I poked around a bit and found a variety of approaches to this on a variety of GoC sites. Here’s the catalogue from Agriculture and the order page from the Canada Revenue Agency, as well as one from Environment Canada.
But what about taking it up a level? Every federal department and agency undertakes publishing. Warehousing and order fulfillment for publications is a pretty standardized business. This to me is a situation that cries out for some level of centralization.
The basic pieces are already in place for this – Public Works has a central publishing database which is publicly accessible at publications.gc.ca. It has a well developed order processing functionality and is supported by solid warehousing and fulfillment facilities. (I know this from my day job.)
Right now, publications.gc.ca is mostly aimed at fulfilling orders for priced pubs, but it also works well for free* publications, which are by far the most common type of government publication – again this is something I know well, since I was involved in getting Industry Canada to use PWGSC as its fulfillment provider.
But here’s the rub – there’s no way currently to integrate the publications database from publications.gc.ca with other government sites.
So what’s a better solution? How about an API that would let departments and agencies display the PWGSC’s catalogue data on their sites? Or a widget? Users would be able to browse, place orders, etc., no matter which GoC site they are on, and the departments and agencies could take advantage of good ol’ economies of scale. All they’d have to do is provide accurate info and a quantity of each publication to this central system to see the benefits.
Actually, I could see the advantage of allowing this to spread beyond federal government sites – booksellers or other sites might be interested also in providing such a service – and that kind of seeding the web would allow PWGSC to really say that it’s getting government publications into citizens’ hands.
* ok so not really free since at the end of the day it’s taxpayer funded — but at least you don’t have to pay twice for “free” govt pubs. Unlike if you want copies of the GoC’s annual reports — they may be freely available online in XHTML and PDF formats, but if you want a paper copy you need to pony up.