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From Slaw: Canada's Online Legal Magazine

“Though almost all government documents are now "born digital”, university libraries continue to acquire domestic government documents in print for their govdocs collections. Print is an option which non-academic and special libraries (especially in law firms) can no longer afford. One commercial publisher has collected Canadian “born digital” govdocs into a comprehensive collection and made it available to subscribers online: the Canadian Electronic Library-Canadian Public Policy Collection. This is a collection of “monograph” publications (no periodical series) from Canadian federal and provincial government agencies, public policy institutes, advocacy groups, think-tanks, university research centres and other public interest groups, in both English and French. The collection, which is built on the ebrary ebook platform, currently includes over 24,000 titles. Licences are surprisingly liberal and subscription costs reasonable, so that it is as easy for law firms to subscribe as it is for a larger public or academic library. Because our university library – as does the library of every university with a law school – has a govdocs library that is an official government depository, and also because we subscribe to the Canadian Electronic Library described above, we at the Osgoode Hall Law School Library essentially no longer acquire govdocs. 
Louis Mirando
Chief Law Librarian,
Osgoode Hall Law School

Public Documents in desLibris

desLibris offers access to selected Canadian “grey literature”. These reports from non-commercial publishers are freely available on the Web, but they are often difficult to collect and access without a tool like desLibris.

The collection includes research papers, reports, studies, policy papers & briefs, discussion papers, numbered series, working papers, political party platforms, evidence reviews, systematic reviews, economic evaluations, and environmental scans. Coverage of annual reports is limited. Inclusion of technical reports is limited to health-related topics. 

Over the period from 2005 to 2013, we have assembled over 30,000 monographs, with emphasis on documents published since 2003. The acquisition rate runs at around 4,000 to 4,500 new documents per year. The editors of desLibris monitor over 500 agency websites on a regular basis to extract titles of significant and lasting reference value and preserve them for users to access from a single source.

The 30,000+ titles in the desLibris Public Documents collection are also provided on the ebrary platform through the two CEL Collections (Canadian Public Policy Collection and Canadian Health Research Collection.) The differences between the two options are in platform features, not content. For a quick comparative chart, see "Comparing CEL and desibris."


We make special efforts to locate documents which receive media attention. We also make a point of saving significant but ephemeral documents, particularly election platforms and policy documents from federal and provincial political parties.

Perspectives vary widely, 

  • from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives to the Fraser Institute
  • from the Pembina Institute to the Canada West Foundation
  • from the David Suzuki Foundation to the C.D. Howe Institute
  • from Greenpeace to the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute,
  • from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network to the Institute for Marriage and the Family.

The range of topics covered is very broad. Here is a sampling:

  • Climate change and the environmental impact of the oil and gas industry
  • Aboriginal issues, such as residential schools and aboriginal health
  • Foreign policy and international development 
  • Electoral reform 
  • Social determinants of health
  • Homelessness and poverty reduction
  • Immigration and multiculturalism
  • Technology, copyright, and privacy
  • Criminal justice system
  • Education, from early childhood to post-secondary
  • Gender-related issues
  • Afghanistan
  • Public health 
  • Medical “best practices”
  • Evaluation of drugs and medical technologies
  • Patient safety

The most highly represented publisher is Statistics Canada.

Depository Publications

Since 2011, desLibris editors have been regularly polling the Canada Depository catalogue to extract significant titles from this collection. To review or limit searches to titles with federal depository numbers, use this Advanced Search.  

desLibris editors also find government documents which do not reach depository lists by regularly scanning websites and news releases of federal and provincial government departments and agencies.

Licensing of Public Documents

On the public site, desLibris provides access to its database of over 30,000 public documents. Each document is available in preview form for sampling. A paid institutional or individual membership is required to access the full document, either online or by downloading a DRM-free PDF.

The user license permits Public Document Titles to be downloaded, stored in local storage devices and shared freely under the terms of the CreativeCommons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

This essentially gives any member with paid access to the Public Documents collection a perpetual access license to this content. Libraries may also download PDFs of these documents for local storage from their CELArc sites.

Every document is fully catalogued and assigned Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), and Medical Subject Headings (MESH) when applicable.  Complete metadata for documents is available for searching and viewing in desLibris, while institutional subscribers will also receive MARC records for individual titles that can be added to their own catalogues. To allow for processing time, there is a two-month lag between document appearance and availability of MARC records. 


In addition, early in 2014 we will be establishing a "dark archive" for all Public Documents using the LOCKSS protocol.


If you’re concerned about the disappearance of web-based resources in the fields of Canadian public policy or health research, desLibris offers a means of preserving and distributing documents of lasting significance.  If you're aware of PDF monographs that may be suitable for inclusion in the collection, please use this form to alert us.