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  • Introduction:The Purpose, Present Situation and Future of the Parliamentary Library
  • Gro Sandgrind

This issue of Library Trends explores parliamentary libraries in different parts of the world in the past and present and also offers some thoughts about their future. We are grateful for having been given this opportunity to publish the papers presented at the World Library and Information Congress: 75th IFLA General Conference and Assembly, Milan, August 2009. The papers were presented in a joint open session organized by the Library and Research Services for Parliaments Section and the Library History Section. This issue of Library Trends also includes two papers on parliamentary libraries in Uganda and Pakistan that were not presented at the Congress. The overall theme of the Congress was "Libraries Create Futures: Building on Cultural Heritage." Within this context, the two organizing sections called for papers on the theme of "Changing Visions: Parliamentary Libraries Past, Present and Future."1

Parliamentary/Legislative Libraries

Legislative libraries can be seen as special libraries in the narrow sense that they are providing services for a specialized clientele, they differ from many such libraries in that they need to be willing to provide information on the breadth of human knowledge, rather than concentrating on a range of subjects relevant to a specialist clientele. . . . In a nutshell parliament is interested in the whole universe of knowledge.

This is how parliamentary libraries are introduced by Keith Cuninghame in a newly revised edition of Guidelines for Legislative Libraries (2009, p. 23).

Parliamentary libraries, like other special types of libraries, differ greatly in size (from one-person libraries to services with hundreds of staff members) as well as in what kind of services they offer. Some operate on very limited resources and others are more generously funded. Most [End Page 413] parliaments have a research service as well as a library: these two services may be part of the same department or may be administratively separate. What they have in common are the clients they serve: the members of parliament, their personal staff, and their institution as a whole. What characterizes the clients is that they work under very tight deadlines. The staff serving them need to provide access to independent, timely, and objective information tailored to their needs and within a very short time frame. Some parliamentary libraries are open to the public on a general basis. Many have services targeted toward schoolchildren and students, while others have a more restricted policy and serve only their internal customers. Ernst Kohl, former chair of the IFLA Section on Library and Research Services for Parliaments, divides parliamentary libraries into parliamentary libraries proper and hybrid parliamentary libraries, a hybrid library being a combination of a parliamentary library and a special or general library serving the public as well as parliamentarians (1996, pp. 141-144).

At the conference "Informing Democracy," which was a joint initiative of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Association of Secretaries General of Parliaments, and IFLA in Geneva 2008, it was stated that

Access to reliable, timely information is essential to the proper functioning of democratic legislatures. . . . parliamentary libraries and research services contribute to the effectiveness of parliament by providing authoritative, independent, non-partisan and relevant information.

(Informing Democracy, 2009, p. 7)

Anita Dudina, director of the Information Department at the Saeima (Parliament) of Latvia speaks of the library and research unit as a mediator between the client and the information environment (2008, p. 1).


Many parliamentary libraries have a long history. Some have celebrated major anniversaries in recent years, and there are articles and monographs published on parliamentary library history and development. The Czech parliamentary library celebrated their 150th anniversary in 2009, and the parliamentary librarian Karel Sosna writes the following:

Legislatives created libraries early in the history of nation-building in modern times to meet the need for independent information. The National Assembly library in France in 1796, the U.S. Library of Congress in 1800. Today, nearly every active legislature has a parliamentary library.

(2009, p. 197)

Most of Europe's parliamentary libraries were founded in the fifty years following the Congress of Vienna in 1815, when new national and democratic states and subsequently also their parliaments and parliamentary libraries...


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