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The Official Publications Collection in IOLR

This account continues the series of short articles on the work of the various sections of the IOLR

THE COLLECTION of official publications, which forms part of the India Office Records, contains the reference copies of government publications sent from India to the home government. It has its origins in the late eighteenth century when the Governor General acquired formal legislative powers and provision was first made for printing and publication of the regulations issued. Ten copies of all regulations were required to be sent to the Court of Directors and to the Board of Control since the home government retained the power to veto. The extent of official publication grew as the powers and functions of the authorities in India widened and the area under British rule increased. By 1856 it was calculated that the Indian governments were on average publishing a volume every four days, and in 1914 the Revenue and Agriculture Department of the Government of India alone published 107 titles and the Madras Government 306.

The copies of these publications which were sent to London were kept in the Book Office of the East India Company. This office also housed other records received from India in volume form and was responsible for distribution of publications both to officials and to outside institutions and individuals. One copy at least was always retained for production when needed for official business. On the creation of the India Office in 1858 the Book Office was first attached to the Record and Statistical (later Statistical and Commerce) Department. In 1884 a new Registry and Records Department was established to which custody of the records, including official publications, was transferred. It was probably at this stage that a rudimentary classified arrangement of the collection was introduced, the printed volumes in the Book Office having previously been simply assigned an accession register number.

The India Office was continually impressing on the Indian governments the necessity of sending promptly copies of all official works ‘published for general information, or printed for circulation to other than officers of Government.’ Until the appearance in 1892 of a quarterly (later annual) catalogue of non-confidential official publications by each government at the suggestion of the British Museum Library, there was no bibliographical control over what was being published, since government publications were exempted from registration under the Indian Press and Registration Act of 1867 and so were not included in the quarterly catalogues of registered publications. Nevertheless receipt appears to have been fairly complete. The normal practice was for two copies to be sent by letter post immediately on publication to be followed by the remainder required for official use and general distribution. The two advance copies were received in the appropriate department of the India Office which might either retain them or pass them on after scrutiny to the Registry and Records Department, to which the bulk consignment came direct. The Library’s requirements were met from this source. Generally it received copies of publications intended for general use but not those of a more purely official character such as annual departmental reports, financial accounts and trade statistics.

In accordance with the recommendations of Lord Crewe’s committee on the home Indian administration which reported in 1919, an Indian High Commission was established in 1920 to take over certain agency functions from the India Office. One of these was the sale and distribution of Indian government publications which had hitherto been handled by the Registry and Records Department. As a result, apart from the advance copies supplied direct to the responsible departments, the India Office ceased to receive official publications direct from India and instead made its requirements known through the High Commission. From about this time there is a slight reduction in the quantity of publications received although the supply of regularly published reports and serials continued normally. This is probably due less to the effects of the administrative changes than to the constitutional developments which gradually increased the scope for decision making in India without reference to London. Consequently there is a diminution in the flow of information to the India Office which is found in other areas of the records as well as in the official publications. The outbreak of war in 1939 resulted in a much sharper decline in receipt of publications as many regular reports were suspended and, as with the rest of the records, the end of British rule and the India Office in 1947 mark the natural terminal point of the collection.

The scope of the collection, which contains approximately 70,000 volumes, covers the full extent of government functions in British India. It contains complete sets of legislation (including summary ordinances and regulations) and of the proceedings of the central and provincial legislative bodies up to 1947. There are also runs of all the government gazettes which, in addition to carrying official announcements, were often used as a convenient means of publishing papers which were either not substantial enough or were not considered of sufficient importance to warrant separate publication. The nature of the departmental publications is varied and includes annual reports, periodicals, technical papers, scholarly monographs and reports on particular questions by both individual officials and commissions and committees of enquiry. The holdings also include the publications of the various scientific surveys and extensive statistical material on every aspect of the life and administration of the country as well as the British parliamentary papers and debates. A particularly valuable group of reports are those on the land revenue settlement. In much of India the settlement of each district was revised at approximately thirty year intervals and the consequent periodic succession of reports provides a record of its economic and social development. This is especially the case when the personal enthusiasm and detailed local knowledge of the settlement officer resulted in a report which was far wider ranging than strictly required for official purposes.

Apart from some 1,500 volumes of annual administration reports, there are few publications of the princely states in the collection. This reflects both the paucity of publication and the absence of any requirement for states enjoying internal autonomy to submit those issued to the India Office. Military publications are also largely excluded. The Military Department maintained its own record room and departmental library and copies of publications received were not normally transferred to the Registry and Records Department. Military official publications are therefore to be found in the Military Department Library (L/MIL/17) which also contains a large number of confidential prints. The same applies to the Political and Secret Department, which dealt with relations with the princely states and external affairs. It also maintained a separate departmental library (L/P&S/20) which contains publications and confidential prints not in the official publication collection.

A lithographed Classified list of books in store in the Book Office was issued in 1858 and was followed in 1894 by A classified list in alphabetical order of reports and other publications in the Record Branch of the India Office. Both are now obsolete. The collection has recently been reorganized and is now for the first time easily accessible to users through the lists of the various classes into which it has been divided which are in the Catalogue Hall. Serials may also be traced by title or issuing body through the COM fiche IOLR serials catalogue which is derived from the University of London Union List of Serials, although input into the database is not yet complete. The lists of non-serials, divided into Committee and Commission Reports (V/26) and Monographs (V/27) are arranged in a common classified order with indexes. There are also published lists of British parliamentary papers relating to India.

Gaps are filled by gift, purchase or microfilm exchange as opportunity permits. Although many of the publications are also held in the Department of Printed Books, this collection has particular value because of its proximity to the files recording the opinions and actions of both the home and the Indian governments which provide the framework within which the publications may be best understood.

J M Sims


[Reproduced from the Newsletter of the India Office Library and Records [and] Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books at the British Library. The essay appeared on pages 4-5 of issue number 31, April 1984. A note on the cover of the issue states "Materials may be freely reproduced with acknowledgement." The ISSN for the publication is 0265-1386.]