The British Parliamentary Papers Project

The Parliamentary Papers:  Research and Guide

In 2011, I spent from February to September on a project that involved researching, locating, and organizing the British Parliamentary Papers into a research guide.  I was asked about completing the much-needed project at Ellis by the history subject specialist due to my background in both history and political science.

While my librarian and historical research skills and understanding of the European political system came in handy with this project, I found what helped the most was my archival mindset.  Why was this the case?  The Parliamentary Papers span nearly a millennium and included multiple types of papers covering multiple types of government organizations for both Great Britain itself,  its former empire, and current commonwealth.  They can be very confusing to work with, for even an experienced researcher.  As I could spend several posts rehashing the types of papers, so it might be best to look at the research LibGuide itself.

Palace of Westminster by Qsimple

Palace of Westminster by Qsimple; From Flickr

I began the project using a history mindset.  I researched everything first, including examining at all other online research guides and the three print guides MU Libraries owned, jotting down many pages of notes.  Then I created the guide’s outline in LibGuides by creating the pages and inputting the background of each type of paper and relevant numbering systems (again, it’s better to look at the guide; the best example is with the Hansard Debates).  This step merged the historical and archival mindsets to organization.

After the outline and background information was added to the guide, I then began to seek the resources themselves.  Part of this was easy as I could transfer the information from the old guide.  However, I didn’t stop there.  I combed the catalog and shelves at Ellis and the MU Law Library to find other papers.  I even branched out to include material (print and microfilm) from other libraries in our consortium, online versions of the papers, and parts of the papers located in databases.  I listed the resources by type, publication date, geographic area, and some special categories, with all categories including cross-references.  This allowed researchers to focus on their area or period of study.  This was my archival mindset at work; finding ways to best organize the collection to make life easier on the researchers.  Using this mindset at this stage was extremely important as many papers could fit multiple categories and I used my earlier research to determine where they would best fit.  It was just like working with the SHS’s manuscript collections.  After four months, I thought the project was complete with a presentation I gave to Ellis Library staff.

However, over the summer I made a grand discovery.  My special libraries class took a behind-the-scenes tour of the MU Law Library.  In their Rare Book Room, I discovered shelves of uncatalogued Parliamentary Papers. When my assistantship began anew in August, I spent hours taking notes in the Law Library’s Rare Book Room in order to incorporate the resources into the guide.  Once the guide was finished for the second time, I had included every resource I could find and taught a second workshop to the graduate and doctoral students and faculty in the history and English departments (they routinely used the papers).

Teaching the Parliamentary Papers:

Enter the librarian mindset:  In both workshops I taught, I opened the presentation with demonstrating the size and scope of the Parliamentary Papers collection.  This involved carting in (via book truck) over twenty volumes: one Hansard Debates volume per series (seven total series), a Hansard 6th series index, both Lords and Commons Hansards for 1913 (7 volumes Commons and 2 volumes Lords), the oldest copy of the Journals for each the Commons and Lords, and the Reports of Committees on two subjects.  I also brought up the volumes corresponding to my sample searches–two Hansards  and copies from the Special Collections microcard collection.  I stacked the 1913 Hansards in the front of the room; the rest I passed out to the participants.  This allowed me to ask them about the scope of the collection by having them look at dates and subjects covered.  Plus it was a shock-and-awe situation when I said this sample represented less than 1% of Mizzou’s collection and that Mizzou’s entire collection was a small fraction of the total papers printed!  Next, I explained the types of papers and how to located them using the LibGuide, including using a sample citations.

19th Century Parliamentary Papers by ex_libris_gul

19th Century Parliamentary Papers by ex_libris_gul; From Flickr

With the students and faculty, I went one step further.   Ahead of time I asked the researchers which periods and geographic areas their research focused on and used this information to craft examples.  Within my examples, I was included ways to utilize the major interfaces the researchers could encounter: C19’s House of Commons Parliamentary Papers*, legislation.uk.gov, and the catalog.  Discussion involved how it was easiest to search by keywords in C19 and how it can be used to locate dates in the Hansards which are not indexed (find related material in other papers, find those, get the date, check the Hansards).   The website search involved the warning that while it could be searched by paper number, it would bring up every paper that reference it, not just the desired one.   I also exhibited how keyword searching was only available under the advanced search menu.   The catalog search demonstrated that the holdings from the ECCO* and EBBO* databases were also searchable within the catalog.

Throughout the successfully presentation I fielded questions from the participants; most were about searching topics or tricks with databases and interfaces.   Both the students and professors thanked me profusely for my work.  They said it helped make searching easier and introduced them to many online resources they did not know existed.

I wanted to share this experience because the former is not your everyday library scenario and the latter illustrated creative teaching methods.  Do you have any questions?  Did I confuse you in any way?

*Links to information about the database, not the actual database.

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