The Library’s Strategic Plan 2015–16 to 2019–20 sets out four strategic priorities to ensure that it remains relevant to the working lives of parliamentarians, today and in the future:
- delivering high quality library and research services
- increasing digital access and service
- supporting the Parliament’s engagement with the community and with parliamentary strengthening activities, and
- strengthening our staff’s capability.
The strategic plan is supplemented by annual business plans which set out the key deliverables and service standards/targets for that year. These are approved each year by the Presiding Officers as annexures to Library’s Resource Agreement.
Delivering high quality library and research services
The 46th Parliament: outreach to new and returning parliamentarians
Outreach to new and returning parliamentarians remained a focus of the Library’s work, particularly through the first half of the year.
Library contact officers assigned to each new senator and member continued to work with parliamentarians and their staff to introduce them to the Library’s services. Orientation and training sessions were also offered to returning parliamentarians and their staff. Around 170 clients took part in such sessions during the financial year. The Library supplemented its regular one-on-one training with other activities including ‘drop in’ sessions in the Senators and Members Reading Room in sitting weeks.
The Library continued its rolling program of inter-state visits to electorate offices to offer orientation and training sessions. This initiative is particularly targeted at electorate based staff who may not have the opportunity to travel to Canberra. Client outreach team members met with around 100 staff of senators and members during this year’s round of visits. In all, 35 electorate offices were visited between July 2019 and March 2020.
The Library Executive also met with a number of returning parliamentarians to discuss their information and research needs.
The Library’s e-newsletter What’s new from the Parliamentary Library was refreshed for the new Parliament, as was the Library’s client portal (intranet). Social media was used throughout the year to promote Library lectures and publications.
The success of this outreach is evident in the fact that 100 per cent of parliamentarians used the Library’s services in 2019–20. Of particular note was the very high number of client enquiries received, particularly during the first half of the financial year.
Senators and members and parliamentary committees, and the staff that support them, are able to commission research from the Library and to receive tailored responses by an agreed deadline. This includes one-on-one or group briefings, reports and memoranda, maps, statistics and other research products for individual senators and members, as well as analysis and information in support of committee inquiries and parliamentary delegations.
Providing such confidential information, analysis and advice to our clients is the core of our research work. The most recent client services evaluation found that research services remain the most often used of all Library services, with 94 per cent of parliamentarians and their staff using them to some degree. This year, the Library completed over 11,400 such advices, and spent nearly 56,000 hours in their preparation. This represents a significant increase on the previous year, reflecting a very busy period supporting the 46th Parliament upon its commencement in July 2019 (and in contrast to a quieter period of client demand at the end of the last financial year during the election period).
Table 20: Client requests completed in 2019–20
Members of the House of Representatives
Departments, reciprocal arrangements and other
This metric is further discussed in the performance report.
Enhancing client service: face-to-face briefings
The 2017 client evaluation also highlighted the importance of personalised services to enable parliamentarians to maximise the potential benefits of the Library’s services. In 2019–20 the Library continued to offer face-to-face meetings and briefings to better enable clients to explore advices, refine the issues, and sometimes commission new research on matters of interest. Many of these meetings involved a combination of researchers from specialist disciplines across the Library—reflecting the complexity of public policy issues, and were often with groups of clients (both formal and ad hoc). Such interactions develop a clearer understanding of client needs, priorities and preferences and lead to research products that are better tailored to fit the client’s purpose.
In addition to commissioned research services, each year the Library produces anticipatory research through a range of general distribution publications. These publications range from short, topical blog posts or general research papers on topics judged to be of relevance and interest to clients, to Bills Digests that provide senators and members with an impartial and independent explanation and commentary on Bills as they come before the Parliament.
The Library issued 302 publications during the reporting period.
As usual, and reflecting the priority placed by the Library on supporting the legislative and chamber work of the Parliament, the largest single category of publication were the Bills Digests. Library clients consistently place high priority on these analytical summaries of the Bills before Parliament, and the Library continues to manage the tension between publishing digests as soon as possible with the desire to make them as comprehensive as possible. Reflecting the legislation they summarise, some of the Bills Digests amount to substantial publications requiring the work of a team of authors, reviewers and editors; a case in point this year was a Digest for a package of Telecommunications Legislation Amendment Bills that weighed in at 89 pages.
In the latter part of the financial year, the Library focused its publications program on providing information and analysis to assist parliament in responding to COVID-19. This response featured a dedicated COVID-19 page listing 24 Library publications, plus links to a rich source of information from other parliaments and legislatures in Australia and internationally.
Web usage data indicates that Library publications continue to be widely accessed (based on the number of page visits).
This year, the Library changed its approach to planning its lectures program, aiming to schedule multiple events most sitting weeks between July and March. The program is based on offering a larger number of events that more effectively covers the broad scope of Parliament’s policy interests, providing senators, members and their staff with an opportunity to hear from some of Australia’s leading experts in their fields. Events ranged across the technical (the overview of the new labour market data available from the ABS), the legal (the prerogative powers of the Crown) and the political (one year until the next presidential inauguration: what to expect from America in 2020).
The program, while disrupted in the second half of the year by the pandemic, included 15 lectures and three workshops. The new approach proved successful with 633 people attending in eight months to the end of February, compared to 504 in the whole of the preceding year.
The Library also sought to further increase the impact of the lecture program by offering clients the opportunity to meet privately with the speakers while they were in Parliament House—which was especially useful where the speakers travelled interstate to Canberra. Many clients took advantage of these offers, leading to some speakers having a very full day of meetings.
A Library collection curated to meet the needs of Parliament
The Library’s collection is carefully managed throughout the year to ensure it meets the contemporary needs of the Parliament and gets best value for money from the acquisitions budget. It is a steady state collection, maintained at around 145,000 monograph titles and some 55,000 individual print and electronic journal titles—including those contained in the large aggregated services to which the Library subscribes—as well as material created by the Library (such as research publications and digitised material).
Library staff routinely assess and cull the collection to ensure its relevance and currency, with usage closely monitored.
In 2019–20 the Library’s Collection Development Policy was reviewed and revised. This policy defines the scope and nature of our collection, both physical and digital, setting out the principles and priorities from which flow decisions to acquire, retain or de-accession materials. In short, it sets out why, what and how the Library collects, including licensed or subscription resources. The revised policy was considered and endorsed by the JSCPL at its December 2019 meeting.
Expenditure on the Library collection in 2019–20 amounted to almost $3.6 million (operational and capital funding, including capitalised salaries). Approximately 80 per cent of the collection budget was spent on electronic resources.
Nearly 50 per cent of the collection is now in digital format; and a large portion of that is sourced on a subscription basis from overseas-based suppliers. Accordingly, the Library’s purchasing power is affected by fluctuations in the value of the Australian dollar. Throughout 2019–20, acquisition staff negotiated with domestic and international vendors to ensure subscriptions were renewed at the best price possible.
The Library recognises that it cannot meet every need from its own collection, and supplements it as necessary through inter-library loans, particularly from the National Library of Australia. However, COVID-19 related closures of many libraries (national, state and academic) created unique challenges over the last quarter of the financial year. To ameliorate this issue, Library staff increased their focus on increasing the amount of digital material in Library repositories.
Increasing digital access and service
The growth of online resources
The Parliamentary Library purchases electronic versions of materials in preference to print/hardcopy so that parliamentarians and their staff have access to this information regardless of time or location.
The benefits of this policy quickly became apparent as Library clients and staff alike transitioned to remote working from March 2020 onwards in response to COVID-19. While print publications continued to be in demand over the last quarter of the year, staff also sought to facilitate access to the collection by digitising on demand to the extent possible.
Like its counterparts elsewhere, the Parliamentary Library must manage increasing demands on limited budgets and effectively manage the transition from print to digital.
The Library has year upon year increased the amount of collection material available in digital form and in formats suitable for use across different platforms. This is not without challenge due to licensing restrictions and cost—not all titles are available and publishers generally charge libraries considerably more to ‘purchase’ or license an e-book than it would cost an individual to purchase it from on online retailer. Nonetheless, the percentage of the Parliamentary Library collection available digitally has increased from 38.2 per cent at 30 June 2015 to 49.6 per cent at 30 June 2020 (above our target of 48 per cent).
However, this figure does not fully reflect the volume of material made available online through the Library’s ongoing program of digitisation. The Parliamentary Papers digitisation project alone saw the Parliamentary Papers series 1901–2012, some 2.4 million pages, become available as a digital collection for the first time. This KPI will be reviewed over the coming year so that it more accurately reflects the extent of the Library’s digital collections.
Enhancing management and discovery of collection material
During 2018–19, the Library commenced a Library systems replacement project for the provision of an Integrated Library System (ILS), or library management system, a new digital repository, and a discovery and federated search solution. The aim of these projects is to improve the discoverability of Library information resources by providing a single search system for print, digital and database content and to ensure Library systems are supported and fit-for-purpose—both in terms of our present requirements and the future strategic direction—with a strong focus on accessibility and convenience for clients.
Contracts were executed in July 2019 with SirsiDynix (for the ILS and digital repository) and EBSCO Information Services (for the discovery system). Implementation was due to be completed by 30 June 2020. However, this was delayed as COVID-19 limited the availability of key specialist vendor and DPS ICT staff. Both projects are expected to be completed in 2020–21.
The Parliamentary Handbook online
Previous annual reports noted the completion of the Wadsworth database containing the digitised biographies of all Commonwealth parliamentarians since 1901, including information about their state and territory parliamentary service. The benefits of the database in serving the Library’s research needs continue to be realised, including in the streamlined provision of information for the upcoming publication of the Parliamentary Handbook for the 46th Parliament.
The database underpins the new, digital Parliamentary Handbook which has been in development over the last two financial years. Complementing the printed Handbook, it will offer an enhanced and interactive experience for users. The online version of the Parliamentary Handbook was scheduled to go into production in the first half of 2020. However, this was delayed when the onset of COVID-19 saw resources in DPS ICT redeployed to more urgent projects. It is anticipated that the project will be completed in 2020–21.
An approach to market for the design and production of the new print/pdf edition of the Handbook was underway at the end of the financial year, with agreements expected to be finalised before the end of the calendar year.
Digitisation and digital preservation
The Library’s Digital Preservation Framework 2015–16 to 2019–20 formalised our commitment to the long-term preservation of our digital resources. (The policy was endorsed by the JSCPL in March 2017.) The Framework is supported by the Library’s Digital Preservation Policy which sets out the Library’s digital preservation standards for digitised print materials, born-digital materials, and audio and video collections. These documents have guided the Library’s digital preservation work since 2016. Work to address the majority of priorities is now complete or has become part of our business as usual activity, and the Library is now leading the development of a parliament wide digital preservation policy. Work on this policy will be completed in 2020–21.
Digitisation of the Library’s collection, both contemporary and historic record, remains a high priority with $795,000 budgeted for these activities. Significant milestones have been achieved since the program began in 2014–15. Previous financial years saw the digitisation of the historic press releases, the Prime Ministers’ collections, biographical ‘condolence’ packs, and the Parliamentary Papers Series 1901–2012, as well as the Library’s own research publications.
This work is made possible by specific exemptions in the Copyright Act 1968.
The Parliamentary Library has been compiling information files from newspaper clippings, press releases and journal articles since the 1950s. In recent years this has been done digitally. However, the Library still has significant archives of paper material that constitute a unique collection relating to Australia’s political and public policy history dating back to the 1940s and 1950s.
The entire collection, approximately 10 million pages, has now been digitised and is progressively being quality assured and uploaded to ParlInfo Search. In 2019–20, 472,566 pages were uploaded into ParlInfo Search, unfortunately significantly below the 20 per cent target due to the time required to undertake appropriate quality assurance.
Historic radio and television files
Since 2014–15, the Library has also been digitising a selection of its collection of pre-2004 radio and television news and current affairs programs held on vulnerable audio cassette and VHS tapes. In many cases these are unique holdings as the television stations that originally produced them no longer keep archival footage. (Access to this content is protected by copyright and is restricted to parliamentarians.) In 2019–20, the Library digitised a further 4,371 hours of the collection. The transition to work from home arrangements in the last quarter of the year meant that the team did not meet its 5000 hour target. However, the project is still expected to conclude in the first half of financial year 2020–21.
Historic Hansard: Remediation project
During 2009–10 the Parliament undertook a major project to digitise Hansards from 1901 to 1980. Four hundred and thirteen volumes—comprising 610,534 pages of debate—were digitised by the project’s end and published in pdf and XML format. Over recent years Library staff have identified and remediated a number of data issues in the XML files (primarily missing fragments or errors in attribution or in procedural headings). A number of factors have contributed to these errors, notably changes to the format of the parliamentary debates over the years and the difficulties this creates for structuring XML schema and ensuring consistency in metadata.
In 2019–20 the Library embarked upon a project to review the entire database, address issues with optical character recognition and fix underlying problems in the XML schema, with an initial goal of remediating 20 per cent of the database. This target was not met. As work continued, it became apparent that, due to the complexity of the project and the large number of pages that needed to be assessed and remediated, a software solution was needed. The Library sought the assistance of colleagues in Information Services Division to identify and procure a suitable system. However this did not progress due to the pandemic. ICT staff were diverted to projects of higher priority in the last quarter of the financial year.
Other digitisation projects
Preservation digitisation of the Parliamentary Authors’ collection continued throughout the financial year, with 76 per cent of the collection completed by 30 June 2020, prioritising historic material that is out of print or rare. The project is on schedule for completion by the end of this calendar year.
As part of the 1988 Australian Bicentenary, the Australian Parliamentary Library embarked upon an oral history program, to interview some 170 former senators and members about their political careers. The aim was to build up an historical archive for future scholars on the Australian Parliament. Recognising that these cassette tapes were a unique resource and were reaching their end of life, the Parliamentary Library determined to digitise the collection. This project is now complete, with the digital files quality assured, catalogued and indexed. (The digital files remain subject to specific access restrictions imposed by the subjects at the time of interview.) Copies of both the digital audio files and outstanding transcripts will be provided to the National Library of Australia for its Oral History and Folklore Collection.
The Library is also undertaking two digitisation projects in collaboration with other agencies.
The first, a partnership with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel (OPC), will result in the full collection of historical bills and explanatory memoranda introduced in the House of Representatives from 1901 to 1995 becoming available via the Parliament’s website. OPC has provided the digital files (and associated metadata), and the Library is preparing this data for upload and consolidation into existing ParlInfo Search datasets (including removing duplicates and ensuring all files are of an appropriate archival standard). The size of the collection is about 206,992 files. By 30 June 2020, 50 per cent of the collection (comprising 7,088 Bills and 778 Explanatory Memoranda) had been uploaded, significantly exceeding the 20 per cent target.
The second is a joint project with the Department of the Senate to improve the quality, security and accessibility of the Senate Tabled Papers for the period 1901 to 2013. This set includes parliamentary committee reports, legislative instruments, annual reports of government departments and agencies, and reports from the Auditor-General; and comprises over 260,000 reports and papers. While these records are currently available via an externally hosted database, it is not integrated with other parliamentary collections available via the Parliament’s website. The database also has limited functionality (reflecting technology at the time it was built), and there are papers or pages missing and others needing to be re-scanned. By the project’s end the full set of digital files will have been remediated in accordance with preservation standards, and uploaded into ParlInfo Search with appropriate metadata to ensure they are easily discoverable. The contractor DatacomIT finished converting the PDF images to text searchable PDFs by the end of February 2019, while the Library Digitisation Projects team is preparing the metadata and undertaking quality control.
By the end of the year 26,224 papers, 10 per cent of the total, had been quality assured and uploaded to ParlInfo search. This is considerably below the 40% target. There were delays in the enhancements required for the system to allow the efficient loading of the files in bulk. This was delivered in late May. Significant progress was made in the final month of the financial year when all 26,224 papers were uploaded and the project is expected to be completed in 2020–21.
Supporting the Parliament’s engagement with the community and with parliamentary strengthening activities
Supporting the Australian Parliament’s engagement with regional Parliaments
The 28th Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum (APPF) was hosted by the Australian Parliament at Parliament House on 13–16 January 2020. As with every meeting of the APPF, in response to individual requests, the Parliamentary Library provided several Australian delegates with customised written briefings to support their participation in the forum. This year, the Library also provided three staff to assist with hosting duties.
The Library also prepared briefings for parliamentarians attending international events including the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s (CPA) Regional Conference.
The ‘First Eight’ Project
Launched by the Presiding Officers in March 2018, the ‘First Eight’ is a collaborative project of the Australian Parliamentary Library, the National Museum of Australia, the National Archives of Australia, the Victorian Parliamentary Library and the ANU Australian Studies Institute. The project incorporates a series of events, monographs, and lectures focusing on the first eight Prime Ministers of Australia.
In October, Canberra historian Dr Headon delivered a Parliamentary Library lecture on Australia’s fifth Prime Minister Andrew Fisher. Dr Headon subsequently repeated this lecture at Australia House, London and the University of Edinburgh as part of the First Eight collaboration.
The life and work of Alfred Deakin was a major focus in the last quarter of 2019. The Library was a contributor to ‘Alfred Deakin: Creating a Nation’, a parliamentary exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of his death. At its opening, the Speaker, the Hon Tony Smith, also launched the first of the Parliamentary Library’s monograph series ‘From our Special Correspondent: Alfred Deakin’s letters to the London Morning Post’ (volume 1, 1900–1901). The Speaker and the President of the Senate, the Hon Scott Ryan, made introductory remarks at the Library’s lecture ‘Puzzles of a Prime Minister—Alfred Deakin Revealed’ (presented by Dr Headon), while the President introduced Emeritus Professor Judith Brett’s lecture, 'Why Politics? Ambition and ideals in Alfred Deakin’s shifting political vocation’. Both public talks were part of the Parliamentary Library’s lecture series.
The Library issued FlagPost blogs, ‘Commemorating Alfred Deakin’ and 'Barton—100 Hundred Years On'. Publication of monographs on Prime Ministers Reid and Fisher and the planning for lectures on Edmund Barton at Parliament House and in Victoria were delayed by COVID-19 related restrictions.
National and international professional networks
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) is the leading international body for library and information services. The Library and Research Services for Parliaments Section (IFLAPARL) brings together specialist legislative information services from around the world. In 2019–20, the Assistant Secretary Research Branch replaced the Parliamentary Librarian on the Standing Committee administering IFLAPARL. While the principal event of the year—the World Libraries and Information Congress, scheduled to be held in Dublin—unfortunately had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, IFLAPARL acted as a focal point for distributing information from Parliamentary research services about the pandemic. The Librarian continued to participate on the working group developing a revised and updated edition of the IFLA Guidelines for Legislative Libraries.
The Library remains active in the Association of Parliamentary Libraries of Australasia (APLA), a collaborative network of federal and state parliamentary libraries in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. At its 2019 Annual General Meeting (AGM), the Librarian was appointed Secretary of the Association. Plans to host APLA’s 2020 Conference and AGM were deferred due to COVID-19. The Library continues to manage the APLA website, and that of the Association of Parliamentary Librarians of the Asia Pacific.
The Library is also a member of the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA). In 2019–20 the Librarian took part in an ALIA round-table on libraries and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Summer Research Scholarship
The Parliamentary Library’s Summer Research Scholarship offers post-graduate students the opportunity to undertake a research project at the Parliamentary Library. Scholars undertake a six-week placement in the Library during the summer academic break. They have access to the Library’s collections and facilities, the opportunity to interact with expert librarians and researchers, and mentoring for their research project. Upon submission of their final report, scholars receive a small honorarium.
Two scholarships were awarded in 2020:
- Ms Melinda Dodd a PhD candidate at Flinders University. Melinda’s research examined Australian labour schemes and skills development programs directed toward Pacific island nations
- Ms Annebelle Davis a PhD candidate in Diplomacy at the Australian National University. Annebelle’s research examined the nexus between science and diplomacy in policy making on Antarctica.
As has now become tradition, the Presiding Officers hosted a reception in the Speaker’s courtyard for the 2020 summer scholars from the Library and the national cultural institutions.
Parliamentary Library intern programs
The Library continued to offer four-week placements for interns in the Research and Library Collections and Databases Branches. Since 2014, 16 interns have participated in the program in Library Collections and Databases (two in 2019–20), seven of whom are currently employed in the Parliamentary Library following graduation (four ongoing and three in non-ongoing positions).
The Research Branch hosted two interns in 2019–20 under the Australian National Internship Program. Due to the pandemic, internships were suspended in Semester 1 of 2020, but the Library anticipates taking further interns as soon as the programs resume. In addition, the Library provides assistance to the wider cohort of interns placed in the Parliament, including access to the Library’s databases and collections.
The Parliamentary Librarian is also a member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Internship Program Steering Committee.
Assistance to other parts of DPS
Since July 2014 the Library has selected and recommended politically themed book titles for sale in The Parliament Shop. Over this period, the Library’s acquisitions team has recommended 688 titles (62 in 2019–20), helping ensure that The Parliament Shop is the ‘go to’ place for politically themed books.
The Library also provided specialised indexing services for the DPS annual report. The use of in-house Library skills to achieve this legislative requirement further contributes to the Library’s performance measure of supporting the Parliament’s engagement with the community
Strengthening our staffs' capability
Training and skills development
The value of the analysis and advice provided to our clients depends in large part on the professional skills and knowledge of the Library’s staff.
As in previous years, the Library delivered a number of in-house training programs including on editing, geospatial mapping techniques and Australia’s trade relationships. With unintended prescience—given the summer fires and the pandemic—the Library also hosted a seminar on techniques for maintaining resilience, mental health and wellbeing.
The program of lectures by the editors group were again popular, not just with Library staff but with staff of other parliamentary departments. A highlight this year included the August 2019 presentation by Associate Professor Caroline Jones (from Western Sydney University), Associate Professor Felicity Meakins (University of Queensland) and Mikayla Friday-Shaw, an emerging Ngarinyman leader from Alice Springs, who jointly presented Curating words, curating worlds: making First Nations dictionaries. The Parliamentary Librarian was delighted to accept copies of the dictionaries for the Library’s collection.
Strategic Workforce Plan
Implementation of the Strategic Workforce Plan continued throughout the year with good progress against all milestones and targets.
The Library’s inaugural ‘ShipIt Day’ was held in September as part of our focus on fostering a culture of innovation. ‘ShipIt Days’ provide time for staff to step away from their day to day tasks for a day to build camaraderie across teams and think creatively about products, operations and processes and explore ideas and technologies to enhance client services or improve efficiency.
Due to the pandemic, a number of initiatives that were planned for the second half of the year have been deferred, including an inter-departmental mentoring program and training in coaching and advanced client service (now all planned for the second half of 2020).
An important element in building branch capability is the use of working groups to address policy issues that span multiple disciplinary areas. These groups include members from across Research Branch and operate to ensure that work is consistent and correct, is allocated in the most efficient way, and expertise is shared (which is particularly important to ensure continuity and support succession planning).
Four such groups operated successfully during the year on: cyber and technology; taxation; editing; and a special purpose COVID-19 group that was crucial to the Library’s multi-disciplinary response to the pandemic as detailed above.
It is anticipated that these groups will continue to gain importance as a tool to manage complex, technical and multidisciplinary issues.
The Library has a rolling program of internal review of structures and processes to ensure that these continue to be ‘fit for purpose’ and represent best uses of resources. Two such reviews were completed in 2019–20.
The first looked at the Library’s two primary client outreach/support units, the Client Relations and Publishing Unit and the Central Enquiry Point. Both teams work closely together, sharing staff and resources to ensure effective client service. As a result of the review, the Central Enquiry Point was moved structurally from the Library Collections and Databases Branch to the Office of the Parliamentary Librarian to formalise support structures for both teams. (The restructure was cost neutral and did not involve any redundancies.)
The new structure aligns more closely with the Library’s strategic priorities and will enhance client service.
The Library also undertook a review of its cataloguing and metadata services. The review found the existing in-house delivery of cataloguing and metadata services represented the most cost effective and best overall value method. However, minor changes were made to reporting lines and team structures to improve efficiency.
Unfortunately, though well advanced, a review of the Library’s indexing functions was still not able to be completed by the end of the financial year due to changed work arrangements caused by the pandemic. It is on schedule to be completed by the end of the calendar year.