Wednesday was a pretty special day for me as I managed to get on the Annual Open Day for Librarians and Information officers at the House of Commons Library which is offered to members of the M25 Consortium of Academic Libraries (cpd25).
The Department of Information Services (made up of librarians, archivists and researchers including statisticians) at the House of Commons organised a full day with lectures, demos and tours. The lectures were enlightening in that we were informed of how the various sections in the Library support the MPs and their researchers. The purpose of the House of Commons Library, since its inception in 1818, is to ensure that the House is well informed about the business that comes before it and that individual members of parliament have all the necessary information to carry out their parliamentary duties, both at Westminster and in their constituencies. There is also an Information Office whose remit is to ensure that the public is made aware of the importance of Parliament.
The House of Commons Library is both print-based (with approximately 100,000 books, newspapers and magazines) and electronic (databases and journals). The Library team deal with about 30,000 enquiries a year and support 82% of the MPs and their personal researchers. The Commons and Lords Libraries and the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) produce research papers on issues being discussed in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. These are available online at http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/briefing-papers/. They are referred to as ‘briefings’ or ‘standard notes’ and according to the online glossary, “the Commons Research Papers are an in-depth and impartial analysis of every major piece of primary legislation and on other major topics of public and parliamentary concern” and some include statistics. The Commons Standard Notes are shorter and are often written on topical questions answering frequently asked questions. The librarians also create Debate Packs on current and forthcoming debates in the Commons but since these are confidential, they are not available to the public.
A quick search under ‘Education’ for both briefing papers and standard notes revealed publications on various aspects that have recently been debated in the House, i.e. tuition fees for higher education, funding of higher education, teacher’s pensions, the Green Paper on Special Education Needs and disability, examination results and so on. Other useful publications are those produced by the Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology or POST which has been in existence since 1989. Between 20-30 POSTnotes are created each year and are written to help MPs understand the scientific or technological issues (medical, environmental, communications, etc.) that may be debated and form part of a policy or legistlation. The POSTnotes can be searched here: http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/offices.
In addition to the above, the full-text of the Hansard (both the Commons Hansard and the Lords Hansard – which are edited records of what was said in Parliament) is available to browse online. An advanced search option will allow you to search both the Commons and the Lords business papers, debates, committee papers, reports, bills and legislation. This is a wonderful resource and one that I hope will be of use to IOE researchers.
Needless to say, the day was both fun (I took part in a quiz on the Parliment and didn’t do too badly!) and informative. An exhibition entitled “Aspects of Parliamentary History” was put on especially for us by the Information Services team. A tour of the House of Commons and Westminster Hall that followed in the afternoon was a treat and a real privilege for one who had only seen the Palace of Westminster from the outside.