Thank you, Mr. Joint Co-Chair.
I would like to thank the joint committee for giving me the opportunity to speak to you and announce my interest in the position of parliamentary librarian.
I would like to share with you some information about my professional life, why I'm interested in the Library of Parliament, as well as the challenges and opportunities I believe the library will be facing over the coming years.
I am an economist by training, and over the 25 years of my career I have worked mainly for the federal government as a policy analyst. I have worked in different federal departments doing policy analysis in very strategic policy units, until I was promoted to management jobs in the late 1990s.
The challenge of advising decision-makers on options to best allocate scarce resources to the achievement of public policy outcomes was what I was paid to do. I must say that I never got bored with that task.
Over the past decade, I have been promoted to management positions, and I have interacted with ministers and MPs from all parties. I have also managed research and analysis groups in sometimes difficult contexts. I have had to deal with budget cuts, massive reorganizations and mandate changes in the units I was leading. In fact, I see myself now more as a manager than an economist.
I came to the library four years ago. While I thoroughly enjoyed my years in the executive branch, I thought my career was lacking an important aspect in public policy-making. I needed to understand and experience the legislative branch of Parliament. So I applied for the executive job of overseeing the library service providing you with the reference and research support you need in your parliamentary duties. I have never regretted it.
I discovered a unique organization with a focus on client service. The Library of Parliament supports the activities of parliamentarians every day. Its employees have an eye for detail and want the job to be done well. In the midst of an extremely partisan environment, they do their job with exemplary neutrality. I couldn't dream of a better work environment. Parliament is an important institution in a democracy, and I feel privileged to be able to work there.
Over my four years at the library I've had the opportunity to learn about its challenges and opportunities. It is an organization at a crossroads. It is faced with the challenge of being the keeper of history and a broker of information in an ever increasing ocean of information.
Like the Senate, the House of Commons, and federal department administrations, the library has embarked on a strategic operating review exercise. The library's budget has not increased since 2010-11, and we are facing the increasing costs of doing business. Employee salaries are increasing, the cost of maintaining a relevant collection is subject to inflation, and we must absorb expenses that were previously paid by partners. While the operating budgets cannot go as far as they did, the expectations of parliamentarians and the public are still high.
The library must therefore take a serious look at how it does business.
Since the parliamentary librarian's retirement in December 2011, I have taken on the administrative leadership of the library. In light of the challenges the library is facing, I felt it was important to take this assignment with all the seriousness and commitment it deserves. So I worked with the library's senior management team to strengthen the library's management and business planning.
We began assessing all of our services and how we do things. We must focus our attention on the services that help you with your activities, something you cannot get elsewhere. We must find ways of operating that support the work you do based on your needs.
Looking to the coming years, the library requires focused management. Are we doing what parliamentarians need and want? There are no average senators or MPs. Your needs and ways of working are varied. We need to support you the way in which it makes sense for you. When do you want personalized, customized service? When do you or your staff prefer to self-serve, using our vast range of information assets?
Parliamentarians come from all walks of life. As good as you may be, you are not experts in everything. It is our job to help you be conversant in areas where you may be less familiar. We also know that the benchmark against which we are judged is the support you got in your previous job, before you became a parliamentarian, or the Internet consumer experience you have day to day. Some days, this is a tall order for us, but the library needs to make sure that we get up to that benchmark.
Libraries around the world are challenged also by the rapid expansion of electronic collections. We are no different. We need to look at our collections as being used. Do you or your staff have access to what you need, both in your preferred format and content?
I am also aware that our guides are often the first Canadians that meet the tourists who come to visit Parliament. Despite all our efforts to represent you well, we can accommodate only a fraction of the people who want to visit Parliament. The challenges presented by the renovation to the parliamentary precinct buildings add to the need to ensure that our interaction with the public is professional and flexible.
Explaining the workings of Parliament is one additional way we partner with you. Many of you are active with visiting students as they embrace education in civics. The presence of a parliamentarian in a school class is not always possible. The library must explore ways we can supplement your outreach work, using tools and methods that can reach young Canadians and their parents.
At this point I have more questions than answers, and it is my goal to use the next year to work with the library employees to find some of these answers.
We are operating in a context of fiscal restraint, and I want to make sure that the library can support you in this context, now and in the years to come. I do not think we should currently be making great plans, but rather we should be looking for opportunities for improving our services.
I believe the standing joint committee is an important sounding board for the library as it looks at its future. Should you support my nomination, I would be pleased to work with the committee and the parliamentarians it represents to ensure that the library is a resource of choice and support to your parliamentary work.
I would be happy to answer any questions you may have for me.
That's a big question. I think we should first determine whether we are doing the right things for the public, on behalf of parliamentarians.
Without going into details, I will say that, a few weeks ago, I told the committee members that our budget would be tight. With a somewhat limited budget, can we do the same things? We need to analyze our activities with the management team, which I have started to do. The first challenge is to find out what requests the library needs to respond to and what resources it has. After that, I will be able to see whether I am doing the right things and whether we are doing them the right way.
Should we explore different methods to ensure we continue to provide the service required? There may be other ways of doing things that might, perhaps, involve the collection or how we interact with the public. For example, it is difficult to replace an analyst who is seated beside you in a committee meeting. I cannot put a computer in its place. There may be other avenues that the library can explore. One of the first things to do is to evaluate what we are providing and how we are providing it.
Welcome, Ms. L'Heureux. I hope we can confirm your appointment immediately after this meeting.
I am coming to the end of my third year at the Senate, and one of our duties is to be on senate committees. In the past three years, I have seen that the quality of our analysts is outstanding. But, I am surprised that there is also a high employee turnover rate.
For example, I don't think we have had the same analyst on one committee for more than a year or two. Might it be due to the fact that some of them leave or the administration decides to assign them to another committee to give them more experience? Do they leave to take better jobs, to get a better salary or anything like that?
Madame L'Heureux, I think you're about to become only the eighth parliamentary librarian in the history of this great country, so you must consider that quite an honour, and I will be so bold as to offer my congratulations.
Certainly, in hearing your remarks today, and your previous testimony, when you appeared before us just a few weeks ago, I guess it was, I've been very impressed. It seems to me that you have all the necessary qualifications, skills, and enthusiasm for the job.
We're looking forward to working with you.
In your remarks, I noticed a couple of comments that I found very refreshing. You mentioned that at this point you have more questions than answers. I always think it's great when someone is willing to admit that it will take some time to learn a new job. You indicate that you're going to be consulting with the staff members in the library and working with the stakeholders involved in determining where you want to go.
I also noted that you mentioned that you appreciate that it's a time of fiscal restraint and want to work within that context. That's very important, because obviously that's a big focus for our government. I appreciated that comment as well.
Although you indicated that you want to take some time before you set any major goals or priorities for the library, I'm sure you must have a few things in mind. You have spent some time at the library already, about four years now. You must have a few things in mind, even if they're small things that you want to do in terms of changes. I'd love to hear a couple of things as far as the paths you'd like to go down.
Also, just because we talked about Parliament 2020, I'm hoping this committee will eventually pick up where we left off and that you'll be able to provide us with a summary for the new members here, so we can continue, because I think that was actually a really good study. At the same time, I know that the library was actually quite excited about that at one point as well.
I'm just wondering about it, because it was in that study, actually, that we also looked at other practices from different libraries that we were trying to base ourselves on. So the fact that you've been around for quite some time.... You've done four years as an assistant parliamentary librarian, and you've also worked abroad, from what I can tell, with respect to the Australian piece that I saw in here...?
Ms. Sonia L'Heureux: That's correct.
Mrs. Carol Hughes: I'm just wondering if you have seen some models that you think we should grasp when you're looking at maybe doing some policy changes, which I'm sure you will probably do, because often there are policies that are a little antiquated or are just not working the way people had hoped. I'm just wondering if there are some models out there that you have seen and that you could take bits and pieces from, pieces that you feel would work.
Ms. L'Heureux, what we are most interested in, as a joint committee, is how you would like to work with us. What do you expect from us?
In your opening remarks you said something very important. We're really at a crossroads here, for several reasons.
It's not only about trying to do more and better with less money. It's also the fact—and you brought it up—that we now have communications tools that can really enhance the services of our library. We also might have opportunities to increase revenues for the library.
How do you want to work with us? We know that you work very closely with the two Speakers, so could you include your description of that?
How will you work with the two co-chairs? What do you expect from us? In other words, as a joint committee, how can we help you spell the word "success" in five years?
That is a very good question.
I think the recent exchange we've had updating you on some of the work we were looking at in the strategic brain review is one example. Sometimes we might be able to work in a more open concept, other times more in camera, depending on the impacts on the library, but I would like to be able to interact with you on a regular basis, basically checking in: here's what the directions are; here's what we're doing; are we on a good path; would you suggest course corrections. Then we can take your advice on that. A little bit of testing with you: are we going in the right direction?
There are probably different times throughout the year where that's a more appropriate endeavour. At the moment I'm still trying to figure out what the budgets will be this year. I don't have that answer yet. In the fall I anticipate I will. I might be able to come back to you and say here's where we are and here's what we're planning. If that interests you, we can see how you're reacting to what we're doing and whether we are doing it in the right way.
We don't tend to get into detailed operating issues with the Speakers, and I don't think that would be appropriate. That's really what I'm paid to do. But there might be trade-offs we have to look at in how we do things. I think it would be appropriate to ask you, the parliamentarians, what your opinions are on those things.