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  • The model of a unique document publication flow which could be managed by the library was being superseded by multiple flows in different media from many sources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

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…)

Parline – Inter-Parliamentary Union

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) new version of the Parline database is a treasure-trove of information about parliaments worldwide. It allows searches by categories such as region and provides some very nice visualisation tools to present the data.

It is a good source of practical information – this search, for example, gives a list of all the parliamentary websites worldwide.

Parline is based mainly on survey of parliamentary administrations, which is both a strength and weakness. The strength is in the accuracy, currency and authority of the data. (For an example of a weakness, try this Data Explorer search on basic salaries of parliamentarians in Europe )

Unfortunately, so far as I can find, there is no data on library and research services. Perhaps a question could be included in future?

There is more background information below, and a communication to IFLAPARL about the new database is here. The database was presented at the IFLAPARL conference in Athens in August 2019.

About Parline

“New Parline is the IPU’s open data platform on national parliaments. It allows you to consult and compare data on national parliaments including information on structures, working methods, gender parity, women’s caucuses, youth and MPs’ human rights.

The platform is aimed at parliamentarians, academics, international and civil society organizations and the general public.

Some of the data goes back several years allowing you to see evolutions and trends over time. Much of the data is unique and only available on New Parline.

Generally, the information on the platform comes from national parliaments directly. It is updated regularly to take into account any changes that result from elections. The data covers a wide range of themes; for example, the number of chambers, the number of women MPs, the number of laws initiated by parliament and the average age of MPs.

New Parline allows you not only to find information on national parliaments but also to compare the data for all parliaments or a particular region. You can download this data in different formats, including charts and maps, and share it according to the Terms of Use. You cannot use the data for commercial purposes.”

https://data.ipu.org/content/about-open-data-platform
Data can be visualised by topic and by region

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…)

‘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…)

Getting the job you want – hints and tips on how to succeed in job applications



The download is a presentation with practical advice based on recruiting and being recruited through a career. It draws on experience in library & information, archives and research services and it refers to the typical processes used by large/public organisations. Smaller businesses might be different. Variants of this presentation proved useful to staff of different services and to students of Robert Gordon’s University, Aberdeen.

Candidates sometimes believe that the interview will be a personal conversation based on their application – sadly, not usually so. They also may believe it will be an unpredictable exchange and so they need to respond spontaneously rather than prepare – again, not so.

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…)

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

Evidence-based Policymaking in parliaments and the UN Sustainable Development Goals



The delivery of evidence for Members’ work on policy is arguably the core function of parliamentary library & research services. This puts the services at the heart of current work on ‘Evidence-Based Policymaking’ (EBPM). That work also offers insights into what parliamentary library & research services can expect to achieve and how they might achieve it. Only in Africa, so far, does it appear that services have actively adopted EBPM as an organising framework. What have they gained from it and what can the rest of the world learn?

The delivery of evidence for policy is just one aspect of how parliamentary library & research services are contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), notably SDG16 on good governance. What is the significance of this contribution?

The download is a presentation from December 2019, a work in progress towards a future paper. EBPM will be a theme at the IFLAPARL conference in 2020 and the work of the African services will, I hope, be presented directly by representatives from the continent.

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…)