CILIPS Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland
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Freedom of Information Requests

One useful and straightforward way of gathering evidence and information that could demonstrate the value of a library service is to submit a Freedom of Information request (FOI). The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 came into force on the 1 January 2005 and gives everyone, even people living outside of Scotland, the legal right to request information held by Scottish public bodies, including the Scottish Government, local councils, the NHS, and most schools, universities and colleges. The act aims to increase openness and accountability across the public sector by ensuring that individuals have the right to access information held by Scottish Public Authorities. People are able to see and question how public bodies function and how decisions are made.

FOI requests can be a good way to find out statistics or information about your local library services. You can then use this evidence to support the claims you are making in your advocacy and campaigning. For example, you may want to find out statistics about your local library’s usage to highlight how it contributes to and supports the community. Alternatively, you may wish to ask for information on why decisions affecting local services have been made, for example why the Council has decided to reduce the opening hours of a library service. It is good to understand how and why decisions such as these were made if you are planning to challenge them.

How do I make an FOI request? 

Submitting an FOI request is straightforward. You simply need to request the information you want from the public body. This must be done in a way that ensures the request can be recorded and kept for future use such as in an e-mail, letter, or audio/video tape. You cannot exercise your FOI rights through requests made during in-person conversations or over the phone. You can usually find the right contact details to send your request to by looking up the public bodies name and ‘Freedom of Information’ on a search engine. The request should include:

  • Your name and contact details so that you can receive a reply
  • A concise request for the information you require – it is important to be clear so that the authority can quickly determine what you need and whether they can fulfil your request
  • What format you require the information in if you have a particular preference, for example if you need an audio version – the authority must provide the information in this format as far as is reasonable

Remember, you don’t have to mention FOI or tell them why you are requesting the information. The public authority then has a maximum of 20 working days to provide you with the information you requested or explain why this has been withheld.

Visit the Scottish Information Commissioner‘s website for all you need to know about submitting an FOI request.