Victorian Parliamentary library turns 170, survives the internet age

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Photo- Victoria Parliament website

By SAT News Desk

MELBOURNE, 24 November 2021: The library at the Victorian Parliament is now 170 years old. If you enter the Parliament Hall after security and getting your entry pass, you can walk straight crossing a door and reach the library. It’s not open for general public.

Known as the ‘gentleman’s library’ in its early years, the library which keeps the Parliament and its members informed, has served 59 Parliaments and more than 1800 members , says an article in the Parliament website.

The library kicked off 170 years back at Bourke Street when the Legislative Council chamber was there. It was located on the lower floor in St Patrick’s Hall. Since it came to its present location (1861), the library is more a supportive library.

Its major purpose is to support the Members of Parliament, but it’s also to support the members’ electorate offices, because they do research on behalf of their constituents.

On sitting days we will have members come in and say “I’m speaking on this bill in two hours’ time, I need some background information on this topic”, so we’ll put that background information together.

“We also prepare research papers for topical matters that we think may end up as part of some piece of legislation in the future,says chief librarian, Carolyn Macvean (Manager, Parliamentary Library and Information Service). (Our Living Library, Parliament website)

So in the age of the internet, what’s the relevance of libraries?, says Carolyn Macvean, “Well librarians know the difference between the chaff and the hay.

The internet is good, it serves its purpose. But there’s a lot of rubbish out there as well, and unless you know what you’re looking for and you understand the nuances then you could be led up the garden path. But with librarians, we know how to find stuff. I mean, that’s it in a nutshell, if you’re looking for something halfway across the world it might not ever have been published online but a librarian will know how to track it down, so it’s our knowledge of other networks, not just the electronic network.

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Photo- Victoria Parliament Website

The material that we produce, we know it can be verified. It’s peer reviewed and it’s good quality information and it has to be, because it’s being spoken to in Parliament and what gets reported in Parliament is reported in the papers. So it comes back to us to make sure that we put together the most precise information that we understand at the time.

So that’s where our role, our skill set comes in.”

Technologically, the library is being constantly upgraded. “..started down the machine learning and the AI [Artificial Intelligence] path and obviously digital assets are huge, and we’ve started with that.

One example is the library’s semantic AI-enabled ontology classification. That’s software used for classifying our externally generated online media content.

These articles are automatically extracted and classified into our database, and that gives us a far more accurate result. Over the last two years, for example, the system automatically indexed on average 164,000 news articles and 8,000 TV and radio clips, ” says the chief librarian.

So, there is no looking back for the Victorian Parliament Library and it’s marching into the future with a bang.

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