Madam Chair, honourable senators and members, thank you for inviting me here to provide you with an overview of the work of the Library of Parliament, our plans for the future and some of our current priorities.
The Library's unique raison d'être is to provide information to Parliament. We work hard each day to be your preferred and trusted source of independent, accurate and non-partisan information and knowledge.
We offer research, analysis, information and documentation services to help you fulfill your roles as legislators and representatives.
We also provide information products and services, such as guided tours, the Teachers Institute on Canadian Parliamentary Democracy, and our call centre, that help you make Parliament accessible to the public.
Our annual budget is roughly $40 million, 80% of which is dedicated to the salaries of the 400 highly trained researchers, librarians, and other information specialists who directly support the work you do.
Copies of our independently audited financial statements are here for your reference and will be distributed later.
As Parliamentary Librarian, I'm accountable for managing the library and all of its various services. I report to the Speakers of the Senate and the House of Commons, who in turn may rely on this committee for advice and recommendations regarding the direction and control of the organization.
The library was established at the time of Confederation, and over the past 140 years its operations have evolved significantly to meet the changing needs and expectations of parliamentarians. The traditional library functions of collecting, cataloguing, and conserving have been supplemented by research services and public programs.
Three years ago, shortly after I began as Parliamentary Librarian, the library set out a plan for institutional renewal, with three priorities to help us become a more modern, efficient, transparent, and effective knowledge organization. The first priority was modernizing our knowledge management capacity, the second was strengthening our management support capacity, and the third was putting in place a new Parliamentary Budget Officer function.
Behind this broad-based renewal initiative remains a desire to respond to your demand for more analysis, synthesis, and interpretation in more flexible and customized formats. But we also recognize that delivering enhanced services to parliamentarians requires rebuilding the library's neglected administrative infrastructure and management culture. We are determined to demonstrate the greater accountability and transparency expected of public organizations today and to model best practices in managing people, resources, and relationships with our clients.
So how have we done? Over the past year, we've increased our ability to manage and share knowledge. We have completed the consolidation of our corporate infrastructure and have enhanced corporate support to managers and staff, the foundation on which we offer services to parliamentarians.
We know that systematic consultations with parliamentarians are essential if we're going to provide you with the right information in the right format at the right time. This is why we launched our client consultation program last year, with an independent audit carried out by Harris/Decima, a perception audit surveying clients about what they are looking for from library products and services. Copies of that research summary are here for you today as well.
To remain open to innovation and to improve services to Parliament, it is important that we develop networks with our colleagues around the world. This past summer, from August 6 to 8, I hosted a conference called, “Legislative Libraries: Partners in Democracy”, which brought legislative librarians and heads of research services from over 30 countries together with our parliamentary clients, including several members of this committee who attended, to examine issues of mutual concern.
The themes we introduced in August were further developed at a conference in October, organized by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, along with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and the Association of Secretaries General of Parliaments. Working in partnership with the IPU and the ASGP and extending this dialogue in the broader parliamentary context affords a unique opportunity for parliamentarians, secretaries general, and staff from parliamentary libraries and research services to collectively debate and explore shared challenges.
At a time when events are moving at lightning speed, clients need access to timely information, not only on the issues with which Parliament is currently seized, but also on those that might take centre stage in upcoming debates.
This past year, the library restructured its research services to create a new reference and strategic analysis division. This new division will undertake forward-looking issue monitoring that will deliver specific information to parliamentarians when they need it. The Canada-U.S. relations compendium that was produced and distributed to parliamentarians prior to President Obama's visit last month is one example of the types of products and services that this division can produce and that parliamentarians can expect to see more of in the future.
The perception audit showed that parliamentarians want more frequent learning opportunities on everything from public policy issues to how to answer constituents' questions. They are also seeking different vehicles for learning, including via podcast or pre-recorded seminars.
Last year we partnered with the House of Commons and offered seminars to new parliamentarians and parliamentary staff following the recent election. In working with the new strategic analysis unit, we are setting out a program of relevant and timely learning events in concert with our issue monitoring.
Our vision for a virtual library is taking shape. We are finalizing an overall digital strategy. We are finalizing also a partnership with Library and Archives Canada to digitize the debates of both chambers that are currently unavailable in electronic form.
As part of the virtual library, we're developing a parliamentary newsroom, an innovation that will make it easier for you and your staff to get the current events information you need electronically, including enhanced alerts that provide full-text access to news stories via your BlackBerrys. The newsroom will supplement traditional publications, such as Quorum, with other customizable products that provide access to current research, news, and emerging issues. We will be piloting our supporting software internally over the spring and summer and expect to launch the newsroom to parliamentarians in September 2009.
Let me quickly touch on three critical issues that you should be aware of as members of this committee: the realignment of our research services; the rebooting of our IT capacity; and the implementation of the Parliamentary Budget Officer functions.
First I'll deal with the realignment of research services.
As you may know, the library does analytical work for over 48 parliamentary committees and subcommittees and plays an advisory role to more than 12 parliamentary associations and other interparliamentary groups. We respond to thousands of individual requests from members and senators, from looking up data and finding articles to explaining programs and legislation and developing legislative proposals for private members bills.
We have currently restructured the research services to meet the management challenges of a medium-sized organization and to cope with the impact of the retiring boomer generation.
Given the modest level of new resources allocated in the 2009-10 main estimates, we have implemented this restructuring largely through internal reallocation of existing resources. We remain committed to sustaining service levels for now, but with an eye for the future we are developing for this committee's consideration an action plan to deal with short-term pressures and ensure the sustainability of research services in the medium to long term, including more adequate support for analysts and succession planning.
The second critical issue is the rebooting of our IT capacity.
It's no surprise to you all that technology has brought a world of resources to your desktops and has revolutionized the way you use information and altered your expectations about service delivery.
Today, serving you effectively at the Library of Parliament means providing you with accurate, relevant information through fast, secure, and reliable Internet-based applications. The reality, however, is that the library's current IM and IT architecture is outdated, inefficient, and inadequate to this task. It prevents us from responding to an increasingly technology-savvy Parliament, wastes employees' valuable time, and limits our ability to digitize historical volumes before they become degraded beyond repair. If we are going to maximize the use of technology to conduct our business, our renewal agenda requires investment over the next few years.
We are reviewing our plans to identify our most critical requirements and are hoping, again, to fund some advancement in reallocation of existing resources.
Let me turn now to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the PBO. The library's role in planning and implementing this new function has always been guided by the law and by our ethos of providing independent analysis and non-partisan advice to Parliament and to parliamentarians. A plain reading of the relevant statutory provisions within the Parliament of Canada Act shows that the PBO is an officer of the library and is subject to the control and management of the librarian and not a stand-alone office. Of course, it is always open to lawmakers to reconsider this role or the status of the PBO, to rethink his responsibilities, and, in light of this thought, to amend the Parliament of Canada Act.
To this end I have written the Speakers and suggested that a panel of distinguished former parliamentarians be appointed to consider such changes and offer recommendations for your consideration. I believe the Speakers have referred my letter to this committee. Should Parliament exercise its prerogative to amend the act, I will stand ready to contribute in any way I can to achieving the most effective outcome. Meanwhile, the library is striving to carry out the intent of the legislation regarding the PBO as it is presently written.
My focus as librarian is on integrating the overall resources available, including those for the PBO, to achieve the maximum support to parliamentarians. Indeed I believe that by clearly understanding and implementing the mandate assigned to this new officer, the library is better positioned than ever to provide parliamentarians with the independent, objective, and comprehensive information that good decision-making requires.
In closing, let me say that your insights are essential in helping the library meet the needs of Parliament effectively, not simply in the case of the PBO but with regard to all the services we provide.
I look forward to your support as we continue to plan and implement services in support of a 21st century Parliament.
I cannot finish without paying tribute to my colleagues and to the staff. It is a privilege for me to work with these devoted, professional, non-partisan and, let it be said, highly intelligent people. They certainly keep me on my toes.
I will also be leaving behind a briefing book that will help you to delve a little deeper into questions and issues that may be of particular interest to you.
Thank you again for your invitation to appear today.
I like the rules of the Senate.
Some Hon. Members: Ha, ha, ha!
Hon. Mauril Bélanger: Nevertheless, I will limit the number of my questions. Madam Joint Chair, the first thing I would like to discuss is this.
I've moved the motion that was before us on the steering committee—it's been adopted—and I would hope we would be in a position fairly shortly to have it struck and to engage in the development of a work plan along the lines of what you've defined, that is, the issues that are before us: the estimates, of course, that we will be delving into, but the budgetary process with the budget officer, and also the mandate and the relationship of that. That's fine.
I would like us to start this task quite quickly and to discuss the committee's procedure with regard to the time allotted to each person who asks questions. We can ask the steering committee to make a suggestion in that regard.
I'm not good at sticking my head in the sand, nor at putting it on a chopping block, so I'm going to try to proceed in a careful manner, to establish a baseline of information from which we can all then try to come to grips with the issues before us. Let's not kid ourselves, there are some issues that we as a committee have been asked to offer advice to the Speakers about.
Mr. Young, there are two or three matters of interest that could help us in our future deliberations.
First, what is the process for establishing the budget of the Library and the budget of the officer we are discussing, the budget officer? What is the budget process in these two cases?
Internally, what is the process for setting priorities? I imagine that, at some point, there are more requests than resources. That is quite a normal situation.
How does the Library set the order of those priorities? The same question applies both to the Library and to the budget officer.
Is there a code, and if so, how was it established? Would you share it with us? If not, what is the procedure used to establish how individual demands that are presented to either the budget officer or to the research capacity of the library, other than the budget officer, are responded to, mechanically, that is?
If I put in a request, for instance—and I have not yet with the budget officer, but I have frequently with the research component—I expect the response to come to me and then I'll dispose of it. What procedures are in place for the budget office and how have they been set? These are the three areas, with the time and perhaps in response to other questions, that I'd like to explore so that this information baseline can be useful, as I said, in subsequent discussions that we're bound to have.
I'll start with number two first, because the priorities actually have an impact on the budget process and some of the decision-making there.
Normally what happens is we have a retreat—we had one last spring, we've had one not that long ago—that looks at what we have accomplished during the year. This is the executive committee of the Library of Parliament, so that is the director general of corporate services, the assistant parliamentary librarian, the head of IDRS—the library functions, Information and Document Resource Service—me, the director of finance, and the director general of learning and access services. We go through what we have accomplished or what we expect to have accomplished by the end of the year and what we expect to be our priorities for the following year.
Once those priorities are established, we then look at funding issues. The managers are given a management letter, a performance agreement is signed shortly after the beginning of the year incorporating these priorities, and they're responsible for meeting those priorities by the end of the subsequent year.
The budget process flows from that exercise, and each senior manager is expected to prepare business cases for existing and new initiatives, which go before the executive committee. Those business cases are looked at and analyzed. Then we have a series of meetings. I have one-on-ones with the individuals, and then we have a series of meetings with the executive committee, where we put together a budget basically prepared, aggregated by the director general of corporate services and the director of finance at the library.
Once that estimate submission is prepared sometime in the fall, I go to a meeting with the Speaker of the House of the Commons and the Speaker of the Senate, accompanied by, usually, the director of finance and the assistant parliamentary librarian, where we present the business cases and the summary budget and estimate submission for their consideration. This has sometimes involved some to-ing and fro-ing. Finally, the Speakers will agree on what the library's budget for the subsequent fiscal year should be. They sign off. That is transmitted to Treasury Board.
That, I hope, answers questions one and two.
How are individual demands responded to? Well, across the library we have what we call the central inquiry service, which we're encouraging members of Parliament to use. It depends on whether the demands come from a committee, in which case they're transmitted directly to the analysts that support that committee, or whether they come as a request, for example, for policy work that could be used in the preparation of a private member's bill. In this case, hopefully they would go to the central inquiry service, which serves as an intake point. Then they're transmitted through to the managers and to the appropriate analyst or subject matter specialist who will undertake that work.
Requests for the Parliamentary Budget Officer, I believe, go directly to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, so essentially they are not tracked in the same way. When the requests from members come in, they go into a tracking system to ensure the request is responded to in an appropriate and timely way. With the Parliamentary Budget Officer, those requests don't go through that tracking system. I am not aware of how those are handled.