2/22. Donna – working in the Scottish Parliament

By Lee Kindness [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Scottish Parliament from Salisbury Crags. By Lee Kindness [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5), via Wikimedia Commons

Hello. My name is Donna Nicholson Arnott and I graduated from the MSc Information and Library Studies course at Strathclyde University in November 2013. I’ve been working in the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) since the end of October 2013; and I don’t mind telling you, it’s been quite a learning curve!

Let me tell you a little about my journey to this point:

My interest in libraries dates from relatively recently. My family did not visit libraries when I was a child, although my parents had books at home, and I was given books to read as I grew up. My schools had a library of course, but my only memory of my primary school library is Stig of the Dump which I borrowed on repeat until they said that the other children needed to have a chance to read it!

Skipping forward to just before I started studying at undergraduate level: I had started a course in Gothic Architecture at the Department of Adult and Continuing Education at the University of Glasgow, and I recall walking into Floor 11 of the Glasgow University Library (GUL), stopping stock still, turning heel and leaving completely overwhelmed – an inauspicious start to my library career.

I started to study Illustration at Glasgow School of Art the year after, and it wasn’t long before I was totally captivated by the superb collection of the library. Shortly after the start of first year, a student colleague mentioned that the main library employed student shelvers, and that, dear reader, was that. My fate was sealed. It’s been truly heartbreaking to see what the fire did to the Mackintosh Library.

I had been considering the MSc ILS course since graduating from Glasgow School of Art in 2004, but it took me a couple of years to actually commit to that idea. I got some work as a shelver at GUL after the art school and then I was fortunate to get a fixed term post with the GSA Library. When that ended, I had three fantastic years working in the big Borders bookshop on Buchanan Street. I really wonder if I would ever have left there voluntarily. It took until I was made redundant from the bookshop in 2009 for me to seriously think about doing the MSc, although the decision was again put off when I started working at East Renfrewshire Council’s libraries on a casual basis.  This was again great, when I got the hours. The staff and customers were all great, and I loved jaunting about around the council’s libraries, a day here, a day there. Finally though, planning anything around the whole zero hours contract thing became such a serious pain in the behind (and the bank just laughed at me when I asked about pensions) that I took the plunge and started the masters in September  2012.

The MSc was a fascinating year of study. A roller coaster of information, and well worth doing. I had barely finished the course when I applied and was accepted for the post with the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe). I quickly discovered some salient points: that Parliament is not Government, and that I am not a civil servant, I am a public servant. Parliament serves the interests of people, and it is the mechanism which monitors Government activity for the people.

I’m an Enquiries Assistant in SPICe, and this is what I do:


One of my duties in my role in SPICe is to answer enquiries form MSPs and MSP staff. These enquiries can be very wide-ranging, and can cover parliamentary activities (e.g. When will a letter referred to in debate be available in the library collection? or What is the deadline for contributing to a particular bill?) or subjects outside parliament that relate to parliamentary business. They should never be party political or contentious. This was especially important during the referendum period and purdah. Often enquiries have come from constituents, via their MSP (e.g. Are there funds available for a community group to run a project?) I use licensed databases, like GRANTfinder, and LexisNexis a lot, but I also need to be aware of contacts in Government, and in other organisations like the Met Office or the NHS who may be able to help  answer an enquiry. The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government websites also contain a wealth of data.

Publishing Briefings

In addition to answering enquiries, I also have some specific website publishing duties. SPICe has a team of researchers who liaise with the committees, write Research Briefings on topical parliamentary matters, and respond to requests for Petition Briefings from the Public Petitions Committee. Research or petition briefings are written by SPICe researchers, and published on the SP website by me and my two enquiries assistant colleagues.

Research briefings by subject.

Petition Briefings are also published on the individual petition pages of the SP website. Petitions are a way for people to engage with parliament, and perhaps influence legislation.

Maintaining Fact Sheets

I am also responsible for maintaining data on certain fact sheets on the website: for example MSP First Speeches; Members Business; Contribution to time for reflection; and ministerial statements. These are available along with all the other fact sheets published by SPICe.

I use two parliament generated documents to do this job, the Business Bulletin (The BB) and the Official Report (The OR). The BB is like an agenda published before business has happened, on the SP website for anyone to view. The OR is also published on the website after business has happened, and is the accepted version of what happened and what was said.

I mentioned the learning curve, and to fully describe that curve from where I began, I’d have to use many more hundreds of words. My experience in answering enquiries is that very often people are seeking to find out how the actions of Parliament and Government impacts on the subject they care about and are interested in. I commend everyone to find this out, and if you need to, learn how to make use of the mechanisms that can have some input to the process. There’s more information about Getting Involved on the Scottish Parliament website.

Many thanks to Donna – since writing her post, she has moved on from SPICe but is still willing to answer comments on the blog about it. Find Donna on Twitter @bookpluscoffee.


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