Social Science blog

Exploring Social Science at the British Library

13 March 2024

Consulting Official Publications collections after the cyber attack.


This post, written by the Library's Content Lead for Official and Government Publications describes how readers can access official publications in the wake of the cyber-attack on the Library in October 2023.   Information about the restoration of services can be found on the British Library Knowledge Matters blog, and details of opening hours and current services are on the Library's website.


Following the cyber-attack on the British Library’s IT estate in October 2023, access to our official publications collections is limited, but will gradually improve.  At present, you can only consult print and microform materials that are either shelved in the Social Sciences Reading Room at St Pancras or in the St Pancras basements. In the reading room we have a selection of historic UK parliamentary and legal texts including:

Commons and Lords journals
The Official Report (Hansard) and Standing Committee Debates
Public General Acts, Local and Personal Acts and Private Acts
UK Statutory Instruments
House of Commons papers and bills on microfiche, 1801-2004/05
House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century reprint edited by Sheila Lambert


Reading room

Official publications on the open shelves in the Social Sciences Reading Room at St Pancras.


Basement 1 at St Pancras holds an eclectic mix of UK, US and United Nations publications in print which, in a leap back to the 20th century, can be ordered on paper tickets:

Bound sets of Commons and Lords papers and bills from 1801-
United States Congressional Serial Set 1817/18-1979/90
Electoral registers, 2002-
United Nations documents 1946-2012


Official texts were historically catalogued and shelved in series, not at the individual document level. Fortunately hard copy indexes are still available in the reading room and these will enable you to record the correct citation in the series so that the library assistants can locate your chosen document on the shelf.



Hansard: the official record of parliamentary debates in the House of Commons.


The St Pancras basements also hold a treasure trove of official materials on microform which can be consulted in lieu of electronic sources, such as:

The depository collection of US federal government and Congressional papers, 1982- on microfiche arranged by Superintendent of Documents (SuDocs) code
US Congressional hearings on microfiche
Historic electoral registers for England, 1832-1937 on microfilm
HMSO controller’s library on microfilm
Government publications relating to Kenya, 1897-1963 on microfilm
Annual departmental reports relating to Sierra Leone, 1893-1961 on microfilm


There are printed indexes to these sets in the reading room that will help you to find the correct document codes and reel numbers so that you can place orders. There is also a card index of official microforms available for consultation.


Now for the bad news. Apart from these print and microform sets, all other UK, foreign national government, and intergovernmental organisation (IGO) publications are two hundred miles away on our Boston Spa site in Yorkshire. UK departmental publications and electoral registers 1832-2001 in print are kept in an automated store and cannot be retrieved as yet, although restoring this service is a priority.  However the historic collections of foreign national government and IGO documents are in static stores, and we aim to restart delivery around the end of March. You can find their shelfmarks in the interim catalogue or in the printed copy of the British Museum Library catalogue in the Social Sciences reading room.


Edinburgh council

An example of the electoral registers available at the Library.


Our world class collection of subscribed electronic resources is inaccessible at the moment, including full-text document collections such as the US Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1994, Congressional Record to 1997,  Congressional Hearings, 1823-1979, US Territorial Papers, the US Foreign Broadcast Information Service, UK Parliamentary Papers, UK State Papers Online 16th-18th centuries, and British Online Archives databases, but in many cases there are print or microform alternatives available.  Originals of digitised UK government archives are available at the National Archives, Kew.  Recent UK, IGO and foreign national government materials can of course be found freely available on the internet.  Large and influential IGOs such as the United Nations, the IMF and the World Bank now make their electronic libraries available free as a public good:

World Bank Open Knowledge Repository 
United Nations Official Document System  
IMF eLibrary 


You will find records for electronic UK, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland government documents acquired through non-print legal deposit before April 2023 in the interim catalogue, but there is no access to the documents themselves at present. We are aiming to restore view access in June or July this year, so watch this space. However, prior to the cyber incident we received feeds of records with hot links to freely available documents published by the European Union, the US federal government and the Irish Republic government. These links work and you can view the documents from within the catalogue.


Access to full text of Scottish government and Parliament documents is available from the National Library of Scotland catalogue (Library Search). Queen’s University Belfast hosts the Northern Ireland Official Publications Archive, a repository containing Northern Ireland government documents. For current UK government and Parliamentary documentation you can of course search Gov.UK and the UK Parliament website.


Navigating the Library’s historic print and microform collections of government and IGO documents is challenging because they were catalogued at the series level (print) or set level (microform). To trace the correct citation of a document within a series or microform set you need to consult a range of printed indexes. Please ask our friendly and efficient reference team for help. They can be contacted in person in the Social Sciences reading room or by email at [email protected]