Parliamentary Librarianship in Sierra Leone

Introduction

The Sierra Leone Parliament library, the official repository of the records of Parliament, is responsible for the collection, organization and dissemination of bibliographic materials and information to further the work of the legislation. The Parliament, which houses the library, is situated at the summit of Tower Hill, on the second floor. It was opened on the eve of the country’s Independence day,26th April 1961. The proximity of the library to the Chamber ensures that its existence and services are brought close to parliamentarians and parliamentary administrators.

The extent and complexity of government activities create a need for the widespread dissemination of information about those activities and for popular interpretation of government policy. Invariably the over-riding aim of the library is the provision of information that will enable parliamentarians, parliamentary administrators and support staff to carry out their duties effectively. Its objectives are:

o The provision of information and knowledge resources vital to parliamentarians and parliamentary administration in the performance of their daily functions.

o To serve as archives for parliamentary and other vital government publications.

o To acquire materials from parliaments in other countries that may be of benefit to parliamentarians and parliamentary administrators for routine operations.

Provisions and management

In line with these aims and objectives the library has a small collection of stock on Philosophy, Sociology, Political Science, Economics, Law, Military Administration and History. Also included are Bills, Acts, Order papers and notices, Hansard/Parliamentary debates, State Opening programmes, Presidential addresses, Budget speeches, chronicles of Parliamentary elections and developments, Parliamentary debates of the House of Commons and Lords of Britain, dating back to the colonial period, Indian Parliamentary debates and similar ones from Tanganyika (Tanzania), Gold Coast (Ghana), Nigeria and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and materials from Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the Commonwealth. In addition is a collection of reference works such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, directories, parliamentary handbooks, yearbooks, public notices, protocols and treaties. These materials are acquired by purchase, donation, exchange, and deposit, especially by the Government Printing Department responsible for the printing of all government publications in the country. The materials are classified and arranged according to Dewey Decimal Classification Scheme (19th Edition).

A Librarian, an Assistant Librarian and a few clerical staff man the library. The Librarian is responsible to the Clerk of Parliament, the chief administrator and vote controller, and overall head of the unit. The functions of the Librarian, in addition to administering the library, include the compilation of bibliographies and reading lists, literature searching, summarizing facts and published information, and obtaining information from government departments. The Assistant Librarian performs such duties as acquisition, classification and cataloguing of materials, answering reference queries, writing correspondence, shelving and the general supervision of support staff. He also computes the parliamentary index to all parliament papers and debates, the public bill index and then international affairs index with references taken from the daily and periodical press, government notices and Commissions of Inquiry index. These indexes are cumulated and reproduced photographically. Government mainly financially supports the library.

The Sierra Leone Parliament Library clientele are mainly parliamentarians and parliamentary administrators. The library also extends its services to university lecturers and students, public officials and visitors. It has a readership of over five hundred (500). The library is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00p.m. from Monday through Friday and is closed during weekends and public holidays. It offers reference and lending services to its clientele as part of its book services. To enable a user to loan materials a request form is issued for completion. Up to three books can be loaned for two weeks. Users can renew their books for a further two weeks, provided no other users request for them. However, materials like reports, conference proceedings, parliamentary Acts, debates and gazettes are not loaned but only consulted in the library. The library has an Author/Title and Classified catalogue.

Services

Staff in the Reader Service and Reference Desk handle all reference enquiries. Reference services are provided in three ways: individually to parliamentarians in response to a request for a ‘brief’ on any subject connected to their official duties; the preparation of general ‘background papers’ of previous debates, especially when an MP was absent and need an overview of what was discussed; and ad hoc services to Committees of the House.

To compliment the stock provision in the library current awareness services and selective dissemination of information services are provided on a modest scale. The current awareness service involves the provision of the latest periodical articles, reports and documents corresponding to specific topics of each member interest. A photocopying service of desired publications such as news features from the files of recent press clippings, reports and content pages of required materials is also done. There is also a telephone service for both internal and international calls. In order to meet the challenges of ICTs computers have been installed in the library with Internet facility. As a way of preserving and conserving the collection library staff frequently fumigate the collection while the Assistant Librarian does repairs on damaged materials. Worn out materials are taken to the Government Printing Department for mending. To help clientele use the library user education is given together with shelf guides.

Not withstanding the provisions and services in the library problems abound which serve as challenges to the staff. Notable are inadequate staff, poor working conditions, inadequate and obsolete collection, inadequate and untimely funding, non-performance of a survey to assess the needs of users and the lack of a collection development policy. Little wonder why trained and qualified staff are hardly retained to run the library. It is however hoped that the current Parliament will revive the situation.

REFERENCE

Sierra Leone Parliament Library manual, 1986 (Unpublished)