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 – http://archive.ifla.org

IFLANET home - International Federation of Library Associations and InstitutionsAnnual ConferenceSearchContacts

62nd IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 25-31, 1996

Parliamentary Libraries and Research Services: Cooperation, Coordination, and Future Directions

Dr. Dobrin Kanev


Margarita Anguelova



At the end of the twentieth century, the old Chinese dictum, "Knowledge is power", leads to conclusions which may differ in the details but are identical in their essence-- if the parliament wants to play an active and significant political role, it needs more knowledge and information, i.e. it needs its own informational resources. (1)

The first parliamentary information-brokers were the librarians: in fact about 20 percent of the currently existing parliamentary libraries were established during the nineteenth century. (These are 29 countries out of the 145 listed in the 5th edition of the World Directory of National Parliamentary Libraries.) (2)

Today, many of the parliaments in the world have not only libraries but also their own research units. The questionnaire of the World Directory of National Parliamentary Libraries, cited above, for the first time includes a question about the analytical and research activity of the different parliaments. In 70 cases (about 50 percent) there is a positive answer. In 32 cases it is indica ted that this activity is carried out by the libraries, and in 24, by a separate unit. (3) Three years later the situation should have changed significantly towards the establishment of new research units. Libraries and Research Services at the Parliaments in the New Democracies in Central and Eastern Europe: The Problem of Improving Information Capabilities

What holds true for parliaments in general, is especially valid for the parliaments in the new democracies, due to the particular importance of the legislatures during the transition to democracy and democratic consolidation.

Most of the "patterns of transition" and forms of government adopted in the Central and East European countries rely (naturally to a different extent) on the key role of the parliament in the democratization process.

At the same time, there is an intrinsic paradox: the parliament emerges not only as the most important but also as one of the most unpopular institutions. The level of trust in it can dramatically and dangerously decrease. The existence of such a contradiction can be explained in different ways. (4) One of the explanations consists in the contradiction between the central role of the parliament and its weak potential to meet the requirements of this role and effectively perform it. Here the term "potential" denotes all the research, information and expert activities as well as the technical equipment that is needed to assist the legislators in their work.

Hence, it is not a surprise that in the last few years there have been significant changes in parliamentary administrations in East European countries, which to a great extent have affected precisely that sphere of their activity. During the five or six years of intensive parliamentary life, different countries have chosen different approaches to enlarge their information potential.

In a recent comparative study of parliamentary libraries and research services, William Robinson and Janice Hyde examined 15 out of 27 countries from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The outcomes of the survey show that all of the national parliaments have libraries. Research and analysis services are provide to nine parliaments and the remaining five have definite plans to establish research and analysis capabilities in the future.

In seven countries (47 percent of the respondents) the Parliamentary Library functions as a separate unit within the parliament. Two national libraries are functioning as the Parliamentary Library, and in six cases, the library forms a part of a larger "information' unit or, as in the case of Ukraine, Computerized Information Center.

In almost all instances (eight out of nine) research for the parliament is provided by a separate department, and in only one case (Moldova) is the research service integrated with the library and other documentation services. (5)

A Case Study: The Research Department and Library at the Bulgarian National Assembly

Bulgaria is a very good example for an assessment of these changes. Following major Constitutional and structural changes, the Bulgarian National Assembly found itself with limited abilities to obtain and process effective and accurate information and research. the accumulated expert knowledge (to the extent that it existed at all) was dispersed or was not viewed by all MPs as reliable and impa rtial. (6) Through the improvement of the Parliamentary Library's activities and the establishment of the Research Department, a long-felt need was met and parliamentary research and information capabilities were strengthened.

The Library

The current collections of the Library of the Bulgarian National Assembly are wide-ranging in theme, with a total of about 100,000 volumes. The annual acquisitions are about 1,000 volumes. Currently there are about 240 periodicals (journals and newspapers). The main subject areas are law, legislation, public administration, economics, politics, international affairs, and history. The library c ollections include books, periodicals, documents of the National Assembly (published and unpublished), Bulgarian official publications, documents of Bulgarian political parties and organizations, publications of foreign parliaments and international organizations, and papers from conferences and seminars.

The library provides various information services: bibliographic, reference, and full-text information about Members of Parliament, legislative activities, Bulgarian laws, foreign laws and legal acts of the international organizations, activities of foreign parliaments, socio-political events in the country and abroad, biographic information, statistical information, information packages on speci fic topics. The library indexes periodicals and other sources and enters the information into computer data bases.

The library has also its own publications. It uses different data bases: those created in the Library, in other departments of the parliament, and those drawn from other institutions; some of these data bases are full-text systems. The library data bases are Micro CDS/ISIS systems.

There are about 60,000 documents in 17 data bases in the library. Everyone in the computer network of the parliament has free access to them. The library also is beginning to build an integrated library system by means of TINLIB. Its computerized catalog is in operation. The Library of the National Assembly is one of the first in Bulgaria to use CD ROM technology.

The staff of the Library is eight people -- seven with university education in different fields and qualifications in library and scientific information and one with a college librarian education.

The Research Department

The establishment of a research department in the Bulgarian National Assembly was first discussed at the Round Table Talks (January - May 1990). But for different reasons the accomplishment of that task was delayed. Finally, in early 1995, after the Thirty-seventh National Assembly passed its Standing Rules and began to function, the research department of the Bulgarian National Assembly was cr eated.

In February 1995 the general concept for the functions of a research department and its organizational structure were approved, and the head of the department was appointed. The research department began to function productively in late spring of 1995. The conceptual design of the research department was implemented on the basis of the regulations and practices of research units in the legislatu res of the established democracies, but at the same time consideration was given to the unique Bulgarian situation.

Rather than choose to be part of a larger information service structure (which includes all research, library, and reference services), The Bulgarian National Assembly decided to have a separate, independent research unit similar to the pattern followed in the parliaments of the United States, Sweden, and Poland. That choice ensures the opportunity to form an autonomous unit with specific functi ons and to work on major problems related to the current and especially the future activity of the parliament.

In order to fulfill its mission a research department must have a sufficient number of staff and especially an adequate research staff. The number of researchers in the most developed parliamentary research units is as follows. The United States has 440 (780 total staff); Brazil, 180; Argentina, 100; Poland, more than 90; Canada, more than 60; Germany, 58 (total staff, 400); Australia, 55; Euro pean Parliament, 35-40; United Kingdom, 35.

According to the Congressional Research Service that serves the U.S. Congress, the minimum number of researchers needed by any parliamentary service is about 50. Having sufficient staff is the only way for effective performance of a wide variety of research and reference activities. For example, according to the initial project the Research Bureau of the Polish Sejm was supposed to have about 20 employees, but even during the initial stage of its establishment the staff number reached 80.

When choosing the size of its research department the Bulgarian National Assembly opted for gradual development (not for a "massive start" as in the Polish case). One year after its formation the department staff numbers five persons. The nature of the research department (especially when it has a limited number of staff) presupposes much higher requirements for the personnel qualifications (e. g., indisputable reputation as experts in their own scientific field of expertise; interdisciplinary skills; an expanding circle of professional contacts through which needed information can be acquired; fluency in more than one foreign language). Thus one of the most crucial decisions that has to be made by the research department with regard to its effective functioning is the qualification of its personnel, as well as the balanced recruitment of experts in different subject fields.

Another important initial decision is the choice of internal organizational structure of the department. Generally two options are available: organization by subject matter or according to performed organizational functions. From the beginning the Bulgarian Parliamentary Research Department tended to follow a "mixed" pattern, combining both approaches. The department has a simple internal stru cture with a minimum number of hierarchical levels, which allows opportunities for future development: a governing body, four subject analyses groups (political systems, law, economics, and European studies), and a documentation service.

The separate "subject analyses" groups are formed by specialists in different fields; they either develop the final product or direct and coordinate projects needed by the deputies at the request of the head of the department. The current structure serves as a core pattern for the expansion of the department.

Another choice to be made is the specification of the products of the research department. It offers the following groups of written products: information packages, analytical reports, world practices (comparative analyses of countries), analytical information, documents, expert opinion, discussion forums, reviews, and references. Within a relatively short period (April 1995-April 1996) a large number of surveys were prepared by the department. It has prepared -- and met the deadlines for committee discussion and plenary debates -- six information packages and thirty-five reports and other products.

Library and Research Service: Problems of Cooperation and Coordination

The library and research department are both essential to the process of providing information to the parliament. These two entities have the same objective and are part of the same process. They differ by type of information provided and by functions and tasks. If the information suppliers (librarians and researchers) are to be of real use by providing timely, non-partisan, objective and rele vant information, there has to be an optimum organization and relationships between them.

The research department works on projects that have a central role in the legislation; as a rule these are more or less medium-term projects. The emphasis is on the accumulation of well-organized and broad-based knowledge (including detailed case studies) needed by the deputies.

Often the parliamentary research starts in the library. While the activities of the research department address the current or future parliamentary work, the library also has its specific historical function: insofar as the history of each country is written partially in its parliament. One of the specific tasks of the library is to ensure that relevant information on current parliamentary acti vities will be available in years to come -- just as today information is accessible about the founding session of the National Assembly and its activities.

To guarantee productive cooperation, functional interrelations, and coordination links, the distribution of the particular obligations of each department has to be clearly defined. The Bulgarian National Assembly has adopted an Algorithm of the Legislative Activity, whereby the tasks of the library and the research department are stated. When a deputy wants to submit a draft bill, he or she begi ns by reviewing the old Bulgarian legislation, foreign legislation, and available commentaries on them. If the bill is submitted by the Council of Ministers the relevant parliamentary committees need additional information. The library usually provides "primary" information -- texts and documents; the research department provides analytical reports. A preliminary legislative program is needed in order to provide useful and timely information, as it enables the preparatory search of relevant information. The Bulgarian National Assembly does not have the practice of adopting a long-term legislative program. But an information-research program is developed for every legislative session on the basis of the Legislative Initiative Program of the Council of Ministers.

According to current practice, several forms of cooperation between the library and the research service can be defined:

  1. collection of the library's "primary' information by the research department (the library's accumulated and currently received information and data bases, especially information about foreign legislation);
  2. joint information products (for example, information packages on local self-government and civil service legislation);
  3. advertising and dissemination of new information products -- all new products of the research department are mentioned in the library's bulletin; and
  4. cooperation in international activities. The research department, in cooperation with the library, organizes symposia and workshops on topics related to different aspects of the functioning of the National Assembly.

A comprehensive review of the international activities of the research department and the library also include the vital, everyday cooperation with the European Center for Parliamentary Research and Documentation. Through these contacts both units maintain their relationships not only with the different European institutions, but also with the research departments in all EC member-countries. Th ere is also contact with the Congressional Research Service, whose representatives have a continuous interest in the library and research department activities, and with the research and reference service of the German Bundestag, which donated electronic equipment for the Bulgarian research department. Similar cooperation with some East European research services has begun, especially with the P olish Sejm and Senate.

An Example: Cooperation and Coordination for Adjustment of Bulgarian Legislation to European Standards

The obligation to approximate Bulgarian law to the law of the European Communities is imposed by the Europe Agreement. Legal standards are needed for commercial, economic, industrial, political, social, and cultural cooperation.

In general the approximation of law should be carried out on two parallel levels: to ensure accordance with the European law of new legal acts and to change the law already in existence in order to adapt it to European standards.

The first of the above mentioned points implies preliminary verification of drafts prepared by whichever entity is authorized to propose new legislation, as well as control of final wording of a particular statute after the closing of the legislative procedure. The second point requires three consecutive steps: in-depth studies on the European law in force, strict definition of the areas of disc ord between the Bulgarian and the European law, and preparation of legislative proposals ensuring the coexistence of these two legal systems.

Obviously the whole process of approximation of law needs effective information and analytical support. Questions related to different aspects of the European integration and the approximation of law can be addressed to both the library and to the research department. These entities that serve the National Assembly have to discover their appropriate roles in performing parliamentary tasks for t he adjustment of Bulgarian legal system to the European one. Keeping in mind that the process of legislative adjustment goes beyond merely legal and technical changes, the research department in addition to these areas of research is considering focusing its efforts on political and legislative challenges in the application of the EC legislation in the different social spheres and on analysis of the legislative adjustment experience of the other associated countries or of those that have recently joined the EC. (See the illustration of how the library and the research department cooperated on the European standards legislation.)

The library thus provides basic information on the content of all relevant European acts. The basic source is provided by the data base CELEX of CD ROM, used since 1992. It is already networked. The research department also brings information on European policies to the Bulgarian Members of Parliament by preparing analytical papers on the development of the integration process. In fact almost every product of the research department includes comments on European legal and political experience; in addition, the processes of European integration are directly analyzed and researched, including the development of the process in associated countries.

Conclusions and Directions for the Future

Until recently the Bulgarian National Assembly was among the legislatures with an old and well-developed library that functioned without a research department. In fact this is the most typical case of evolution and restructuring of the parliamentary information and research capabilities. The establishment of such a department indisputably has advantages: an autonomous research and information r esource for the parliament that can be relied upon for timely and appropriate assistance in the performance of the parliamentary tasks. Thus the legislature has widened its opportunities both for access to information and for exchange of analysis and information with foreign legislatures and international institutions. Only the long-term outcomes of the adopted information and research service model will show whether it is appropriate and efficient or if a different model -- centralization of all activities in a single administrative unit, including several information and research departments -- should be introduced. The mere establishment of a research department has not solved the problem of sufficient supply of research and analyses service to the parliament. The department must work to increase its popularity and use by the deputies and to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of its work. Another challenge is to optimize the coordination and cooperation between the library and the research departme nt. In this regard the possible directions for the future might be generally outlined as follows: early coordination at the planning stages, joint products as a regular practice, and establishment of common operational data bases and indexes.


1. Robinson, William H. and Clay H. Wellborn (editors), Knowledge Power and the Congress,Congressional Research Service Library of Congress, Congressional Quarterly inc. Washington D. C. 1991, p.ix.

2. World Directory of National Parliamentary Libraries, Compiled and edited by Ernst Kohl. Fifth edition. Bonn, Deutscher Budestag, 1994.

3. Ibid.

4. Agh Attila, The Experiences of the First Democratic Parliaments in East Central Europe, IPSA. XVI World Congress, Berlin, 1994.

5. The Role of Parliament for the Consolidation of the New Democracies in Central and Eastern Europe, Dobrin Kanev (editor). Sofia, National Assembly, 1996.

6. Some years ago a group of experts from the U.S. Congressional Research Service, under the direction of William Robinson, offered some suggestions about how to raise the level of the research and information services in the Bulgarian National Assembly, and designed a project for the establishment of a research department in it. The pictured situation was as follows: