Professional story

The staff of the Library of the European Parliament, at their 'Annual General Meeting' in December 2006. They are gathered for the photo on the stairs and floor of the reading room. A great team with many achievements - then and later.
Library of the European Parliament, ‘Annual General Meeting’ December 2006
This team had just become the first service of any central EU institution to be recognised by EFQM for ‘Commitment to excellence’. They had also implemented over a long three years their part of the Secretary-General’s reform programme, ‘Raising the Game’, and were singled out by the Secretary-General as the success story of that reform. In the following few years they would introduce a new analytical service producing research briefings, the use of social media, infographics and other innovations, laying the foundations for the European Parliament Research Service of today. An amazing team with a great Director, Sven Backlund.

My vocation is connecting people with information, especially when that information makes a difference to lives.

I managed information and research services in the United Nations, European Parliament, the national archives of the United Kingdom and in UK public libraries. All of my professional experience has been in services in development and change – sometimes radical, in response to crisis, and sometimes in periods of growing resources – and it has required constant reflection and search for new ways of thinking and working.

Some of the services I have worked with had been written off as poor value and incapable of change, but they proved their critics wrong. Some places I worked in achieved radical changes for the better, delivered award-winning customer service and were recognised for their strategic approach and the value they gave their institutions.

I have been lucky enough to work with several great teams, with dedicated people who would be assets to any service. I hold them all in fond memory.

At the Public Record Office (national archives), the team transformed a perceived failing service to researchers into a multi-award winning success with record levels of client satisfaction. At the European Parliament the team transformed the Library from a very traditional set-up (also considered to be failing) to a modern, dynamic, information service, including a new analytical service producing briefings and infographics – what became the basis of today’s European Parliament Research Service (EPRS).

The staff of the Dag Hammarsjkold Library, the library of the United Nations headquarters in New York. It is considered to be a parliamentary library. The occasion was my departure back to the European Parliament after a little over two years as Chief. Another great team. The photo was taken in the original main reading room of the Library, closed at that point due to financial cut-backs and reduced stock to display. One project was to get it re-opened, which has happened since.
Leaving the Dag Hammarsjkold Library, 2015

Shorter periods managing the incredibly skilled and knowledgeable people of the UN’s Dag Hammarsjkold Library and the European Parliament Department for Structural & Cohesion Policy (research for five parliamentary committees) saw the delivery of service improvement and new strategic direction. My public library experience gave me practical experience of information work and some excellent lessons in management (from good and from bad experience). Very brief spells of consultancy work in Kuwait, Tunisia and Jordan were intense and enlightening experiences.

I owe a lot to my first mentors in information work, Jim Moulson and Gina Lane of the Swiss Cottage Reference Library, London Borough of Camden, and to Peter Foreland and David Ruse of the City of Westminster for their lessons and examples in management. Sven Backlund offered effective guidance and support in my first years in the European Parliament.

From 2000 I was involved with IFLAPARL and that group provided an excellent introduction to parliamentary work. It also has provoked much new thinking worldwide – the members bring everything from practical service innovations to more philosophical reflections. I owe a great deal to those colleagues sharing their knowledge so freely. From August 2019 to August 2021 I had the honour to Chair IFLAPARL. My work for IFLAPARL was entirely pro bono.

My full CV can be seen at

Iain Watt,

Edinburgh, December 2019

Career highlights

Modernising the information service to researchers at the UK Public Record Office (National Archives)

Reshaping of library and information services in the European Parliament

Innovation and reform in the analytical and research services of the European Parliament.

Let’s build something together.