I am pleased to present the Parliamentary Librarian’s annual report for 2019–20.
The Library’s mandate is to provide research and information services to senators and members of the House of Representatives in support of their parliamentary and representational roles. As the past year has shown, the Library continues to evolve and transform to ensure that we are able to support the Parliament as it grapples with critical policy and legislative issues.
This report highlights the achievements and challenges of the last financial year.
The 46th Parliament
The first part of the year focused on activities in support of the new Parliament, which met for the first time in July. Library staff embarked upon a structured program of outreach and support to new as well as returning senators and members and their staff. This included the appointment of contact officers who acted as ‘Library ambassadors’, serving as a single point of contact for new parliamentarians and their staff. (The contact officer program was underpinned by a comprehensive training program to ensure that all the contact officers had a detailed understanding of the full suite of our services.) We supported this through one on one training, discussions, and drop in sessions with parliamentarians and their staff both at Parliament House and in an expanded and concentrated program of electorate office visits.
The success of this outreach was evident in the fact that our services were used by every senator and member, be it for research or mapping services, media monitoring, or use of collection items.
The COVID-19 pandemic
The final months of the financial year were, of course, dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Like other work areas across the Parliament and beyond, our focus was twofold: ensuring the wellbeing of our staff and maintaining continuity of service. With regard to both, I am extremely proud of the flexibility, commitment and resilience displayed by staff across the Library. Many transitioned quickly and effectively to remote work arrangements. Some volunteered for redeployment to Services Australia (SA), with two in the end being picked up by that agency; and the Assistant Secretary, Library Collections and Databases moved to assist with DPS’ broader COVID-19 response. Throughout the evolving phases of the pandemic, effective communication, collaboration and care for colleagues who needed support were always evident and ensured that our core services continued to be delivered at a high quality, whether delivered off site or on.
The Library performed strongly throughout the year, exceeding many client service targets including: timeliness; the number of publications released; online usage of our databases and publications; and material added to the catalogue and to databases. Our augmented program of orientations, lectures and seminars received strong support with high levels of attendance.
Pleasingly, client feedback throughout the year indicated high levels of satisfaction with our services.
Demand for our services remained high. Library staff completed over 11,400 individual client requests in 2019–20, a significant increase upon the previous financial year. Numbers peaked in the first months of the new parliament; but after the traditional Christmas dip, February saw the numbers increase again, driven by sustained requests associated with the bushfires and the pandemic. From March onwards, we refocused our publication and acquisitions programs to provide Parliament with information and resources relevant to the pandemic and the evolving legal and policy responses to it. This included establishing a dedicated COVID-19 webpage and a working group to coordinate responses to the many large and complex client requests, ensuring information sharing, consistency and cross-disciplinary advice.
Inevitably, however, the circumstances of the pandemic meant that there were delays in a number of projects not essential to maintaining direct client services, notably in the area of digitisation, as staff were redeployed to other tasks (in the Library and in DPS more broadly) or transitioned to remote working arrangements. These are discussed in relevant sections of the report. This included an approach to market for the next client evaluation of Library services and preparation of the print publication of the new Parliamentary Handbook, both of which were deferred until the new financial year.
Client service and the year ahead
I have previously noted the centrality of client service to how the Library operates—and I’m pleased to say that this is reflected in consistently high levels of client satisfaction over time. We have a client service model that is designed to meet the often unpredictable and fluid parliamentary environment and be flexible in all respects: from how clients ask questions (avoiding the rigidity of formal processes) as well as to the form of our products.
The experience of the past few months has shown how essential flexibility and innovation are.
The Library’s operating environment has been evolving continuously, driven by the opportunities offered by digital technologies, and this seems certain to continue. The greatest change this year has been the accelerated and widespread adoption of remote working and of video technologies, as a consequence of the pandemic. While neither are of course new, the extent of their normalised use is.
This presents both opportunities and challenges in how we connect and engage with clients not physically present in Parliament House, and how we can reshape our information and seminar programs to add value given the proliferating number of podcasts and video channels. It also emphasises the focus on digital resources and the importance of the Library’s digital delivery and acquisitions policies. 2020–21 will see us continue to explore ways to improve the accessibility and ease of use of our client advice and publications in digital format.
Providing effective client service, as I noted in last year’s annual report, requires staff across the Library to understand our clients’ diverse roles as parliamentarians, the differing roles of their staff, and how they use our services—and, indeed, what services they need. This prompted a program of meetings between senior Library staff and key client groups and discussion at the Joint Standing Committee on the Parliamentary Library.
I look forward to building on this work in the coming year in the context of our ongoing reviews of Library structures, operations and culture to ensure we remain fit for purpose for the 21st century Parliament, including drawing upon international benchmarking and best practice. This will, of course, be informed by the findings of the upcoming client evaluation of Library services which will commence later in the 2020 calendar year.
As always, I close by recording my thanks to the Presiding Officers and the members of the Joint Standing Committee on the Parliamentary Library for their ongoing guidance and support. My thanks go also to the Secretary of DPS and to colleagues across DPS and the parliamentary departments more broadly. Finally, my thanks go to my colleagues throughout the Library for their professionalism and dedication.
Dr Dianne Heriot