Using the Library of Parliament
By Erik J. Spicer
Most journalists spend a lot of time cultivating sources; few cultivate
the Parliamentary Library. It appears at times that only the more
erudite of journalists avail themselves of this major convenient
source. Possibly others are using the Unites States Information
Service Library, even more conveniently located in the National
Press Building. (One wonders if any other government has placed
a foreign library in so advantageous a position.) Nevertheless,
many journalists over the years have praised our services, acknowledging
our assistance in their books, in their letters, and in conversation.
You yourself just may find that, in the long run, tapping the library's
services pays off in terms of substance and accuracy, though not
necessarily in sensation.
The key to getting the most out of the Library of Parliament is
to anticipate your needs. Our resources are vast and the staff is
very busy, so if it's at all posible, don't wait until the last
moment. If you make an effort to anticipate areas in which stories
may break, the Library staff can help you gather background knowledge
beforehand. That'll give you an edge over some of your more harried
or more superficial colleagues. Or if you know you are to prepare
a series on the "Tolls on the St. Lawrence Seaway", let
us know as soon as possible. We can help you put together a reading
list or chart a research path, among other things.
Our extensive services are available on a confidential basis in
English and French, tailored to meet individual needs. Library publications
provide studies of policy issues, reading lists and current files
of articles of special interest to parliamentarians. We provide
research assistance, information and other services to parliamentarians
and their staffs, parliamentary committees, associations and delegations,
senior Senate and House of Commons officials, the Governor-General,
Privy Councillors, and Justices of the Supreme and Federal Courts
as well as to Press Gallery members. A staff of more than 240 librarians,
research officers, technicians and support personnel answered more
than 80,000 inquiries and prepared more than 2,500 research papers
for parliamentarians in 1987-88.
The library has two service branches: Information and Technical
Services, and Research.
The Information and Technical Services Branch, with 45 professional
librarians, anticipates and responds to requests for information
and prepares retrieval and reference aids. Its role is to develop,
acquire, make accessible, conserve and maintain library collections,
three branch libraries, a reading room, the main Library and the
Parliamentary Reading Room. The staff alerts clients to sources
of new and newly-acquired information, including books, serials,
reports, briefs, parliamentary papers, government publications,
databases, press clippings, wire services, microforms, videotapes,
audio tapes, and maps. In addition to Canadian federal, provincial,
and territorial publications, the Library has British Parliamentary
Papers of both the House Of Lords and the House of Commons, French
parliamentary debates since 1945 (older ones have been turned over
to the National Library), the United States Congressional Record,
and many other Congressional publications, as well as material on
other foreign parliaments and parliamentarians.
Our Clipping File is another unique and valuable Library resource.
More than 20 daily newspapers are scanned for selections to add
to the nearly 3,000 current files on topics of interest to parliamentarians,
including files on each M.P. and all bills before either chamber.
In addition, we have a little-known collection of manuscripts/typescripts
of books about Parliament written by parliamentarians and others,
Microfilms and microfiches, audio and videotapes and optical disks,
among other contemporary information storage and retrieval systems,
augment the Library's print collection. Most of the Library's collection
is available online. More than 1,000 outside online databases also
can be accessed through the Library. The only way to truly appreciate
all this is to use it. Those who do find it surprisingly adequate.
The Research Branch, established in 1964 in a small way, now comprises
55 professional research officers-- including lawyers, economists,
political, social and natural scientists--and support staff. Its
mandate is to assist MPs, Senators, parliamentary committees, associations
and delegations in preparing research studies and technical briefings
on request, and to initiate and prepare background papers and reviews
of current issues. Services to parliamentary committees include
the assignment of subject specialists, recommendations on selection
of witnesses, provision of briefing material, analytical studies
and oral presentations, collations of analysis of evidence, and
assistance in drafting reports. Although we cannot make the services
of the research branch available to non-parliamentarians, members
of the Press Gallery may request copies of the Branch's Publications
List and of specific publications dealing with national and international
issues of interest to federal parliamentarians. Others may obtain
copies of these invaluable studies from the Canadian Government
Publishing Centre, part of the Department of Supply and Services.
Despite automation, the important past is still largely locked
in print. To understand the present and occasionally provide guidance
for the future, most journalists, whether TV, radio or print, could
benefit from a greater familiarity with Library resources. Our staff
is the greatest resource of all. You can really depend on the professional
services of this or other libraries, even more than you can depend
on your friends and their memories. Your time will seldom be better
Erik.J.Spicer is the Parliamentary Librarian.
Strictly speaking, as far as journalists are concerned, the Library
of Parliament is open to only members of the Parliamentary Press
Gallery. So if you need parliamentary information fast, and you
are not a card carrying Gallery member or on special assignment
for an MP, you're probably well-advised to stick to local sources,
like legislative or law libraries.
But that doesn't mean the accompanying article should be of
interest only to Press Gallery members. If you're onto a serious
political or parliamentary story and you've exhausted local sources,
you may well be able to access the services of this wonderful facility.
Try giving your Ottawa bureau a call. Maybe a Press Gallery member
there can help you dig up what you need. This article will give
you some idea of what the Library of Parliament can do for the enterprising
This article originally appeared in Sources,
23rd edition, Spring 1989.
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