Association of Parliamentary Libraries of Australasia
C/- Dr Dianne Heriot
Canberra, ACT, 2600
Parliamentary Libraries were established in the chronological order in which the various Australian States and Territories evolved constitutionally. When first settled by the English, the entire country (or at least what was known of it) was called New South Wales, with Sydney being the chief settlement. As responsible and representative government was achieved by colonies in various parts of the continent, (and adjacent areas), libraries were established in New South Wales (1840); Victoria (1851); Tasmania (1852); South Australia (1854); New Zealand (1855); Queensland (1860); Western Australia (1873); The Commonwealth, on federation of the existing colonies (1901); Papua New Guinea (1968); Northern Territory (1987) and the Australian Capital Territory (1989).
The common heritage for parliamentary libraries established in the British Empire last century was that of the House of Commons at Westminster, and libraries generally tended to be reading rooms for Members, with classical literature in English, Latin, Greek and French accounting for a good part of the collection. While there were varying degrees of reference service available, the number of staff rarely exceeded two or three, and books were loaned to Members to allow them to glean material themselves for whatever speeches they might make. It was literally another age.
The re-organisation of the House of Commons Library after the second world war, the very dynamic information service provided by the Congressional Research Service, and improved communications which relayed news of these to Australian Members and Librarians, all played a part in paving the way for major changes in the 1960's. The publications of Dr Russell Cope in New South Wales began to shape an ethos of excellence in parliamentary librarianship at the beginning of the decade, and helped alert and unite practitioners. The decision by the Commonwealth Parliament in 1966 to set up a Research Service, modelled to some extent along the lines of the CRS in the United States, was a key factor in changing Members' expectations of information services that could be provided.
By the 1970's a dramatic change began to take shape across the country, as libraries pursued the concept of a dynamic information service which would not only alert clients to issues and provide them with relevant data, but also provide degrees of analysis and interpretation. By the 1980's The emerging technology revolution in data processing and communications was harnessed, as funding from executive governments permitted, to achieve better and more productive means of information gathering and dissemination for the benefit of Members.
Following two years of discussions on the benefits of resource sharing and more effective communication among participants, a common indexing thesaurus was adopted, and in 1984 the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library provided each State with a facsimile machine. An attempt by APLA to forge a computer based information network to optimise use of printed resources and improve information access, was unable to proceed because of insufficient support from some parliaments, and their respective funding bodies; but the advent of the Internet has revived these objectives.