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

User-Oriented Services:
A Feedback Strategy for Gaining Understanding and Support for the Parliamentary Library

Ximena Feliú S
Director, Library of Congress of Chile
Marialyse Délano S.
Consultant, Library of Congress of Chile


The paper considers a shift of emphasis in the services offered by the Chilean Library of Congress to emphasize user needs and demands rather than what the Library perceives as necessary. This user emphasis has become the backbone for the development of services (it could eventually mean creating new services, restructuring old services, or even dropping services). The need for user feedback has led to creation of an explicit feedback strategy, which incorporates some important Library concerns such as characteristics of users (cultural behavior, personal attitudes); structured and unstructured feedback tools; intelligence gathering; impact assessment; and development of top-quality services and Library image as a means of building Library understanding and support.



Feedback is an important part of the process of building support for the Library. One of the major problems for Parliamentary Libraries is to determine precisely how useful they are and then to link this perception of usefulness to greater support for the Library. This is not an easy process. It involves answering such complex questions as: What is the impact of Library services and informat ion products provided to Congresspeople? How much do they contribute to the legislative process, to knowledge-based decision making, and to a greater efficiency and effectiveness of bills and projects that result from the legislative process?

Assessing the Usefulness of Library Assistance

Whenever the usefulness of library services and products is considered, a range of answers is given. Many users express generalized support for information, while only a few Congresspersons explicitly acknowledge that a Parliamentary Library or that its information services and products are not useful. Most users feel a need to be well informed (Martyn, n.d.), which is also reflected in the re sults of the surveys made by the Chilean Library of Congress. Yet, despite widespread need, the demand for services and products is uneven. Some Members of Congress are extremely frequent and demanding users; others are very occasional users, and a number do not require the services of the Library at all. This pattern is similar to many Parliamentary Libraries and shows that users obtain some information from their Library and some from external study groups, political think tanks, the academic world, and personal contacts with experts in a particular field of interest.

Thus there is competition to be faced, particularly in a world where information is a commodity that comes with a price, and is increasingly being viewed as a value added business concern. If Parliamentary Libraries are to continue as the relatively expensive institutions they are, enhance the services and products they offer, and obtain the budgets needed, they must learn what is already being done and done well, and what is being poorly done, and adjust accordingly.

The assessment of Parliamentary Libraries with a complex portfolio of products and services, from a user's point of view, is a difficult endeavor. It is a particularly difficult task for these Libraries to obtain information as feedback for the development, enhancement, or even termination of services and products. For example, during 1990 the Director of the Library of Congress in Chile sought to assess user needs and demands, especially upon the reinstallation of Congress after 17 years of military government. Several alternative approaches for obtaining this feedback information were considered. Finally a survey was prepared, even though this method had some disadvantages. The questionnaire was designed with the aid of librarians and an expert sociologist, and sent to Senators, Re presentatives, and parliamentary aides. Useful information was obtained, but only from a small portion of the sample, even after personal and phone follow-ups.

Further assessment activities in Chile are contemplated. Even though some major research on impact assessment is under way in the international information community, the Chilean Library of Congress must develop its own evaluation activities that reflect Chile's needs and capacity to carry out such projects. Moreover, there is added reason for such assessments because there is a large-scale mod ernization project presently being implemented. A considerable amount of money is being invested on the Library, and the usefulness of the expenditures must be demonstrated.

Since there is no consensual body of knowledge to date on the impact of information services and products, the Chilean Library of Congress will evaluate its services and products with an eclectic approach and adjust the method as the project advances -- working with consultants and experts financed by the project. Furthermore, because much of the staff work of the Library of Congress is devoted to serving the current needs of the Chilean Congress, the Library has limited remaining capabilities for initiating major research on assessment and evaluation. Library staff must accomplish many things in very little time; there is a schedule required by the financing agencies that must be met; and major simultaneous changes are under way. The Library's workload presents a problem quite differ ent from that of research and academic libraries, which can build upon a richer theoretical construct and have less competition for time. The Chilean Library of Congress must elaborate as it goes along, because changes are not linear and gradual; they are happening in bursts, waves, and even tidal waves.

Modernization Project of the Chilean Library of Congress -- A Conceptual Framework

The reinstallation of Congress in 1990 required accommodation of major changes after 17 years of inactivity. Legislative procedures have been modified by a new Constitution; the organizational structure has been altered in the way organizations interrelate; and technologies, relationships, and the world globalization of markets have changed, as has the knowledge base. In fact, major changes hav e affected most of society. To legislate effectively, Congress had to acknowledge these major shifts and incorporate changes so as to modernize its internal operations and culture. "Modern" was thus understood to be what is new, up to date, in tune with present-day international realities, technologies, and the way things are done.

The major objective of the modernization project of Congress is to modernize its culture, considered as the attitudes, values, beliefs, behavior patterns, and concepts of reality that persist in time among a group of people. The modernization project includes several components, which involve the Senate, the House, and the Library. The Library component of the project considers management, tech nologies, people, sources, and of course, users and services.

The users and services aspect involves a shift of emphasis. Each component of the Library modernization project is strategically oriented to users and services; they will be the backbone for modernization whether it be technologies, management, Library staff, sources, or other value-added activities. But change is a risky business because the organizational culture requires modifications, as we ll as changes in the way things are done. Moreover, it could eventually mean new services, restructuring old services, or even dropping some.

Project management involves implementing an organizational structure that upholds this user-oriented institution. Thus, there is a consultant component looking at services, user needs, packaging of information, resources, etc., to design an appropriate organization to meet these needs. The technology part of the project, with new text, image, and bibliographic systems, is intended to offer access and information in different, flexible formats within a networked environment, meaning technology to assist the user or to enhance services and products.

Feedback Strategy for a Revamped Chilean Library of Congress

The feedback strategy for this new vision of the Library of Congress must necessarily consider many aspects that interrelate in a multidimensional way within a complex environment. Probably the most useful feedback tool will result from direct, unstructured interaction and an openness in receiving or obtaining both positive as well as negative feedback. Such interaction personalizes the contact s between the Library and Members of Congress when Library staff sincerely ask for feedback. Feedback may require an attitudinal change to receive negative opinions graciously and consider them as an invaluable opportunity to improve a product or service. Therefore, the feedback strategy involves people aspects that comprise the Library staff and users and that encompass attitudes, behavior, wo rk habits, and the relationship between staff and users.

Cultural Behavior

Congress has an organizational culture with established habits of thinking and doing. The cultural behavior underlying the need to satisfy information needs is based upon a chain of vertical divisions of labor, and each unit tends to become a small closed world (Menou, 1990). Nevertheless, there is also a club attitude permeating cultural behavior, which encourages personal exchanges between pe ers -- whether in the corridor, a meeting room, or a contact within a political party -- as a possible means to expand the Congressperson's relationship base. This dual quality of information-seeking behavior has an impact upon the demand for Library services and products. On many occasions the Library is the only source approached, and at other times the Library becomes a source of last resort, after the network of contacts has failed to produce the information required by the patron.

At the national level in Chile, Libraries are not an important part of the information-seeking behavior, even though there are projects presently trying to reverse this trend. There are few public libraries in the country; they are not imbedded in the local communities; and the educational system has not encouraged an investigative attitude. Therefore, few people in the country have become reg ular library users. Furthermore, with the information glut and overexposure to multiple sources, congressional users require the Library of Congress not only to find the information they seek, but to create new, more condensed packages of usable information. They seek not only to provide for concrete information needs, but also to respond to more general problem-oriented information needs, which require enhanced re search capabilities and new services (Frants and Brush, 1988). Thus the Library must anticipate, select, analyze, and compress information to make it truly useful for a legislature.

Two recent trends have had a major impact on the modernization project. Between 1990 and 1994, the Chilean Library of Congress detected that Library patrons are usually the staff of Congresspeople rather than the Representatives themselves. Second, it was noted that the Library had become a user and integrator of a vast network of information since the information world transcends the Library's own resources and even those of the nation. These two trends have had a considerable impact upon the technological options (systems, computers, networks, etc.) and thus are reflected in the modernization project; they also have influenced the management point of view, since management issues must be reconsidered to uphold this new information-gathering or networking model of a Library.

Library Staff-User Interaction and Attitudes

A fundamental aspect of modernization is empowering people to interact with users; work in groups; use technologies, sources, and networks; and develop challenging activities within a new organizational structure. It requires training people in order to develop user-oriented attitudes, better relationships, and communications with users. One of the weaknesses detected by interviewing some users and Library staff has been that the Library does not always deliver the services and information products that the user believes he or she requested. This could mean that users do not know how to ask for information, and therefore the staff has difficulties in determining the real nature of the request. A worrisome finding by Burton (Bu rton, 1990), shows that public and academic libraries provide correct answers only 55 percent of the time, generating frustration on both sides. Feedback obtained in the Chilean Library of Congress somewhat corroborates this view. The Library of Congress, like many libraries, occasionally provides what "sage" staff believe users should receive and not what users intend to request.

One of the explicit feedback strategies is training staff in communications and helping them acquire interaction skills to better serve users. Courses are offered to Library staff to improve interactions and promote more effective interviews when users require services from the Library. The reference "interview" is a valuable tool to clarify needs and tailor responses more carefully to requeste r needs. Thus, the first training modules are "user library personnel interactions" and "developing group working capabilities." Both modules are a starting point for obtaining feedback from users. The courses have been designed to incorporate marketing skills and achieve an open attitude for capturing and acting upon both negative and positive feedback. Library staff in the user-oriented environment should become more like salespeople than people who process transactions or look up references (Myers, n.d.).

Other important people aspects are training in analytical capabilities. These range from enhanced searching skills in order to provide value added services from existing sources, to training in generating or upgrading technological tools, such as skills in creating data bases, gaining access to national and international networks, etc. These skills may also include greater training in specific subject areas to create a more specialized expert staff in areas important to the legislature.

Library personnel attitudes have been conditioned in Chile by an obsolete organizational structure and by the absence of a fully operational Congress for 17 years. During those years, staff operated at a slow pace and experienced few changes or adaptations. Changes are both traumatic and stimulating, but a new organizational structure, the new library building in Valparaíso, broader ava ilability of technologies, and management consultant input could stimulate a positive attitude to change and a shift to a more user oriented environment. Besides learning to interact with a new kind of user, and assist them in making the best use of Library facilities, Library personnel have begun to exploit external information sources and repackage information according to changing needs of the Parliament.

Intelligence Gathering

Another important activity for developing services as well as furthering the understanding and support for the library is monitoring the environment to anticipate information needs, prepare value added services, and augment the knowledge base by combining inside and outside information, both structured and unstructured, including hearsay about the Library and its services.

This holistic approach -- which integrates information coming from multiple sources and changes the common-sense perception of Library work -- will be implemented by regular unstructured meetings and group work to capture what "is in the air" as well as "what is in written language, sound, or images." The Library currently takes a forward-looking position by regularly scanning the environment to anticipate information needs or legislative agendas. This anticipatory framework considers the legislative schedule of both houses, relevant news on important events - especially at the national level - and activities within the executive and the judiciary branches of government.

Impact Assessment and Indicators

The development of Library services and the modernization project requires ongoing measures of performance. Future investments, fund availability, and good will toward the Library depend upon the effectiveness, efficiency, and quality of its products and services as well as the impact of its services and products.

The input of management and organizational consultants will help develop effectiveness and efficiency indicators, and an impact assessment involving consultants is also being considered. Nevertheless, some aspects of impact will be difficult to measure with precision under the best of conditions. There are few models or criteria for determining when a legislature is passing "better laws" or eve n determining what is a "better law." There also are many exogenous elements responsible for impact, both from the Library's side and from the users' side. Some of these elements could be younger and better educated users, better Library accommodations, new technologies, better personnel attitudes, trained staff, better working environment, better organizational structure, and others. Thus, so me attempts will be made to gauge what can be reasonably measured, whereas others will be impossible to isolate. Nonetheless, a holistic approach to impact assessment is expected to show that the Library's services are becoming increasingly important for legislators.

Top-Quality Library Image as a Means of Building Library Support

An important part of gaining understanding and support for the Parliamentary Library is the Library's image as reflected in the quality of its staff -- including not only regular staff but the availability of top level library executives to interact with Congresspeople. Library executives must directly negotiate support, funds, and other resources for the Library and therefore must be articulate , knowledgeable, and trustworthy to their counterparts in the Congress.

The new Library building in Valparaíso will become a "theater" that visually ties together services through architecture (Myers, n.d.); Library image has been considered in the architecture as well as in the choice of furnishings. Users will probably show preference for the nearest source of information (Martyn, 1992). This increased awareness will help considerably in obtaining support f or the Library. There are also conscious efforts under way to enhance Library identity, such as increased promotion of the services (Martyn, n.d.) through handouts, a marketing approach, and publicity inside the Congress.

The outreach activities held between 1990 and 1994, which have included conferences, courses, exhibitions at the Congress building, travelling exhibitions, etc., have helped enhance the image of Congress and the Library, and have contributed to strengthening the link between Parliament, the Library and the constituencies.


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