Government Information in Canada/Information gouvernementale au Canada, Volume 4, number/numéro 1 (Summer/été 1997)
Two Courses at the University of Toronto Faculty of Information Studies (1)
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.
Faculty of Information Studies
Spring Term 1996
Evaluation of the students' work is based on four assignments:
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:
The electronic information sources assignment calls
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
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.
Faculty of Information Studies
Fall Term 1997
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
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
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:
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.
 May be cited as/On peut citer comme suit:
Peter I. Hajnal. "Government and International
International Organizations and Government Information Specialist
University of Toronto
HAJNALP@LIBRARY.UTORONTO.CA Back to text.