As of 22 April 2009 this website is 'frozen' in time — see the current IFLA websites
This old website and all of its content will stay on as archive –
At the IFLA Conference held in Copenhagen in 1997 the question of the role of Library Committees - or equivalents - attracted considerable interest. Annalise Quistorff, Head of the Library of the Danish Parliament, distributed a paper (2) based on a questionnaire which the Library of the Folketing had sent out with the assistance of the ECPRD (3) to parliamentary libraries in Central, Eastern, and Western Europe and in the USA. This questionnaire sought information on the extent to which Members of Parliament (MPs) were involved in the administration of the Library or on other ways in which they followed the work of the Library. Unfortunately the questionnaire did not reach the Hungarian Parliament, where there is both an old tradition of Library Committees and great interest in the subject because of current developments. The author therefore distributed an ad hoc questionnaire to those present at the Workshop of the Section on Library and Research Services held in the Folketing. The ad hoc survey asked which parliaments had a Library Committee and some questions on the status of the committee (standing, advisory, etc).
What do we learn from these figures? The first two diagrams show that the Library Committees are widely used; committees or commissions are dealing with the library from its strategy to its everyday activity in 32 of the 57 responding parliaments. The third diagram, an analysis by continent of parliaments with some kind of Library Committee or consultative board, shows that more than half are European national assemblies.
Do we draw the conclusion that the Library Committee is a European speciality?
No, because the majority of parliaments who answered "yes" (18) to having a standing committee are from Australia, Asia and North America (11). Only seven European parliaments have a "standing Library Committee", and there are fifteen European national assemblies and one European international assembly with no participation by parliamentarians in library administration. In addition, we examine the proportion of the continents where there are no Library Committees or MPs are not involved to the parliamentary library's administration:
So perhaps the Library Committee is not an European speciality.
Standing type Library Committees are the most commonly used in the surveyed parliamentary libraries. A "standing" Library Committee means one which generally consists of MPs, but sometimes chief officials from the administrative staff are also elected or delegated. These standing committees have regular obligations and their members may have extra allowances. They may be working in a more immediate framework than an advisory board.
What are the main functions of a Library Committee or why should have it an important role in the life of a parliamentary library? In the cases analysed these committees are:
A European case might to be cited: the example of Germany where the Bundestag has three committees dealing with library matters (The Commission of the Council of Elders for Internal Affairs, a committee dealing with computerization and one dealing with the move from Bonn to Berlin), while in the Bundesrat MPs are not involved in library administration.
The first two diagrams show that about a third of the 57 responding parliamentary libraries are administered without any formal participation of MPs. Two European examples might be highlighted here because the present position is a changed one: in the Stortinget of Norway MPs have not been involved since 1992 in the library administration because the previous supervisory board was abolished and "the parliamentary librarian [was made] responsible for presenting the library's budget and new appointments. Likewise the Swiss ..... parliament in 1988 replaced the previous supervision by a Committee of Documentation into a Commission of Administration, the task of which is supervising the library budget only" (4)
The traditional Hungarian model was based on the following three axioms:
The first Library Committee was established by the Parliament in 1867 in order to supervise its library. The committee members were originally delegated by the Speaker, but from 1875 they were freely elected when the new parliament set up. The post-1875 Library Committee was established as a standing committee. The number of permanent members varied: it worked optimally with 5-11 MPs, but since the 1930's the participation rate had grown to 33 members. After World War II until abolition in 1950, the Committee had 17 members. The Library Committee had its own president or chairman: at first he was elected from its members, later - probably as a consequence of its growing power and competence - the Speaker officially presided.
The Library Committee had the right to intervene in all matters of importance in the library's activity. This right was based on Rules of Procedure and on other parliamentary documents. The Committee's powers included the establishment of the statutes of the library, which defined the obligations and tasks of the institution, the limits to the actions and competence of the Librarian and the staff, and other regulations such as lending rules. Depending on current duties the Library Committee established subcommittees e.g. on statutes, on acquisition etc. The supervising of the acquisition policy was particularly stressed, for example from 1878 the library began to gather the documents of foreign parliaments on an exchange basis and the parliament legislated for legal deposit of published materials (first in 1922).
Examining Library Committee responsibilities of that time shows some similarity with the present practice of the German Parliament (Bundestag) or the Turkish Parliament (Türkiye Bülük Millet Meclisi) where a Library Committee is responsible for matters of policy concerning the use of the library, catalogue systems, store rooms, book lending etc. The Statutes of the Hungarian Library Committee enacted in 1909 provided that any measures concerning the out-building storage of the holding was subject to the Committee's approval because the speed of service could have been at risk. The Library Committee made cataloguing rules, decided exchange policy and practice, as well as the composition of the staff by qualifications, age etc.
The Library Committee submitted its reports to the plenary session, where the Parliament debated, passed or modified or voted against them. When the report as proposed was passed and promulgated, it was enacted and its enforcement was obligatory.
From 1920 the preparatory work of the Library Committee meetings was one of the duties of the Librarian (Chief Librarian/Director General). As the secretary of the Committee, he collected the previous reports, the future plan and the problems to be discussed. Then he agreed a date for the meeting with the Speaker, and sent an invitation letter to the committee members.
Further ordinary agenda items included:
Other items discussed were:
The Librarian's role was to serve as rapporteur. The proposals and reports submitted on the basis of the agenda were discussed by the committee members who accepted them or in some cases modified or voted against them. Each committee member had the right to propose an initiative. These proposals concerned mainly purchasing or cancelling documents, often linked to the particular information needs of one MP. When the Speaker agreed that the proposal was for the general good the demand was voted. Some proposals submitted by MPs were hopeless projects - all the proposals were commented upon by the Librarian before the decision was taken.
All meetings were minuted and the minutes signed by the president of the Library Committee and the secretary, and confirmed by the committee members elected at the beginning of each meetings. These confirmed committee minutes became very important sources of the library's history.
b) The standing rules of the meetings of the Library Committees were also important. The rules on frequency of meetings guaranteed regular committee activity, and provided for the annual survey of the implementation of the previous Committee's decisions and how the most important problems were handled.
c) The change of members happened gradually. At the beginning of a new session only a few new members were elected, the majority remained from the former committee. Usually at least a third the Library Committee members did not change which allowed transmission of experience, and professional and local knowledge, from one Library Committee to the next. The member who recorded the longest service in the acquisition subcommittee was reelected four times.
d) The relation between the Speaker and the library was continuous and the executive power of the Speaker/President of the Committee ensured that library activity continued between committee meetings.
e) Recording the actions and decisions of the Library Committee for the minutes, and archiving them was important, as was the annual report of the Committee submitted to the plenary session.
The participation rate of members varied, meetings were characterized by a rate of 50%. On some occasions almost all committee members were present, but sometimes the quorum was threatened (the required quorum was one third of the members). (5) In all parliamentary sessions there were some committee members who did not participate at any meeting of the Committee. Perhaps they were not interested, or they could have had other more important duties or they were acquainted with neither the library's nor the Library Committee's activities. On the other hand a number of MPs attended all committee meetings.
In the Autumn of 1996 the Speaker established a Library Advisory Board consisting of MPs delegated from each of the parliamentary party groups. The independent MPs are not involved, their interests are only indirectly represented. The Speaker is the President of the Library Advisory Board and the Librarian is the secretary. The Board consists of 8 members. The professions of the Library Advisory Board are: lawyers (3), historians (2), librarian (1), teachers (2), and engineer (1). (6) The Secretary General, the financial and the computer system managers, and the library directors participate regularly in the meetings. This board has its tradition in the earlier committees of the Hungarian Parliament. After its renaissance in 1996 it adopted a number of important resolutions. The Board has advisory and initiative competence without a supervising right. It has approved annual plans and reports, increased the acquisition budget, submitted a proposal for legislation on the legal deposit of materials published in the Parliament's jurisdiction, and founded a special library prize.
The Hungarian Parliament ended its sessional activity (1994-1998) in the middle of March 1998 because of the general parliamentary elections to be held in May. It is not yet clear how the Advisory Board will continue to fulfil its role, in principle we can expect the reestablishment of the Library Advisory Board or a new (standing?) Library Committee with a faster legal framework.
Everyone will realize that the competence of the Library Committee has a close connection with its composition. On that competence depends the achievement of a consensus between MP's and the parliamentary administration. A Library Committee can be a policymaking and oversight body, it can provide strategic guidance and goals for the library. At the same time it can offer practical assistance in order to ensure timely and correct information services to MP's, for instance in relation to the extension of copying rights and the particular application of copyright in a parliamentary library. The Library Committee can help to ensure the legal deposit of materials published via traditional ways or in electronic form. The Library Committee's activities can be very positive for the library, because the results and benefits will derive from the common experience of the library and of its users.
Questions remain after this analysis and case study: "How do parliamentary libraries which do not have any kind of Library Committee function?"; "To whom does the Librarian in this instance report?"; "What is the experience of parliamentary libraries whose supervisory body has been abolished?". This paper is unlikely to be the last word on legislative library committees.
Jonas, Karoly - Veredy Katalin. Az Orszaggyulesi Konyvtar tortenete 1870-1995. Budapest, Hungary; Magyar Orszaggyules, 1996. 492 p.
Quistorff, Annalise. The role of Members of Parliament in parliamentary library administration. Paper in IFLA '97, Folketing Day, 1997. 1-8.