What was innovative in parliamentary library & research services in 2008, and where are those innovations now?

A joint conference of the Association of Secretaries General of Parliaments (ASGP), IPU and IFLA (‘Informing democracy: building capacity to meet parliamentarians’ information and knowledge needs’) was held in 2008. On behalf of IFLAPARL, and following consultation with colleagues worldwide, I presented a summary of some innovative strategies in use at that time.

The presentation covered the innovation process and the key strategies on which innovation was focused:

  • Improving service quality and value
  • Reducing information overload and raising information quality
  • Improving access to information
  • Enabling
  • Information for politics

These themes appear generally relevant now (2019) as then. The next section of the presentation looked at ‘emerging trends’. How do they look now?

  1. Convergence of library/research. The basic idea was that libraries were developing as information services and delivering more substantial products, while research services were delivering more concise and accessible products – the two services were converging at least in terms of products.
  2. Integration. The traditional model of reactive library/research standing aside from the rest of parliament was losing ground to a model of integration in work processes. This is because information is more useful and effective if delivered early and inside legislative processes.
  3. Knowledge-sharing and communications. The library function would play a greater role in (a) supporting the sharing of knowledge inside the institution (b) with research, informing the wider population on policy issues.
  4. Mobile services and non-print services. The future would be service anywhere and using spoken word, graphics etc not just print.

The trend on mobile services and non-print media (point 4) has been confirmed. Greater involvement in informing citizens has also been seen quite widely (3). I have seen the importance of integration at first hand (2) but I am not sure if it can be considered a trend worldwide. It is likely that research products have, in general, become faster and shorter products (1). The big gap in maintaining these innovation trends has been with libraries – they do not seem to have grown as information services nor have they developed as hubs of knowledge sharing in their institutions. Were these innovations flawed or have libraries fallen back on core functions due to shrinking resources, failed to be entrepreneurial enough, or been blocked in their development?

The presentation also mentioned a couple of outliers – innovations in too few places to be called a trend, but maybe significant. One was contracting out of expertise, which still exists but has not taken off. The other was the development of ‘partisan’ products delivered to order by a non-partisan service, while maintaining information quality. This also still exists but it is not clear it has increased in use.

The entire conference was summarised in a later publication of ASGP/IPU/IFLA (PDF download here).

The reflection one can make in 2020 is that we got some things about the future right in 2008 and others were less accurate. We failed to pick out the challenge of ‘fake news’ and the power of social media, although ‘quality of information’ is in that general area. Perhaps the main lesson is that we don’t actually have a systematic way of looking at trends and futures in IFLAPARL – perhaps we should?

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