L'information et la publication gouvernementales (avec l'information gouvernementale canadienne mise au premier plan) et les organismes internationaux: Leurs documents et publications (portant sur des documents, des publications et de l'information électronique par des organismes gouvernementaux internationaux). La portée, les objectifs et les devoirs des étudiants des deux cours sont présentés avec une discussion de l'expérience acquise et de l'endroit de ces ressources dans l'éducation des futurs professionnels de l'information.

When first asked to teach the Government Information and Publications course at the University of Toronto Faculty of Information Studies (then Faculty of Library and Information Science), I followed closely the pattern established and the material prepared by my distinguished predecessor, Professor Brian Land. He had established a solid course programme during more than two decades of teaching and, with his remarkable background knowledge, professional experience and government connections, his was a challenging act to follow.

In subsequent terms of teaching this course, I introduced a few innovations, in addition to the continual updating called for by the nature of these fast-changing resources. For example, one of Professor Land's assignments was a historical survey of a topic (such as the Riel Rebellion, the 1881 Census, or the attainment of provincial status by Manitoba and Saskatchewan) based on Hansard, the Sessional Papers and other Parliamentary publications. Because of the valuable lesson this assignment had taught , it was with some reluctance that I dropped it and substituted a group presentation assignment on a topic involving electronic information sources. Such sources had become essential parts of the education of information professionals but keeping both assignments, in addition to all other work required of the students would have made the course unreasonably difficult and cumbersome. Another objective of this change was to make it possible even in a large class (generally around thirty-five or forty students) to have meaningful class participation. The electronic assignment proved to be very popular with the students, whose presentations ranged from evaluation of specific Internet sites to across-the-board surveys of electronic resources of particular government bodies.

The objectives of this course are: to give students an understanding of the current policies and practices of the Canadian federal, provincial and local governments in publishing, the recording of and access to government publications and information, and distribution of government publications (including depository systems); to enable students to evaluate the effectiveness of bibliographical control of federal, provincial, and municipal government publications; to give students an opportunity to explore the availability of government publications in a variety of subject fields; to enable students to evaluate the accessibility of government publications in libraries, including acquisition, organization and administration, cataloguing, notation systems, electronic information, orientation and promotion programs; and to explore the needs of users and potential users of government information in order to determine appropriate collections development policies for different types and sizes of libraries. Following is the course outline for the spring 1996 term.


University of Toronto
Faculty of Information Studies
Spring Term 1996

LIS2136: Government Information and Publications
Peter Hajnal

Course Outline

  1. Introduction: Objectives, Assignments, Reading Lists. Structure and Organization of the Government of Canada.

  2. Pre-Class Orientation Session and Tour of Government Publications. Bibliographic Control, Sale and Distribution of Canadian Federal Government Publications.

  3. Government Information Policy. The Depository Services Program. Guest speaker.

  4. Parliamentary Papers: Journals; Debates; Reports and Proceedings of Committees; Sessional Papers. Publications of Commissions of Inquiry, Royal Commissions and Task Forces.

  5. Bills, Statutes, Regulations and Gazettes.

  6. Structure and Organization of the Government of Ontario. Sale and Distribution of Provincial Government Publications. Bibliographic Control of Provincial Government Publications.

  7. Governmental Statistical Sources and Publications. The Role of Statistics Canada.

  8. Processing of Government Publications in Libraries: Cataloguing, Classification and Notation, Cataloguing in Publication. Organization of Government Publications in Libraries.

  9. Collection Development, and Issues Relating to the Use and Servicing of Government Publications.

  10. Government Publications in the Humanities and in the Sciences. Government Map Sources and Resources.

  11. Local Government Publications. Guest speaker.

  12. British and United States Government Publications.

  13. Publications of International Governmental Organizations.


Evaluation of the students' work is based on four assignments:

  • written report on access to legislation (statutes)--35% of the total grade for the course;

  • group presentations on electronic information sources (worth 20%);

  • written report comparing statistics available from governmental and non-governmental sources (35%); and

  • media watch: monitoring print media, TV and radio for information about government activities (10%).

In addition to the four assignments, students taking this course are expected to do related readings, examine major works discussed in class, and contribute to class discussion.

The legislation assignment asks students to investigate and report on one of the following two questions for Canada and for one province of the student's choice: 1) Does the public have any statutory right of access (that is, freedom of information) to Canadian federal government information, and, for the provincial part of the exercise, to municipal documents (for example, by-laws and council minutes) in the chosen province? and 2) Do the federal government and the provincial government of the student's choice provide charters or codes governing human rights in general? In completing this exercise, students are expected to use the latest set of revised statutes and the annual or sessional volumes since the revision, and to work out and describe a systematic search for the statute law federally and in the province concerned. They are to cite for each province the relevant act(s) and any amendments by date, title, chapter, and section, considering and reporting on the following for the federal and provincial statutes:

  • revised statutes: what is the date of the latest revision? Does it have an index? What are the characteristics of the index? (for example: Is it a subject index?) Does it include cross references and, if so, what kind? Does it provide access to sections within an act and, if so, where and how?

  • annual or sessional statutes: what is the date of the latest annual or sessional volume? Does it have an index? What is the nature of the indexing? Is there a Table of Public Statutes and, if so, what information does it provide?

  • updating services: what governmental updating services are most complete and/or most efficient? Are there any commercial updating services that are superior and, if so, in what respect?

The electronic information sources assignment calls for:

  • choosing a Canadian, foreign, or international governmental body (for example, Statistics Canada or the Ontario Legislative Assembly or the U.S. White House/Office of the President) or a subject area of governmental involvement (for example, the [U.S. ] National Information Infrastructure or Canadian federal role in the environment, or copyright); and

  • exploring electronic resources pertinent to the chosen government body or subject: listservs or other types of electronic conferences; WWW browsers such as Netscape; other information resources available via Internet protocols (FTP, Telnet or Gopher); CD-ROM, magnetic tape, diskettes.

When discussing electronic resources, students are asked to comment on content, scope, ease or difficulty of access, potential uses of the information, and problems. They are expected to compare various resources appropriate to the chosen government body or topic, and are encouraged to make any other relevant comment.

The statistical comparison assignment asks each student to choose a topic from a list supplied by the instructor (for example: book publishing, crime, employment and/or unemployment, foreign trade, health care, immigration, prices), or to select a topic of individual choice. They are expected to devise a framework or context for searching for information on the chosen topic and to suggest a specific purpose for the search.

The resulting report should compare the availability of statistics on the selected topic from Statistics Canada with its availability from other government departments and agencies, both federal and provincial, and from non-government sources. In addition, students are asked to indicate, after examining the source credits, to what extent non-governmental statistical publications (or electronic information) are dependent on Statistics Canada, or other government departments and agencies, as the source(s) for their statistical data.

The purpose of the media watch assignment is to increase awareness of media coverage (accuracy, immediacy, objectivity, kind of reporting, other aspects), and to provide an opportunity for participation by means of informal student reports in class. This assignment asks students to:

  • choose a Canadian, foreign or international governmental body (for example: Statistics Canada, the House of Commons, one of the federal or provincial ministries, the U.S. President, the United Nations, the OECD), or a subject area of governmental involvement (for example: the economy, immigration, fisheries, labour relations, the environment); and to

  • scan regularly one or more newspapers or magazines pertinent to the chosen government body or subject.

While teaching this course, for certain topics I availed myself of the expertise of guest lecturers. I was fortunate to be able to enlist Bruno Gnassi to talk about the Canadian federal Depository Service Program, Fay Hjartarson and Laine Ruus to discuss Statistics Canada, and Judy Curry of the Metro Urban Affairs Library to present the topic of municipal government documents and publications.

* * *

In contrast to Government Information and Publications, which focuses for the most part on Canadian government information at all levels, International Organizations: Their Documents and Publications examines, in an organizational/institutional context, the nature and characteristics of documents, publications, and electronic information produced by international governmental organizations. This course, which I developed and taught for over ten years, discusses theoretical and practical aspects of bibliographic control, access, availability, collection development and reference work, assesses pertinent selection and reference tools, and presents important resources: libraries, electronic databases, printed and microform material. Emphasis is placed on the United Nations and other major organizations in the UN system, the European Union, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Following is the course outline for the fall 1997 term.


University of Toronto
Faculty of Information Studies
Fall Term 1997

LIS2137: International Organizations: Their Documents and Publications
Peter Hajnal

Course Outline

  1. International organizations: origin, evolution, types, functions. The United Nations system.

  2. The United Nations: pattern of documentation and publishing; sources of information; bibliographic control. Tour of the Government Publications Collection.

  3. The UN: arrangement of collections; reference work; use of the material.

  4. The UN: distribution policies and practices; the depository system; selection and acquisition. Information policy. Assignment 1 (reference) due.

  5. The Dag Hammarskjöld Library of the United Nations. Special UN bodies: UNCTAD, UNDP, UNU. Oral presentations.

  6. Specialized agencies and other organizations in the UN system: Unesco, FAO, the World Bank Group (IBRD, IDA, IFC), IMF, GATT/WTO. Oral presentations.

  7. Regional and multiregional IGOs: OECD; OAS; regional development banks. Oral presentations.

  8. Regional IGOs: European Union. Guest speaker.

  9. Special topic: statistics. Oral presentations.

  10. Special topic: peace and security. UN information-gathering. Guest speaker.

  11. Special topic: human rights and international law. Assignment 2 (statistics) due. Oral presentations.

  12. Special topic: role of the private sector. Oral presentations.

  13. The G7. Term paper due.


As indicated above, for this course I also invited guest speakers with special expertise. Michele Beaudoin, head of the library of the Ottawa delegation of the European Commission, has presented excellent, informative lectures in this course for several years. For the first time, in Fall 1997, Walter Dorn, an expert in the area of United Nations fact-gathering, will speak to the class on a subject seldom treated in the teaching of and writing about international organizations: information input and its fate.

Evaluation of the students' work is based on two short written assignments (worth 20% of the total course grade each), class participation including an oral presentation (20%), and a term paper (40%). There is an extensive list of required and recommended readings, designed to expose the students to relevant literature: both primary documents and secondary writings. Furthermore, the students receive each week a rather extensive bibliographic checklist designed (a) to provide documentary support to the contents of each lecture and (b) to enable students to keep this set for their future information and reference needs.

Students give their oral presentations, each about fifteen minutes long, at the class meetings indicated in the course outline. They are asked to distribute a brief outline to the class prior to their presentation. They are evaluated on the basis of their understanding, organization, and presentation of the topic. There is a free choice of topic, as long as it is within the context of the course. Presentations fall into one of four categories, with the first three predominating:

  • international organization documents and publications on a topic not discussed in class in detail (for example: the environment, women's rights, children, refugees, aging, apartheid, decolonization, international trade, outer space, illiteracy, law of the sea, transnational corporations, United Nations reform, the Arab-Israeli dispute, Congo, Iran-Iraq, Iraq-Kuwait, Cambodia, El Salvador, Former Yugoslavia, Rwanda);

  • databases, Internet sites or other specific aspects of electronic information from or about international organizations;

  • bibliographic survey of a) an international governmental organization not discussed in detail in class (for example: WHO, Council of Europe); b) a particular branch or activity of any IGO (for example: the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean); (c) a non-governmental organization (for example: Amnesty International, Greenpeace, International Federation of Library Associations);

  • characteristics and problems of selection, acquisition, cataloguing or classification, reference work, or other library and information functions involving international organization sources.

The term paper, in most cases on the same subject as the oral presentation, gives the students an opportunity to develop a more formal, precisely-documented and more complete version (generally ten to twelve pages of double-spaced text, with bibliography) of their chosen topic. When preparing their term papers, students have benefited from the experience of their class presentations, which are often followed by discussion. The work is evaluated on the basis of the students' understanding, organization, and presentation of their topic, and on factual and bibliographic accuracy.

The first of the two shorter written assignments is a reference exercise. It consists of a series of specific questions, designed to introduce the students to the whole gamut of traditional and other reference sources, to help them to recognize the strengths, weaknesses, and evolution of each source, to stimulate thinking about the relationship of traditional and electronic resources, and to expose the students to the many types of sources (ranging from traditional reference sources to news media, general or special reports, and records of meetings) that are suitable (indeed, necessary) for reference purposes.

When completing this exercise, students are asked, in addition to providing answers, to show what reference sources they have used for each question, to indicate their search strategy, and to comment briefly on any problems they may have encountered or alternative approaches they may have considered. When documenting their search, they are expected to supply bibliographically correct information (with precise path/file name in the case of Internet sources).

Here are some examples of questions in recent reference assignments:

  • Find the text of the following documents in three different (for each, two printed and one electronic) sources:
    (a) the United Nations Charter;
    (b) General Assembly resolution 51/117.

  • (a) When did the Chemical Weapons Convention enter into force?
    (b) When did Canada, the United States, and the former Soviet Union ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child?

  • How did Canada, France, and Great Britain vote on Security Council resolution 641 (1989)? What was the voting record for Security Council resolutions 190 (1964) and 988 (1995)?

  • (a) What role did Maurice Strong play in the United Nations Environment Programme and in the 1992 Rio Earth Summit? What is his current role at the UN?
    (b) Who is the current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and where can you find a brief biography of the High Commissioner?

  • (a) When and under what name was Macedonia admitted to UN membership?
    (b) When was China's representation changed in favour of the government of the People's Republic of China?

  • How many vetoes have there been during the UN's history? How many have been cast by each permanent member of the Security Council? When and over what issue did each of the five cast its first veto? Which country cast the latest veto?

  • What were the original UN Trust Territories and when did each gain independence?

The second of the two shorter written assignments is a statistics exercise. For this exercise, students are asked to provide answers and to identify the source or sources they have used for each. They are expected to give precise figures, the year or other time period relevant to the answer, indicate the currency for money-related answers, and show table numbers as well as page numbers when applicable.

This exercise, too, aims to expose students to a variety of sources; its additional purpose is to make them think about the specific characteristics of statistics, not just to find answers to questions. Some typical questions are:

  • Find and give a definition of (a) gross national product and (b) gross domestic product.
    (c) Name the World Bank's basic "world development indicators."
    (d) Name the UNDP's major "human development indicators."

  • (a) How many divorces were there and what were the divorce rates in 1992 in Cuba, Hungary, and Portugal?
    (b) What are the 1990/1995 birth rates and death rates in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Latin America, and Oceania (continental totals only)?
    (c) How many homicides were there and what were the homicide rates in the United States (1990), Canada (1991), the United Kingdom (1992), Brazil (1989), and Macau (1992)?

  • (a) How many men and women were unemployed (give separate figures for men and women) and what were the respective unemployment rates in 1993 in Canada, Mexico, Sri Lanka, and Switzerland?
    (b) What was the 1993 cost of living (consumer price) index, respectively, for Canada, Bolivia, the Russian Federation, and Saudi Arabia (for each, give base year: e.g., 1980 = 100)?

  • (a) What was the total amount of World Bank loans to Russia in Fiscal Year 1994 for projects for which IBRD loans were approved? In addition, give separate figures for each project.
    (b) How much was the total net official development assistance (ODA) given by member countries of OECD's Development Assistance Committee (DAC) in 1992 and which DAC country gave the highest and which the lowest percentage of its GNP?

  • Identify and give bibliographic citations for the latest (a) international classification of diseases; (b) international classification of occupations; (c) international classification of international trade; and (d) standard country/area codes.

* * *

International Organizations: Their Documents and Publications is a difficult, challenging course; so is the Canadian-focused Government Information and Publications course. But these courses teach students about essential resources. That knowledge, combined with the research and analytical skills they have acquired, will aid them as information professionals.


[1] May be cited as/On peut citer comme suit:

Peter I. Hajnal. "Government and International Organization Information:
Two Courses at the University of Toronto Faculty of Information Studies," Government Information in Canada/Information gouvernementale au Canada 4, no. 1 (1997). []
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Peter I. Hajnal
International Organizations and Government Information Specialist
Adjunct Professor
University of Toronto
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