The Parliamentary Library serves the Australian Parliament by providing independent and non-partisan information, analysis and advice to senators and members of the House of Representatives in support of their parliamentary and representational roles. The Library’s research and information specialists align their work with the parliamentary agenda and tailor services to meet the specific needs of senators, members and parliamentary committees, including through access to curated collections and commissioned research. This report documents the Library’s performance in financial year 2016–17, a year in which solid progress was made against all of our strategic priorities.
The new Parliament
On 30 August 2016, 53 new senators and members took their seats in the Australian Parliament. By 30 June 2017, a further three senators had taken seats arising from subsequent vacancies. Accordingly, orientation and outreach programs for new and returning parliamentarians and their staff were a major focus throughout the year. In addition to my participation in formal induction programs organised by the chamber departments, each new senator and member was assigned a Library contact officer. These officers acted as Library ambassadors, guiding senators and members and their staff through the diverse range of Library products and services, and demonstrating how we can support them in their day-to-day work. Such personalised service helps forge relationships with our new clients and gives us a better understanding of their needs and interests so that we can tailor our services to them. Dedicated orientation and training sessions were also provided to the parliamentarians’ staff as new offices were established.
During the year, the Library published a range of topical research products, notably its Briefing Book: key issues for the 45th Parliament, a volume of strategic snapshots of some of the key public policy issues that were expected to figure in the Parliament’s first months that also showcase the specialist expertise of our researchers.
We refreshed the Library’s lecture and seminar program to coincide with the new Parliament; and continued our popular program of electorate office visits, visiting 37 offices by the year’s end.
The Library’s outreach initiatives proved successful. In 2016–17, the Library’s services were used by all senators and members to a greater or lesser degree, whether it was to access media monitoring services or items in the collection, to commission a research advice or thematic map, or to seek a personal briefing or training session.
Information, analysis and advice
The Library takes pride in its work providing authoritative and impartial research and information services to the Parliament. Pleasingly, our work continued to be held in high regard, as evidenced by direct, unsolicited client feedback, as well as by the regularity with which Library advice was referred to by senators and members in parliamentary debates and committee hearings—and, indeed, in the case of our published information, by news and fact checking websites.
The Library’s publications provide comprehensive and balanced analysis of legislation before the chambers and of current and emerging issues in public policy and administration. In 2016–17 the Library issued 280 research publications, including 121 Bills Digests; and there were 6.4 million online uses of our publications through ParlInfo Search and the internet.
The 34th edition of the Parliamentary Handbook was also published.
As part of its commitment to personalised service, the Library provides senators, members and parliamentary committees with confidential, commissioned research services. In 2016–17 the Parliamentary Library answered over 11,600 individual client requests, in writing, over the phone, or in person—whichever best suited each client’s need. This was less than our target of 13,000 completed requests. However, the Library’s results against the associated timeliness KPI (achieving nearly 98 per cent against a 90 per cent target) suggests this at least partly reflected the customary reduction in demand in election years as committees are dissolved and parliamentarians turn their focus elsewhere. Conversely, there was a something of a spike in the hours spent answering client requests: 44,657 hours in 2016–17 compared to 40,227 in 2015–16, reflecting an ongoing trend towards increasingly complex requests.
Notwithstanding the impact of the electoral cycle upon client demand, it is the case that the number of client requests responded to each financial year has declined significantly over the past 10 to 15 years.
One reason for this is the amount of information now readily available online, including the curated ‘self-help’ products that the Library provides so that information resources are easily accessible for clients at home, at the office or on the road. The Library has increased the percentage of its collection available in digital form from 15 per cent at the end of June 2006 to 42.2 per cent at the end of June 2017. Some 88 per cent of serials and almost 30 per cent of monograph titles are now available in full text on-line; and last financial year around 70 per cent of the collection budget was spent on electronic resources (including news services).
In 2016–17 the Library went to market for its key media monitoring services, with new contracts in place by the end of the financial year. We also successfully deployed a new social media monitoring service.
Significant progress was made in the Library’s preservation of records through digitisation, particularly in regards to information files. This year the Library widened its focus beyond its unique collection items and commenced digitisation of the Parliamentary Papers Series, 1901–2012. Once complete, this project will significantly improve public access and help preserve this important parliamentary record for the future.
This focus on digital delivery is essential if we are to position the Library for success into the future—notwithstanding that use of the print collection remains high. However, it poses intrinsic challenges, including the need for effective stewardship of digital collections, an undertaking which is more complex than the maintenance of print collections. This is particularly acute for born-digital materials (that is, materials which have only ever existed in digital format), given the inevitable changes in hardware, formats, and operating systems.
In the reporting period, the Library completed two major initiatives to ensure its digital collections are preserved and remain accessible in the long term.
The first of these was the implementation of a new repository and discovery system for the Library’s digital collection, and an associated program of data remediation.
The second was the development of new policy frameworks for digital delivery and digital preservation, and a digital preservation policy (which includes digital preservation standards). These new governance papers were subsequently endorsed by the Joint Standing Committee on the Parliamentary Library (Library Committee).
However, digital delivery also poses other, rather more immediate challenges.
The Library has purposefully pushed more and more of its services online to provide clients with easy access to information on their desktop or mobile device. But a consequence of this is that we do not have end–to-end control over some of our key services. How best to deal with these challenges in assessing the Library’s performance will be examined in the context of an upcoming review of our key performance indicators (see below).
Ensuring a high and consistent quality in services
The value of the analysis and advice provided to our clients depends on the professional skills and knowledge of the Library’s staff, including their communication skills, understanding of parliament and of how to manage relationships with senators, members and their staff. In 2016–17 the Library maintained a focus on building our skills base to address the perceived variability in the quality of research services identified in the 2015 client evaluation, finalising its workforce capability assessments and workforce plan (which was considered and endorsed by the Library committee). In addition to DPS corporate training, Library staff participated in a series of in-house seminars and peer led training, including sessions on topics such as tax policy and behavioural economics as well as more library specific issues such as client service and drafting bills digests. The orientation program for new staff was also refreshed.
The Library has long engaged with external experts through its lecture program, and as external readers for research publications. Last financial year we initiated discussions with the Australian National University, in the first instance with the School of Law, to establish a Memorandum of Understanding under which its staff would provide technical assistance, present seminars or prepare commissioned research papers in areas where the Library may not have specific expertise. This is part of a longer term strategy to build more effective relationships with universities and individual academics.
Outlook for 2017–18
A priority for 2017–18 will be the finalisation of the client evaluation of Library services for the 45th Parliament, and the development of a plan to address its findings and recommendations. The Library will also commission a review of its performance measures and targets in light of both feedback from the evaluation and, where appropriate, benchmarking against industry standards. The outcome will be incorporated in the Library’s 2018–19 business plan (which will form an annex to the resource agreement).
The Library will conduct a review of its collection to ensure its budget is spent on the most relevant and useful resources. This will include analysis of all major databases and e-serials, examining usage and identifying potential overlap or duplication in aggregated collections.
The program of visits to electorate offices will continue, with visits planned to Western Australia and Queensland in early 2017–18.
The Library will also maintain its focus on enhancing the capabilities of its staff, including through the re-introduction of its Study of Parliament course and the development and delivery of specialist sessions on writing for the Parliamentary Library—focussing on best practice guidance for writing client memoranda and research reports.
Staffing and budgetary issues will continue to be closely managed to deliver services as efficiently as possible.
The Library will continue to report regularly to the Presiding Officers and to the Library Committee on these matters.
In conclusion, I thank the Presiding Officers and, the members of the Joint Standing Committee on the Parliamentary Library for their support and guidance throughout the year. I look forward to continuing in my role as Parliamentary Librarian following my appointment for a further term.
My thanks go also to the Secretary of DPS, to my colleagues in DPS and, the other parliamentary departments, and in state and territory parliamentary libraries.
Finally, thank you to all my colleagues in the Parliamentary Library for their hard work, professionalism and, commitment throughout the year.