House of Commons Commission - Twenty-Third Annual Report

House of Commons Library Annual Report 2000-01


The Library's purpose, in summary, is as follows:

    The Department of the Library is responsible for the provision of research, analysis and information services for the House of Commons and for the management of the Members' Library and the Derby Gate reading rooms. It provides its services in a timely, accurate and non-partisan manner. All work for individual Members is done on a confidential basis and in relation to their parliamentary duties.

The Library's overriding priority is to maintain and, where possible, enhance the standards of service for Members and other users and to do so efficiently within the resources available. Its principal goal is to maintain the Department's position as the leading provider of high quality and impartial information, research and analysis services to Members of Parliament, and of information about the House of Commons for the public and schools. The second major goal is to improve the Library's cost effectiveness. Many components of the business plan contribute to this goal. In this way, the Department seeks to meet increased demand and greater sophistication of demand, while minimising the need for additional staff and other resources.

The Library's core functions described below have remained broadly unchanged during the year. The information revolution is, however, continuing to bring about changes in the range and methods of delivery of services, as well as enabling direct access by users to information. These changes are happening because of both the increase in the amount of information available and changes in the way it is transmitted. There has already been a substantial impact on how the Library functions and the process of change has accelerated during the reporting year. Key aspects of these changes are:

  • the need to manage the volume and range of information now available, coupled with the continuing need to present it in a usable, targeted form suitable for busy Members of Parliament;

  • the growing scope for direct access by users both at Westminster and in the constituencies to Library-provided information, for which the Library needs to provide training and support;

  • the need for Library staff to master developments and learn new procedures, while maintaining their existing expertise; and

  • the continuing need to provide a full range of subject specialists, while ensuring that the available technology supports their knowledge, activities and specialist skills.

The Library's key method of recording activity levels has over many years been enquiry numbers for various parts of the service. The development of the Parliamentary Intranet, combined with the policy of making material directly accessible to users wherever possible, means that enquiry numbers have become only a partial (though still very important) indicator of levels of use of services. Similarly, the decline in the number of printed research papers has been more than matched by a very substantial increase in the number of "standard notes" (briefing papers) and increasing use of both in electronic form.

Standard notes are often used to deal quickly with individual enquiries and their production has probably contributed to the slowing in growth of "logged" enquiry numbers, while the proportion of "unlogged" enquiry numbers has risen. There is already firm evidence that the availability of selected standard notes in electronic format on the Intranet is rendering some individual enquiries to the Library unnecessary. The same may be true of other Intranet services.

During 2000-01 preparatory work has been undertaken for a significant re-organisation of the Library's material on the Intranet, which will make material more accessible to users. Satisfactory measures of the use of Library material on the Intranet and Internet are not yet available, but the Department is seeking to develop them. The information that it has is encouraging. For example, in the first three months of 2001 there were over 33,000 "requests" for Library Research Papers via the Internet.

2. Plans and achievements

The following text records achievements against the Department's business plan for 2000-01.


The Library provides a wide range of material for consultation including newspapers, Hansard, Parliamentary papers, official publications and general reference works. Library staff provide information from these and from a variety of on-line and external sources.

The target for all reference enquiries is to reply by the specified deadline while undeadlined enquiries are to be answered within two weeks of receipt. Given the high volume of transactions, many of which are completed immediately, very few reference enquiries are recorded on the Enquiries Database and, as a consequence, there is no statistical measure of the extent to which these targets are met. Complaints when received are investigated and appropriate action taken.

Reading room enquiries:

Members' Library

Derby Gate


Subject specialists provide a briefing service in response to enquiries from Members across the range of their parliamentary duties. They also prepare research papers on new legislation and on other topics of current interest. The research service is grouped into subject-based sections each of which holds specialised collections of material.

In order better to coordinate the Library's work on the subject of Parliament itself, a Parliament and Constitution Centre was established in 1999. This has reduced duplication, making better use of existing resources and producing a new range of outputs of widespread use. To date, these include a web-based parliamentary current awareness service and a new series of information lists. These, and other materials designed to help a wide range of internal and external users, are being developed and enhanced as resources allow, and full use is made of the Internet and Parliamentary Intranet to deliver them.

Further work has been undertaken to integrate the research service's resource staff in order to enable them to manage more effectively the increasing amount of online and other information and to contribute more to research output. An Intranet Planning Working Party has made recommendations on how this can be assisted by collaborative working. In addition to increasing the number of standard notes provided on the Intranet, an interactive version of the popular Constituency Profiles has also been launched. About 1,300 requests to this service were made between its launch in January and the end of the year.

The demands on the research service are measured in two ways. The Enquiries Database is used to log the more substantial requests. Other requests, mainly telephone calls seeking immediate briefing or advice, are not routinely recorded, but week-long surveys of demand carried out in June-July and February allow the Department to estimate the total number of requests dealt with during the year. The targets for the research service as a whole are to answer all deadlined enquiries within the deadlines and all undeadlined enquiries within two weeks. In 2000/01 96% of logged deadlined enquiries were answered by the deadline and 86% of logged undeadlined enquiries were answered within two weeks.


Logged research enquiries[16]

Unlogged research enquiries[17]

Number of research papers published

Standard notes on the Intranet at end year

Targets for publishing research papers for all government bills in time for the second reading debate are generally met. The Department aims to have the text of all papers on the Internet and Intranet by the time the paper version has been reproduced for distribution.


The Library aims to develop the services it provides over the Parliamentary Intranet to Members and their staff and has been seeking to maximise the return on the investment made. This has been done in collaboration with other departments, especially in respect of the POLIS service which includes components managed by the Library on behalf of other departments and the House of Lords Library.

This has been achieved by the following initiatives:

  • revised information for new Members of Parliament about the Library and how to use its services have been prepared in anticipation of the 2001 general election;

  • the Library completed the transition to browser-based Intranet services for its databases by 2001, in conformity with the Parliamentary IS and IT strategies, and in the interests of facilitating and promoting access;

  • the Library has explored the cost-effectiveness of putting on the Intranet for widespread use any of its paper sources that become available in electronic form with the aim of developing a cost-effective periodicals collection. Additions this year include JSTOR, BL Inside and other services for searching for journal articles and legal material. Facilities for making electronically available data more easily usable have also been developed where practicable;

  • improvements have been made to the Intranet and Explore Parliament to provide better guidance to users;

  • the Library has increased the training in the use of electronic information services it provides for Members and their staff including those located in the constituencies. In addition to sessions on parliamentary information on the Internet and Intranet, courses on media and legal sources and on Internet searching have been provided;

  • with the opening of Portcullis House, the e-Library came into operation, dedicated to providing support for Members and their staff to allow them to benefit fully from the investment in the provision of electronic information services; and

  • a shared POLIS service to ensure a full exchange of information on Parliamentary documentation has been extended to include records from the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Hypertext links have been added to many POLIS records to provide pointers to the full text of retrieved references. The indexes to Commons Hansard and the list of Deposited Papers generated from POLIS are now easily accessible from the Intranet and Internet.


IT training course attendees

Help desk calls

Items added to Press database

Items added to POLIS

The European Scrutiny Database has now been made available on the Intranet. It contains references to European documents deposited in Parliament and traces them through the scrutiny process. This is a joint project with the relevant Committee Offices in both Houses.

The Press Association NewsLine service is now being provided on the Intranet.

The target of eight sitting days for inputting the name and subject indexing to written parliamentary questions in the POLIS Current database was regularly achieved and often exceeded.

The POLIS system is used to generate printed indexes to both Hansard and the sessional parliamentary papers (House of Commons and Command). The target for the production of the printed indexes to Hansard is to produce an index for each volume published within the year. The 1998-99 Sessional index was sent to TSO two months ahead of the agreed schedule in December 2000. Similarly there is a target to produce each year the copy for one index to the sessional parliamentary papers. This too was achieved.

The IS Section's target of ensuring 99.5% availability of the main POLIS services during scheduled availability hours was exceeded. The targets of not more than 4 service incidents per year, and not more than 30 minutes' downtime per incident, were missed. There were five service breaks, of which one was under 30 minutes in duration. Of the others, one was of 35 minutes duration, two of 45 minutes, and one of 110 minutes.

2.4  LOANS

The Library has a substantial loan collection of books and pamphlets and also borrows material from other libraries when necessary. It is the Library's aim to maximise use of its loan stock. To help achieve this the following projects were carried out in the reporting year:

  • a replacement library stock management system was introduced at the end of Summer Recess 2000. This included for the first time an automated loans system, which will generate information about the use of the Library's book collections, thus improving selection and storage policies. It will also enable the Library to recall books quickly when an election is called or when Members or their staff leave the House, thus reducing losses. The new system has also improved the Library's ability to manage the acquisition and processing of book and periodical stock;

  • a contract was let for classifying the Members' Library loan stock using the Dewey Decimal System and re-arranging it for maximum usability during the summer of 2000. This has been well received by the Members who use the reading rooms. Shelf labelling was improved at the same time.


Book and video loans[18]


School visits to Parliament

The House of Commons Information Office provides information about the work, history and membership of the House of Commons for the general public. The Parliamentary Education Unit provides an education service for schools for both Houses of Parliament. The Library maintains contact at official level with overseas parliamentary libraries and research services.

The Library aims to continue to develop its services to the general public and to schools as far as resources allow. This has been done bearing in mind increased demand, the inclusion of citizenship in the National Curriculum and the need to exploit the opportunities offered by new technology, particularly the Internet. Library staff have played a leading role in the work of the Group on Information for the Public and have collaborated with other departments in both Houses on other matters to do with visitors to Parliament. Other initiatives in 2000-01 included:

  • the education web site (Explore Parliament) was launched to acclaim in 1999 and was developed further during the period with a range of features aimed at pupils of all ages and at supporting teachers. During 2000-01 around 200,000 user sessions were recorded involving some 2½ million page views; and

  • the Library has been working with the Group on Information for the Public to improve the services provided by the House of Commons Information Office and to integrate these better with services provided by other departments.

The HCIO's telephone bureau has a target of answering 85% of calls within 20 seconds which is typical for telephone enquiry services. An automatic call distribution system collects the relevant data. In 2000-01 62% of calls were answered within 20 seconds, a substantial improvement on the 45% recorded in 1999-2000.


Information Office enquiries

Within the total number of HCIO enquiries there has been a significant switch away from telephone calls towards e-mails. In 2000-01 the HCIO received 8,783 requests via e-mail compared to 5,751 in 1999-2000.

The Parliamentary Education Unit started an additional visits programmes during 2000-01, Citizenship for the 21st Century, to support the teaching of the new National Curriculum Citizenship programme for Key Stages 2 and 3. This new service is designed for pupils in years 3-9, giving them the opportunity to find out about political literacy and to learn about Parliament's role in citizenship.


The information and research services are supported by documentation and information technology services and by library services such as selection, acquisition and processing of material. The Library is the House's repository for the definitive set of parliamentary papers, Hansard and other categories of official material.

The Library has continued to develop and maintain its stock of Parliamentary Papers, official publications, books and other material, with a view to ensuring that it meets users' needs as fully as possible and in a cost-effective manner, making efficient use of new technology. In consultation with other departments, it has been exploring the most effective means of preserving and making available essential parliamentary publications that are deteriorating owing to the paper and ink used in the past. A project board is considering the possible funding for digitising Hansard of both Houses from 1804 until 1989 (from when it is available electronically) and having it available on the Internet.

Approximately 20,000 volumes - older, often rare or valuable, but little-used - will be transferred from the store in Broad Sanctuary to the British Museum's King's Library, probably in early 2003. The books will be available for use by scholars in the British Museum's Central Library and will appear in its catalogue as well as on POLIS. Some conservation work is being carried out on this material in preparation for the transfer.

Priscilla Baines

13   Figures not comparable over time. Before January 1999 manually collected telephone data underestimated the true number of enquiries. Since January 1999 automatically collected data are more reliable, but include some non-enquiry calls. Back

14   Partially estimated because of failure of automatic call recording system. Back

15   Partially estimated because of failure of automatic call recording system. Back

16   Logged enquiries are the more substantial enquiries received. There is a continuing high demand for immediate oral advice. Such enquiries are not logged, but in the most recent 'snapshot' survey they constituted more than half the total number of enquiries. Back

17   Estimates based on twice-yearly "snapshot" surveys. Back

18   The service was closed for three months during 2000/01 as a result of the reclassification project. Back

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Prepared 17 July 2001