House of Commons Commission - Twenty-fourth Annual Report

Twenty-fourth Annual Report 2001-02

House of Commons Library

1. Introduction

The Department of the Library supports the House, its committees and individual Members (and their staff) through the provision of research, analysis and information services. All work for individual Members is designed to support their requirements in relation to their parliamentary duties.

The Library provides information to the public through the House of Commons Information Office, the Parliamentary Education Unit and the production of materials for the Parliament and Explore Parliament websites. The Library produces on-line and printed indexes to parliamentary proceedings and documentation and maintains the House's definitive sets of parliamentary papers, the Official Report and certain other categories of official material.

The Library's overriding priority for 2001-02 was to maintain and, where possible, enhance the standards of service for Members and other users and to do so efficiently within the resources available. The Department's principal goal has been to maintain its 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. It has also sought to improve cost effectiveness in order to meet increased demand, and greater sophistication of demand, while minimising the need for additional staff and other resources.

While the Library's core functions remained broadly unchanged during the year, the expectations of Members and their staff (in common with those of other communities) continued to increase rapidly, in terms of access to information that they expect to have, the ease with which it can be accessed, and the range of ways in which it can be delivered. In recent years such developments have had a substantial impact on how the Library operates and this process of change accelerated during the reporting year. Key aspects of these changes were identified as:

  • the continuing high rate of growth in the amount of information available. Its huge volume demonstrates the important role of the Library in presenting information in a usable form best suited to the requirements of Members of Parliament;
  • the growing scope for direct access by users both at Westminster and in the constituencies to Library-provided information, for which they need appropriate training and support;
  • the continuing need to provide a full range of subject specialists, while ensuring that the available technology supports their knowledge-based activities and specialist skills;
  • the need for Library staff to maintain their existing expertise while mastering new developments and learning new procedures;
  • the increased interest in Parliament from the public and schools in a context where greater ease of access to information is expected by users and where they will have a statutory right of access under freedom of information legislation; and
  • the development of e-government and the need to ensure that the Library's systems can handle the growing volume of official information that is available only in electronic form.

This changing information environment has had an impact on the measurement of the Library's activities. 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 a policy of making material directly accessible to users wherever possible, means that enquiry numbers have become only a partial (though still important) indicator. Similarly, a decline in the number of printed research papers has been more than matched by a very substantial increase in the number of "standard notes" (shorter, more informal briefing papers). Both research papers and standard notes are increasingly used in electronic form.

Library staff at work

During 2001-02 a significant re-organisation of the Library's material on the Intranet took place, which has made it more accessible to users. Satisfactory measures of the use of Library material on the Intranet and Internet are still in their early stages of development, but the information available so far is encouraging.

The general election in June 2001 had a downward impact on most of the Library's activity measures, with the number of enquiries recorded in the first quarter of 2001-02 being only about half the level of the same period in the previous year. The Library played a full part in the planning and provision of the induction programme for new Members following the election.

2. Plans and achievements

The following text records achievements against the Department's business plan for


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 enquiries is to reply by the specified deadline while undeadlined enquiries are to be answered within two weeks of receipt. Statistics showing performance against this target are not available since the vast majority of reference enquiries (which, by definition, are very short-term) are not recorded. The Library is unaware of any significant problems with performance in this area.

Members & their staff
Year Members' Library (a) Derby Gate Library
1998-99 22,458(b) 31,479
1999-00 34,759 30,758
2000-01 30,200(c) 25,500(c)
2001-02 30,360 22,808
Notes: (a) Excludes Book & Video Service enquiries.
(b) From January 1999, telephone enquiry data were collected automatically. Figures are not directly comparable with those derived manually for earlier periods.
(c) Estimate due to recording system problems.


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.

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 biannual week-long surveys of demand allow estimates of the total number of requests dealt with during the year to be made. The targets for the research service as a whole are to answer all deadlined enquiries within the deadline and all undeadlined enquiries within two weeks. In 2001-02 97% of logged deadlined enquiries were answered by the deadline and 87% of logged undeadlined enquiries were answered within two weeks.


Recorded ('logged') enquiries
of which:
with deadline without deadline
% answered % answered
Total number by deadline number within two
1998-99 15,017 10,454 95% 4,563 80%
1999-00 14,947 10,347 97% 4,600 86%
2000-01 13,345 8,743 96% 4,602 87%
2001-02 10,832 6,103 97% 4,729 87%

In 2001-02 the Library published 96 research papers. Research papers were produced before the Commons second reading debate on all but one Bill.[2] A new type of paper, Social Indicators, was produced. As well as appearing in conventional form, both printed and electronically, the paper is supported by Intranet pages from which the underlying data can be downloaded, alongside additional information, on a constantly updated basis.

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" enquiries 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 2001-02 efforts have continued to develop and improve the Library's services available on the Intranet. A new subject-based approach to finding information was launched in spring 2001, bringing together under appropriate headings information from disparate sources, including research papers, standard notes, statistics and links to relevant external websites. A new system for tracking standard notes, and for publishing them on the Intranet, was introduced at the end of the year, reflecting their increasing importance both as timely and efficient ways of providing information to Members and their staff, and ­ along with other primarily electronic resources ­ of managing demand. Interactive services on the Intranet have been further developed: the most popular, constituency profiles, received around 3,000 requests in 2001-02, while the number of logged requests for such profiles has fallen from around 130 in 1998-99 to fewer than five this year.

Research papers
Number of Standard accessed from Standard notes
research notes on the the Intranet or accessed from
papers Intranet (a) Internet the Intranet
1998-99 117 31 n.a. n.a.
1999-00 116 224 n.a. n.a.
2000-01 100 510 n.a. n.a.
2001-02 96 788 420,000 (b) 29,000 (b)
Note: (a) At year end. Data for 2001-02 are notes with published status on the Enquiries Database.
(b) Estimated.

During the year, the Library introduced procedures to ensure that it complies with the provisions of the Data Protection Act, especially in connection with its advice to Members regarding constituency casework.


While the main focus has been on improving the organisation and delivery of electronic resources over the Intranet, the Library continued to develop the services it provides to maximise the return on the investment made. The POLIS service, which includes components managed by the Library on behalf of other departments, the House of Lords Library and the devolved assemblies, has been extended to include links to the full text of many parliamentary publications; and a version of the POLIS database was made available on the Internet in spring 2001.

A new service, "Bill Information Pages", is presently being piloted on the Intranet. These pages provide a 'one-stop shop' for information on most major government bills and some private members' bills. Material is drawn from Library publications, other parliamentary sources, government departments and elsewhere. The Library has also continued to develop its Parliamentary Current Awareness Service on the Intranet. In 2001-02 it received some 4,200 requests.

The Library has been extensively involved in preparatory work for the Parliamentary Information Management Services (PIMS) project. This is being developed as part of the House-wide information management strategy, and is intended to build on the foundation of the present POLIS service to expand the range of information readily available to users within and outside Parliament. The systems that result from the project will, among other things, provide a replacement for the POLIS database. It is hoped that approval of the business case will be given in summer 2002.

The IS Section's target of ensuring 99.5% availability of the main POLIS services during scheduled availability hours was exceeded in 2001-02. The target of not more than four service incidents per year was met, but the target of such breaks lasting for not more than 30 minutes' downtime per incident was missed on one occasion.

Year Transactions
IT training on POLIS
Items added course (Current)
to POLIS(a) attendees Intranet
1998-99 108,238 801 n.a.
1999-00 106,848 955 n.a.
2000-01 128,531 560 n.a.
2001-02 124,939 961 137,634
Note: (a) Includes items added on behalf of devolved legislatures. Excludes book and pamphlet records from October 2000.


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. 2001-02 was the first full year in which the Library's computerised loans system was in operation. This has enabled automatic generation of renewal and recall letters facilitating a faster turnover of stock and the recall of loans during the dissolution period.

Year Book loans Tapes and Deadlines
Total From our stock transcripts missed for
Number Per cent acquired items
1998-99 4,433 3,755 85% 298 17%
1999-00 4,312 3,617 84% 391 7%
2000-01 (a) 3,837 3,282 86% 343 14%
2001-02 3,560 2,670 75% 280 11%
Note: (a) The Service was closed for three months in connection with the reclassification project.


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 from autumn 2002 and the need to exploit the opportunities offered by new technology, particularly the Internet.

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 2001-02 71% of calls were answered within 20 seconds, a substantial improvement on the 62% recorded in 2000-01.

Year Total of which:
Telephone Written
Total By
1998-99 111,973 107,484 4,489 3,811
1999-00 113,687 107,348 6,339 5,751
2000-01 (a) 93,013 83,752 9,261 8,783
2001-02 83,015 72,292 10,723 10,205
Note: (a) There was some under-recording of calls in early 2001 due to technical problems with the Automatic Call Distribution systems.

Within the total number of HCIO enquiries the switch away from telephone calls towards e-mails continued. In 2001-02 the HCIO received 10,205 requests via e-mail compared to 8,783 in 2000-01, an increase of 16%. Part of the decline in telephone enquiries in 2001-02 can be explained by the introduction of a message option system during the year. Callers who know which Member they want to speak to are now diverted straight to the Westminster switchboard rather than being connected to the Information Office in the first instance.
The Education Unit's Explore Parliament website was highly commended in the accessibility category of the 2002 Government Internet Forum Awards. The Unit's new video, Parliament Uncovered, won the silver award in the education video category of the 2002 IVCA Corporate Visual Communication Awards.


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 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, the Library 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 business case that proposes to digitise Hansard of both Houses from 1804 until 1989 (since when it has been available electronically) to make it available on the Internet is to be submitted early in 2002-03.

Priscilla Baines

1   This Statement of purpose was adopted during 2001-02 in accordance with the House's new strategy Back
2    Excluding Reading, Consolidated and private member's bills except those in the top seven of the ballot Back

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