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The Central Office of Information 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 in the archive 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.
Hitler eyes Britain from Berlin

Hitler eyes Britain from Berlin

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.

Danger from Fire - How to protect your home - cover image

Danger from Fire - How to protect your home - cover image

Accessing the collection

The collection is indexed by its own database of records which can be searched from the Social Sciences Reading Room of the British Library. Records 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 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

People visiting the reading room in person can interrogate the database themselves. If you are unable to visit us in person initially, please contact us by phone, fax or email with your enquiry. We will be pleased to make a preliminary search of the database on your behalf and send you the results. If you then decide to visit, we can order material for you in advance.

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. Please note that the collection is for reference only and items must be consulted in the Social Sciences Reading Room.

Further information

Social Sciences Reference Service
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7894
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7761

E-mail: Ask the Social Sciences Reference Team