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60th IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 21-27, 1994

Using Automation and Electronic Services to Build Support for the Parliamentary Library

Hilmi Celik,
Turkish Grand National Assembly
Library and Documentation Center


Technology has added new dimensions to every aspect of life. Parliamentary Libraries are no exception. Use of technological innovations in the field of information through computers has opened new horizons to libraries and made new automated and electronic services available to users. This paper discusses automation services that contribute to parliamentary information systems in general and d escribes how such services can assist Members of Parliament by expanding the range of information available, selecting information, improving the speed and accuracy of transmission, creating information networks, and enabling information sharing among institutions. These and other new uses of automation have increased Member interest in and support for Parliamentary Libraries.


Throughout history, information has always been an important factor in human endeavors. Mankind continually has strived to produce, accumulate, and distribute information. As the centuries have passed, all societies have become aware of the importance of possessing information.

Parliaments are institutions in which every element of the population is represented, and through this body the rules and regulations concerning economic, social, political, and cultural life of societies are set. Although ideologies, religious beliefs, moral convictions, biased opinions, and selfish interests may all play a role in parliamentary activities, the most important factor is informat ion, the reason being that the issues which in contemporary societies have to be resolved are rarely simple ones. For their work, parliamentarians therefore must depend on an extensive knowledge of facts and events; public opinion; the latest authoritative results of research, science, and technology; the solutions that other parliaments have found to the problems at hand; and directives and tar gets of international and supranational organizations that may have to be observed.

The awareness of Members of Parliament that they depend on effective provision of adequate information is, however, conditioned by some variables. These are, among others:

The nature of the general education system of the country, whether it is research-oriented or textbook-based.

The availability of, and accessibility to, institutions or organizations that can meet information needs.

The extent to which society reads and uses libraries and information centers.

The legal and social bases that motivate members of society to be informed.

The importance of educated people in society, both economically and socially.

Because of their information requirements, almost all Members of Parliament have established a library or a documentation and information unit to perform the tasks of identifying, locating, analyzing, and mediating information. This paper argues that through data processing new dimensions are being developed for the information capacities of Parliamentary Libraries, both in quality and quantity. What is most important, however, is that automation puts the Parliamentary Library in a position to meet the information needs of the individual Members of Parliament to an extent that has never before existed. By offering tailored information services to Members, the Parliamentary Library can convince them that it is indispensable for the effective functioning of Parliament under the conditio ns of modern, communication-intensive societies, and by so doing win their support. One of the concrete benefits of automated information for Members is a sense of confidence that their information is as comprehensive, accurate, and as timely as possible.

Parliamentary information systems should be introduced carefully in societies where a research-oriented education system and the habit of using libraries and information centers do not exist; in these cases the information systems have to be evaluated on a different basis. Thus, for Parliaments of developing countries, user orientation is an essential component. The staff of the information cen ter who carry out these responsibilities must find a way to explain their purposes clearly, without exaggerating their capacity and the facilities they provide to Members of Parliament, and by assessing the needs and establishing close relations with the Members.

How Automation Enhances Information

Developed countries have improved established systems and services largely through technology. These same technological innovations have enabled developing countries to establish new information systems in order to catch up with the modern world and communicate in terms of information storage and supply.

Automation provides many advantages over traditional library methods. In nearly all libraries, especially Parliamentary Libraries, automation provides new services that are either impossible or very difficult to offer by means of traditional methods. Automation-oriented services in Parliaments are divided into four groups in this paper, depending on the services provided: automation of library services, automation of legislative services, creation of data bases, and development of information networks.

Automation of Library Services

The automation of library services has been discussed for many years, and its importance as well as its peculiarities are now generally accepted. The traditional aim has been to acquire and organize information sources to serve library patrons by using electronic media that can improve the speed and accuracy of information work. Automation of library services allows new services in addition to the traditional ones like searching and supplying information. Some of these new services are briefly outlined below.

Selective Dissemination of Information (SDI). SDI is an effective bibliographic service for Members of Parliament because it is tailored to the Member's personal information requirement profile. Through this bibliographic tool every Member can be supplied with bibliographic information of distinct personal relevance, whereas every current bibliographic service, however specialized it may be, by necessity includes a more or less high percentage of bibliographic information that is irrelevant to one or more Members. Current SDI services such as individual bibliographies for any single Member can realistically be offered by automated Parliamentary Libraries only; in manual systems such a service would require too large a staff of bibliographers. The SDI service can be applied to new acq uisitions, periodical articles, and other selective documentation as requested by an individual Member. The patron always has the right of adding or deleting subjects and holdings. This is potentially one of the most important services for building Member support for the Library.

Accession to records from different places. A range of different kinds of information networks have made it possible for the user to reach out for the available information from any physical location at any time personally by means of LAN (Local Area Network) or WAN (Wide Area Network). Information is ready and easy to reach for the Library and can be quickly placed at the Members' or committee s' fingertips. This service, especially when it involves the laws of other nations or foreign policy issues, can be especially helpful to committees.

Data transfer and sharing. Automation enables users to transfer available data from one media to another and from one institution to another, and allows these users to copy, store, and delete the necessary information. Cooperation is now possible among institutions for locating, using, and sharing information. Information and resource sharing makes it possible to produce available information on a larger scale, reduce the cost of holdings, and redefine what should be bought by institutions for their collections. Such sharing can become a potential "equalizer" for nations with limited resources. The quantitative increase of available information through sharing can be brought about with little additional cost. In the countries where library automation is in use or under consideration, the main problem is the selection of recording media.

The commercial software systems developed for information and resource sharing, the standard MARC (machine-readable cataloging) versions, cannot easily find application in developing countries due to a variety of reasons. Software is expensive and requires some modification because of special alphabets (e.g., Cyrillic, Arabic, Chinese) and accent symbols. Software requires maintenance; if there is no representative agent in the country, libraries could have serious problems. Sometimes there is disharmony between systems that are being gradually replaced and new technologies, and this can cause problems until the new automation system becomes fully functioning.

These and similar reasons delay library automation in developing countries and also prevent newly developed systems from conforming to international standards because insufficient computer and access systems exist. Developing countries, due to a number of difficulties, establish a partial system, often in stages, in order to solve their immediate problems instead of a fully integrated system. S uch systems often achieve the speed performed by automation but are not efficient in specific areas over the longer term.

Automation of Legislative Services

Automation of legislative services can help in three areas:

Controlling the flow of legislative information in the Parliament. The aim is to monitor the legislative process and information generated during legislative work. Bill tracking and preparation of bill digests are an important part of this service.

Recording of debates. Computers may assist a Parliament in keeping its records; they may also be used to store, access, print, and index information. The automation of official debates has obvious advantages for both librarians and Members of Parliament. Automation also enables rapid transmittal of information for both Members and citizens as the need arises to track policy issues.

Maintenance of the legal code. The tasks of computerizing the legal code -- laws, statutes, and regulations -- have been ongoing in many countries for some time, although there is no standard application in all countries. Automation speeds organization of these legal information sources. Depending on the country, work can be undertaken by the Parliaments themselves, by other branches of the government, or by private companies.

Creation of Data Banks

Another way in which automation assists Parliaments is by providing them in a timely manner with facts, news events, and public opinion. In developed countries, institutional or commercial data banks provide most of this kind of information. Members of Parliament in all societies need to track what is being said about them and their Parliament. A Parliamentary Library that makes such informati on available for Members and the public builds support for the Library.

The needs of a Parliamentary Library may include data banks on newspapers; data banks focusing on special topics; data on political parties and other politically active organizations, including information on their structure and activities; and biographical data on Members of Parliament. Existence of these data banks and their utilization are directly linked to the use of information by the cou ntries. For example, to have access to news data banks is no longer a problem for some countries because newspapers have already developed their own data banks either for private or commercial use. However, Parliaments of developing countries have to create their own new data banks in order to be able to reply to questions related to the press. The creation of data banks has its own problems w ith respect to hardware, software, and human resources. Parliaments in need of special data banks should be ready to create their own, or at least support their development.

Archives of television and radio broadcasts constitute another type of data bank. Norway, Australia, and Lithuania maintain such archives and make them accessible to their respective Members of Parliament. Data from TV and radio coverage are especially useful as a record of history on important news items that eventually become part of a public policy debate.

Information Network

Technological developments have created a number of new instruments that have opened up new frontiers in information transfer and in access of information. Library users can now search a library catalog almost anywhere with the help of computers, without having to go to the library. Today users enjoy other means of access to libraries from any work station. The networks that connect informatio n systems within an institution now have national and international linkages that access any piece of information recorded anywhere. The creation of "networks of networks" has made information a continuously requested market product. Institutional and commercial data banks and the networks connecting them will be a cornerstone of developed societies of the future.

The Parliamentary Library of the Future

Information technology goes on developing. Some examples may suggest the nature of technological support for library services to Members of Parliament in the near future. The following are some possibilities.

Information transfer from micro forms to optical media -- It is likely that the information stored for years in microforms will be transferred instead to computer media for utilization as image or image character recognition (ICR) form in the near future. These new media make information storage both more compact and electronically searchable.

Access to networks through the pocket telephone -- One possibility for the future is access to information networks through a kind of pocket telephone with computer capability; this could be an alternative to use of regular computer terminals.

Access to radio and TV coverage -- It will be possible to access the index, full text, and image of TV and radio broadcasts, which are perhaps major sources of the information produced in today's world. Among the parliamentary libraries, such application now is being done manually in the Storting Parliamentary Library in Oslo, Norway, and there is a special data base for it in Australia.

Technological support for user orientation -- In Parliaments that have completed their library automation but are unable to establish a network connection to individual Members, the following use of automation may be a good solution: during orientation a notebook or lap top computer with an external or pocket modem or RCA jack-type telephone having an acoustic coupler or wireless modem can be used to demonstrate the information facilities of the Parliament to the Member.

Documentation and research services added to the parliamentary information services have made it possible to analyze information and provide more selected material to Members. Research conducted in conjunction with the agenda of Parliaments of other countries, case studies, and oral briefings are of vital importance for Members in modern Parliaments. Each service provided increases the institut ional effectiveness of an information center and adds respectability to the employees. These two elements -- effectiveness and respectability -- are the basis of improving existing systems and establishing new ones. They are also crucial to increasing support for the Library.

Benefits of Automation to Members of Parliament

The advantages of automation for Members of Parliament are evident:

New media are made available to and become easily accessible for Members.

The number of subject areas for information retrieval can be increased without significant additional cost (although there is a cost in adding information sources to the system).

The speed and accuracy of the provision of information are improved.

Information sources are integrated.

Parliamentary Libraries need to promote these advantages of automation and electronic services to Members of Parliament and elicit their support for so doing. Because of the Library's intelligent use of advanced technology it is the Parliament's principal source for the provision of well-researched, accurate, up-to-date information for political decision making.