Research Librarians at the Library of Parliament.

Author:Dewing, Michael
 
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When you have questions, the Library of Parliament's research librarians can help you find answers. As a part of the Library's Parliamentary Information and Research Service (PIRS), some of these research librarians are embedded in its multidisciplinary sections while others are based in the Library's five branches. In this article, the authors trace the emergence of research librarians back to the early days of widespread Internet use, explain how their role has evolved, and offer examples of how they collaborate with the library's analysts to provide information products and training. They conclude by noting this organizational structure provides librarians with opportunities to develop expertise in a given subject area and provides analysts with the support they need to serve individual parliamentarians and parliamentary committees and associations.

Research Librarians: Who They Are and What They Do

Many people are familiar with the Library of Parliament's iconic building on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, which until the Centre Block closed for renovations in early 2019, housed a collection of some 600,000 items and served as the Library's main branch.

However, people tend to know much less about the Library's research role. During 2017-2018, in addition to responding to some 11,900 information and reference requests, library staff answered 5,600 research and analysis requests for parliamentary committees, associations and individual parliamentarians. The responses to these requests range from concise emails to substantial background papers and draft reports for parliamentary committees and associations.

These responses for research and analysis are provided by the staff of the Library's Parliamentary Information and Research Service (PIRS), of which research librarians are an integral part. Indeed, 15 of the Library's roughly 30 research librarians are embedded in PIRS's multidisciplinary sections. The rest are based in the Library's five branches, which are located in several buildings in the Parliamentary Precinct.

PIRS has two research divisions, each made up of six sections. These sections deal with subject matters that are aligned with the mandates of parliamentary committees. Examples of sections include the Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Section; the Resources, Energy and Transport Section and the Economic, Fiscal and Monetary Policy Section.

Each section is made up of between six and ten analysts (economists, lawyers, social scientists and scientists who are subject matter experts), research assistants, interns and embedded research librarians. The research librarians have an undergraduate degree plus a master's degree in Library Science or Library and Information Science.

The embedded research librarians respond directly to reference questions from parliamentary clients and support the activities of the analysts and research assistants. They also develop their own subject-matter expertise, which relates to the subject areas of their section.

For instance, research librarians embedded in the Gender, Health and Social Affairs Section develop expertise on healthcare, labour, employment, income security, disability issues, and social policies. They may be called upon to respond to requests on related topics, such as medical treatments or diseases, aging and seniors, homelessness, gender-responsive budgeting, unemployment, the taxation of charities, or the medical or social implications of cannabis use.

Integration into Multidisciplinary Teams

PIRS's multidisciplinary sections were created in the early 2000s, when people began turning to the Internet to find the information they needed.

At that time, service delivery at the Library was divided into two branches. Librarians were part of...

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