At the time when parliamentary libraries were being established in Europe, Poland did not exist as an independent state (1795-1918), and the stormy experience of 19th century parliamentary bodies on Polish territories was not conducive to the development of any sustainable facility supporting deputies’ work. What is considered to be the library’s founding act is a proposal from a group of 18 deputies of the peasant party (PSL-Piast) headed by Jan Dąbski, submitted to the Marshal of the Sejm in March 1919, requesting that “the Sejm library be established and provided first with the most necessary works, and then be gradually expanded”. Given the enormous amount of work facing the first Sejm of independent Poland and
the timing of the proposal (the Sejm met in plenary on 10 February 1919), it can be taken for granted that it was an expression of a conscious need and concern of the law-makers for the establishment of a research and documentation base necessary to support legislative work that was to give shape to the reviving state.
In the total absence of archival documents, the first acquisitions of the Sejm Library are not easy to identify. It seems that the first books came from a collection kept by Dr. Henryk Kołodziejski for the purposes of the Parliamentary Constitutional Committee of the Provisional Council of State (a body existing in 1917, whose mission was to prepare the foundations of Polish statehood) consisting of about 3,000 volumes, which were acquired by the Sejm. The Library took over book collections (and in most cases just mere parts thereof) from several liquidated institutions which represented Polish interests vis a vis the annexationists or had no statutory successors. Hence part of the book collection of the former Poznań Province (Regierungsbezirk Posen) was taken over, as well as a collection of official journals from the National Department’s library in Lvov. In spring 1924, about a dozen thousand volumes were brought also from Lvov, previously held by the library of the Governorate (i.e. an office representing the Emperor of Austria in Galicia). Sources also mention the acquisition of a small number of books from the library of the former Ministry for Galicia in Vienna. Finally, in autumn 1925, the book collection of the Polish Group in the former Russian Duma was recovered.
In organisational terms, the library was a part of the Sejm Office, and as long as the Legislative Sejm was a unicameral parliament sitting as a Constituent Assembly, it used to be called the Legislative Sejm Library (Biblioteka Sejmu Ustawodawczego) (1919-1922). When two separate chambers were set up at the end of 1922 – the Sejm and the Senate, the Sejm Office was transformed into the Sejm and Senate Office, and the Library became the Sejm and Senate Library. At the turn of the 1930s, after 12 years of the Sejm’s activity, it became necessary to organise the growing archival resource consisting of both the records of parliamentary work, mainly the legislative process, as well as administrative files produced by the offices. The Library’s structures were used for this purpose. In September 1931, the Marshal of the Sejm issued an order promulgating the Organisational By-laws of the Office of the Sejm of the Republic, which expanded the existing scope of the library’s activity by setting up the Sejm and Senate Library and Archives. The By-laws applied as the operational rules of the library until the outbreak of World War II, defining it as a body auxiliary to the Sejm and the Senate, and, as
such, keeping a collection of various publications concerning the work of the Sejm and Senate, with special focus on publications in the field of social sciences, legal and economic sciences. The Library was to provide relevant information and materials, operate a reading room of daily newspapers and periodicals.
Intensive efforts aimed to increase library acquisitions soon yielded results. The Library was granted a mandatory copy of each official publication, and a meeting of booksellers and publishers, convened on the initiative of its director, resolved to provide it free of charge with one copy of each publication dealing with subject matters corresponding to the collection profile.The Sejm and Senate Library was also developing international cooperation through exchange. Upon Poland’s ratification of the Brussels Convention of 15 March 188610, the country began receiving from and distributing to many foreign parliaments some general parliamentary materials (publications and verbatim records). Enhanced cooperation was also stimulated by the establishment in 1925 of an editorial office attached to the Library, for the publication of “Exposé sommaire des travaux législatifs de la Diéte et du Sénat Polonais”, containing complete texts or abstracts of
Polish legislative acts translated into French.
According to 1927 data, the book collection consisted of about 16,000 works in 35,000 volumes, and the regular acquisition of periodicals included 473 publications in Polish and 309 in foreign languages.11 The last documents to be published before the war reported that as of 15 December 1938 the collection of the Sejm and Senate Library consisted of 36,928 works in almost 48,000 volumes and 3,025 titles of periodicals in about 30,000 volumes. After the new plenary hall and a hotel for deputies and senators were commissioned in 1928, the Library was provided with appropriate space. The reading room was left in the old building, while the periodical reading room, the resource storage facilities – equipped with modern shelving and protected against fire – were situated in the new building. The staffing of the Library evolved throughout the 20 years of inter-war period. Initially, beside the manager, and then director, Dr. Henryk Kołodziejski, a qualified librarian and a messenger were employed. At the end of 1921, there were already 6 persons employed, in 1928 – 13 persons, and by 1939 the number increased to 20 employees.
According to the Library’s rules of procedure, its resources were available at the reading rooms and materials could be borrowed mainly by the deputies and senators, and also by employees of the Sejm and Senate offices, journalists – members of the Parliamentary Reporters’ Club, authorised officials of ministries and central offices, researchers, and even students authorised by university authorities and, under certain conditions, “ordinary people from the street”. The custom of working on plenary days until the end of proceedings consolidated at the time, and it has been continued to this day. The attendance of deputies was increasing slowly yet steadily. We know that despite the fact that the number of deputies and senators was reduced by the authoritarian Constitution of April 1935 by 46%, reading room attendance dropped by only 21%. Also the number of borrowings from the storage facilities (i.e. disregarding reference book collections) was 517 in 1935, 522 in 1936 (the figures concern only deputies and senators). In the 1930s, attendance of users from outside the parliament was also increasing at a fast rate. In 1933, there were 750 people a month, in 1935 – 900, and in 1937 – 1050 a month.
The disastrous years of the war and occupation
During the campaign of September 1939, most of the Sejm building was destroyed (including the plenary hall and the adjacent building with the main reading room, catalogues and inventories of the Library), while the periodical reading room and most of the storage facilities situated in the modern building with reinforced concrete floors survived. The lowest storeys accommodating archives were flooded with water which probably came from firefighting on upper floors. As long as the building was accessible in the first days of September, director Henryk Kołodziejski and the employees gathered every day, making efforts to protect the collections. Among other things, some of the most valuable archival files were then evacuated to the east. They survived the war and were returned by the Soviet authorities in 1956.
As early as on 23 September 1939, SS Head Himmler instructed Department II of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA – Reichssicherheitshauptamt), called “Ideological Research and Evaluation”, to organise a unit whose responsibility would be to “protect prehistoric finds and prehistoric sites in Poland”, also branded by the SS men “The Operational Unit for the Protection of Scientific Values and Fine Arts”, best known as “Kommando Paulsen”, named after its commander, professor of prehistory at the University of Berlin and SS Untersturmführer, Peter Paulsen. The book collection of the Sejm Library was Paulsen’s largest loot. The decision to move the Library to Germany was taken in early November 1939. The first three trucks (including two with trailers) operated by the transport company of Richard Schultze, reached Berlin on 17, 18 and 23 November. Then 4 railway wagons were dispatched, the last of which reached Berlin on 2 December. The data coming from German documents suggest that the whole surviving book collection, i.e. about 48,000 volumes, was taken out of the country. The collection of newspapers and magazines was partly burnt in the Sejm garden, and partly recycled at the Warsaw paper mill. After the war, only about 14% of the resources removed in 1939 returned to the Library.
The Polish People's Republic 1944-1989
In view of the fact that the Library was almost completely destroyed by the Germans, the post-war reconstruction stared from scratch. After the opening of the Legislative Sejm in February 1947, the Library was also commissioned. The organisation by-laws of the Chancellery of the Legislative Sejm conferred on 11 September 1948 by the Marshall of the Sejm preserved the name of the Library, and recognized it being merely one of the six Chancellery offices reporting to the Chief of the Chancellery of the Sejm, and not a unit reporting directly to the Marshal, as was the case in the interwar period. The Provisional Organisation By-laws of the Chancellery of the State Council provided that the Sejm Library consisted of autonomous sections: General, Acquisitions, Collection Processing, Reading Room, and Reference Library. Characteristically, the Library was then the only organisational unit to retain the adjectival form of the word “Sejm” in its name.
By the end of the 1940s, more than 100,000 library items had been gathered, of which about 70,000 were incorporated in the collection. About 15,000 of them were parliamentary and UN publications. Such a great increase of resources over a short period was possible owing to unusual ways of acquisition in the period immediately following the end of the war. Apart from purchases, donations and exchange, libraries benefited from what was called “allocations” from the Central Board of Libraries. Those were books from former German libraries, collections abandoned by landowners forced to leave their homes by the land reform (manor book collections), those whose owners could not be identified after the war, and books handed over following the liquidation of libraries attached to state establishments or the liquidation of those establishments themselves. Books were bequeathed based on administrative decisions, often without any kind of selection or reflection on their usefulness for the libraries concerned. The Sejm Library, as the one operating within an organisational and administrative framework of state authorities, was given a priority in those allocations.
The Library was trying to expand the acquisition process through the exchange of publications. While the 1886 Brussels Convention was formally in force, exchange suffered numerous disturbances, mostly for political reasons. For example, when the communist authorities closed the British Information Centre in Warsaw, the Britons retorted e.g. by stopping the supply of parliamentary materials to the Sejm Library. Moreover, in the 1950s all contacts with foreign institutions were subject to scrutiny or mediation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which often impeded or slowed down the exchange. In order to maintain the continuity of parliamentary publications, the Library was forced, for several years, to buy e.g. British, Austrian, German, Israeli and Yugoslav documents, using its modest allocation of hard currency. After 1956, the situation started to improve. In 1959, the Library was already receiving official and parliamentary publications from 34 states, and this continued at a similar level until the late 1990s, when printed matter was replaced by parliamentary and official databases.
Since it was established with the Sejm, i.e. formally the highest organ of power, the Library was allowed a certain degree of autonomy in gathering foreign-language materials, as well as appropriate allocations of hard currency for their purchase. A mandatory copy of official publications was also obtained in the form of official journals of ministries and voivodship national councils.35 Despite the fact that the
copies were sometimes hard to come by, especially those supposed to be provided by ministries, it was finally possible to collect almost a complete set thereof. From its resumption of activity after the war, the Library also remained a UN depository library, and despite proposals to waive the deposit it has maintained that status to date.
Throughout the post-war period, the Library was mainly focused on serving the deputies and the parliamentary bodies (committees). The categories of the users served in 1947-1989 did not change much. Apart from government members, deputies and members of the State Council, personnel of both chancelleries, the users also included researchers, journalists, writers, and senior-year students, provided with a greater or smaller scope of service depending on the intensity of the Sejm proceedings. In the 1944-1949 period, the number of readers ranged between 5 and 50 a day, but no detailed statistics were kept. In 1953, the reading room was visited by 1,914 readers. In the report for that year, it was complained that owing to activities of the Sejm building security “the opinion prevailed that the Sejm Library is a closed, hardly-accessible library”, and demands were raised to publish a dementi thereto in the press. In 1956, the number of reader visits was already close to 9 thousand (8,819), to then range over the next thirty years between 7,500 and 13,500 visits a year. A characteristic decline was witnessed in 1968 (down to 6,100), as in the wake of the turmoil at universities (March 1968), students’ access was limited by administrative decision (simply enough, no passes were issued from the end of February to mid-August).
Throughout the post-war period, the Library was struggling with the lack of adequate library storage and processing space. In 1946, storage facilities were arranged in the rooms occupied in 1928-1939, and the reading facility was accommodated in an adjacent round room of the budget committee. The Library has been occupying those premises to this day. Initially, the Library occupied about 1,000 m2, and over time the area increased to 1,500 m2, but most of the time there were problems both with the storage space and with the space available to the users and employees. The storage space issue was dealt with through resource selection and by increasing the height of shelves – in reasonable limits of course. For many years, demands had been made for rooms to cater for a reading space for the deputies – also formally tabled by the deputies themselves – but to no avail. While the post-war reconstruction plans provided for a separate library building in the Sejm complex, when was actually commissioned, it was put to other uses, e.g. offices of the State Council members and the central archives of the communist party. Now it accommodates the Senate.
In a free Poland – the Sejm Library after 1989
The partly free elections of 4 June 1989 led to a change in the position of the parliament within the system of state power. Once a meaningless body formally carrying out decisions taken by the communist party, the Sejm was becoming what seemed to be the most important place for resolving matters of key importance for the public and the state. An unprecedented intensification of work was witnessed of the parliament sitting in permanence (instead of the previous system of two sessions in a year). The Chancellery of the Sejm faced completely new and multiple challenges, both in terms of quantity and quality of the services delivered to the chamber. Owing to the change of the Sejm’s work style, there has been a marked growth of demand both for information and for day-to-day expert support. It became necessary to set up both its own Research Bureau and to strengthen and unify the information and documentation facilities of the Sejm. The Sejm Library remained an organisational unit of the Chancellery of the Sejm, but its remit was expanded. Pursuant to an agreement between the Chiefs of the Chancellery of the Sejm and a separate Chancellery of the Senate, the senators and the Senate staff became the users of the Library on the same terms as the deputies. The first years of transformation saw an expansion of the Library’s structure through the establishment or integration of new agencies.
In view of the intensification of the Sejm’s proceedings and the need to ensure space for the purposes of day-to-day activities of the Sejm committees, the idea to establish the Museum of the Polish Sejm, which had already been developed for several years, was abandoned in 1990, and the team involved in its organisation was taken over by the Library, where it formed the Museum Division. The division has been involved in the collection and museum processing of works of art, cultural heritage assets and antique books related to the past of the parliamentary system. It also organises temporary exhibitions, usually to mark important anniversaries celebrated by the Sejm. Currently, the Museum Division’s resource is close to 8300 pieces (objects of art, documents, and numismatic items).
Following the self-dissolution of the communist party, part of its property remained idle and there was no clear concept as to its future. This also concerned libraries. One of them, attached to the former Archives of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party (taken over by the state archives, but without its book collection) – was incorporated in the Sejm Library on the Chief of the Sejm Chancellery’s decision in April 1991. This arrangement probably saved the collection from dispersion, but it required a major organisational effort. A large part of the volumes was stored in piles in the basements of the building currently converted for the purposes of the Senate, without any logic or topographical guidance whatsoever. After almost a year of organisation work, the resources were again made available to readers. The library taken over forms a separate Social History Collection Division.
The Sejm Archives, incorporated in the Sejm Library in September 1992, also forms a separate division. It acquires, processes, preserves and provides access to archival records produced by the Sejm, its bodies, deputies’ offices and the Chancellery of the Sejm. Also in this case, reference was intentionally made to the tradition of the Second Republic, but the arrangement was also dictated by the desire to concentrate the Sejm’s documentation facilities in a single organisational unit and by utilitarian concerns (elimination of multiple acquisitions of certain materials, easy access for archivists to source materials kept at the Library, etc.). In 2018, the Archives’ resources contained more than 1 500 running meters of files, about 73 000 audio and video recordings (tapes and cassettes), and more than 10 000 sets of photographs.
In response to the deputies’ demand for media information, the Media Resource Centre was established in 1991, which deals with recording, processing and presentation of audiovisual recordings of the sittings of the Sejm and major news and feature programmes broadcast by several television channels. Its services became popular with the deputies, who had their speeches recorded on video cassettes, and, more recently, on DVDs. A press information section was also set up, which produces a hardcopy daily and weekly press review about the Sejm, based on a wide selection of newspapers and magazines, both central and regional. In 2005, an electronic press information service was launched, which provides direct access to a collection of press clippings with a full-text search facility.
The closing step in the development of the Sejm Library’s structure was the establishment in 2002 of the European Information and Documentation Centre as a new division of the Library, tasked with the provision of information support concerning the EU documents and legislative acts. In view of setting up the Centre, the scope of acquisition of EU literature, periodicals and documents was expanded. A website was created, offering an extensive set of constantly updated information on the European Union and the EU information sources, and on the activities of the Sejm related to European integration. In the period around the accession (January- July 2004) the number of user visits to the EIDC website was 87,771. EIDC also participated in the Interparliamentary EU Information Exchange (IPEX) project.
The rules organizing and disciplining the collection process were defined in 1992 and slightly modified in 1999. Special bibliometric research made it possible to adjust the set of foreign periodicals in the field of law, extensive selection of the book collection is carried out, and purchases of foreign literature are decided by a committee composed of public law professors of international repute. It can also be added that the Library’s financial capability was adjusted in the 1990s to the actual publication purchase needs, and about 40% of the books acquired were donated (a particular increase was witnessed after an online catalogue was launched). About 40% of all acquisitions are publications in foreign languages.
The main challenge facing the Library in the past two decades was the automation of library work, defined as a total change of working tools aimed at increasing the effectiveness and speed of user service, and, what may be comparable to the invention of print, expanding information access online. It was decided to purchase off-the-shelf software of the integrated library system class, marking a major breakthrough in the automation process planned and already implemented. Following a competitive bidding process, in autumn of 1993 the ALEPH system was installed, which, though a medium-class solution, fully satisfied the projected needs of the Sejm Library. The flexibility and modular structure of the system, corresponding to the basic library functions (acquisition, processing, provision and information on collections) made it possible to automate all the library processes, and at the same time to gradually put additional modules into service. The operation of the system started with the cataloguing of new acquisitions, in order to make its most visible fragment – the catalogue of the latest collection – available to the users (and decision-makers) as soon as possible. By 1997, all modules of the system had been rolled out.
Major challenges in the automation process included the choice of the information retrieval language corresponding to the needs of a parliamentary library. Following a 1992 analysis of several languages used both by the Chancellery of the Sejm and by several Polish libraries, works started on developing a proprietary uniform information retrieval language, matching both the content of parliamentary documents (including legislative instruments), and the requirements of the automated system. Within two years, STEBIS, a uniform thesaurus system was developed, based on EuroVoc – a multi-lingual thesaurus of the European Parliament. The system has been continuously updated and developed, and the ongoing cooperation with the Eurovoc thesaurus team has involved, among other things, proposing new descriptors and delivering in 2005 for the purposes of the European Parliament the official Polish language version of the thesaurus (since July 2005 it has been available online on the EuroVoc Thesaurus website).
The Sejm Library participates in many forms of international cooperation: International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), Interantional Council on Archives (ICA), International Group of Ex Libris Users (IGeLU), Visegrad Digital Parliamentary Library+ (VDPL+), European Centre for Parliamentary Research and Documentation (ECPRD), Interparliamentary EU Information Exchange (IPEX). In 2017, in cooperation with the Chancellery of the Senate, the Library organized a 33rd conference of the IFLA Library and Research Sevices for Parliaments Section. The main subject of the conference was "Information as the foundation for social solidarity: the role of parliamentary libraries and research services ". 140 participants from 49 countries took part in the meeting.
In its present organisational shape, which refers to the times of the Second Polish Republic, the Library fulfils three tasks (library, archive and museum), all of which form the information/documentation facility of the Sejm. The ample and carefully profiled library resources, meticulous archival records, and a collection of works of art and cultural heritage assets enable the parliamentarians and other users to answer most inquiries. The Library’s collection has provided a basis for many major dissertations in the field of law, political science and history. Owing to computer technology, the Library’s resources have been accessible outside the reading room or the archive room for quite some time now. But along with the use of advanced forms of information – prompt, reliable and, regretfully, dehumanised, the Library is seeking to enable both the deputies and the general public to commune with manuscripts, antique books, original documents, and works of art. The memory of tradition combined with urge to deploy state-of-the-art IT technologies is characteristic of the Sejm Library of today.
Sejm Library in numbers
557 000 units of library materials
319 000 books
119 000 volumes of magazines
90 000 volumes of parliamentary and official publications
22 000 volumes of publications of international organizations
7 400 units of microforms and electronic documents
1 500 meters of archival materials
8 300 museum objects
3 200 users per year
6 800 visits per year
550 MP’s inquiries per year
700 000 connections with the Sejm Library databases per year
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