Parliamentary libraries are specialized environments, requiring dedicated and unique resources to support their client-centered reference service. Staff add value to collections and information sources using their knowledge and understanding of the local parliamentary context. Examples provided from Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador highlight the customized products and tools developed by these libraries to meet the needs of parliamentary library clients.
Heather Close and Andrea Hyde
Parliamentary libraries are highly specialized information environments, where knowledge of parliamentary tradition, legislation, public policy, and local history merge with personalized and professional service.
Meeting client needs in this fast-paced landscape necessitates the creation and maintenance of a variety of dedicated and unique reference services and resources. Library staffs’ time and knowledge is skillfully invested in the curation, development, and maintenance of customized tools specifically designed to provide authoritative, timely, and non-partisan information in support of their legislative assemblies.
The Alberta Legislature Library and the Newfoundland and Labrador Legislative Library provide examples of this type of specialized resource particular to parliamentary information service.
The Alberta Legislature Library has created two resources of current and historical data to support library reference service, Members, legislative staff, researchers, and the engaged public– Member Profiles and Constituency Profiles.
Member Profiles are legislative service summaries of all Members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta who have served since 1905. Launched to the public in 2016, the online profiles include a photograph, dates of service, contested elections and constituencies, party affiliation, offices and roles, and legislative committee membership of each Member.
Library staff compile and verify the information using a wide variety of authoritative and primary sources. While much of this information has been reproduced and is available in published sources, the Member Profiles offer researchers a uniquely comprehensive and trusted source on the Legislative Assembly of Alberta and its Members.
The Constituency Profiles provide current and historical data regarding the province’s electoral divisions, Members, and the electorate. The specific focus of the information presented reflects the geographic areas covered by the current electoral divisions. Each profile provides access to demographic data, local histories, and newspapers from the constituency. There is a general chronology of elections, Legislatures, and Session dates, as well as a guide to key sources on legislative process and procedure.
The Library has been updating the information in these profiles at each election and with each electoral boundary change since they were first produced in 2001. For the most recent general election, the profiles were moved from print to a dynamic online format that allows for continuous updates and direct access to electronic resources.
The unique value of both these resources comes from the time in researching and compiling the information from legislative records, such as the Journals and Hansard, and presenting it in a way that is tailored to the needs of the parliamentarian. For example, new Members faced with drafting their Maiden Speeches refer to the Hansard transcripts for examples and inspiration from what was previously said. The Constituency Profiles pinpoint the speeches of those who represented each constituency historically, with links to the speeches in the official Hansard (1972 to date) and Scrapbook Hansard, the Library’s online collection of historical newspaper clippings.
Newfoundland and Labrador
The goal of the reference service at the Newfoundland and Labrador Legislative Library is to provide attentive, efficient, and comprehensive information to its clients. Questions posed to reference staff range widely, but some important patterns emerge that help in the development of reference tools. One such pattern is the reliance on media sources to provide both context for, and reaction to, government decision-making.
In order to facilitate responses to questions of this nature, the library has created an in-house database of press releases and periodical articles that is indexed daily by Legislative Library staff. All press releases published by the government, opposition, and third party are included in the database; each entry containing the title, date, authors, and controlled-vocabulary subject headings. The periodical articles are indexed in a similar way, and include articles from any publications to which the library subscribes that include reference to Newfoundland and Labrador government activities.
The use of controlled-vocabulary subject headings that have been developed by Legislative Library staff, as well as the ability to include individual items that are uniquely important in our legislature’s context, makes the database an invaluable resource. Containing entries from 1998 onwards, the database allows reference staff to promptly form a timeline of events, and to quickly provide a set of primary sources to clients, as they are often working within a very tight deadline. This preliminary set of sources then provides a foundation for further research, leading to other resources and materials.
While parliamentary library services across the country differ in size and scale, our common purpose – to provide reliable, relevant, and non-partisan information service – provides a shared vision for the work they do to support our legislatures each day.
The worth of staff-created specialized tools comes from the skillful synthesis of information from a wide range and volume of material, presented in a format that fits the demanding work of parliamentarians.
The creation and maintenance of resources that help parliamentary libraries answer reference questions quickly and effectively builds the capacity of library services, allows for greater client trust, and promotes continued reliance on their information services.