A brief overview of the Northern Ireland Assembly Library

Reading Time: 5 minutes

This week is Libraries Week so we thought we would provide an insight into the Northern Ireland Assembly Library, its work and the collection that it manages.

An image of the Northern Ireland Assembly Library
The Northern Ireland Assembly Library

The Assembly Library

The Library, like the Assembly itself, is situated in Parliament Buildings, Stormont. It originates from the early 1920s, following the creation of the Parliament of Northern Ireland in 1921. It is thus older than the present Assembly and even older than Parliament Buildings itself, which opened in 1932.

The Library served the old Parliament of Northern Ireland from 1921 to 1972. The first Assistant Clerk/Librarian was a Major George Thomson M.A., D.S.O. Major Thomson later became the ‘Clerk of the Parliaments’ (essentially, the Chief Executive of the institution). The first female Librarian of the Parliament was Hilda Dinsmore who was appointed in 1958.

The Library went on to serve the various elected bodies and government departments that were created between the prorogation of the last Parliament in 1972 and the present Assembly. It is therefore one of the few parts of the building to have been continuously used from 1932 until the present day.

Since the most recent restoration of devolution in 2007 the Library has been part of the Research and Information Service (RaISe), situated within the Assembly’s Legal, Governance and Research Services Directorate. As a key part of RaISe, the Library is a vital resource to Members, their staff and secretariat staff. It provides timely access to authoritative information in order to support Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in the scrutiny of legislation and to inform debate around the legislative business of the Assembly. The Assembly Library provides a number of different services and resources which are detailed below. These services are delivered by a professional team, and we aim to do so in a timely, objective, non-partisan and confidential manner.

The collection

Our core collections of books, periodicals and reports are in the fields of government and politics, public administration and social policy, constitutional law and the history of Northern Ireland. The periodicals collection mirrors this subject coverage. There are also strong collections of Northern Ireland legislation, and Northern Ireland official publications.

The Library also holds a collection of reference books and statistical material. The statistics collection not only includes those relating to Northern Ireland but many European Union and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development statistical resources.

Perhaps uniquely, the Assembly Library holds a hard copy collection of Government press releases covering the period 1973 to 2000.

There exists a number of interesting legacy items in the Library dating back to partition. Among them, for example, are a small number of scrap books dating from May to Dec 1922. Contents include press cuttings from national and local newspapers featuring some of the actions in the Irish Civil War and associated conflict in Northern Ireland.

A photograph showing a selection of press cuttings from 1922
Press cuttings from 1922

Enquiry service

The Library provides an enquiry service for all Members, their staff and staff of the secretariat and works closely with Assembly Research Officers. The Library handles requests for publications, statistical or background information. Legislation tracking is also a typical type of query dealt with by the librarians. In order to answer enquiries, the Library utilises reference and statistical material, parliamentary and official publications, electronic subscription databases and e-books, newspapers, journals and general loan stock. The Library also has access to resources from other libraries via inter-Library loan arrangements. During normal periods of Assembly business, the Library deals with several thousand enquiries per year on policy and legislation. The Library remains busy during the current political impasse, with enquiries continuing from MLAs, their staff, outposted secretariat staff and other, often Brexit-related, activities.

Information packs

In normal session, information packs are prepared to inform debate on tabled private members’ motions, opposition motions and selected committee motions. Content can be drawn from a range of sources, including government departments, the Assembly and other legislatures, interest groups and news media. The packs are made available on the Assembly intranet, in hard copy in the Library, and are emailed to Members, usually two Fridays before the debate in question.

A photograph showing some examples of Information Packs produced for MLAs
Some examples of Information Packs produced for MLAs

Brexit reading list

In the light of the ongoing Brexit negotiations, the Library monitors a very wide range of resources and produces a helpful reading list which collates Brexit-related books, blog articles, journal articles and other materials. Now in its thirteenth edition, this is updated regularly and can be found here.


The Library subscribes to a range of electronic resources including online databases, e-journals and a small selection of e-books. The Library has developed a collection of relevant electronic resources. These resources range across subject areas that reflect the work of the Assembly and can be accessed by Members and staff via the RaISe pages on the Assembly intranet.

Social media

The Library’s electronic services team maintains a Twitter feed. This is used as a vehicle to promote Assembly Research and Information Service products and services. The Library publishes research publications written by Assembly Research Officers on topics relevant to Assembly business and endeavours to anticipate future topics of interest. The Library’s profile on Twitter allows the public to access these publications as soon as they are online. For example, the following resources are made available:

  • Research briefings: these are short papers which provide a brief overview on an issue;
  • Research papers: these are longer papers that deal with an issue in greater detail with an emphasis on analysis;
  • Blog articles written by Research Officers via the Research Matters blog.
  • Bill papers: as part of the legislative process, bill papers are predominantly prepared for committees in order to inform committee members about the various elements of the proposed legislation; and
  • Deposited Papers: these are unpublished papers placed in the Library at the direction of the Speaker or a Minister in the Executive.

Library awareness sessions

Members and their staff are encouraged to attend Library awareness sessions which provide a comprehensive introduction to Library collections and services and include demonstrations of online resources. These sessions can also be tailored to meet the particular interests of groups or individuals. A presentation on the work of the Research and Information Service is part of the induction programme given to all new Assembly staff.

Where is the Library and who can use it?

The Library is located on the ground floor of the Assembly. MLAs, their staff and secretariat staff are its core users though the Library also engages with Government departments, other legislatures and individual members of the public, by appointment.