Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

Rethinking the Role of Parliamentary Libraries

Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

Rethinking the Role of Parliamentary Libraries

Article excerpt

Parliamentary and legislative libraries usually have a very pragmatic approach to the documentary needs of elected representatives and their staffs. The collections built up over the past 200 years devoted considerable room to literary and scientific classics, alongside publications of governments and assemblies themselves, as well as national, regional and local newspapers. In many cases, legislative libraries, which appeared before so-called national libraries and often before public libraries, acquired and conserved documents in all possible disciplines and all fields of interest. However, thinking about the documentary needs of national or local elected representatives has been very limited, judging from the few publications on the subject in the past 50 years. This article suggests we need to rethink the role of libraries to serve the needs of legislators.


The documentary needs of elected representatives are based on the duties that fall to them: legislation, monitoring of government action, liaison between citizens and government, facilitation of society as a whole. The necessary and desired documentation will differ with the member, type of activity he or she favours and the member's area of intervention (economy, culture, social issues, public education and so on). In all cases, it will be taken for granted that the library or documentation centre will have and conserve as much data as possible, current and up to date, on the national situation: publications of the government, government departments and agencies, national and local newspapers, monographs on the country and its regions and so on. This kind of collection will be of use to all members, regardless of their chosen fields. Beyond that, the legislative specialist should have suitable collections, the comptroller as well, and so on. It would be interesting to see whether these assumptions can be verified and whether assemblies can use them to derive guidelines for the immediate future and the longer term. In the same line of thinking, an attempt could be made to determine whether the information needs of parliamentarians are different depending whether one views Parliament as a whole, committees, political groups and parties and, lastly, parliamentarians taken individually.

In recent years, a significant convergence has been observed between research services, independent and library services, and parliamentary committees. Previously, the services provided at the request of committees represented a small portion of the total number of hours worked. The support of research department officers appears to be highly appreciated by parliamentarians and committee management teams. In this area, collaboration does not go so far as to include documentary information specialists in the strict sense of that term. Should that possibility be considered, or can research department officers continue acting in this capacity question

In attempting to determine the documentary requirements of the parliamentary environment, other approaches can be used, with the emphasis on the types of information that are desired or useful. The typologies presented in a North American context could help determine a division between the contribution of libraries and those of other bodies, because it must be observed that libraries must rely on multiple sources of information and that politicians do not hesitate to use the full range of sources. Consequently, the distinctions between information (from raw data to their interpretation) and knowledge, and between technical information and so-called political information could help in determining documentary tasks and setting their limits or borders.

The quality and scope of services and the division of tasks between related services (research departments, parliamentary committee secretariats, procedural advisors) have been the subject of much discussion and observation. As regards substance, information forwarded to elected representatives is usually expected to come from various sources and to be complete and thorough, exhaustive and qualified, sure and reliable, rigorous, specific and objective. …

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