Publishing processes and practices

Standards for web and print publishing

These standards will incur costs – check before the budgeting stage.

Website publication: government requirements, including those for accessible PDFs, are available in the Government Service Design Manual on GOV.UK. In addition there may be further requirements, such as file naming conventions, to ensure that a document can be clearly recognised within internal systems.

Print publication: these specifications are provided to the printer, or other supplier, to ensure that print copies are produced as required. They include print file specifications, quantity, schedule, format (A4 portrait, for example), colour, paper weight and quality, binding style and delivery instructions.

International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs)

It is good practice to allocate an ISBN to each publication produced by a government organisation, regardless of format.

ISBNs are unique 13 digit codes allocated to published works (but not to ephemeral items such as leaflets, posters, newsletters, press notices and so on). ISBNs are not limited to books that are published in print form. The ISBN is unique to an individual edition of a work and will be used by those in the library or the book trade to identify the document. Where a work is published in different formats (print, online, e-book and so on) a different ISBN is required for each format. Any translations will also be given a separate number.

It is the publisher’s responsibility to allocate an ISBN. Therefore government publications produced through the contracts managed by The National Archives will all be allocated ISBNs by the publishing contractor. However, if your organisation is the publisher (corporate documents, for example) it is responsible for allocating its own ISBNs to these publications.

Most countries have their own ISBN agency – in the UK this is Nielsen. If your organisation needs ISBNs, you can buy a batch from Nielsen. You need to supply bibliographic data to Nielsen in return.

Bibliographic data

The bibliographic record for a published document may include: the title, author, date of publication, publisher, page extent, format, ISBN, cover price and subject. It is important for the integrity of the public record that there is a comprehensive source of bibliographic data for all United Kingdom official government publications, including online-only publications, and that this information is disseminated through recognised publishing industry channels.

ISBNs and other bibliographic information identify uniquely a publication in a particular format. Publishers supply this data to Nielsen at, or before publication, and Nielsen disseminates it so that subscribers, commonly the book trade, libraries and re-users, can obtain copies of publications for their customers as soon as possible.

An ISBN enables users to find a publication without knowing the publisher. In addition, this unique identifier is particularly useful:

  • when more than one organisation has been involved in the publication
  • when responsibilities have moved from the originating government organisation to another body
  • for publications in a series such as Command and House of Commons Papers
  • to identify publications that only exist in a digital format, having gone out of print
  • to identify the authoritative version of online-only publications

The library of the UK Parliament has a particular requirement to be able to trace all government publications.

In addition, bibliographic information can be added as metadata in the digital copies of publications which helps to support the re-use of the data included within the publication. An established metadata standard such as Dublin Core should be used where possible. Metadata can increase a publication’s accessibility and ‘findability’. Government web teams can provide guidance on this.

The responsibility for generating bibliographic information lies with the publisher (which can be the originating government organisation). Specifications for bibliographic services are therefore included in The National Archives’ publishing contracts.

The United Kingdom Official Publications Database (UKOP) offers a central catalogue of official government publications in the United Kingdom. The database is provided by a private sector company independently of government.

Statutory legal deposit

It is the publisher’s responsibility to comply with legal deposit. This applies to all publishers, including government organisations that publish their own material.

The Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 requires that a copy of all works published in print in the United Kingdom is given to the British Library within a month of publication and copies are made available on demand to the other legal deposit libraries specified in the Act. The legal deposit libraries are:

  • The British Library
  • The National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh
  • The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth
  • The Bodleian Library, Oxford
  • The University Library, Cambridge
  • The Library of Trinity College, Dublin

The Library of Queen’s University, Belfast, is not a Legal Deposit Library under the terms of the Legal Deposit Libraries Act. However, it is treated as an official deposit library for Northern Ireland official publications.

Regulations for the legal deposit of non-print works came into force in April 2013. The regulations allow the British Library and other legal deposit libraries to capture materials which are not published in print, and preserve them as part of a national collection for future generations. Materials within the scope of the regulations include non-print publications, websites and content behind login facilities. Guidance for publishers on the application of the new regulations has been produced by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

From the start of the 2016-17 Parliamentary Session, the legal deposit of Command and House of Commons Papers will take place digitally instead of in print. The British Library will collect and preserve the PDFs of documents published on GOV.UK.

The British Library and the Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries publish further information about print and non-print legal deposit and the libraries.

Customer ordering services

Publishing companies provide ordering services so customers can obtain their own copies of publications in the available formats.

The National Archives’ publishing contracts allow customers to order print copies. It is possible to place standing orders and subscriptions based on the content of the publication, the originating government organisation and by publication type. Standing order customers receive their copies within a day or two of publication. Our contracts also allow customers to order print on demand copies by email, post, phone and internet after publication.

Some companies also ‘push’ digital copies of pre-ordered government publications to their customers on a subscription basis. Government libraries often use such services.