Archive for February, 2014

I had the absolute pleasure of attending an open day for librarians and information professionals organised by the House of Commons Library on Wednesday 19th February, which I believe is run in conjunction with CILIP, and is held every year.

Portcullis House

Portcullis House

The first half of the day was held in Portcullis House; which for anyone who has never been before, is surprisingly modern, open and light, with various artworks of important politicians dotted all over. Throughout the morning a series of talks were given by various members of staff (interspersed with lots of tea and many biscuits of course), with some allotted time to look at an exhibition of precious and interesting items from the collection put on display just for us. The second half of the day was dedicated to a tour of the House of Commons Library (where only Members of Parliament are allowed to step inside, so I felt very privileged to be allowed in!), and then a tour by an official guide of the famous areas of the Houses of Parliament, such as the chambers. The day concluded with a Q&A session with a panel of library staff.



The talks in the morning provided an insight in to the workings of the Members Library and it’s very special nature in the work it does. The Member’s Library runs parallel to the House of Commons Chamber itself, so it operates as a sanctuary as well as a work environment. Only MPs can enter the Library; not even their personal staff can physically enter, although they can use the Library’s telephone and online enquiry service. Other users include Select Committee staff, the constituency staff of MPs and other Commons staff. The Library provides a very important role in ensuring we have well-informed Parliamentarians; so that they can hold the executive and Government to account, they can effectively scrutinise legislation and can sensibly respond to their constituents on a variety of issues.

There seems to be a large number of staff who work in and with the library, and they are divided in to smaller teams such as Library Resources, Indexing & Data Management, Front of House and then the Research Service. The Research Service consists of 7 or 8 teams comprised of approximately 5 subject specialists and 5 information professionals, focused on areas such as:

  • Business and transport
  • Economic policy and statistics
  • Homes affairs
  • International affairs
  • Parliament and constitution
  • Science and environment
  • Social and general statistics
  • Social policy

Each research team has its own budget, manages its own collection, conducts their own cataloguing, and have their own journal subscriptions, etc. although there are a lot of loans between the research team’s collection and the main Members Library.

Book lined corridor in Parliament

Book lined corridor in Parliament

However, surprisingly they do not conduct lengthy enquiries or research for the Government, as the Government has the Civil Service to help them. So they particularly cater for the Opposition Front Bench and back benchers, so that they’re able to hold the Government to account. They also help with Select Committee’s work.

The services the Members’ Library provides tends to be in the form of reading lists, newspapers, online journals, databases, inter-library loans (particularly with the British Library and London Library), research on ANYTHING and in providing a sanctuary. The types of documents they produce are confidential briefings for MPs, standard notes and research papers which are made available on the external Parliament website, internal debate packs, current awareness emails and personal briefings. Understandably, it is extremely important for staff to remain impartial when providing such documents, particularly on controversial topics such as fox hunting, wind farms, fracking, etc. Additionally, speed and clarity are particularly important.

The Library’s holdings (and keeping in mind this is just the Member’s Library, and not including the Lords’ Library or the Parliamentary Archives) are particularly impressive:

  • Just under 260,000 bound volumes, 10,000 of which are reference books
  • 112 print copy newspapers subscribed to including national broadsheets and local papers
  • Over 1,700 e-journals and 70 print journals
  • Access to just under 50 online subscription services, including Nexis News, Lexis, Westlaw, ProQuest, Who’s Who, DODs and Grantfinder to name a small few.
Member's Library

A room in the Member’s Library

Current areas of development are introducing eBooks, introducing a new LMS and discovery system, implementing RDA cataloguing standards (and working with the Lords Library to try and synchronise cataloguing standards) and access to resources on mobile devices. The last is particularly important as after the 2015 general election, MPs will be provided with iPads as standard issue. So the Library is experimenting with different apps of subscribed online services such as Nexis News, as well as eBooks.

In the afternoon we had the privilege to tour the Member’s Library that we had heard so much about in the morning. We were only allowed in as it is currently recess; so there are no MPs working in Parliament this week.

LibraryThe Member’s Library is absolutely stunning. It is exactly what you would picture a library in the Houses of Parliament to be. Beautiful dark wood with intricately carved details everywhere; huge windows looking out on to the River Thames; comfy armchairs next to large stone fireplaces; and thousands upon thousands of books. I was surprised by the large size of the Library, probably because I work in a law firm library consisting of only 4 double sided bookcases (and some space in the basement), with many of our resources being online. In addition to the entry atrium, the Library consist of 4 almost identical large rooms, each with books lining the walls almost floor to ceiling, study space with PCs and tables with writing materials and comfy armchairs (presumably for sleeping in!). The collection is primarily politics, history and biographical, with approximately 3,500 – 4,000 loans a year; many of which are inter-library loans. I expected the Library to have its own quirky classification system due to its age, but they actually use Dewey Decimal.

ParliamentAfter the tour of the Library, we had a tour of Parliament by an official tour guide. I had already been on this tour a couple of years ago, but being a history geek I still very much enjoyed seeing all of the wonderful treasures and craftsmanship that Parliament has to offer, Unfortunately, due to a mix up we missed the Online Resources demonstration back at Portcullis House before the concluding Q&A panel session, but I had a quick chat with the person who provided the Online Resources presentation so I didn’t miss out on too much. It consisted of a run through of their catalogue, their journal catalogue and their Intranet pages.

For the Q&A panel at the end, I asked what methods they used to reach out to the Members and increase Library usage, as in many ways I think Members are similar to lawyers as library users and this is something we can all improve on in our libraries, whatever sectors we work in. Their outreach is 98% of Members which is excellent; but not all MPs use them on a regular basis. When new MPs are elected they are sent a letter to inform them of the Library services, and this is quickly followed up by an induction. Information literacy training is offered, and talks and briefings by specialists on topics of the day in the Library are advertised by posters. Additionally they provide current awareness emails on hot topics and they have an active Twitter account (@commonslibrary) which is particularly successful, as many MPs use Twitter. They are also very prominently placed on the Parliament intranet homepage with direct links to briefings and standard notes on important topics, which I think is something that my own Library could try and improve on.

Overall, it was a really enjoyable and interesting day. I would like to thank CILIP and the House of Commons for letting us in to the intriguing and usually very private world of Parliament,and I would highly recommend attending if you have the opportunity next year!



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On a wet and gloomy Monday evening, I had the pleasure of going on a tour of the weird and wonderful London Library. Having heard some stories about the Library from some of my friends who were lucky enough to spend their graduate traineeships there, I was happy to discover that free tours are offered every other Monday evening (as it is a subscription library, I believe this is a marketing ploy, but one I was happy to take full advantage of!)London Library

Before I go ahead, a disclaimer is needed in case I have mis-remembered anything that our very knowledgeable tour guide told us!

The library was founded in 1841 by Thomas Carlyle, who apparently was fed up with not being able to take books home from the British Library (which at the time had a reference only collection), and started his own library where members could take books home to study at their convenience. Astonishingly, this is still very much the case today where 97% of the collection is on open access shelving and can be taken home, including books from as early as the 18th century! It was refreshing to find out that the purpose of the conservation team was not to render the works inaccessible to members in order to preserve the books in their original state; but only to preserve the books so that they can be used by future members of the library.

StacksThe major challenge the Library faces is space. It is almost like a living organism in the way it has grown out of a Georgian townhouse and has stretched itself upwards, downwards and to every side barring the front, with different parts of the building having different numbers of levels below and above ground. You can tell from the structure of the building that parts have been added here, there and everywhere in order to utilise every pocket of space. In the stacks, books are shelved from floor to ceiling, where the floors are thin metal grills in order to circulate air and light. We were told that if all of the books were taken off the stacks, then the building would rise an incredible 3 inches! So the books are integral to the structure of the building.

The collection grows at approximately 8,000 works a year, which is presumably why they require a huge team of approximately 60 full time and part time staff to keep the Library in working order, with about 20 members of staff in Reader Services alone.

ClassificationI loved the quirkiness of the classification system, which was devised by a librarian at the London Library in the late 19th century, which basically meant that anything that wasn’t arts and humanities was shoved in to “Science and Miscellaneous”. This lends itself to wonderful serendipitous browsing, and I could imagine spending hours enjoyably browsing the shelves. This led to some rather amusing subject guides on the ends of bays, such as charities sitting next to cheese.

What I really enjoyed about the London Library was the homely feel and quirkiness of the Library, which I think very much lends itself to being an inspirational location for authors and scholars of all descriptions. In one of the main reading rooms, I noticed there was a display cabinet of old membership forms, and 2 of them belonged to Edward Elgar and Winston Churchill! The Library almost seems like it is from a past era, and I really hope it is able to continue despite the challenge which all libraries seem to be facing of reduced funding.

I would very much recommend attending a tour if you are interested in experiencing different and unique libraries!

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