Click here to skip to content

Social Science electronic resources: The Central Office of Information Archive

Whilst the archive is free to search, titles listed are only available within the Library's Social Sciences Reading Room to registered readers.

How to search the archive | How to access the collection

What is in the Archive?

The Central Office of Information Archive at the British Library consists of a unique collection of over 15,000 free information and guidance leaflets, posters, booklets and other promotional materials dating from the 1940s to 1997. The materials were designed and produced for a range of UK government departments and agencies by the Central Office of Information, which deposited its master set of file copies with the British Library in 2000. The leaflets and other materials in the collection were intended to:

  • Inform the public about their rights and entitlements to, for example, social security benefits
  • Provide straightforward guidance to employers, their workers, professionals and the public about government initiatives, programmes and current regulations, e.g. discipline in schools; education at work
  • Influence behaviour, e.g., anti-drink driving campaign materials
  • Inform citizens about current government policies and their implementation, e.g. nationalisation; the national curriculum
  • Provide careers information, e.g. teaching as a career
  • Inform people overseas about Britain
  • Act as propaganda, e.g. literature dropped from aircraft over occupied countries in World War II

The collection covers the whole spectrum of contemporary life, including:

  • Education, schools and the curriculum
  • Social security benefits and pensions
  • Public health issues, e.g. HIV and AIDS
  • Food safety
  • Environmental issues and nature conservation
  • Overseas trade and exports
  • Housing issues, e.g. the Right to Buy
  • Career opportunities in the public sector and armed forces

This unique collection reveals what the government wanted its citizens to think or know about topical issues at the time of publication and the image of Britain it wanted to project to the outside world. As such it is of enduring interest to social historians. Because it also reveals what regulatory guidance was being given to citizens at a certain date, it could also be used for the resolution of disputes about benefits entitlements.

How to search the archive

Records in the archive include title, name of issuing department, date of issue, language and a location code which must be quoted in all orders. You can search the archive database by:

  • Title keyword or phrase
  • Name of issuing department

You can limit your searches to:

  • Material in a certain language, e.g. Bengali
  • Material issued in a certain decade, e.g. 1940-49
  • Material issued in a certain format, e.g. posters, leaflets

How to access the collection

The collection is only available to registered readers in the Library's Social Sciences Reading Room.

The collection is not housed in the British Library main building at St Pancras, and we will need 24 hours notice to process your order and retrieve items for you.