Large publications and PDFs

I’m looking for some examples of how other gov sites are handling large publications. The project I’m working on has quite a few large PDF publications (300-750 pages) that they want in accessible HTML for the new website. And the intention is to not include PDFs at all on the new website.

Interested to see other examples of how people are handling this type of thing. Also keen to hear opinions for or against including PDF documents as well as HTML for large pubs.

Hi Nathan

This is something we are working on at Dept of the Environment and Energy - long term aim is to have everything digital first and PDF second - if PDF then that needs to have an Exec summary or abstract + any key findings, data (maps/graphs) as marked up content and interactive data that can be downloaded. All content needs to be tagged with appropriate metadata and taxonomies so it’s searchable and able to be aggregated.

As a department we produce a lot of reports so this is essential for us in terms of sharing, reuse and finadability of content.

I worked on the last State of the Environment report which was a 900+ page report for 2011 and, if we were to print it out, the 2016 report is equivalent of 3000+ pages. We developed a govCMS site to host both those reports and heavily relied on taxonomies and aggregation in the UX/IA.
Have a look at

Let me know if you’d like to talk about it more.



Hi Nathan
This brings to mind a project we had for our town planning scheme, which was quite long (one planning scheme policy was over 1000 pages by itself). The team create printable PDFs for any parts that are amended (so only the latest version is accessible in PDF format), but in general, the scheme is accessed via the website version.
This is probably not the generic example you are looking for, as the eplanning website is specifically designed for our current and most recent planning schemes, but it is accessed very frequently both internally and externally.
The legislation pages also come to mind.
Sheree Anderson
Townsville City Council

Hi Nathan

Speaking with my librarian hat on! All Australian publications must be lodged under legal deposit - where depends on their state/territory - for long term preservation and access.

At the Northern Territory Library we have been a little concerned that web polices re HTML requirements for documents are hampering the collection of these publications for long term preservation. Not that we want to stop html documents on web sites.

A number of the NT government departments send us a copy of their PDF file which we add to our digital library, and we provide back to the department a persistent resolvable url - this link is then added to the web site either as the way to access the document or as an alternative to the html versions. The publications are full text searchable on our digital library.

Other states can discuss options with their State Library - the National edeposit service is launching officially next month and is available now in soft launch. A persistent link can be obtained for publications collected through this national service. For more information see - Contacts for each of the state libraries can be found at



really great to hear everyone getting on board with digital first … how about using CSS print styles so that people can create their own PDF client-side if they so choose? saves on all that specialist knowledge and infrastructure for creating and curating PDFs? there’s likely a couple of clearly defined use cases for providing PDF on the web, but, while agencies have organised themselves around a particular format, most of the time the reason for using PDF is habit rather than evidence-based.


Hi Megan, was it a site per document, or are they both on that one site?
Do they get much traffic, and how does it compare to the pdf downloads?
What sort of resources were involved in converting them, and did it take long?
Thanks Brett

I remember taking this approach a handful of years ago. Where all documents were to be put on our website as HTML first.
Good intentions, but yeah nah.
Converting everything produced by the department into HTML was not sustainable.
Especially when you get those aforementioned hundreds of page documents. Full of charts and tables. Then those that were prepared by external consultants and provided as PDF only. And need to be online before COB.
Without access to an army prepared to do HTML conversion work. Nor the time. Took a more pragmatic approach, put effort into converting specific publications.

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Looking at, they seem to be taking a HTML-first approach to common government publications (annual reports, corporate plans, portfolio budget statements, etc.).

There’s still a smattering of diagrams and tables that would struggle to pass WCAG2, but the standardised approach is being rolled out across government for 2018-2019 Annual Reports, at least. Common data elements within annual reports are also able to be compared across portfolios as a result.

This might be a good example of the “specific publications” being referred to by @chris.lamb.

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From July this year, the Australian Signals Directorate started publishing the Information Security Manual (ISM) in HTML format:

Previously, this was PDF/DOC-only, clocking in at around 182 pages - not quite as large as the examples that @Nathan.McDowell is wrangling, but still fairly substantial.

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