ASSOCIATION OF PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARIANS
OF ASIA AND THE PACIFIC (APLAP)
EIGHTH BIENNIAL CONFERENCE
NEW DELHI, INDIA
18-22 JANUARY 2005
19.1.2005 (1030 Hrs)
CHANGING DIMENSIONS OF PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY
AND INFORMATION SERVICES
IN THE THIRD MILLENNIUM
Lok Sabha, India
I am honoured to be here to deliver the Keynote Address on the theme ‘Changing Dimensions of Parliamentary Library and Information Services in the Third Millennium’ at the 8th Biennial Conference of the Association of Parliamentary Librarians of Asia and the Pacific.
I recall fondly the nostalgic memories of my past association with APLAP and its members during its formative years when I had attended the 3rd Biennial Conference in Bangkok, Thailand in May 1994.
The emergence of democracy as the most preferred form of governance and the resultant freedom of thought and expression, the expansion of educational facilities and the rapid increase in the production of recorded knowledge, has led to a rapid growth of libraries and information centers the world over. The advent of modern technologies has drastically changed the approach of individuals and institutions towards libraries and information centres. In tune with this change, the libraries and information centres are now required to improve and adapt themselves to the changing conditions. With the modern societies becoming more and more information conscious, well-equipped and users-friendly libraries have become the essential ingredients of the civilized world.
Evolution of Libraries
The level of civilization a society attains is measured by the value it puts on the pursuit of knowledge. Library is one institution which is devoted to the cultivation of knowledge and scholarship. Library and society are, therefore, inter-linked and inter-dependent. A society without libraries has no significance, and the origin of libraries cannot be thought of without the existence of society. With the advancement of human wisdom and thoughts and growth of experiences, knowledge has been growing continuously through the ages. Parallel to this has been the course of human recording which also grew and developed in relation to man’s requirements. Today, we look upon the library as a social agency created by the necessities of the modern society to shape its intellectual climate.
It is not known when or how the libraries began. The overall development of libraries, from the ancient times to the present age, can be measured in just three words ‘paperless to paperless’. The libraries in their initial stage were paperless. The documents were available in the form of clay tablets, bark leaves, inscriptions, etc., which were essentially archival in nature and useful in the transaction of business, administration of the State, and communication of beliefs to the succeeding generations. The invention of the printing press in the mid-Fifteenth Century revolutionised the world of publication and documentation. By the use of movable characters or letters, documents came in various printed forms. Accordingly, they gave a new shape to the libraries. Now, in the electronic age, documents are again available in paperless forms through computers, microfilms, microfiches, satellites and various electronic networking systems. The modern age has forced the libraries to introduce new technologies. Today, the shape, size and working of the libraries are changing enormously under the influence of technology. The conventional processes of organizing, retrieving, disseminating and managing information are being replaced by new methods and techniques, using sophisticated information technologies.
In all democratic countries, the volume and complexity of legislation, the range of parliamentarians’ specialized interests and the public policy fields have expanded enormously with a corresponding expansion in the demands of constituents from their elected representatives. Members of Parliament being the most active participants in the democratic process are, therefore, constantly feeling the need of timely information on a variety of subjects.
The parliamentary libraries are primarily meant to cater to the information needs of the members of Parliament and their staff. Besides having well-equipped library, documentation and reference services for the dissemination of factual, objective and latest information, many of the parliamentary libraries in the world also have their own research units to respond to the subject - based specialised information needs of the parliamentarians addressing the current as well as the future parliamentary work. In many countries, however, the parliamentary libraries are faced with the challenges of maintaining high quality services in the face of rapidly rising information demands from the members of Parliament, proliferating information sources, and, at times, insufficient parliamentary budgets.
Information Needs of Parliamentarians:
Increasing Pressure of Work: In modern democracies, Parliaments the world over have become busier. With the governmental policies becoming more complex and pervasive, the task of holding the Executive to account for its omissions and commissions has become more exciting and exacting at the same time. Now, more complex and far-reaching legislative proposals are being brought before the Parliaments by the Governments of the day. More questions are now being tabled by the members and more Parliamentary Committees are there meeting more often and considering more difficult policy areas. The individual members are now expected to be more closely and actively involved in the affairs of their constituencies and constituents. As a result, not only has the volume of work before each Parliament been increasing day-by-day but also the parliamentarians as well as the parliamentary institutions are increasingly becoming the focus for various kinds of pressure groups in the society.
Higher Qualifications: A noticeable fact has been that the educational backgrounds of the members of Parliament have changed significantly. With higher university degrees and professional qualifications, the present day parliamentarians have become more demanding, putting a greater degree of pressure on their information providers. Their expectations of the scale and scope of the information services are rising all the time with increased dependence on the support from a range of sources, parliament library being the most dependable one.
Increasing Information Literacy: In the present era of information revolution, parliamentarians have acquired a higher level of information literacy skills. Today, they are more comfortable with information in an electronic form. In India, as indeed in some of the other modern parliaments elsewhere, they are accordingly being provided with the latest electronic gadgets viz. desk top, lap top and hand held Computers with internet connectivity, scanners, printers, etc. To a large extent, the international electronic networks have broken the geographical and language barriers.
Varied Individual Interests: With heterogeneity of interest among the members of Parliament and their individual inquiries remaining extremely varied, a parliamentary library is today expected to provide a wider subject coverage. Because of the modern parliamentarians’ strong preference for an immediate supply of subject-oriented information, particularly when the Parliament is in session, speedy responses have become a major feature of the working of a modern parliamentary library.
Greater Exposure: With increasing democratic maturity, greater emphasis on the citizens’ rights and explosion of information of all kinds, the political and social climate has also been changing, motivating the parliamentarians to become more responsive to the needs and demands of the masses. Today, the members of Parliament all over the world are getting greater exposure to the media, thereby becoming subject to wider public scrutiny. The televising of House proceedings has brought the common masses nearer to the parliamentarians and parliamentary institutions. There are greater expectations from the constituents who, by virtue of the new communication technologies, are now well-positioned to address their varied requests and particularized demands directly to their elected representatives. As a result, the members of Parliament are now increasingly expected to understand and comment upon a variety of complex issues. It has, therefore, become necessary for members to acquire progressively a higher degree of knowledge and awareness for a better comprehension of the delicate issues.
Automation of Parliamentary Libraries
The beginning of the Third Millennium has witnessed changes in the economies, societies, politics and communications. The new information demands and new economic realities have also transformed the libraries and their services. Parliament libraries all over the world have been exploring new technologies as a means of providing to their users better and faster access to the vast array of information resources. Pioneering work has been done in developing computer-based data systems for the use of parliamentarians. The databases we have developed electronically in our libraries are big reservoirs of information enabling us to retrieve the desired material in an amazingly short time.
Today, computer to computer links through internet have changed the whole scenario. Quick and uninterrupted access to a large number of databases useful from the parliamentary angle is now a reality. Still, much scope is left to develop many more databases so as to cover every conceivable field of interest to a parliamentarian.
Electronic information delivery has made the ‘global village’ concept a reality. The emergence of CD-ROM has revolutionized the field of document delivery because of its low cost and high storage capacity. All our parliamentary libraries must try to procure more and more CDs of frequently required material, thus substituting the printed one. It will save both the retrieval time and a lot of
space on the shelves.
With more and more information and data becoming available in electronic format, the rate of growth of the print collection will certainly decrease in the coming years. Our parliamentary libraries will more and more become store-houses of electronic knowledge, where the electronically stored information will travel from computer to computer and the majority of the knowledge-retrieval operations will be initiated from the keyboard and screen. The collection storage which we are measuring today in metres, will be measured tomorrow in gigabytes.
It is now presumed that a time may come when there will be no books; even paper and pencil might disappear. Print will no longer dominate the communication media. Super computers will be error free in speech synthesis in recognizing and understanding languages and may even be able to use common senses and ethics. Putting all knowledge and all media into digital form, accessing and displaying it in consistent ways and working in a completely digital environment is not a distant dream. The three elements – the user, the digitized information and the computer network – will form the trinity of information management.
Economic Development and Level of Automation
The level of automation of a country’s parliamentary library is to a certain extent linked to the level of economic development of that country, for the financial support a parliamentary library gets for its modernization depends largely upon the general financial health of its economy.
Our Asia-Pacific region is a unique agglomeration of high income, middle income and low income countries, a majority of them having parliamentary democracy as the system of governance. In each of our Parliaments, we have the library, reference and research services organized in our own way to cater to the information needs of our parliamentarians. To better equip our libraries, each one of us has been striving to make use of the latest technological advances in the field of information management. But the level of automation and the application of technological advancement vary from country to country, depending upon the stage of economic development and the level of overall prosperity of the country.
From the viewpoint of sharing of information, the level of automation is very important. Unless we all achieve more or less the same level of automation in our respective parliamentary libraries, we cannot evolve an effective information-sharing network for the common benefit of the parliamentarians in our region. No doubt, budgetary constraints may come in the way of speedy automation of parliamentary libraries, particularly in countries where economic austerity is important in the financial agenda of the Government. But the continued trend of increasing cost of traditional collections and demand for the electronic information management by the parliamentarians force every parliamentary librarian to constantly endeavour to automate the library, keeping pace with the development of newer technologies.
Parliament Library in India
I would like to take this opportunity to share with you that the Parliament Library in India is one of the finest and richest repositories in the country with a collection of approximately 1.25 million documents. Established way back in 1921 during the Central Legislative Assembly days of the pre-Independence era, it has undergone remarkable upgradation over the years in terms of its size, structure and even modus operandi. Structured in an integrated manner covering all the inter-dependent services essentially required to meet the information needs of members of Parliament, we have an independent library and information service called the Library and Reference, Research, Documentation and Information Service, more familiar by its acronym LARRDIS. Working by and large on a subject-section-cum-desk officer system, this Service has presently several major functional divisions, each dealing with Research and Information, Reference, Library, Documentation, Press Clippings, Parliamentary Museum and Archives, Press and Public Relations, Microfilming, Audio-Visual and Telecasting, Computerization of Information Services for Members of Parliament and the Bureau of Parliamentary Studies and Training, all working in a well-devised and coordinated manner.
Automation of Parliament Library: The Indian Scenario
In India, we have taken significant steps in developing information technology to assist our parliamentarians in the effective discharge of their duties. With a modest beginning towards automation of our Parliament Library made as far back as December 1985, today, we are extensively using computers on user-friendly parameters in all our library housekeeping functions like acquisition, cataloguing, circulation control, information storage, retrieval, content analysis, dissemination, etc.,. It has been our efforts to procure the latest hardware from time to time. At present, we have 37 server machines, 775 Desktop Computers, 428 Laser Printers, 55 Gist Terminals, 69 Dot Matrix Printers, 4 Line Printers and 12 Scanners of different qualities and brands installed in various Branches of our Secretariat.
Since 1996, we have our own Home Page containing a large number of index-based databases as well as full-text databases of information generated within the two Houses of our Parliament. The Parliament of India Home Page is making available non-partisan, objective and reliable information and authoritative data to our parliamentarians and others on a continuous and regular basis covering a wide range of areas pertaining to the Houses of our Parliament. The major components of the parliamentary information now available on Parliament of India Home Page are: (i) Business of the House which includes List of Business, Parliamentary Bulletins, Synopsis of Debates, Daily Debates, Parliamentary Questions, Resume of Work, and Wits and Humours; (ii) Members of Parliament which includes Brief Biographies of Members (1st to 13th Lok Sabha), detailed Biographical Sketches of Members (10th to 13th Lok Sabha), Postal and e-mail Addresses of Members, Handbook for Members and Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS), (iii) Information about Parliamentary Committees and their Reports; (iv) General Information which includes Introduction to Parliament, Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha, Directions by the Speakers and Organization of the Lok Sabha Secretariat.
We have automated the activities of our Parliament Library by using an indigenously developed software package `LIBSYS’, which is an integrated library-application web-enabled software package covering almost all major functions of the library. Keeping in view the latest technological advances in the area of information management, as also the core areas of interest of the members of Parliament, we are in the process of developing a digital library of electronic publications. We have installed a network of DVD/CD Mirror Hybrid Server, whereby important digital publications such as e-books, e-journals, videos, audios, software programmes are mirrored (copied) on the server which can be accessed through Local Area Network.
As the Press clippings are extensively used by the members of Parliament, research and reference staff and various Branches of our Secretariat, we have created the facilities for scanning of the selected Press clippings (in English) on the subjects of topical interest which can be accessed in Data Scan whenever required.
Micrographics has an important place in the better management of library and information services. In order to ensure the optimum utilization of the existing space in our Parliament Library and also for better preservation and future use of our available collections, we have acquired the latest available models of microfilming equipment and ancillaries. Microfilms of a large number of documents are now easily accessible to the members of Parliament and others. So far, more than 1300 microfilm rolls have been prepared and approximately 2.7 million exposures of various documents have been taken by our Microfilming Unit.
We fully realize the imperatives of adaptability to the fast changing information and communication technologies. Therefore, organizing regular in-house training and refresher programmes for the methodical and technological upgradation of the staff and officials of our library is an integral part of our human resource management.
To house the fast-growing collections and to facilitate the diversification of activities to keep pace with the various information requirements of members of our Parliament, a new Library Building with the provisions of all the facilities of a modern library has been constructed. Built at an approximate cost of US$ 45 million, the new modular and utilitarian Library Complex was commissioned on 7 May 2002. Fully computerized, this building has an optic fibre-based Local Area Network (LAN) with high speed Wide Area Network (WAN) connectivity to provide linkages with the State Legislatures, foreign Parliaments and other international organizations. This modern library would not only be the central repository of all the information needs of the members of our Parliament but will also act as the political, social, economic and cultural icon of our country.
Technical Support to Members of Parliament
With a view to enabling the members of our Parliament to get instant and up-to-date information on a wide range of activities as also to have a quick and accurate information on various legislative and parliamentary matters, we in India have provided computer facilities to each and every member of our Parliament at his/her residence or work place. Every member has been provided Internet and e-mail connectivity enabling him/her to have access to the Parliament databases, various other Government databases, databases of foreign Legislatures and vast sources of other information available on the Internet.
We have also created a central computing facility at our Parliament House which is connected to NICNET, a nation-wide information and communication technology network established by the National Informatics Centre. Since the NICNET is also linked with the capitals of all our States and also with all the District Headquarters in the country, our parliamentarians are able to exchange messages and other information with the State and District Administrations in India. We are also organizing, from time to time, computer training programmes for members of our Parliament for developing and sharpening their skills in various uses of information technology in their parliamentary work.
Today, we are advancing towards a fully automated parliamentary library to attain the desired speed and accuracy in serving our parliamentarians who are always hard-pressed for time. The credit for this goes to our visionary leader and former Prime Minister late Shri Rajiv Gandhi under whose dynamic leadership India’s overall modernization efforts in the field of information and communication technologies got a real thrust which also had an exponential impact on the modernization of the Library of our Parliament. Under successive Prime Ministers, the process of modernization got further impetus. We are grateful to all our Speakers for showing keen interest in the computerization of various library management functions. It hardly needs any mention that with the benediction and blessings of our present Hon’ble Speaker, Shri Somnath Chatterjee, who was the Chairman of the Committee on Information Technology during the tenure of the previous Lok Sabha, the drive towards automating and modernizing the library of our Parliament is being further intensified.
Role Models for Parliamentary Libraries
In the contemporary world of Parliaments, the Library of Congress in the United States and the Library of the House of Commons in the United Kingdom, among others, have highly sophisticated parliamentary research and information services. To respond to the contemporary information and research needs of the parliamentarians on diverse subjects effectively, these libraries have effected significant changes over the years in terms of their size and structure, budget and resources and methodologies. Well-stocked, well-equipped and manned by highly experienced professionals, these libraries provide a variety of in-depth policy analyses and research on almost every subject of parliamentary interest. Technologically sound and organizationally grouped by subject-specialization, these libraries have the ability to apply multidisciplinary knowledge to each problem in making the parliamentarians understand easily any complex issue of public importance. Today, these libraries are the role models for the other parliamentary libraries in the world. In the accomplishment of our fundamental mission to provide accurate, objective and non-partisan information to our clients in a responsive manner, we can learn a lot from the experiences of these pioneering parliamentary libraries.
Cooperation for Sharing Information Resources
and Information Management Techniques
Cooperation among the parliamentary libraries in resource and information sharing has been continuing for many years. The networking of international and regional associations in which parliamentary libraries find representation has helped in establishing cooperative links among the libraries of various Parliaments. As you all know, at the annual IFLA Conference too, there is a Section on Library and Research Services for Parliaments where we meet and discuss matters of common concern. Regional parliamentary groups such as the Association of Parliamentary Librarians of Asia and the Pacific, the Association of Parliamentary Librarians of Australia, the Association of Parliamentary Librarians in East and Southern Africa, the Association of Parliamentary Librarians in Canada and the Association of Parliamentary Librarians in Nordic Countries spontaneously come to our mind when we talk of regional cooperation in the area of library management. For their common benefit, these parliamentary librarians’ associations have been facilitating a great degree of cooperation among their members through meetings, conferences, professional visits, staff exchanges, partnership, etc.
Greater reliance is now being placed on regional organizations of parliamentary librarians for sharing information resources and information management techniques. But, these associations usually work within the framework of the requirements of the particular regions they represent. Technological revolution has today increased the possibility of cooperation among parliamentary libraries on a global scale. There is an imperative need to develop a new cooperative format for bringing all the parliamentary libraries in a global network where all our resources will be at one another’s disposal and we will be able to share and consult expertise and experience across the barriers of time and distance. An added advantage of the global networking would be that parliamentary libraries in some developed countries, specializing in particular types of expensive library resources, would be able to share them electronically with their counterparts in other countries. In fact, networking has to be established amongst all the legislative and parliamentary libraries at all levels - national and global. The task is urgent and it cannot be delayed any further.
We are now in the very early years of the Third Millennium. A long-term vision for our parliamentary libraries covering a millennium-long period cannot be formulated with precision. However, keeping in view the fact that the future global trends in information and documentation will result in continuing growth in the demand for a plethora of research and information-related services inside and outside Parliaments, our present strategy to cope with the expanding needs of parliamentarians should certainly be based on the current trends and the medium term prospects.
Information, whether in raw form of empirical data or in a highly processed form, is now regarded as vital national resource as any other national resources such as water, mineral and energy. It is inexhaustible, replenishable and able to be generated constantly. It is interactive with human resources and is also self-renewing. It has a huge potential for providing a wide range of new opportunities and offering better solutions to achieve greater levels of efficiency and productivity.
Today, we are living in a global information society - a society that uses information extensively in a way that is not constrained by time or by space, and for which knowledge and information represent the lifeblood. In this exciting era of information revolution, the old dictum `knowledge is power’ leads us to the conclusion that the more we are capable of acquiring and using the information and communication technologies, the more we are able to progress. I hope, the technologically sound emerging Asia-Pacific Region will lead tomorrow’s world by virtue of its being well-endowed with the advanced information and communication technologies. Timely application of such technologies in each of our parliamentary libraries will certainly go a long way in strengthening our democracies in the fast-globalizing world.