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  • The model of a unique document publication flow which could be managed by the library was being superseded by multiple flows in different media from many sources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

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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.

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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.

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‘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”

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