‘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  • The model of a unique document publication flow which could be managed by the library was being superseded by multiple flows in different media from many sources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.

Do parliamentary research services do “policy analysis” or do they do “analysis of policy”?

“If the clients understand what ‘policy analysis’ should be, a parliamentary research service which promises to do it is creating an expectation that cannot or should not be fulfilled”

Do parliamentary research services do “policy analysis”? I was asked that recently and my answer was “no” and if both question and answer seem strange, I agree. My answer would have been different a few years ago – we even created posts titled ‘Policy Analyst’ in my then service. So what’s going on?

Firstly, there is no disagreement that parliamentary researchers analyse policy. But, strictly, that is not the same as “policy analysis”. Saying analysis of policy is not the same as policy analysis may sound very like the “Yes, Minster” official making the difference between the policy of administration and the administration of policy. It is, though, an important distinction.

(more…)

Blogging for research services – London School of Economics (LSE) practical advice

The LSE has been a highly-effective user of social media and these three articles provide some good reasons for a parliamentary research service to set up its own blog and Twitter account(s), and some excellent practical advice on how to do so.

‘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…)

Metrics – the risks in using number of enquiries / research requests in parliaments

Services still fall into the trap of promoting as a metric the number of enquiries/requests they get. Or their administrations impose it. Partly it seems an obvious measure, partly it is deceptively easy to collect and describe. It is, therefore very tempting to use it, especially if the figure is improving. Increasing numbers are an attractive message when a service is starting or has tried to increase interest from clients. But it is a potentially dangerous trap to use as a long term performance measure. There are at least three good reasons why services should not offer request numbers as a measure of success.

(more…)

Quality management basics for parliamentary research services



Quality management was a new frontier in the 1980s in the UK but became simply a condition for staying in business for much of the corporate and public sector by the 2000’s. This is not the case everywhere, and there are still challenges in public services – it is a lot easier to apply quality management methods in a car factory than in a professional service. For services and people new to quality management it is worth rehearsing the basics, with a particular focus on their application in services. The download is a presentation on quality management basics with some thoughts on how it can be applied to parliamentary research services.

(more…)

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?

(more…)