Only a few steps away from the main entrance and the Great Hall in Parliament Buildings you’ll find the Assembly Library. It’s part of the Assembly’s Research and Information Service (RaISe) which exists to assist the work of the Members in their parliamentary business as well as the Assembly’s secretariat.
When I was up at the Assembly last Tuesday, I spoke to Ingrid Mercer (Senior Librarian) and Michael (a research officer) about their work.
RaISe provides MLAs and their staff with “a neutral, non-partisan research service”, producing constituency profiles, bill papers in advance of legislation being debated, analysis papers for committees with comparative analysis looking at how other legislatures and jurisdictions are tackling issues, as well as looking back at how previous NI parliaments have approached topics. (Many of the papers are publicly available through the NI Assembly website).
The Assembly Library holds tomes holding NI legislation and debates, Hansard volumes dating back to the 1830s, and debates from Dáil and Seanad Éireann, as well as more modern reference books and statistical material from across the EU.
The library had been part of the whistle-stop tour of the building on the evening of the Assembly’s tweet-up back in March. On that occasion a random flick through parliamentary papers from 1973 turned up a cheeky attempt to move meetings of the Assembly from Stormont to Armagh!
Nowadays, RaISe receives and processes around five thousand enquiries each year from MLAs and their staff. Requests can be for specific information and statistics, details of organisations working in particular sectors, and even MLAs chancing their arm looking for jokes for after dinner speeches (who are pointed to some books in the library’s shelves).
Like all modern libraries, there’s a growing focus on electronic services. While the background briefing packs are distributed to MLAs and their staff on the Assembly’s intranet, some Members still prefer paper copies.
RaISe staff are now visiting each MLA constituency offices on an annual basis to market the available resources and encourage timely self service use.
And yes, MLAs don’t always leave their books back on time …
(In the interview embedded above, the biography of Isaac Butt was mentioned. Wikipedia provides enlightenment explaining Butt was a 19th century unionist and Orangeman who switched to support a federal political system for the British Isles that would give Ireland a greater degree of self-rule. This led to his involvement in Irish nationalist politics and the foundation of the Home Rule League.)