Supporting Decision-Making When It Matters Most: Parliamentary Libraries during COVID-19

With governments currently taking decisions with far-reaching consequences, there is as great a need as ever for parliamentarians to benefit from the support of effective libraries. IFLA’s Section on Library and Research Services for Parliaments surveyed members to find out how this is taking place.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on much of the global library field, forcing rapid changes in the way they serve their communities.

However, among different library types, some, perhaps many, Parliamentary library and research services have been relatively well-prepared, with much of their work already done digitally and remotely. The crisis has accelerated existing trends rather than forcing a change. Even parliamentary services more reliant on hard-copy and in-person services have found ways to adapt.

They had to: parliamentary library and research services provide members of parliament with the authoritative and impartial information they need to oversee and scrutinise the decisions being taken by governments.

This role is critical even in normal times, with the choices made by those in power affecting millions of people. Some choices, as in a pandemic, are literally matters of life and death. With new data and information emerging every day now, the daily work of parliamentary libraries and research services has taken on a new importance.

IFLA’s Section on Library and Research Services for Parliaments therefore surveyed its members to find out more about how they have continued to fulfil their missions during the Pandemic.

Results

On the basis of responses received, it is clear that libraries have been able to show resourcefulness and resilience. Many had already been investing in digital services and more flexible forms of working over a period of years, making remote service and the shift to home-working easier to manage. Parliamentary research, and many aspects of information service, can be quite feasible from home.

Nonetheless, there have still been challenges. Work on hard copy – whether processing new material or accessing hard copy for information – has been difficult or impossible. Inter-Library lending ceased. In-person services – like client training – became impossible overnight. Home-working went well for some, but others faced slow internet speeds, under-equipped home offices and unexpected domestic duties. Managers had their own challenges responding to novel requirements from staff, erratic working hours and dispersed teams.

Parliamentary library and research services have responded to these challenges, creating or expanding digital consultation services, putting training or other material online, and, in one case, switching from paper briefings to regularly updated blogs. Services that are still largely paper-based found work-rounds, like home delivery of books and scanning periodical title pages to distribute to clients.

The services have continued to support committees and individual members by producing  research publications and timely provision of information. They have seen strong demand for information about COVID-19, policy responses and parliamentary operations in other countries, flexible forms of working, past pandemics and, now, economic recovery. In at least one case, a service has seen its work given a higher profile on the parliament’s public website, helping to counter misinformation in public debate.

Many services report a very positive response from Members of Parliament - they have been impressed by the resilience and dedication shown.

This feedback underlines the value to parliamentarians of evidence in order to decide on policy questions and to support well-informed parliamentary and public debate.

As a result, even as the way of delivering services change in response to new technologies, expectations and circumstances, it seems clear that parliamentary library and research services have an indispensable contribution to make.

Download the report as a PDF.

Reports, Library and Research Services for Parliaments, Parliamentary Libraries, COVID-19

Last update: 29 October 2020