Report from the IPU / ASGP / IFLA Seminar

Publisher: Inter-Parliamentary Union

2) Report from the IPU / ASGP / IFLA Seminar: "Informing democracy: Building capacity to meet parliamentarian's information and knowledge needs" - Geneva 16 October 2008
 

 Introduction 
A one-day conference, Informing Democracy: Building capacity to meet parliamentarians’ information and knowledge needs, was held in Geneva, Switzerland,on 16 October 2008.  Jointly organized bythe Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the Association of Secretaries General ofParliaments (ASGP) and the International Federation of Library Associations andInstitutions’ (IFLA) Library and Research Services for Parliaments Section,this event brought together over 200 participants from more than 70delegations, including parliamentarians, secretaries general and thoseresponsible for library and research services. 

The purpose of the conference was to permit an exchange ofperspectives on the challenges faced by parliamentarians seeking theinformation and knowledge they require to perform their duties effectively.  To this end, it focused on the evolvinginformation needs of parliamentarians and the important role that can be playedby parliaments, secretaries general, and library and research services in meetingthose needs. 

This event – which took place the day after the closure of the 119thIPU Assembly and the ASGP fall meeting – was held just two months after the 24thAnnual IFLA Pre-Conference of Library and Research Services for Parliaments,hosted by Canada in Ottawa.  At that time, representatives from legislative libraries from around the world discussed how those libraries help their parliamentary clients to make the democratic process more effective.

The Ottawa event underscored the similarity in key challenges currently facingparliamentary organizations in many different countries.  These include:
· technological advances, whichhave led to profound changes in the information needs and expectations ofparliamentary clients;
· limited resources andexpertise, which sometimes hinder the provision of quality service;
· a decline in requests fortraditional library services and materials, accompanied by a growingdemand for more complex and multi-faceted analysis; and  
· the need to work with partnersfrom other jurisdictions to develop and implement successful, innovativestrategies to address these challenges.

It was against this backdrop that the Informing Democracy conferencewas developed.  The Ottawa Pre-Conferencepermitted representatives from IFLA’s Library and Research Services forParliaments Section to share ideas and experiences and to build connectionsamong peers.  The partnership among IFLA,the IPU and the ASGP made it possible to extend this dialogue to the broaderparliamentary context, thereby affording a unique opportunity forparliamentarians, secretaries general and staff from parliamentary librariesand research services to collectively debate and explore shared challenges.  As will be seen in this report, the processnot only helped the event’s co-sponsors to establish stronger connections, but alsoprovided a roadmap for future collaborative initiatives and opportunities.

This report includes summaries of the organizing groups’ openingremarks, and a synthesis of the four panel session presentations and plenarydiscussions.  To set the context forthese discussions, it opens with a reproduction of the Background Paper aroundwhich participants were asked to organize their presentations and discussion points.  The report ends by presenting the main conclusions and recommendations of this conference. 

Background Paper[1]

Access to reliable, timely information isessential to the proper functioning of democratic legislatures.  In their legislative role, parliamentariansneed information as they monitor issues, develop policy solutions, predictconsequences, and influence government decision-making.  In their role of overseeing the executive,they need information in order to monitor the success of ongoing programs andto identify areas of weakness.

Parliamentary libraries and research services are accountable for understanding the needs of their clients in order to provide them with the specialized information that will substantively assist parliamentarians who are working under great pressure and within demanding constraints of time.  These services contribute to the effectiveness of parliament by providing authoritative, independent and non-partisan information.  The unique value to parliamentarians of dedicated library and research services is growing.  A growing volume of information can be found through search engines and other sources, but often the motives of those providing the information are about the promotion of a point of view or aspecific course of action.  Information from a trusted source carries an increasing premium.

Parliamentarians’ need for independentinformation is probably even greater in developing democracies and economies,where government may be the gatekeeper of information relevant to policy-makingand where few non-governmental alternatives exist.  When government is the only source ofinformation, or when available information is not transparent, parliamentariansare limited in their ability to hold governments to account, and an imbalanceof power between the legislature and the executive may result.

Over the past quarter-century, there hasbeen a growing demand from parliamentarians for more advanced informationservices, including expert analysis and synthesis of information.  There has also been increasing competitionfrom lobbyists and organizations offering their own version of informationassistance and briefing through intensive communication campaigns.  Sifting through this “information overload”presents a major challenge for parliamentarians.

Historically, the role of parliamentary libraries has included collecting, cataloguing, conserving materials andproviding an information service function.  These services have in many places evolvedgreatly in recent decades, in parallel with new information and communicationstechnologies that have fundamentally changed how parliaments manage knowledgeand information.

Some parliamentary libraries and research services have adapted well to this new environment, creating practical, client-oriented information products and services that anticipate clients’needs as well as training programs to help parliamentarians access and useinformation.  These services are oftensupplemented by other information and documentation functions, such as publicoutreach programs, digital archiving of parliamentary proceedings, and mediamonitoring.

Other library and research services have remained within a more traditional role as suppliers of books, journals anddocumentation and may lack the capacity, resources or institutional support tobuild an enhanced service model.  Newer services in post-conflict states and in some developing democracies may haveeven more serious resource issues.

The challenge is to develop strategies tosupport the evolution of parliamentary libraries and research services so thatthey can provide more value for their clients.  By adopting new methods and technologies ininformation management, these services can provide part of the solution toinformation overload and to issues of legislative quality and accountability.  The goal, which some services are alreadyattaining, is to build the capacity to deliver sustained support tailored tothe specific information requirements of parliamentary clients.

Opening and Welcoming Remarks

Mr. John Pullinger, Librarian and Director General, Information Services, House of Commons, UnitedKingdom, in his capacity as conference moderator, opened the day by summarizing the task at hand: to better understand one another. He noted a universally relevant consideration– the increasingly complex knowledge needs of parliamentarians – and stressedthat this trend has made it all the more important for legislative libraries andresearch services to adapt and work closely with their clients to betterunderstand and meet their information and knowledge needs.

Following these opening remarks, representatives from the host organizations shared theirexpectations for the conference.

The Honourable Theo-Ben Gurirab, newly elected President of the IPU, noted that many nationalparliaments lackthe capacity to accessavailable information.  He emphasized the importance of parliamentarians’being well informed as a basis for their decision-making, and wished theconference delegates well in their deliberations.

Mr. Anders Johnsson, Secretary General of the IPU, explained that this conference on the information and knowledge needs of parliamentarians was the third year that theIPU and the ASGP had jointly organized a conference following the IPU’s fall Assemblyin Geneva.  Each conference has dealt with some aspect of information and parliament: the first, which was organized with the European Broadcasting Union, focused on parliaments’ use of public broadcasting to communicate with citizens; the second, undertaken in collaboration with the Global Centre for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) inParliament, and with the United Nations, addressed the utility of ICT inparliaments.

Mr. Johnsson noted that in the early 1990s, IPU assistance to parliaments included support to build information and research service capacity for those parliaments that had to rely upon their own nation’s government departments and agencies forinformation.  Although circumstances haveimproved for many, there are still unmet information needs.  He suggested that this gathering become the basisof an enduring partnership, responsive to the needs of parliamentarians.

He invited participants to deliberate on the following points:
· the information parliamentarians need to do their work;
· the various ways in which parliamentary library and research services fitwithin the overall mission of the parliamentary secretariat;
· how traditional libraries can and must transform themselves;
· how libraries can maintain and improve relations with parliamentarians;
· ways to strengthen parliamentary library and research services, throughdomestic and international support;
· the challenges facing parliamentary libraries and research services indeveloped and developing countries; and
· potential partnerships among the various stakeholders (the IPU,parliaments, the ASGP, IFLA) – which organization(s) should play a lead role? 

Mr. Anders Forsberg, outgoing president of the ASGP, openedhis remarks with a discussion of the role of the information society as thesuccessor to the industrial society.  Heexplained that the information society is one in which the creation, distribution,use and integration of information is a significant activity in every sphere,whether economic, political, social or cultural.  A closely related concept is that of theknowledge society, and even more closely related is democracy itself.  For this reason, it is difficult to imaginedemocracy without information or knowledge.  Information is a cornerstone of democracy, making the theme of this conference particularly important and relevant.

He noted that over the past half-century,there has been a growingdemand from parliamentarians for more advanced information services, expertanalysis, and synthesis of information.  Parliamentary libraries and research services have played animportant role in meeting this demand.  Heexpressed the hope that this conference would permit an effective discussion onthe evolving needs of parliamentarians,and on the differences in needs in different parts of the world.

He also asserted that secretaries general of parliaments, officials responsible for library services, and the parliamentarians who use these services have a common responsibility to build the capacity of parliaments to meet information and knowledge needs.  With this in mind, he expressed the hope thatthe conference wouldlead to future meetings and activities, and encouraged participants to considerwhat they might want partners to do by way of follow-up.

Ms. Claudia Lux, President of IFLA, outlined the role thatlegislative libraries and research services play in ensuring thatparliamentarians have the information they need to promote sound democraticgovernance.  IFLA’s Library and ResearchServices for Parliaments Section brings together information specialistsworking within many legislatures.  Withmembers from over 120 parliamentary libraries at supranational, national andsub-national levels in more than 80 countries, the Section’s mission is topromote the role of libraries and research services in helping parliamentarianscarry out their legislative functions.

What distinguishes legislative libraries and research services is their clientele.  Parliamentarians have a number of demanding roles.  They examine legislation, oversee government, and undertake committee studies.  They also represent the interests of their constituents or regions, interact with fellow parliamentarians from othercountries, and perform functions within their political parties.  In the process, parliamentarians make use of information provided by legislative libraries as well as the research andanalysis provided by parliamentary research services.

Ms. Lux noted that parliamentary libraries are often called upon to help parliamentarians deal with their information overload; to adapt to ever-changing expectations about how best to deliver information to their clients; and to respond to increasingly challenging requests.  Much of the value-added work done by libraries and research services is the non-partisan evaluation and condensation of thewide variety of information on a given topic. 

As with other libraries, legislative libraries come in all shapes and sizes.  Those represented in IFLA’s Library andResearch Services for Parliaments Section range from one-person libraries, toservices with hundreds of staff.  Thelibraries also range from traditional ones that offer books, journals anddocumentation, to those that rely upon the latest information technology tohelp their clients.  For instance, somelibraries offer their clients customized information products and encouragethem to establish connections with other providers of knowledge.  In many new democracies, legislative librariesdo not have the resources to provide these enhanced services, even if theywould like to.

Ms. Lux also reminded participants that delegates to the August 2008 conference of IFLA’s Library and Research Services for Parliaments Section, held in Ottawa, stressed that legislative libraries must develop partnerships to meet the challenges posed by the digital transformation of information and by the changing needs and demands of parliamentary clients.  To this end, she emphasized that we need to understand each other’s needs and constraints if we are to make informed choices about the ways in which we approach the information needs ofparliamentarians.  She expressed the hopethat the outcome of this meeting would serve as the basis for future meetingson legislative libraries and research services and the role they play insupporting parliaments and promoting democracy.

Session Proceedings

As noted, a key objective of the conference was to encourage dialogue among those who useand are involved with parliamentary library and research services.  It was hoped that better mutual understandingwould facilitate networking among parliamentarians, secretaries general andlibrary and research staff, and, by extension, assist those tasked with meetingthe information needs of parliamentarians to create more useful and targetedproducts.

This objective determined the order of the panelsessions.  The first session was to hear first-hand from parliamentarians.  The second was to look at how library and research services are valued within the parliamentaryenvironment.  The third was to assessways to improve services in light of changes in technology and in the roles of parliamentarians; and the fourth addressed strategies to establish more effective inter-parliamentary partnerships.

I. Parliamentarians’ evolving information and knowledge needs

The parliamentarians who participated inthis session were asked to organize their presentations around the followingquestions:

  1. What are the information and knowledge needs of parliamentarians?  To what extent do these needs and expectations vary among parliaments?  How are the needs of parliamentarians evolving?
  2. How do parliamentarians meet their information needs?  What challenges do they face?
  3. What expectations do parliamentarians have of their library and research services?

Canadian Senator Dennis Dawson, Member of the House of Representatives ofUruguay Mr. Diego Cánepa, and Second Vice-President of the Senate of Thailand Mrs. Tassana Boontong each spoke of how their respective parliamentarylibraries have been essential to the performance of their duties asparliamentarians.  A recurring theme wasthe information overload facing parliamentarians and the need for the accurate,reliable and non-partisan information that can be provided by parliamentarylibraries and research services.

Senator Dennis Dawson spoke of the evolving roles of parliamentarians in light of the possibilities and opportunities created by new technologies.  He has been using the services of Canada’sLibrary of Parliament for more than 30 years and has witnessed how it has adapted to changing technology and demands.  Technology has led to the democratization ofinformation, with both parliamentarians and the public having greater access to material on the work of parliament and parliamentarians.  With greater access comes the need for more filtering and fact-checking.  Senator Dawson pointed out that material on public information websites such asWikipedia is often inaccurate.  He relies heavily on parliamentary library and research services because he knows he willreceive a response that is impartial, unbiased and analyzed by experts.

The other challenge, he stressed, was to provide information in a way that makes it usable.  All the information may be publicly available, but until a specialist has evaluated and synthesized it, the knowledge neededcan remain elusive to parliamentarians and the public alike.  As Senator Dawson explained: “It is not about who ownswhat … As parliamentarians, we just want access to information in a form thatmakes sense to us.”

He concluded by emphasizing that parliamentarians play four distinct roles – in the chamber, in committees, in their consitituencies or regions, and on the international stage.  These roles cross the lines between parliamentary institutions, and it is essential for parliamentarians that procedural staff and library and research staff work closely together so that parliamentarians may carry out their democratic duties.

In contrast to what is provided by various lobbies and political research bureaus, parliamentarians know that the information provided to us by parliamentary libraries and research services is impartial, non-partisan, and has been analyzed by experts ….  In other words, parliamentary libraries are a benefit for our work as legislators as they provide us with high-quality information.

- Senator Dennis Dawson, Canada

Mr. Cánepa focuse dhis presentation on the role that parliamentary libraries can play in holdingthe executive to account.  Parliaments, he said, came about to counter the power of the executive branch; however, there has consistently been an imbalance of power and funds between theexecutive and the legislative branches of government.  Being a member of the opposition is verydifferent from being a member of the government – opposition members have fewer resources, and the information they need is often less accessible.  Parliamentary library and research services can help correct that imbalance.

He noted that there is very high turnover from one parliamentarysession to the next in Uruguay,with up to 50-60% of the legislature being newly elected.  This means that it is the parliamentary staffwho hold the institutional knowledge.  Parliamentariansand parliamentary staff have to work together closely to improve understanding. One of the major problems is gettingaccess to relevant information: “The best way of not informing is over-informing,”burying relevant information in irrelevant information.  It takes time to discern what elements areimportant, and parliamentarians do not have a lot of time.

With respect to timely information, online information is available … but what you need is to have people in a position to take advantage of this wealth of information.  You need to have technical expertise so that information of use to parliamentarians can be made available to them.  There is a great deal of technology available, clearly, but if you don’t have the human resources available, if you don’t have people trained to help you, then it is not much use to you.

- Mr. Diego Cánepa, Member of the House of Representatives, Uruguay

Mr. Cánepa added that a new model is needed in Uruguay, one where the library and research services provide assistance on an on-demand basis.  Parliamentarians need comparative legislation, analysis of current situations, and information about issues expected to come before parliament.  There needs to be a much closer relationship between parliamentarians and the legislative libraryand research services, so that information can be tailored to client needs in achanging parliamentary environment.  Heemphasized that it is important to remember that parliamentarians are notelected because they know how a parliament works; they are elected because theyare better at understanding people.  Votersdo not necessarily elect people who know more, but people who will represent thembetter.  Access to relevant information benefitsall Members of Parliament, enabling them to promote ideas better and provideconcrete responses to domestic and international challenges.

Mrs. Boontong discussed parliamentarians’ need for good informationto keep up with the many competing voices in society.  Parliament has to answer to new national and global players, and thereis closer scrutiny by a more informed electorate and international media.  Consequently, Mrs.Boontong stated, “How I use information in my job is paramount in how I testthe quality of my leadership.”  To speak effectivelyin parliament requires credible, accurate, balanced, well-researched andindependent information.  The country iswatching.

I am now covering issues that are different from questions with which I was involved before coming to parliament.

- Mrs. Tassana Boontong, Second Vice-President, Senate of Thailand

Mrs. Boontong was a nurse before entering parliament and is sometimesasked to use her health care expertise – for example, on the health committee;but more often she is asked to work on issues with which she is less familiar.  Before deciding how to vote on a legislativeproposal, much work must be done: reading the text of the legislation, reviewingthe bill’s history, and considering international comparisons.  It is difficult to do all this withoutassistance, as there is so much information and some of it is irrelevant or misleading.  There are also many different sources ofinformation: political parties, lobbyists, stakeholders, the media, the Internet,and academic articles.  She relies on herparliamentary library to find the accurate, relevant and objective informationessential for decision-making.

The opening panel session elicited a wide range of comments.  Several delegates emphasized the benefits of  having representatives from the IPU, the ASGP and IFLA in attendance and called for future opportunities to discuss parliamentarians’information needs.  Other points raisedincluded the following:

Mrs. Rosa Fuentes, Director of Information at the Spanish Senate, noted that parliamentary libraries often provide information tothe other institutions operating in parliament – the committees directorate, cabinet services or caucus research – which in turn provide a final product to parliamentarians.  While the parliamentarians’ information needs may be served, the role of library staff may not be adequately recognized, and this can be problematic when a library needs torequest more resources. 

Mr. Fouad Al-Ansari, Director of Research and Studies of the Council of Representatives, Bahrain, pointed out that parliamentarians need support to consider the potentialeffects of legislation.  Such information cannot be randomly collected over the Internet, but requires objective research.

Mr. Constantin TshisuakaKabanda, Secretary General of the NationalAssembly, DemocraticRepublic of the Congo, agreed thatmanagement of information andexpertise is a pressing challenge for some, but reminded the conference that librariesin developing countries face fundamental issues such as a lack of the basicknowledge to build capacity.  He notedthat his library has just 1,000 volumes, but more than 7,000 visitors during a parliamentary session.  He appealed to theconference to partner with him to strengthen capacity in his parliamentarylibrary.

Ms. Claudia Lux, President of IFLA, underscored the importance of formalizing the relationship between IFLA, the IPU and the ASPG.  To this end, she suggested the creation of agrant, which could be managed by IFLA’s Action for development throughLibraries Programme (ALP), to help build capacity for parliamentarylibrary and research services, particularly in developing countries.  She added that this was an area where IFLAcould take a lead role, given that its members have the needed experience andexpertise.

II. The value ofdedicated parliamentary library and research services

The second session of the day focused on thestructures and products available within parliamentary institutions to assistparliamentarians.  The panellists wereasked to consider:

What are the potential benefits and outcomes of well-organized and resourced parliamentary library and research services?
What strategic priorities should guide the evolution of parliamentary libraries and research services?  What challenges and risks are there in this evolution?
What changes in culture and in competencies are required by library and research services to provide better value for their parliamentary clients?

Mrs. Doris Mwinga, Clerkof the National Assembly of Zambia, Mr. Xavier Roques, Secretary General of the Questure of the National Assembly, France, and Mr. Jan Keukens, DeputyHead of Information Services, House of Representatives of the States General, The Netherlands, each explored the evolution of their institutions and how they fit into the broader parliamentaryenvironment.

A common theme among thepresentations was the need to embrace changing technology.  As Mr. Roques said, “Computerize, computerize, computerize.  If you have limited resources, computerize!”  It was emphasized during this session and throughout the day that traditional libraries can and must transform themselves into more modern services for providing information.

Mrs. Mwinga told delegates that “It is generally agreedby all librarians that there’s a need to redefine their role.  They have to be more proactive, and evolvefrom a tradition of being passive keepers of books on shelves to informationactivists who follow their users to provide relevant information services.”  She reported that, to this end, her library hasbeen attempting to maximize the use of the latest available technologies.  Since 2001, the library has had a local areanetwork and several computers, and it is currently working on linking the constituencyoffices to the library.  It is digitizing relevant parliamentary documents and will have web-based solutions for information and knowledge management and library automation by the end of the year.  It also has a regularly updated website.  

Mrs. Mwinga added, however, that – due to notable resource constraints– Zambia’sc ircumstances differ dramatically from those of developed countries, where each MP has a laptop and other portable communications devices.  That said, she noted that the needs of parliamentariansin Zambia, across Africa and in other developing countries are much thesame as in developed countries.

Echoing remarks made by Mr. Cánepa during the first session, Mrs.Mwinga talked about the challenges confronting Zambia’s unicameral parliament whenthere was a 70% turnover of its membership following a recent general election.  With the arrival of new members, her libraryfaced not only the pressure of orienting them to parliamentary procedures and availablelibrary and research services, but also the reality that many of them needed tobe trained to use a computer.  Indeed, fewerthan 1 million of Zambia’s12 million citizens are computer-literate.  She underlined that, in developing nations, computerskills for parliamentarians and staff are a priority for capacity-building.

Before I got here one of our permanent secretaries came to me and said “Doris, your MPs are really getting too much.  You know, the last time I appeared before the Public Accounts Committee, it was like a tribunal.  What information are you giving them?”  So I smiled and I said to her, “Very good.  It means now you have to really prepare before you come to talk before our committees.”  It used to be normal for bureaucrats from government to come with very high-sounding words and knowledge on the assumption that our MPs had very little understanding of what they were saying.  It is not the same any more.  So our work in the library and in our research services is achieving results.

- Mrs. Doris Mwinga, Clerk of the National Assembly, Zambia

Mrs. Mwinga noted that, all told, the ultimate impact of anefficient library and research service is better-informed parliamentarians.  “They say knowledge is power, and we aretrying to make very powerful MPs.”  Inclosing she challenged the secretaries general, clerks and chief librariansfrom the Association of Parliamentary Libraries of Eastern and Southern Africa (APLESA)– many of whom were in attendance – to use this occasion to make plans toreactivate the Association after a three-year hiatus.

Mr. Roques hailed his library’s creation of acentralized database network for France’s National Assembly as the“victory of the library.”  He reportedthat centralizing the file system under the library had simplified workflow, thanksto the creation of a keyword taxonomy that provides all users with betteraccess to previous research.

He explained that, over time, the National Assemblyof France had developed many different and incompatible information systems forparliamentarians, parliamentary institutions and subject areas.  The consequence was duplication, repetition andreliance on personal connections and individual initiatives to determinewhether other sections had already worked on a subject.  With centralized databases, parliamentariansand staff now find it easier to locate needed documentation and parliamentaryinformation.

At the same time, there has been a trend towardsmore complex research requests of a global and comparative nature.  In response to this development, the French parliament’sstudies department now prepares anticipatory research papers that arecirculated electronically and on paper within the Assembly.  This strategy has raised many questions, notably how to select topics for such papers and who should initiate them.

The question of anticipatory and strategic researchwas raised several times during the day.  Participants generally agreed that in a worldof unlimited resources, an anticipatory research agenda would be very helpfulto parliamentarians.  Having informationprepared in anticipation of an emergency debate, or awareness of an issue inthe media, reduces stress for parliamentary staff and helps ensure thatparliamentarians have ready access to needed resources.  Most library research services, however, lackthe needed expertise and resources for a truly anticipatory research model andmust focus instead on producing high-quality products in short turnaroundtimes. 

Mr. Keukensemphasizedan issue identified by many participants: too much information, not enough time.  He added that the modern parliamentary information provider is like “a sheep with fivelegs,” with communication skills, an extroverted and flexible attitude, a cooperativeapproach, and well-developed information technology and networking abilities.

With regard to helping parliamentarians handle the pressures imposed by their workload, he underscoredthe fundamental utility of parliamentary library and research services as aone-stop shop for non-partisan information and knowledge, synthesized from different sources, and covering the full range of public policy and institutional memory.

He noted, however, that the core missionof most parliamentary libraries has expanded considerably due to innovations intechnology and shifts in client expectations. For this reason, many parliamentary libraries are now struggling to accommodate:

  1. the increased complexity of requests (dealing with a broader range of issues and often requiring international comparisons);
  2. a growing diversity of information sources;
  3. the proliferation of civil society interest groups; and
  4. more frequent requests for tailored information. 

Compounding these pressures has beena concomitant shift in the expectations of clients, whose deadlines are now shorterin the face of more frequent emergency debates and a 24-hour news cycle.  These demands pose a serious challenge for parliamentarylibrary and research staff, who are nevertheless expected to deliver timely, high-quality and relevant responses. 
Given these issues, Mr. Keukens concluded that the parliamentary librarymay increasingly become a facilitator of information rather than theinformation provider per se.  This requires finding ways to select, aggregate, and provide access to relevantsources.  It also necessitates the provision of tools for self-service and a focus on training clientele.
In response to the presentations, Mr. Allel Haddad, Director of Documentation, Publishing and Archivesfor the Council of the Nation, Algeria, asked the panellists for advice to developing countries seeking to develop library and document management expertise andcapacity.  Mr. Keukens suggested twinning with another library and resource-sharing with outside institutions.  By establishing bilateral partnerships witho ther libraries, a library can maximize resources and expertise.  Basic resource-sharing agreements are veryimportant to libraries with smaller collections and limited access totechnology.  Establishing partnershipswith state libraries or other local institutions can also expand a library’scapacity significantly.  Mrs. Mwinga suggested secondments to other parliamentary libraries and linkages to state and university libraries.  She noted that the Zambian library has sent many of its researchers and librarians to otherparliaments, and it was the lessons learned from these experiences thatprompted the decision to merge Zambia’slibrary and research services.  For his part, Mr. Roques indicated that the best way to build capacity is to computerize.

III. Innovative strategies to meet parliamentarians’ evolving  needs

IFLA’s Library and Research Services for Parliaments Section has made apriority of innovation in library and research services, as evidenced by its recent pre-conferences in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2007 and in Ottawa, Canada,in 2008.[2] Building on those discussions, the day’s third session addressedstrategies to meet the evolving needs of parliamentarians.  

The panel opened with the launch of the report on the 24th Annual IFLA Pre-Conference of Library and Research Services for Parliaments.[3] Dr. William Young, Parliamentary Librarian of Canada and 2008 Pre-Conference host, told theassembled delegates that the report sums up thechallenges facing legislative libraries around the world and discussesinitiatives and best practices that have been adopted to meet these challenges. He explained that the discussions andpresentations in Ottawafocused on how legislative libraries work to assist parliamentary clients tomake the democratic process more effective. 

One of the Ottawa event’s main themes was the experience of smaller libraries seeking innovativeways to offer a full range of services to their clients.  The Pre-Conference highlighted the diversityof legislative libraries, characterized by their different histories, politicalcontexts, mandates and levels of resources. At the same time, participants noted that legislative libraries aroundthe world share the same purpose: to provide reliable, accurate information andresearch to parliamentary clients. 

Discussions also demonstrated the notable similarity in the key challenges facing parliaments in the early 21stcentury.  Dr. Young noted that legislative libraries must deal with the profound transformation of the information andknowledge environment in the digital age, and the equally profound changes in the needs and demands of parliamentary clients. In this rapidly changing environment, libraries are faced with an ever-increasingneed to absorb new ways of sharing and creating knowledge as democracy emergesat different speeds, in different contexts, relying on different tools. 

For these reasons, libraries and research servicesmust develop strong and effective partnerships with their parliamentary clients and with legislative libraries in other jurisdictions. 

Dr. Young concluded by listing key recommendations fromthe Pre-Conference:

  1. Technological advances, which have driven the transformation of the information and knowledge environment, have not only led to profound changes in the needs and demands of parliamentary clients; they have also led to higher expectations.
  2. While the number of simple information requests has decreased considerably, demand for more complex and multi-faceted analysis has grown.  At the same time, the need for traditional library services and materials is declining, and there is a growing demand for electronic sources and formats. 
  3. Profound changes in client needs and expectations are forcing legislative libraries to modernize their working methods.  While this is a challenge, especially for well-established organizations, it is also an opportunity for adaptation and renewal.
  4. Providing orientation and training to parliamentarians and their staff opens the door to a rebranding of services in light of changing client needs and growing expectations.  It is also an opportunity for building partnerships with legislators.

In closing, Dr. Young observed that working with partners in other jurisdictions and through IFLA is an essential element in the development and implementation of successful, innovative strategies to address these challenges.

Following Dr. Young’s remarks, Mr. Iain Watt, Head of Client Services, Library of the European Parliament, and Ms. Gloria Insaidoo, ParliamentaryLibrarian, Ghana,made their presentations.  These panellists had been asked to consider the following questions:

  1. What new services and technologies can library and research services use to support parliamentarians in holding the executive to account and improving the quality of legislation?
  2. How can parliamentarians communicate their changing needs to their research and library services?  How can library and research services keep in step with the changing needs and expectations of parliamentarians?
  3. How can library and research services be organized to innovate as rapidly as the best information service providers?

Mr. Watt reminded conference participants that parliamentary libraries and research services are highly diverse: their resources and functions vary; their histories vary; they range from small operations to much larger ones; some have very traditional library services, whereas others are much moresophisticated.[4]  Consequently, what may seem like a basicservice in one parliament could be an extraordinary innovation in another.

He added that the aim of any innovation should be to improve the quality and value of the service provided: to do the same things, but do them better.  Mr. Watt  noted that there are three main types of  innovations in parliamentary libraries: entirely new services, newapproaches to old services (e.g., finding ways to achieve better quality orincreased efficiency), or new marketing approaches to old services. 

For innovations to be useful, a clear understanding of client needs isessential.  To this end, Mr. Watt reviewed the most common forms of feedback mechanisms used by parliamentary libraries around the world.  These range frominformal, one-on-one coffee meetings to gauge opinions and needs, to moreformal methods, such as feedback forms, structured interviews, or market research firms hired to conduct surveys or focus groups.  Mr. Watt urged all to remain mindful that eachparliamentary context is both unique and diverse, making it essential that librariesand research services regularly evaluate and tailor their products and servicesto remain relevant to their clients.

To innovate, to meet members’ needs, libraries have to be able to manage change, to be flexible, to make good use of the knowledge of their staff, to have a culture in which collaboration is normal and creativity is welcome.  These are all easy words to say, not so easy to do.

- Mr. Iain Watt, Head of Client Services, Library of the European Parliament

Mr. Watt concluded his presentation with a discussion of some emerging trends in parliamentary libraries.  Most notable was the growing convergence between parliamentary library and research services.  Traditionally, the library and research functions were separate professional areas.  In recent years, however, these two areas have started to work more collaboratively. Many library services now offer a wider range of value-added products; that is, summaries and overviews, rather than simple reference responses.  At the same time, research services are phasingout lengthy, in-depth research papers in favor of more concise briefingmaterials.

In both services, the trend is toward subject-area specializationas the work of parliaments has become more focused, technical and challenging.  Other emerging trends include: anticipatory research,integration of library services into work processes or legislative projectteams, audio-visual services such as audio briefings and podcasts, andknowledge sharing and “OpenParl” tools that permit citizens to follow the legislative process moreclosely.  In addition, some of the largerparliamentary libraries are experimenting with Web 2.0 social networking tools.

For her part, Ms. Insaidoo noted that circumstances differ vastly indeveloping nations such as Ghana, where most parliamentarians lack offices, personal staff, personal computers, and Internet access – all of which, byextension, amplifies their reliance on the library for their information needs. She observed that the needs in hersetting were far simpler.  For example, manymembers of Ghana’sparliament were using the library for its newspapers.  In response, the library developed a newspaperclipping service for a select group of parliamentarians.  Over time, it was noted that the clippingswere not being read.  Rather than ending theservice, the library redesigned it to provide members withmore media reports on their activities, information about their constituency,as well as other articles of interest.  Toensure its utility, the librarians followed up with parliamentarians toevaluate their satisfaction with the service. A simple lesson was learned: implementinga new service is not an end in itself; sometimes the service must be adapted tosuit client needs.  Thus, to innovate effectively, libraries needto manage change, offer more flexible services, encourage creativity andcollaboration, and maximize the knowledge of their staff.

Computer literacy training was another issue raised by Ms.Insaidoo.  Library staff train MPs andtheir staff in the use of online databases and resources so that they can takeadvantage of other library resources such as an automated Hansard and a billtracking service.  Her library alsoteaches parliamentary staff and MPs how to find information themselves; forothers, her staff provide information as requested.

Some know what they need to be effective parliamentarians, but it is also up to the library to let parliamentarians know what the library can do for them.

- Ms. Gloria Insaidoo, Parliamentary Librarian, Ghana

In the final analysis, Ms. Insaidoo underscored the importance ofensuring the value and utility of the products and services offered toparliamentarians.  This, she noted, isall the more important when financial and human resources are limited.  Achieving this end, she concluded, requires regularinteraction with parliamentarians and an effective feedback mechanism.

During the question and answer session, Ms. Nawal Al Shehhi, Head of the Library and Information Sources Department, United Arab Emirates, asked thepanellists to discuss the establishment of partnerships for contractresearch.  Mr. Watt said one of the mostimportant factors when hiring contract researchers is to be very clear on yourresearch parameters.  Dr. Young added thatone needs to be “hard-headed” about partnerships.  He recommended having a policy and guidelinesin place to help maintain the library’s mandate and values.

Mr. Gunnars Fors, Deputy Secretary, Committee onForeign Affairs, Sweden, andMs. Siiri Sillajoe, Deputy Headof the Department of Economic and Social Information, Estonia, both commented on the difficulty in obtaining useful feedback on their products and services.  Ms. Sillajoe emphasized the value of meeting clients one on one and asked panellists to explain how they establish and retain personal connections in the electronic era.  Mr.Watt listed a number of different feedback mechanisms, including contactingpeople who have not used the library recently, but he reiterated that differenttechniques are necessary in different cultures.  Ms. Insaidoo suggested targeted group meetingsand one-on-one sessions with members at which time they are asked to fill out aquestionnaire.  Dr. Young spoke of arecent perception audit undertaken at the Canadian Library of Parliament.  He hired a market research firm to talk tostakeholders and clients.  In response tothe results of the audit, the Library is reorganizing its services to confrontsome of the challenges in reaching its clients.  Finally, Mr. Pullinger reminded participantsthat getting the information required is sometimes the easy part; deciding howto adapt services in response to feedback is the hard part.

By way of wrap-up, Mr. Pullinger askedthe panellists to identify the biggest change they had implemented in theirlibraries.  For his part, Mr. Pullinger identifieda program he adapted for the UKcontext that he borrowed from the Canadian Library of Parliament to trainteachers in parliamentary procedure.  This is a way to engage with the public,thereby helping a new generation of children to better understand what theirparliament does for them.  Ms. Insaidoo identifiedwork conducted by Ghana’slegislative service, where they prepare background information on bills for MPs’reference.  Mr. Watt described anintegration project implemented at the European Parliament whereby subjectspecialists were brought together with library staff to work in four subjectareas.  The specialists helped guide the work and served as a bridge to the committees andcommittee officials.  As a result, library staff became more engaged and interested in committee work, thereby developing morein-depth specialization.  This has improved the overall quality of the output and was a notable success with both thecommittees and the library staff.

IV.  Sharing good practices and building capacity: strategies to assist parliamentary institutions

The final session of the day focused on ways to share goodpractices among parliamentary library and research services.  Ms. Anita Dudina, Director of the Information Department of the Latvian Parliament, Mr. Martin Chungong, Director, Division for the Promotion of Democracy, IPU, and Ms. Mireille Eza, Director of the Inter-parliamentary Cooperation Program (Noria Program) of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie (APF), considered the following questions:

  1. How can good practices in parliamentary library and research services be shared effectively?
  2. How can programs to help parliaments in less-developed countries build their library and research capacity be better coordinated?  Are new programs needed?
  3. What role can international and regional bodies play in strengthening the support offered to parliaments?

The panellists spoke of their experiences indeveloping new libraries as well as the challenge of coordinating assistancefrom external organizations.  They stressed the importance of harmonizingassistance from various sources; of establishing multi-year plans to allow fordevelopment and implementation; and of ensuring that assistance is driven bythe demands of newer libraries.  Interventions focused on ways to support parliaments inless-developed countries in order to meet the information and knowledge needsof their parliamentarians. 

The panellists also observedthat a number of programs and organizations currently provide opportunities toexchange good practices in parliamentary library and research services at the internationaland regional levels.  For example, a keyobjective of IFLA’s Library and Research Services for Parliaments Section is:

To assist in thedevelopment of parliamentary libraries by providing assistance and support inaccordance with the interest, requirements, and stage of development ofparliaments in various regions of the world; to encourage bilateral assistanceand development programmes; and to act as a clearing house in this regard.[5]

In addition, IFLA’s ALP program furthers the library profession, library institutions and library and information services in developing countries inAfrica, Asia and Oceania, and Latin America and the Caribbean.  Other examples include parliamentary organizations such as the IPU andthe APF, which have technical assistanceprograms that provide support to library and information services. 

Mr. Chungong explained that parliaments in new democracies often lack the required experience,trained staff, information and material to serve their members effectively.  Through its technical assistance program, theIPU provides advice, guidance and support to parliaments.  This includes helping parliaments to conduct aneeds assessment and design a program of support to address those needs.  The IPU can draw on the resources of itsmember parliaments, making it well placed to play a mediator role, both betweenmember parliaments and with other organizations, such as IFLA.  He added that almost all requests for support to parliaments received by the IPU have a library and research component.

For its part, the APF’s Noria Program helps francophone parliaments in the Global South to build capacity for the production, management and dissemination of legislative information.  Ms. Eza explained that Noria’s support includes helping parliaments identify their needs; implementing action plans to meet those needs; and providing equipmentand training.  The training provided through Noria responds to requirements that are collectively identified bymember parliaments.

It was noted that regional organizations suchas the European Centre for Parliamentary Research and Documentation (ECPRD) also facilitate the sharing of information. The ECPRD provides a forum for exchange between participatingparliaments on issues such as the management of parliaments, the status of parliamentarians,legislation, and research and studies of a comparative nature.  As the informationgenerated by the Centre’s members is extensive and specific items can be hardto locate, the ECPRD strives to assemble useful data and practices that will facilitatethe exchange of ideas, the retrieval of data and the circulation of studies.

Ms. Dudina reminded participants that a parliament’s strongest andmost important asset is its intellectual capital.  For this reason, parliamentary libraries and researchunits are by far the best positioned to build and cultivate a knowledge-sharingculture within parliaments.  She added that IFLA’s Library andResearch Services for Parliaments Section serves as a door to new ideas and as anetwork to reach colleagues for consultation and advice.

Countries that have recently developed legislative libraries are alsowell positioned to partner with developing libraries.  She observed that countries such as Latviacan be good mediators between the needs of new libraries and the expertise ofmore established ones, thanks to very recent transition experiences.  With this in mind, she suggested thatmultilateral programs should promote twinning to help transfer expertisebetween nations that have recently made changes to their parliamentary libraryand research services and those with libraries that are in the initial stagesof development.  As did many others, she emphasized the importance of learningfrom the experiences of other countries, while at the same time remaining awareof the unique needs of developing libraries.

There is a time to learn and time to teach, a time to receive and a time to give.

- Ms. Anita Dudina, Director of the Information Department, Latvian Parliament

With respect to the various organizations involved in parliamentary strengthening activities, all three panellists noted thatcoordination among these groups has been less than ideal.  When numerous initiatives are under way, insufficientcoordination is at times more detrimental than no assistance at all.  On this point, Ms. Eza underscored the need to improve the exchange of information, thespecialization of the various players, the harmonization of working tools andmethods, and the synergy between initiatives. She also encouraged all partners to adhere to the “reality principle”:that is, to play close attention to the consistency and complementarity of actions, the proven effectiveness of new methods, and the incorporation of ongoing training for managers.

Ms. Eza added thatpartnerships need to be active and ongoing: a program should not be doingthings for a developing library, butworking with it to encouragesustainability.  For this reason, theparticipation and responsibilities of all parties need to be clarified from theoutset.  All must work together, but makean individual contribution.  This requires multi-year plans for development and implementation.

In the case of new programs, it is equally important that a parliament assess its needs.  This allows the parties involved to takeownership of the implementation.  Forexisting programs, it is important to recognize that things can beimproved.  The partners need to evaluatewhat could be done with new tools or methods. At the same time, they need to evaluate the human resources available, aswell as what officials and parliamentarians can do. 

Ms.Eza stressed the need for specialized leadership development for researchservices and libraries.  Professionaldevelopment must be targeted towards the right staff and be provided by thebest persons to give technical assistance. At times, effective professional development requires smaller groups andlonger periods.  For this reason, regional and sub-regional exchanges are often useful ways to shareexpertise.

For his part, Mr. Chungong reminded all participants that capacity-buildingprojects require a range of options, as no single model fits allparliaments.  For this reason, organizationslike the IPU can best help parliaments by ensuring that they draw up andimplement an individualized program of support based on assessed andagreed-upon needs.  He noted that theparliamentary environment is unique and challenging and that it is necessary totake a politically sensitive approach.  Allpolitical parties should be engaged so that they understand the value behindthe endeavour.  It is useful, therefore, tohave a core group of change champions, preferably across party lines.

EchoingMs. Eza, Mr. Chungong emphasized the importance of local ownership of assistanceprojects.  This can be accomplished byensuring that support recipients are involved in all stages, includingplanning, organization, implementation and delivery.  He stressed, however, that supportingparliaments is a long-term endeavour; one cannot “spend the money and run.”  It is equally important to prepare a careful exitstrategy, preferably one that involves a commitment from the recipientparliament.  For example, if newtechnology has been donated and set up, local stakeholders’ support must besecured to ensure maintenance and sustainability. 

Mr. Chungong also underlined the importance of adheringto the principles of the ParisDeclaration on Aid Effectiveness, which calls for greatercoherence in donor support and ensuring that assistance is demand-driven.  He noted that the United NationsDevelopment Programme (UNDP) and the IPU are undertaking an initiative tocreate a “knowledge hub” designed to identify and map out the various programs seekingto support parliaments.  IFLA and theASGP could be invited to support this initiative, which is currently in thepreliminary stages.  In the long run, itis hoped that the initiative will result in an Internet portal, with links toresources to strengthen parliaments in areas such as library and researchservices.

Closing Remarks

On behalf of the Secretary General of the IPU, Mr.Martin Chungong thanked the conference participants.  He noted that the discussions had been enriching and rewarding, and that the collaboration among IFLA, the ASGP andthe IPU is the kind of partnership that the IPU would like to promote in thefuture in support of stronger parliaments. He invited discussion on moving forward with the ideas, process and networking started at this conference, both by bringing ideas discussed back toparliaments and by pursuing future partnerships among the organizations.

The Presidentof the ASGP, Mr. Hafnaoui Amrani, summarized the consensus of participantsthat it had been productive to bring togetherparliamentarians, secretaries general, and research and information services todiscuss the issues on the agenda.  He highlighted the essential role played by libraries and research services in the functioning of parliaments.  He also noted that the conference had helped identify both the commonalities and the differences among parliamentary library and research services.  As the discussion had made clear, these services continue to confront the challenges and opportunities created by rapidadvances in technology and the proliferation of available information.  Opportunities to share best practices inmeeting these challenges are helpful for all.

Finally, Ms. Gro Sandgrind, Chair of IFLA’s Library and Research Services for Parliaments Section, concluded that a strong and independent parliamentary information service can contribute to the democratic process by providing authoritative, independent and non-partisan background information and analysis to parliamentarians, who work in a high-pressure environment.  Noting that feedback from parliamentary clients is essential to maintaining and improving services from parliamentary libraries, she drew attention to a survey undertaken by the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, and published in the World e-Parliament Report 2008, which provides an excellent framework for looking at needs and at innovative strategies to meet them.[6]

She also drew attention to a publication to be released by IFLA next year that will help guide those who are setting up legislative libraries.  The publication will be written not only for the library profession but also for those involved in setting up new information services for legislators.  Its target audience includes administrators and those responsible for authorizing funds for this purpose.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Informing Democracy: Building capacity to meet parliamentarians’information and knowledge needs was conceived as a means to facilitate the exchange of ideas among parliamentarians, secretaries general and parliamentary library and research staff.  At the end of the day, participants agreed that the debate had come full circle with commonunderstanding on several key points, notably the importance of working incollaboration – as partners – to build capacity. 

It was noted repeatedly that all parliamentarians – no matter their geographic, political or individual circumstances – are struggling to extract useful and reliable information from a growing range of sources.  As a result, they are increasingly reliant on their library and research services to synthesize and analyze require dinformation and knowledge in an accessible format and in a timely manner.  This trend, however, is placing great pressure on parliamentary information providers to adapt their methods and practices to meet client needs. 

In many developed nations, efforts are being made to centralizeparliamentary information repositories, eliminate duplication, and build clearpaths of communication.  There is also agrowing recognition that parliamentary libraries and research services  need to adapt their service models to reflecta shift from their traditional function as information providers to a new roleas facilitators and synthesizers of knowledge and information.  Accordingly, some parliamentary services arenow developing anticipatory and strategic research services that not onlyrespond to individual requests, but initiate research on key topics inanticipation of upcoming parliamentary issues or debates.

In developing nations and newerdemocracies, however, these same pressures are being compounded by an absence of needed resources and expertise.  In these contexts, staff need to be trained on best practices and clients oftenrequire fundamental services such as computer andInternet training courses, newspaper clippings or briefing notes written inplain language.  To cope with these realities, some parliamentsare working closely with bilateral, regional and international partners such asthe IPU or the Noria Program to develop tailored services that are bothcompatible with available resources and sustainable over the longer term. 

Several conference participants familiar with capacity-building programs for parliaments emphasized that recipient parliaments typically need guidance to identify their requirements.  Equally important is the involvement ofrecipients at all stages – planning, organization, implementation and delivery– as well as a very clear understanding of client needs.  This latter point was raised frequently,along with the point that parliamentary libraries and research services – whether smallor large, well-funded or struggling with limited resources – need relevant andhonest feedback to ensure that they are meeting the information needs ofparliamentarians.  With this in mind, itwas urged that parliamentarians be regularly consulted with regard to theirneeds and interests.

The development of innovative products and services was another key theme throughout the day’s deliberations. Several delegates noted that the aim of innovation should be to adapt toparliamentarians’ needs; that said, the scale of such innovations dependsentirely on an institution’s capacity to manage and sustain the related initiatives.  Indeed, as one delegate noted, small changes to current services and products can sometimes produce the most value.

All told, there was a broad consensus among delegates that the timehas come to integrate the work of library and research services more closely.  Parliamentarians – no matter theircircumstances – require objective, non-partisan information and research tocarry out their various and complex duties.  These needs can best be provided by teams ofwell-trained and impartial information and research specialists working incollaboration to respondto the increasingly specialized needs of parliamentarians.  In those instances where parliaments requireassistance to build capacity and expertise, delegates urged that every effortbe made to work through existing networks, partnerships and relevant fundingsources to address such needs.

With these latter considerations in mind, two key recommendations emerged from the day’s discussions:

1. The Informing Democracy conference must not be an end, but the beginning of an enduring engagement and partnershipbetween the IPU, the ASGP, and IFLA’s Library and Research Services forParliaments Section.  Participants suggested that these groups organize regional meetings to explore commonchallenges.  They also called on them to formalize the sharing of  information and best practices among parliaments by establishing a grant to be administered by IFLA’s ALP program.

2. Several regional and international organizations provide various forms of support to parliaments andtheir library and research services.  Enhanced coordination of initiativesundertaken by these groups would improve the sharing of best practices andresources as well as the quality and delivery of support.  It was noted that the UNDP and the IPU areworking to create a knowledge hub on parliamentary strengthening programs as ameans of reducing some of the overlap and duplication among currently availableprograms and services.  Delegatesstrongly recommended that IFLA and the ASGP be invited to support thisinitiative.  A key objective of thepartnership should be the creation of an Internet portal with links toresources required by parliamentary library and research units seeking tostrengthen their services. 

[1] This paper was prepared by IFLA’s Library and Research Services forParliaments Section, in collaboration with the IPU and the ASGP.
[2] See
https://www.ifla.org/services-for-parliaments/conferences for more information on IFLA’s Libraryand Research Services for Parliaments Section and its conferences. 
[3] The report on the 24thAnnual IFLA Pre-Conference of Library and Research Services for Parliaments maybe found at:
https://www.ifla.org/files/assets/services-for-parliaments/preconference/2008/yl2-13-2008e.pdf.
[4] Iain Watt’s presentation was based on feedback received frommembers of IFLA’s Library and Research Services for Parliaments Section.
[5] See IFLA, “Library and ResearchServices for Parliaments Section,”.
[6] The World e-Parliament Report 2008 may be found at:
https://www.ipu.org/resources/publications/reports/2016-07/world-e-parliament-report-2008. 

Reports, Library and Research Services for Parliaments

Last update: 3 August 2018