Part 5Parliamentary Library

Parliamentary Librarian’s review

I am pleased to present the Parliamentary Library’s annual report for 2017–18.

The Library’s role is to provide high-quality information, analysis and advice to senators and members in support of their parliamentary and representational roles, and to do so in a timely, impartial and confidential manner whilst maintaining the highest standards of scholarship and integrity. The Library provides ‘traditional’ library services such as books, journals and newspapers, as well as a comprehensive range of value-added services, including online media monitoring, specialist databases, and statistical and mapping services. The Parliamentary Library is also one of Australia’s major research libraries, providing senators and members tailored and confidential research briefs and general distributions on current legislation and on a wide range of other issues of interest to the Parliament.

In 2017–18, the Library offered significant support to the Parliament across a broad range of policy areas, and performed strongly against all its key tasks and performance measures (as set out in the Library Resource Agreement).

Our services were once again used by every parliamentarian, be it for confidential research briefs, mapping, training or orientation sessions, media services, or use of collection items. This is particularly notable given 13 new senators and members took their seats in the Parliament in 2017–18. Orientations and support for new parliamentarians and their staff remained a focus for the Library throughout the year.

Over the course of the year, the Library answered 11,656 individual requests for information and analysis. This was less than our target of 13,000. However, hours spent responding to parliamentarians’ enquiries again increased by five per cent compared to 2016–17 (44,503 compared to 42,178). The Library issued nearly 300 research publications, including more than 130 Bills Digests. There were 7.2 million online uses of the Library’s publications through ParlInfo Search and the internet.

The Library met or exceeded all its key performance measures for the timeliness of its services.

More than 800 clients attended training and orientation sessions and we continued our program of outreach to electorate offices, visiting 37 during the year.

More than 6,300 new books and serials were added to the Library’s catalogue and 175,249 items were added to Library databases. The Library also undertook a major collection review to ensure the collection remains accessible and relevant to the needs of the Parliament, and that our acquisitions represent best value for money. This review included analysis of all major databases and e-serials, examining usage and identifying potential overlap or duplication in aggregated collections.

Throughout the year, the Library continued to prioritise the digital delivery of services and products.

The percentage of the collection available in digital form increased to more than 45.5 per cent (as at 30 June 2018). There were 3.95 million uses of the Library’s online collections and databases. In addition to our business as usual work, two longstanding projects also came to fruition late in the financial year: ParlMap, our new self-service mapping tool, and Wadsworth, the new database system for the Parliamentary Handbook. Work on our various digitisation projects also continued, and an important milestone was reached in regard to digitisation of the Parliamentary Papers Series.

An independent review of the Library’s key performance indicators was also undertaken to ensure their effectiveness and robustness in measuring how we meet our strategic goals and objectives.

The Library continued to support the Parliament’s broader engagement with the Australian community and with the region. Library staff provided support to the Parliament of the Solomon Islands and the Parliamentary Institute of Cambodia, as well as hosting staff from the parliaments of Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga. In addition, 2018 saw the launch by the Presiding Officers of the First Eight, a collaborative project looking at Australia’s early Prime Ministers.

Evaluation of the Parliamentary Library’s Services

The Library commissions an independent evaluation of its services once in every Parliament to measure performance and to gain insights into the use of its services and parliamentarians’ changing information needs. The evaluation for the 45th Parliament was conducted in the first half of the 2017–18 financial year. The findings were extremely positive, particularly among parliamentarians and their staff, where satisfaction rates remained high (94 per cent), and the likelihood of recommending the Library higher again (99 per cent). Pleasingly, since the last evaluation in 2015, the percentage who were extremely satisfied increased by five per cent (to 50 per cent), and the number dissatisfied decreased to only one per cent (compared to five per cent in 2015). Most respondents considered Library staff to be hard-working, professional and friendly and the services to be of a high quality. Clients valued the Library’s independence and its capacity to provide analysis; and regarded the Library very highly as a source of trusted information. It was found to perform strongly on issues of balance, impartiality and confidentiality.

There was also a significant and welcome increase in the number of respondents who thought the Library’s performance had improved. Reasons given for this included the time taken to understand individual requests, innovation, promotion of Library services, and building of relationships. Two clear areas for improvement were identified: a perceived variability in the quality of research services by some clients, and issues of timeliness, the latter particularly in relation to Bills Digests. Perceptions of variability of quality and timeliness are not simple to address—noting, for example, that the Library met or exceeded all its timeliness KPIs for the year. However, the evaluation also points to the importance of improved communication with clients, including around the tracking of research requests. Certainly the message is clear: clients expect us to deliver to a high standard all the time; any lapse can lower trust and perceptions of the overall quality of our service. Strategies to address the evaluation’s recommendations for enhanced outreach and communication with clients, timeliness and consistency in quality will be a focus for the coming year.

Building our capacities

A key priority for the Library is developing and maintaining the professional skills and knowledge of the Library’s staff. This remains an ongoing challenge as the Library’s age profile means that many of our most experienced staff have reached, or will soon reach, retirement age. The Library has continued to recruit skilled staff to fill these vacancies. We have often also been fortunate to be able to draw upon the skills of former staff as Library Associates or on intermittent employment contracts.

Library researchers and information professionals work to ensure they are up to date on public policy issues and on industry offerings. In addition to participating in DPS corporate training, Library staff participated in a series of in-house seminars, peer led training, and external professional development. The Library has implemented a program of targeted learning and development for staff to build both their parliamentary knowledge and workplace skills. This helps us build institutional continuity while still enjoying the benefits of renewal. A particular focus over the past year has been training to help ensure Library staff understand the legislative and committee business processes of parliament and thereby deliver products that are best ‘fit for purpose’. A new induction program was also implemented.

Work also continued to build stronger relationships with universities and individual academics.

Finally, the structure of Library Collections and Databases branch was reviewed, in close consultation with staff, to enhance its capacity for innovation in the delivery of digital content.

The year ahead

Addressing the recommendations of the client evaluation of Library services will be a focus in the coming year. In particular, the Library will continue to work to build its skills base and to improve the quality and timeliness of its work through staff training and by reviewing and improving quality assurance mechanisms.

Library Collections and Databases’ new branch structure will take effect from 1 July.

The Library will continue to pursue opportunities to work collaboratively with other researchers and organisations, including the Australia and New Zealand Association of Clerks-at-the-Table.

Work will also begin in anticipation of a general or half-Senate election.

The Library will continue its program of visits to electorate offices.

Staffing and budgetary issues will continue to be closely managed so that services are delivered as effectively and efficiently as possible.

The Library will continue to report regularly to the Presiding Officers and to the Joint Standing Committee on the Parliamentary Library (JSCPL).


I would like to thank the Presiding Officers and the JSCPL for their support and guidance throughout the year. My thanks go also to the Secretary DPS and to colleagues across DPS and in the other parliamentary departments, and in state and territory parliamentary libraries.

And, finally, I would like to thank all the staff of the Parliamentary Library for their hard work, professionalism and enthusiasm. The Library’s achievements arise from their collective efforts, and it is a privilege to work with them.