‘International documentation and libraries – trends & speculations’ (2013)

Documents Association of New Jersey, Fall Conference

Global Information, Local Access

Friend Center, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
Friday, November 1, 2013

Keynote Speaker

Iain Watt, Chief, Dag Hammarskjöld Library, United Nations

Presentation slides and video: http://www.danj.org/conf2013.html

The challenge of managing libraries of International Government Organisations (IGOs), reflections after twelve years managing the Library of the European Parliament and six months managing the Dag Hammarskjöld Library of the United Nations (the headquarters library, also considered a parliamentary library). The two libraries were quite different – in particular here, the library of the UN had responsibility for millions of official documents from decades past while the Library of the European Parliament had no responsibility for official documents. But there were also points in common – and with other libraries.

Some key points

  • IGO documents and information more in demand, both externally and internally, but libraries had reducing capacity to respond – partly loss of status & resources, partly the need to maintain old systems of work while developing new systems of work.
  • The model of a unique document publication flow which could be managed by the library was being superseded by multiple flows in different media from many sources
  • The status of the library as signifier of knowledge-based decision-making had diminished, and the reality of fast & frugal decision-making become accepted
  • Libraries need to adapt to real-life decision-making, abandon volume (giving as much information as possible, reaching as many people as possible, satisfying everyone, measuring the number of transactions) and instead focus on strong relations with key clients, supporting fast and frugal decision making by being, well, fast and frugal in delivery.
  • Many IGOs are relatively recent creations (c. 70 years or less) and could rely on first or second-hand human memory to manage their knowledge. (The ability of Dag Hammarskjöld Library staff to find information in a mountain of documents was extraordinary – but there were very few of them, very few new people joining them, and no-one else could do it. What happens if…). As scale, complexity and time have increased, the IGOs need a more systematic approach to managing their knowledge and documents. IT services are always ready to offer ‘solutions’ but they are not grounded in real knowledge of the content or of information users. If libraries and archives do not address the topic – and get support and get increased human resources to safeguard memory – then no-one will do it effectively.
  • For the future:
    • Abandon the struggle to manage all documents and instead provide consultancy on document management to the creating units and provide knowledge for the document management systems
    • Shift from role as guardians of all documents to providing selected external information in support of decision-making, and adding value to internal and external information.

Concepts and issues – introduction to the category

The texts in the ’Concepts and issues’ category are reflections on some neglected and emerging issues in parliamentary library & research service.

The topics so far in the ‘Concepts and issues’ category’ are linked, and indeed the main papers highlighted in the category were built in sequence and overlap in their content:

  1. The historic and present relation of the services to Member decision-making;
  2. The concept of value in these services and how to increase value;
  3. The management of ignorance;
  4. The significance of ‘evidence-based policymaking’ and the contribution to the UN SDGs. (Not yet a full paper)

The thread running through these papers and presentations is a challenge to the way parliamentary library & research services have traditionally presented themselves – and their key clients, the Members.

(more…)

Call for papers – IFLAPARL 2020 conference session: “Evidence-based policy’ and parliamentary library & research service practice: what works?”

IFLAPARL has published a call for papers on the theme of Evidence-Based Policymaking (EBPM). It will host an open session on this theme during the 2020 World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) in Dublin, Ireland. The WLIC will take place from 15-21 August, 2020. The date of the IFLAPARL session is yet to be confirmed.

The call states:

“Parliamentary library and research services have as a core function the provision of ‘evidence’ for representatives to undertake their work on policy. This is achieved by library and information services and products, and through research services, if offered. Provision is, however, one thing, while actual use may be something else. What does ‘evidence-based policy’ mean in a parliamentary context?

Given that parliamentary library and research services operate in a strictly non-partisan manner, explicit support for a UN SDG may not, in some contexts, be considered neutral. Work around ‘evidence’ however, can arguably make an impact on the objectives of the UN SDGs, whether as an intended outcome or not. The impact of the services would be most marked for UN Sustainable Development Goal 16 which in part concerns an aim to ‘build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions’ but other SDGs are also relevant.

Issues addressed in the session might include:

  • How can science be effectively communicated to the parliamentary audience?;
  • The application of gender-based information and analysis in parliaments (SDG 16 on quality of governance + SDG 5: ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’)
  • How do parliamentarians actually use evidence? – in particular, as information/documentation and library resources, or as research services/products;
  • How parliamentarians can be supported in their use of evidence? (e.g. by training, innovative products/services);
  • Can communication of evidence to parliamentarians be successfully re-used to inform citizens?
  • What insights does the academic study of ‘evidence-based policy’ provide for our practice?
  • What has been the experience of parliamentary services – notably some in Africa – that have consciously applied an ‘evidence-based policy’ approach?
  • What insights can we offer to those studying ‘evidence-based policy’?

The aim of the session is to share knowledge on how services support the use of ‘evidence’ and to critically examine academic study of ‘evidence-based policy’ in a parliamentary context. The academic studies may yield insights into how we can improve our practice; equally our practical experience may have something to add to the academic studies.

IFLAPARL is looking for substantive papers of 4-6 pages taking a critical approach to these issues, with relevant cases from library and research services, including analyses of projects and initiatives of general interest to Section members.”

Full details of the call for papers are on the IFLA site.

2020 WLIC in Dublin.

‘Account managers’ in parliamentary library & research services?

The concept of ‘account manager’ is well established in business – a role that gives the client a single point of contact with the organisation. Focusing communications allows a relationship to develop and the account manager can, therefore, calibrate service delivery to the needs of the particular client. For the client, the service has a more friendly face and a direct line of contact, in person or remotely. In a parliamentary setting, clients may be unaware of the full range of service offers and, depending on the structure, may find it daunting to work out what they can get from whom – so may look for apparently ‘quick and easy’ solutions elsewhere. An account manager can simplify the process of connecting the client with the relevant service offer, and so make it more likely that service will be requested and used.

(more…)

‘Evidence in action’, Canada – sources on evidence based policymaking in parliaments

This is one in a series of posts on sources on evidence based policymaking in parliaments

Evidence in Action – an analysis of information gathering and use by Canadian parliamentarians’ Kimberly Girling, Research and Policy Director, Evidence for Democracy and Katie Gibbs, Executive Director, Evidence for Democracy. November 2019

This substantial report on the use of evidence by Members in Canada is the product of a campaigning organisation which describes itself as

“the leading fact-driven, non-partisan, not-for-profit organization promoting the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making in Canada. Through research, education and issue campaigns, Evidence for Democracy engages and empowers the science community while cultivating public and political demand for evidence-based decision-making”

(more…)

Emma Crewe – sources on evidence based policymaking in parliaments

This is the first in a series of posts on sources used for a presentation on evidence based policymaking in parliaments

“politicians will necessarily be in the business of making political judgements rather than merely rational assessments”

p. 209, Crewe, 2015

Emma Crewe’s ‘House of Commons: an Anthropology of MPs at Work’ (2015) is an account of how UK Members work, based on anthropological observation. It provides insight into how Members actually use information and make decisions – academic study that appeared almost completely absent ten years ago when I researched ‘Members use of information’. Crewe does not directly address parliamentary library/research service issues (neither term is indexed) but she does make some very relevant observations on ‘evidence’ and how Members in the UK parliament use it.

(more…)

Managing ignorance – agnotology and knowledge management in parliamentary library & research services

‘Agnotology and knowledge management in parliamentary research services and libraries’

Paper for the ECPRD conference, September 2016 in Oslo, Norway



Knowledge management and ignorance

One possible reason for KM not fulfilling its promise is that it has not fully engaged with ignorance – what it is, how it functions, how it can be managed….

Introduction

Knowledge is clearly central to what parliamentary research and library services do: they deliver knowledge which parliamentarians can put to use. The discipline of ‘knowledge management’ (KM) is of obvious interest, and in the wider world there is a great deal of thoughtful reflection and IT solutions offered for KM, but it has never seemed to fulfil its early promise and really take-off, no more in parliaments than elsewhere. Why not? The genesis of this paper came during a presentation on the mismatch between parliamentary libraries and research services aimed at ‘full-information decision making’ and the reality where overloaded Members of parliament must, in many cases, make ‘fast and frugal’1 decisions. It was argued that such decision-making is highly effective and economical, whereas the “full-information” model is not feasible, economic or even appropriate – we elect Members to make political decisions, not act as scientists. It was for parliamentary services to diversify their delivery of knowledge beyond the classic quasi-academic (both library & research) to include also methods and products adapted to the real working styles of many Members.

This positive view of how Members work was challenged – very directly – by a colleague in a national parliament who, after decades of experience, felt that some Members in their parliament had no interest in any kind of objective, scientific input, no matter how well designed for their working habits. Those Members simply wanted to take politically-based decisions regardless of evidence or expertise. Is this sceptical view justified regarding (some) Members in general, and is there something in the supposed recent trend to ‘postfactual’ or ‘post-truth’ politics? Has expertise lost its real and symbolic value? And if ‘yes’ to these questions, is there a responsibility and a means for knowledge services to respond? What ethical challenges do we face in this environment? How can we better manage knowledge to help Members? This is a first and tentative look at these issues: the paper raises questions but does not offer many explicit answers….


Success does not equal value in parliamentary library & research services

‘Success does not equal value’, Computers in Libraries Conference 2013, Washington DC, USA



Despite considerable success on any professional view, and good professional metrics, the value of the library & analytical service of the European Parliament was still put in question by some Members. Clearly, we were misunderstanding something. In 2010/11 we decided to focus on value – what did it mean in a parliamentary context? And how could we increase our value added?

(more…)

Members’ use of information and the myths of parliamentary library and research services

‘Members Use of Information and Changing Visions of the Parliamentary Library’ Library trends 58(4) Spring 2010: 434-458

This article caused quite a stir in its original form as a conference paper/presentation at IFLA in Milan in 2009. Previews had prompted quite strong attacks from some colleagues in other parliaments, but the wider view of the IFLAPARL Section (the global body of parliamentary library & research services) was very positive. They nominated it as the paper of the Conference, and as such it was one of a few selected by IFLA for publication in the IFLA Journal shortly after.

(more…)

Ethics in parliamentary research & library services

At the 2016 IFLAPARL conference, during a coffee-shop meeting of delegates interested in parliamentary research services, I noted that we lacked explicit and systematic guidance on the ethical questions that arise in daily work in the sector. We had two sets of professional guidelines (one for research and another covering libraries) but neither addressed the question directly. During the 2017 IFLAPARL conference the significance of this gap was discussed (presentation here). A survey, workshops and two years discussion by a working group ended in 2019 with the adoption of a set of checklists (final presentation here). We did not find an absolute standard that could apply to all services worldwide. We did find a definition of the minimum aspiration to make work on ethics worthwhile; and a set of specific issues found in the sector which any service could self-assess on – the checklists. The checklists are selective – they seek to avoid duplicating generic ethical codes for libraries and research, and focus on known issues rather than all possible issues. The checklists and their background can be found on the IFLAPARL site here.

UPDATE – checklists now available in Spanish and in French. Same location. February 2020