Thank you, Mr. Co-Chair.
Honourable senators, members of Parliament, co-chairs, it is my pleasure to address the committee today on the matter of the digitization of parliamentary documents in relation to Mr. Simms' motion.
For the record, Mr. Simms' motion reads as follows:
That, whereas the Library of Parliament already scans Sessional Papers which are tabled in response to Order Paper Questions in the House of Commons, and makes the scanned copies available on the Parliamentary Intranet, that the Library of Parliament provide unfettered access for all Canadians to these same documents on the public internet site, and that such access be provided, to all existing and future scanned Sessional Papers, as soon as practicable.
To be clear, Mr. Simms' motion pertains to sessional papers tabled in response to a question on the order paper in the House of Commons.
We are appearing before the committee today because debate on Mr. Simms' motion was suspended to allow the Library of Parliament to answer your questions.
Today, I am accompanied by Ms. Brodie, the director of the Library of Parliament's Information and Document Resource Service. The service that Ms. Brodie oversees is responsible for the digitization of sessional papers and access to them, among other things.
I would first like to point out that the library already fills an important role by providing parliamentarians with sessional papers in digital format. Mr. Simms is quite right when he states that the library already digitizes written replies to Order Paper questions in the House of Commons. In fact, we have been scanning these documents since 2010. Even more to the point, the Library of Parliament is planning to give the public access to the scanned documents during this fiscal year, which would meet the objective of the motion.
In order to explain to you how we will go about this, I would first like to describe the context in which we are working.
The Standing Orders of the House of Commons are silent on sessional papers and say little in terms of procedures about responses to questions on the order paper. However, according to O'Brien and Bosc, sessional papers are defined as:
Any reports or documents (other than bills) formally presented in the House or filed with the Clerk are called sessional papers and are assigned sessional paper numbers by the Journals Branch.
These papers are tabled in print format, and copies are available through the Library of Parliament. Access should be granted to the public for their review.
It is important to point out that from a historical perspective, the library holds and preserves a complete collection of sessional papers tabled in the House of Commons. It is equally important to acknowledge that because of the printed nature of these documents, their accessibility is more limited.
The library began scanning sessional papers in September 2010, as a pilot project. The intention of this project was to respond efficiently to multiple requests within short timeframes. This service has since become part of our regular operations due to consistent and strong demand among parliamentary users. As a result, the library provides parliamentary users with convenient and timely access to the content of sessional papers in a digital format.
Many types of reports and documents are tabled by the government in the House of Commons or with the clerk. Of course, replies to Order Paper questions are among these documents, but there are also documents concerning government policies or measures, reports from royal commissions, draft bills, ways and means motions, responses to committee reports and petitions, various annual reports and the list of order in council appointments.
The sessional papers that the library scans include replies to Order Paper questions and represent by far the largest number of scanned documents. As of March 31, 2014, the library had scanned 1,650 replies to Order Paper questions, for a total of over 167,000 pages.
All digitized sessional papers are stored in an internal repository and are connected to our online catalogue. Currently, the catalogue and repository are available only to parliamentarians and their staff, Senate and House of Commons administration, library employees, and other clients having access to the parliamentary network, such as the Press Gallery.
All sessional papers scanned by the library are searchable according to their description, which includes the type of sessional paper, the question number from the order paper, the date the question was asked, as well as the name of the member who requested the information.
Once a specific sessional paper is located using this information, the content is fully searchable.
Mr. Simms' motion explicitly mentions access of Canadians to all existing and future sessional papers as soon as practicable. The library intends to provide the public with online access to its catalogue. Similar to a number of other legislative libraries around the world, the library wants to provide public access to its catalogue, which should be accessible at all times, from anywhere and on any device.
Our ultimate goal is to provide parliamentarians with the best tools to help them access our collections and find the resources and services they need. Achieving this goal corresponds to one of the priorities set out in the library's strategic outlook, which is to increase the digital access to the information we provide.
By making its catalogue public, the library will give Canadians access to the sessional papers it is digitizing and will meet the objective set out in this motion.
Unfortunately, the catalogue is currently not accessible by the public. This is a situation the library is working to resolve in collaboration with our colleagues at the House of Commons administration in light of their role as our main IT service provider. Some specific investment in IT infrastructure and software is required. We hope to have all the necessary tools in place this fiscal year to enable public access to the library catalogue. As always, the smooth and efficient conduct of parliamentary business relies on the combined and coordinated efforts of all partners on the Hill.
I would like to reassure members of the joint committee that the library is working with its partners from the House of Commons on this file, thus ensuring that you, and on your behalf, the Canadian public, receive the best service possible.
Ms. Brodie and I are available to answer your questions.
Most of the legislatures, for one thing, have public catalogues and they may or may not use them to make available what they've digitized. It's a fairly straightforward process for us to do it that way, which is why we've preferred that. We've done some exercises over the last few years to determine sort of a digitization agenda. We're working currently on a strategy.
One of the things we have to consider is where we're going to actually store anything that we digitize. We've determined it was important to know where we were going to store it, how we were going to store it, who it was going to be accessible to, and could we maintain it going forward.
In terms of doing the debates of the House of Commons and the Senate, because we had not resolved the digital storage question, we actually are partnering with an outside organization that is in the process of becoming a trusted digital repository, which is an ISO standard around the world. They were able to do a lot of the storage work and the OCR work more effectively than we could.
At this point, we're looking at what our next items are on our agenda for digitizing. Certainly, the Journals of both the Senate and the House are items that are frequently requested. As Madam L'Heureux said, a lot of our thinking in this is really based on what is used, what is requested, both by the public and by yourselves as our primary users.