Honourable Senators, members of Parliament, joint chairs, it is my pleasure to address the committee today regarding the Library of Parliament's main estimates for 2018-2019.
I apologize for my voice, which seems to be failing me this morning. I hope I can continue to engage in discussion with you until the end of the meeting.
I am accompanied by my colleagues, who are members of the Library Executive Committee. Together, we should be able to answer your questions.
It has been several years since we had an opportunity to meet with members of this committee. Therefore, even though I know that many among you rely on services provided by the Library of Parliament, I will briefly remind the committee of the nature and scope of the library's service offering.
The library is Parliament's trusted source of information, research, and analysis, providing bilingual, non-partisan, and confidential services to senators and members of Parliament, and to parliamentary committees and associations.
Our multidisciplinary team of employees also provides daily online news clipping services and customized alerts to help you keep pace with issues in the media. Our librarians are available to answer your reference questions and to help you search our extensive print and digital collections. We also regularly host public policy seminars and other learning opportunities designed to meet your needs. We provide information kits and classroom sets to help parliamentarians inform Canadians about Parliament. Of course, we also offer guided tours to visitors and the people you bring to Parliament.
In all of this we always strive to evolve and modernize in order to maintain the flexibility needed to support the parliamentarians we serve.
As you may be aware, the library benefited last fiscal year, in 2017-18, from an increase in its resources, and I would like to take a moment to outline how we are using these additional resources to support Parliament, before I turn my attention to this year's main estimates.
The library supports approximately 50 Senate and House parliamentary committees, and 13 parliamentary associations. We are also available to answer requests from over 440 parliamentarians.
Following the election of the 42nd Parliament and numerous appointments in the Senate, we witnessed a 25% increase in demand from parliamentarians for requests for information and research on public policy issues, many presenting in-depth and increasingly complex challenges. Increased demand was noted across political parties.
By capturing and tracking key usage data, the library provided evidence of the need to increase resource levels to sustain our research, information, and analysis services. Through discussions with the Speaker of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Commons, we were able to secure a $4-million increase in permanent funding in the 2017-18 main estimates to respond to a higher volume of requests and sustain an expanded service offering in future years.
The resources that were provided to the library were used to hire 37 new employees to strengthen our research capacity and to better manage the overall volume and complexity of requests. With these resources we also addressed a need for expertise in four emerging priority areas: gender-based analysis+; international affairs; enhanced visual elements for items such as research publications and committee reports; and committee-related communications.
I would now like to turn to today's topic, the main estimates for 2018-19. Relative to the previous years, the 2018-19 main estimates for the library are increasing by $329,000.
This includes a reduction of $2.6 million related to the separation of the Parliamentary Budget Office from the library. It also reflects the end of temporary funding before the implementation of an enterprise resources program to modernize and integrate the library's management of financial and human resources.
Furthermore, the library is seeking additional additional funds in three areas to: manage financial pressures related to the collection; create a virtual experience of Centre Block; and cover economic increases to the remuneration of a sub-group of employees.
Let me start with the collection pressures. One of the principal ways in which we achieve our goal of supporting an informed Parliament is through a collection that is responsive, balanced, and relevant.
With the increase in demand for research and reference services came a 28% increase in usage of the electronic collection. In parallel, the library had to respond to cost increases for information resources, which diminished our buying power over that same time period. Further, business models and monopolies in publishing resulted in the library having to purchase bundled packages on a subscription basis and requiring year-to-year financial commitments. Publishers determine the price and increases can be set unilaterally, creating pressures on the collection budget.
Our ability to manage within the collection budget envelope had decreased to an unsustainable point, just as the pressures to respond to requests were mounting. With the additional funding in this year’s main estimates, we will stabilize the collection budget, broaden access to key electronic products, increase business and industry-specific information resources, expand licences to allow for news content redistribution in media monitoring products, and develop the library’s capacity to continue to digitize key historical parliamentary publications.
The second item of note in our estimates is related to the development of a high-quality virtual reality experience. To ensure ongoing public access to the history and majesty of Centre Block during the years of its closure and to educate the public on the art, architecture, people, and function of Parliament taking place in the building, the library is partnering with the National Film Board to produce a virtual experience of Parliament.
The first phase of the project, which will be launched after Centre Block closes for renovations, involves a 2-D and 3-D online visit of Parliament, using narration and the actual soundscape recording in Centre Block. A supporting education program with curriculum-focused resources is also being developed for classrooms across Canada. For phase two, through the use of cutting-edge production technologies, visitors to the national capital region will explore all the sights and sounds of Centre Block in a fully immersive virtual reality experience to be physically located in Ottawa. The library is seeking $2.02 million for this project in the 2018-19 main estimates.
Also included in the 2018-2019 main estimates is $1.025 million for economic adjustments for the library's PSAC-represented staff and unrepresented staff. These increases are tied to the most recent round of negotiations with PSAC. Historically, we have determined the economic increases for unrepresented employees once negotiated agreements have been reached with our unionized groups.
In light of the fact that this committee is initiating its work for this parliamentary session, I would like to highlight two areas that may be of interest to the committee, although they are not related specifically to the main estimates process.
As we look to the future, the library is busy preparing for the upcoming closure of Centre Block. The main library will also be closing for the duration of the renovations. In preparation, the main library collection will be distributed among several branches, according to branch specializations and user needs.
The bulk of the collection will be transferred to our facility at 45 Sacré-Coeur in Gatineau, including the rare book collection.
The library’s branch at 125 Sparks Street will become the interim main library for the duration of the closure of Centre Block. Currently under renovation to modernize the branch, 125 Sparks will act as a hub for new technology and resources and will provide expertise for research requests and orientation on library services.
Easy access to in-person library service will continue at the new branches being opened in West Block and the Government Conference Centre. Service will also continue to be provided at our branches in the Wellington and Confederation buildings. All branches will provide modern library services with a special focus on technological innovation, collaborative space, and enhanced experience for our users.
You will continue to have uninterrupted access to the library's print and digital collections at any one of our six points of service. As has always been the case, books can be delivered to the easiest point of access upon request.
The upcoming closure of Centre Block has also required us to re-align our visitor services program. To maintain public access to Parliament, tours of West Block and the Government Conference Centre will be offered throughout the duration of Centre Block's closure.
The public will have access to both buildings to attend debates in the public galleries and to observe committee meetings. Tours of the Government Conference Centre and of West Block will include a visit of the interim chambers, with stops in the public galleries and on the floors of both Chambers. Tour groups will also visit a committee room and learn about the transformation of the heritage buildings that will house the two chambers.
Members of the public will access tours of West Block through the new visitor welcome centre, which will serve as the public entrance to West Block. This new facility will also house an expanded Parliamentary Boutique.
As you can see, over the next few years our technological and physical environment will change significantly, but our raison d’être remains to provide information for and about Parliament that people can trust. We have a strategic outlook for 2017-22 that presents the priorities that will guide us as an organization as we fulfill our mandate over the medium term. Committee members can consult the strategic outlook using the link to our website, which I have provided to the joint clerks.
The strategic outlook also highlights some of the initiatives we have identified to move the organization forward. Emphasis is placed on remaining relevant by providing the right products and services, on increasing the library's agility in the face of change, and on maintaining a healthy workplace for employees. This will enable us to continue to be responsive and relevant to Parliament.
Finally, the library will also be undergoing a change in leadership in June with my upcoming retirement. This committee may be called upon in the coming weeks to meet with the future nominee for the position of parliamentary librarian. Until my departure, I am happy to discuss any matters related to the library that are of interest to this committee.
Thank you for inviting me to appear before you today. We are pleased to answer your questions.