House of Commons Library Open Day

17th February 2016

The House of Commons Library employs around 70 subject specialists to prepare briefing papers, research enquiries and provide confidential and impartial information for Members of Parliament.

It consists of 4 reading rooms that neighbour The Speaker’s apartments, a reference desk that is within jogging distance of the chamber and extensive collections of hard copy, digital collections and enviable access to online resources.


Figure 1

And it really does look like this.

It is an environment conducive to study, not least because the MP’s staff are not permitted access and so cannot interrupt. It must be said that those chairs on the left are very comfortable and are more conducive to sleep than anything else.

The open day got started in Portcullis House, across the road from the Palace of Westminster, with a series of lightning talks by librarians across the Information Services directorate. Here’s a brief flavour:

Lightning talks

The HoC Library field around 30 000 enquiries per year; they try to manage this load by producing as much information as possible and making it available online, via the Parliamentary Intranet and also on the internet. These information guides cover the full range of the work of government, here are a few recent titles:

Police and fire reforms 2016: The Government’s proposals for England

EU referendum: impact of an EU exit in key UK policy areas

Shop opening hours and Sunday trading

Dealing with infestations in privately rented property (England)

Marine litter: “continents of rubbish”

and many, many more. These guides are written to give MPs the background to a subject that is about to be debated; but they are a great place to get background information on many subjects. They have been produced by a very well-resourced and skilled information service.

Other elements of the library’s role include public engagement and outreach, curation of heritage and indexing Hansard. Their work is used for parliamentary debates; scrutinising and informing legislation; media, e.g. Question Time; constituency surgeries, specialist interests and Select Committee work.

There is a still a high demand for hardcopy, especially newspapers and periodicals. Some MPs will use more digital resources than others, no different to any other library’s patrons.

Examples of HoC Library output:

Research briefings

Current awareness emails drawn from news aggregators

Second Reading, the House of Common Library blog

Twitter @commonslibrary


In staffing structure structure the closest comparison I can make is with an academic library even to the extent that they have recently restructured (2014) and have a customer service approach to MPs now. They changed the physical layout of the library, underwent behavioural training and a Continuous Improvement programme. I recently attended a Continuous Improvement talk at the University of York where they talked about how they achieved Customer Service Excellence, a government initiative in fact, and this restructure put me very much in mind of that.



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