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British Government Information and Propaganda: Collections at the British Library and Elsewhere

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Authored by Jennie Grimshaw
Published on 26th November, 2021 9 min read

British Government Information and Propaganda: Collections at the British Library and Elsewhere

The Ministry of Information (MOI) came into existence on Sept. 4, 1939, the day after Britain's declaration of war on Germany, and the first Minister was sworn into office on Sept. 5,1939. The MOI Digital website explains that it was responsible for:

'[I]ssuing "National Propaganda" at home and abroad, as well as censoring information deemed to be of military value. Using all available modes of communication, the MOI issued pamphlets and posters to local authorities, issued guidance to the press, published books and illustrated magazines, ran thousands of public meetings, curated exhibitions, produced films, organised radio broadcasts, and undertook pioneering social surveys.'

The MOI was replaced in 1946 by the Central Office of Information (COI). It worked with government departments and agencies to produce official information which:

  • Told citizens about their rights and entitlements and nudged them to behave in government approved ways by, for example, stopping smoking and wearing seat belts
  • Was used in armed forces and public service recruitment campaigns
  • Celebrated British achievements in science and industry, and supported trade
  • Presented Britain in a positive light overseas

The COI fell victim to the coalition government’s 'bonfire of the quangos' and it was closed on Dec. 30, 2011. Following the economic crisis of 2008/09, the government decided it would only finance essential advertising campaigns. The COI’s remaining functions were transferred to the Cabinet Office.

What the British Library Has in Print and How to View It

Ministry of Information

The Library’s print collections of MOI materials were mainly acquired under legal deposit by the British Museum Library.  As was usual practice with printed ephemera, the MOI’s output of leaflets, pamphlets and posters, photographs, and articles was not catalogued at the level of the individual document, but was consigned to 'dump pressmarks' with very general entries in the catalogue:

  • [Miscellaneous pamphlets, leaflets etc.], B.S. 51/8
  • [Miscellaneous posters, wall sheets and charts, with text in various languages], B.S.51/29
  • [A collection of official photographs, cards, adhesive stamps and leaflets, with the text in various languages], B.S.51/14
  • [Articles circulated for inclusion in works and staff magazines], B.S.51/23

There is a bibliography of the pamphlets held at BS.51/8 in the Social Sciences Reading Room at St Pancras shelved in the reference collection at OPL.940.53016, which will help you identify individual titles, but nothing for the other sets. You will need to order them to a reading room for consultation a box at a time and rummage.

If you consult the online catalogue Explore the British Library at by entering 'Great Britain Ministry of Information' as search terms you will find more substantial books and journals issued by the MOI, such as:

  • The Jewish Bulletin, 1941-45 (Pressmark: P.P.15.aee).
  • London’s Awake, 1940- (Pressmark: B.S.51/3).
  • Air of Glory: a Wartime Scrapbook by Cecil Beaton (Pressmark: BS.51/47).
  • What Britain Has Done, September 1939-December 1943. A Selection of Outstanding Facts and Figures (Pressmark:

Central Office of Information

The Central Office of Information (COI) Archive at the British Library is made up of the file copies of all the public information materials it designed for government departments and agencies from the 1940s to 1997. It includes some materials produced during World War II by its predecessor, the Ministry of Information.

We first made its acquaintance on March 2, 2000, when we were invited to view it by the COI. The space it was occupying had to be cleared by the end of that month, and the COI needed to find it a new home quickly.  Had we not taken it in, it would have been pulped.

The collection was (and still is) housed in box files and is kept in a closed access store in Yorkshire. Each item has a label showing its individual location, which tells you which box it is in.  The collection came with its own database in CAIRS format on floppy discs. Records included title, name of issuing department, date of issue, language, and location code. These records were extracted from the floppy discs and output to a spreadsheet from which they were uploaded to our catalogue so that items could be found and ordered. They must be consulted in the Social Sciences reading room at St Pancras; they cannot be delivered elsewhere. A detailed guide on how to search the Archive is available on the British Library website at

How Can I View This Material?

Materials issued by the Ministry of Information and its successor the Central Office of Information are kept in storage at our site in Boston Spa, Yorkshire. They are available for consultation in our St Pancras and Boston Spa reading rooms by registered readers only. If you are not yet a reader but would like to join, the procedure is explained on our web site at

Materials are requested for delivery to the reading room of your choice from within our catalogue, Explore the British Library, at You will need to allow 48 hours for documents to be delivered. There is a guide to how to order items on our website at Please note that items in the COI Archive can only be consulted in the Social Sciences reading room at St Pancras; they cannot be delivered elsewhere.

Some MOI and COI documents are held in our Document Supply collection and these can be borrowed on inter-library loan through the BL On Demand Service. Please consult your librarian about this.

What Is Available Online?

Ministry of Information

MOI Digital at is the online home of ‘A Publishing and Communications History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46’, a major project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council between 2014 and 2017. This was undertaken by the Institute of English Studies in collaboration with the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London. The website includes a blog and full text of Home Intelligence Reports and the Wartime Social Survey. These reports were created for the purpose of monitoring public opinion, and for researching aspects of wartime life of interest to the government.

Central Office of Information

The UK Government Web Archive has captured snapshots of the COI’s website from 2004 to 2013 at*/ plus some audio and public information film content at*/ and*/ 

The National Archives website [] also features a selection of some of the most memorable and influential COI public information films covering fascinating events from British post-war history, put together to celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2006. Other films have found their way onto YouTube. You can find them by searching for “Central Office of Information videos' on Google. The National Archives is also working with the British Film Institute and the Imperial War Museum to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the COI’s foundation.

What Is Available at Other Institutions?

The National Archives holds general records of the MOI and COI. Browse the National Archives Discovery catalogue under government department reference INF for a full description [].

As well as public information in print, both the Central Office of Information and the Ministry of Information were prolific producers and commissioners of films. These are not available at the British Library, but are held at the British Film Institute and the Imperial War Museum. 

When the Central office of Information closed, its archive of public information films produced by itself and its predecessor the Ministry of Information was transferred to the British Film Institute. For a filmography, visit  (COI) and (MOI). To explore further search the BFI catalogue at Try searching for 'Ministry of Information' or 'Central Office of Information' as production companies in advanced search for good results. 

A selection of COI films can also be purchased from the BFI shop at

The Imperial War Museum also has a large collection of COI and MOI public information films relating to World War II and the armed forces generally. They are recorded in its film catalogue at Particularly notable are a set of 415 films produced by predecessors of the Ministry of Information about World War I. Descriptions include a detailed synopsis and some films are available to view free of charge from within the catalogue.

Authored by Jennie Grimshaw

Jennie Grimshaw

Jennie Grimshaw has worked with the official publications collections at the British Library since 1996, when she was asked to take over as manager of the Official Publications and Social Sciences Reading Room. This was a dramatic change of career direction as she had previously been a cataloguer at the British National Bibliography and subsequently at the Science Reference and Information Service. She has a particular interest in web archiving and has curated themed collections of archived websites on Brexit and all the general elections since 2005.

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