ASSOCIATION OF PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARIANS

OF ASIA AND THE PACIFIC (APLAP)

EIGHTH BIENNIAL CONFERENCE

NEW DELHI, INDIA

18-22 JANUARY 2005

 

 

 

SESSION 3

21.1.2005 (1030 Hrs)

LIBRARY SERVICES FOR MEMBERS

 

KEYNOTE ADDRESS

by

 

ROSLYNN MEMBREY

Assistant Secretary

Library Resources and Media Services

Australian Parliamentary Library &

Secretary of APLAP

 

 

I think it may be best if I break this large topic down to three identifiable sections so that I can address each of them in turn.

1 Library Collections – Print and Digital

Unless we are very young most of us trained to be librarians at a time when collections were only available in print form. We used to think life was complicated if we had to deal with books, serials, newspapers, maps and 35mm slides. However, over the last 20 years or so there has been almost a revolution in the provision of information. Not only have we had to deal with new formats like VHS tapes, CD-ROMS, DVDs but we have had to become familiar with a whole new language. We don’t search and retrieve information any more we "Google" it. We worry about the bit rate of our computers. Are they fast enough to download the information we are "Googling"? We barely blink when we receive a reminder to download the latest version of Adobe Acrobat when we try to read, or print, a PDF file. We wonder if we should trust Microsoft’s latest version of Media Player – just as we got used to the previous version.

Are some of you wondering what I am talking about? Let me take you back to the late 1960’s when I started working in libraries.

The most sophisticated piece of technology we had in my library in 1965 was a photocopier and perhaps a roneo duplicator. The small library I worked in had one typewriter and we had to employ an expert typist who could not only type letters and book orders but also manage 5" x 3" cards that we used to file in our catalogue. Each book order was checked and posted to a library supplier or book seller. Some months later the books would arrive by post. Trained librarians were the only people allowed to catalogue the new books and check and file those little cards after they had been typed.

Now fast forward to the first decade of the 21st century. Everybody in our library has a computer on their desk. We don’t have expert typists anymore – we are our own typists. Book orders are sent electronically. If the order is for a print copy of a book we usually expect to see it arrive within a few days. Often we don’t order books or information at all. We search for it on the World Wide Web and immediately download the whole thing into our electronic repository. If we have to pay for it we send details of our credit card over the web. Our catalogues are stored inside the computers. Anybody who joined the profession after the 1980’s has no idea what a 5" x 3" catalogue card looks like!

Our clients – particularly in – expect immediate desk top access to information. They are also sophisticated computer users who often never visit the Library. Instead, they sit at the computers that they have on their desks and search for the information that they need.

You are getting my message now. We are working in a time of rapid change. We can no longer rely on our old practices and procedures. We have to be ready to adapt to new technology, new sources of information, new client demands and we have to do this with very little support or funding from our administrators.

What impact do all of these changes have on our work and the way we work? The first thing that we have to remember is that information is still available in print form. So, all of those techniques we learnt for dealing with books, serials and newspapers are still important. We still need to catalogue, classify, organize and store information in print form so that it can be quickly retrieved. About 12 to 15 years ago we started receiving information on 5" floppy discs. Our response was to catalogue, classify and organize the floppy discs. The 5" discs became 3.5" discs. We treated them the same way. However, there was a slight difference. We had to put machines in the library that could read these discs. A few staff members had these machines, and one or two might be put in a publicly accessible area so that clients could use them.

Then about 10 years ago we started getting information on CD-ROMS. Firstly, we had to make sure that our computers had the right slots to play CD-ROMs. Then we realized that in some cases we could "network" the CD-ROMs and provide our staff or clients, who were on the network, with a facility that allowed them to read the CD-ROMs from their desktop. This was the beginning of a new revolution in our libraries. We saw that we could let our clients search for their own information. They no longer needed library staff to act as intermediaries between the client and the overwhelming mass of available information. Late in the 1990s we coined a new word "disintermediation" meaning that librarians no longer acted as the middle person between the enquirer and the information.

Also, in the mid-1990s many of us started dabbling with the Internet and e-mail. We discovered that there were 1000s of web pages containing extremely valuable information which was constantly updated but also, sometimes it disappeared overnight. We tried to figure out the best way to classify, catalogue and organize information that came in this format. Many of us now have our own digital or electronic repositories. If we find something on the web that we think is of value we will copy, or download it onto our own servers, we add metadata using standards such as Dublin Core to help identify this information and we make it directly accessible to our clients.

By the 1980s and 90s a few entrepreneurial types realized that information had become a commodity which could be sold electronically. Instead of placing an order for a book or serial title we suddenly had to deal with licensing contracts for electronic databases. The entrepreneurs "aggregated" information and made it available in very large databases with sophisticated search engines or interfaces that we could use to find specific information. The trouble is that these services did not allow us to archive or store the data we found and because they were commercial services they disappeared if they did not make a profit. Now, we have to pay a lot of money for access to services such as Lexis/Nexis, Dialogue or Factiva. We have had to become very clever about the way we pay for these services as our budgets could disappear completely if we did not control access to these databases.

Many parliamentary libraries have a history of maintaining press clipping services. At first we clipped articles from our newspapers and we filed them in chronological or subject order. If anybody wanted to use those files they had to come to the Library, when it was open, search for and photocopy those articles. Then, we realized that we could create our own electronic databases and make them available through our computing networks to all of our clients sitting at their desks. This created a different sort of demand. Our clients tend to work very long hours and expect to have all of the information that they need at their fingertips. We had to start thinking in terms of providing access 24 hours a day seven days a week and we had to accept responsibility for showing our clients the best way to search our database to find exactly what they want. Our newspaper clipping database was searched an average of 87,355 times per month in 2004. We could not have provided that level of service with our old paper files.

Of course our clients have also been exposed to the World Wide Web and they now expect all searching to be as simple as it is in Google. So, we have had to put a lot of thought into the way we build our databases and present them to our clients.

Our work as librarians has also had to change. Instead of sitting in our libraries waiting for people to ask us questions we have had to give our clients the right tools to use and then show them how to use them. Now that we provide databases at the desk top and let our clients search for the information that they need we have had to adapt our work procedures. As I said earlier the first thing we thought about was making the databases easy to search. That means that we need qualified and experienced indexers who can index over 500 items a day using a standard thesaurus for subject headings and providing standard metadata such as the name of the newspaper, the date it was published, the headline of a newspaper clipping or title of a journal article, the author etc.

However, this was not the end of the story as we had noticed that staff on our reference desk were often being asked to provide instructions on searching databases. We then decided to provide training sessions to help our clients find the information that they need. This proved to be a bigger problem than we initially thought it would be. Our first attempt was to invite Senators and Members to come to the Library for group training sessions. They were too busy to come and often sent their staff. But where we expected to have about 20 people sitting in our conference room we often had only 4 or 6. So, we changed our plan. We invited the staff of Members and Senators to come to group training sessions. Same problem. We’d only get very few people arriving for the session and often leaving early. We then decided that instead of having set times we would send out a notice saying that staff would be available for one-on-one sessions in the Library. Our staff would wait for about 3 hours and perhaps see one or two people. So, that plan was not a success either. Our current plan is for us to make an appointment to visit our clients in their office and provide training on the spot. So far, that plan seems to be more successful. Usage of our databases has grown four times since 2001.

In effect what we have done is to turn our cataloguers into indexers, and increased the number of staff in the indexing team. Then, our reference librarians, and some of our indexers, have been trained to train our clients. So, over the last 5 years or so our work has changed to fit with the opportunities offered to us and our clients by the new technology and the need to create digital collections.

That brings me around in a complete circle from where I started. I hope you have been able to see that the fact that the tools we work with have changed, our techniques have changed, the way we interact with our clients has changed and our services have changed. However, one significant thing has not changed. Whether we are dealing with print or digital information our primary purpose is to continue to provide our clients with timely, accurate, up-to-date and relevant information that will help them in their role as the people’s representatives in our Parliaments .

2 Exchange of Parliamentary Publications

When I first started working in parliamentary libraries we felt that it was important that we had access to the work of both within our own country and overseas. The simplest way for us to do this was to exchange our parliamentary publications with all of those that were important to us. In Australia all of the State and the Federal parliamentary libraries sent copies of Hansards, tabled papers, Bills, Statutes etc. to all of the other parliamentary libraries. Some Australian Libraries also collected Hansards for the British House of Commons and House of Lords, the US Congress or Canadian or South African national or provincial Parliaments.

One of the problems that we all shared was finding sufficient space to store all of these publications. As the years went on we had to find more and more space to store this material, or, we had to make a decision to discard some material that was not used frequently. It is never easy to get more space for libraries and in parliamentary buildings we are always competing with the Chamber departments for space and money.

This system started to break down in Australia in the 1980s when various Parliaments and governments discovered that it was costing a lot of money to send all of these publications out. Although all Australian parliamentary librarians agreed to fight with their administrators to continue providing material on exchange by the 1990s the whole system had broken down.

However, I want you to think back to the previous section of my paper. In the 1980s and 1990s new technology was invading our work places. The first innovation many of us discovered was the fax machine. If we need a second reading speech from another parliament we just rang our colleagues in that parliament and asked them to fax the speech. Already we were finding a way to get around the fact that we could not rely on other sending us all of their material.

Then in the 1990s two technologies became common place which helped us to overcome the lack of print copies in our own libraries. Firstly, as Hansard reporters and Clerks in the Chambers were using computers they were creating digital or electronic versions of parliamentary publications. They quickly realized that these electronic versions could be stored permanently. Secondly, many of us started using e-mail and realized that we had another useful tool. If I wanted a second reading speech from Singapore I would send an e-mail to the librarian in Singapore and she would send the speech back by e-mail.

In theory all of a sudden we had no need to continue the exchange scheme. As long as each of us remembers to keep a complete record of our parliament, either digitally or in print, we can provide copies to our colleagues all over the world.

I am probably being a very adventurous librarian here but I really believe that technology has changed things for most of us to the extent that we probably do not need to worry about exchanging publications any more. Instead we should focus on making sure that we keep a complete record of our own parliament and that we be ready to respond quickly if we get a request from one of our colleagues in another parliament.

Have you noticed that there are at least three problems with my argument? The first problem is that a lot of material is not available digitally. So, if I receive a request for a Bill from the 1970s I need to have the technology and expertise to convert it to an electronic format so that I can get it to you quickly. Secondly, and more importantly, I happen to come from a library where we are very well resourced. Many of you do not so it will be difficult for you to request and receive material electronically. In those situations those of us who have resources need to keep in mind the fact that we need to help our colleagues whenever we can.

Finally, we librarians do not always have the power within our own to insist that all records be kept permanently. This can lead to several different problems. We are not allowed enough space to keep everything we want to keep so we have to be selective about material we keep and discard. In some tropical countries we need special conditions to keep material permanently so we need climate controlled rooms and storage areas. Often funds do not allow for that. Then, there are matters completely beyond our control. I’m thinking for example of the most recent coup attempt in Fiji in 2000. When the coup leaders occupied Parliament House in Suva, the Library was used as a laundry and all of the collection was destroyed. Obviously, the librarian had no control over what happened to her collection in that situation.

All of these problems make me wonder about my initial hypotheses that exchange agreements are no longer relevant. While my plan will work in well developed countries, I think we may need to work with our colleagues in smaller countries, who may need to continue to receive our publications in print form, and, who may need help to develop technical solutions to material that needs to be permanently retained.

3 Training for Parliamentary Library Staff

My final topic on training for Parliamentary Library staff is vitally important to those of us who wish to continue providing relevant and timely services for our clients.

These days the staff of parliamentary libraries include trained librarians and paraprofessional library staff and often, research staff, computer programmers and analysts, and other specialist skills may be required such as web managers, staff with skills in publishing material both in print and electronic form and people with special skills in marketing our services.

The biggest mistake any of us can make as managers is to say that once we recruit staff with special skills they will not need any further training or development. As I said in the first part of this paper the library profession has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. The only way that all of us, and our staff, can cope with those changes is to change ourselves by taking advantage of opportunities for self-development, retraining, in-house courses and even academic courses that are available.

Let us look at library staff in some detail. In my library I have a mixture of professionally trained librarians, paraprofessionals and support staff – most of whom receive on-the-job training when they first arrive. Professionally trained librarians tend to specialise in one area of our profession. I have acquisitions librarians, serials librarians, cataloguers, indexers and systems librarians. Some of them try to expand there skills by doing shifts on our reference desk so they must maintain their skills as reference librarians. I encourage all of my professional staff to attend conferences, workshops and seminars outside the Library. Some are studying for higher qualifications in entirely different subjects at academic institutions. I studied for a Masters Degree in Public Policy and two of my professional staff are studying for Masters Degrees in Knowledge Management.

My paraprofessional staff are also encouraged to undertake extra study. At present about 10 of my staff are undertaking a course for Library Technicians as a group within the library. Their lecturer comes to the library, hands out assignments, provides reading material etc and marks their assignments. By doing this most of them finished their Certificate III in 2003 and have now started studying for their Certificate IV.

Our research staff are all specialists in subject areas such as health, education, law, economics, etc. They are all encouraged to update their skills by attending courses and conferences and they are also allowed to develop their intellectual capital during working hours. This means that each day they are given the time to read newspapers and journals to ensure that they are up-to-date. The rest of us are very jealous. I don’t know about you but most of my professional reading is done outside working hours.

Because we work in a very large institution we often have the opportunity to upgrade our skills in subjects such as word processing, excel spreadsheets or even how to keep our mail in-box under control. Again, because I believe that we become more productive and efficient if we know how to use our tools correctly I encourage all of my staff to attend these courses.

The Library also arranges for lectures for all staff on subjects such as the study of parliament, communications skills, negotiating with clients and even financial planning.

One of the big differences I have noted between training for library staff and training for computing staff is the cost of courses. A conference for library staff may cost A$400-A$500 for a 3 or 4 day conference. A conference of 2-3 days for computing staff can cost anywhere from A$1500 to A$3000 so we have to be very careful about selecting course for our IT staff. Generally computing staff attend courses that build on their skills. I have one staff member who learnt COBAL as the best programming language in the 1960s. He joined the Library staff in the 1970s and since then he has undergone training in several new languages and he is now proficient in Visual Basic+.

Again, I am lucky to work in a library that not only encourages staff to develop their skills and has the funds to pay for them to undertake training but we have the facilities like training rooms and we live in a city with two universities and a technical training college. Not all of you are that lucky.

The message I want to leave you with is that even if you do not have a lot of opportunities for training you should grab every opportunity that comes your way. For example, you may use computers every day but you could always do a course on word processing. I can guarantee that you will also learn at least one or two useful things. I recently completed template training and discovered several new features in Word that have become very useful to me. Sometimes when you do courses you meet other people and you can learn new things from them or expand your network of contacts that will help you to do a better job for your library clients.

Conclusion

My paper has probably seemed a bit disjointed to you. I have taken 3 quite separate topics and tried to give you an understanding of each of them. However, there is one theme constant throughout my paper. We live in times of change and we must change with the times. Sometimes it is hard, sometimes it is expensive, sometimes it is inconvenient but unless we continually change, adapt and modify our work and our services we may become irrelevant. If Parliamentary Libraries become irrelevant the quality of our parliamentarians will diminish and our nations may suffer because we have not been able to provide our clients with the best available information at the time that they need it.