The New Year… Reflections on the journey of legal librarianship

And thus ends the first working week of the New Year…

I’m currently experiencing a cherished reprieve from the frenetic rush that accompanies the lifestyle of working a full time job and simultaneously studying for a master’s degree.  This week has held host to some rare luxuries; like meditation, actual sleep and, dare I say it, exploiting my sofa of an evening as opposed to the usual cortisol injected proceedings of rinsing productivity out of every available minute. Seriously, it’s 9.30 am on a Saturday morning and I don’t already have an inelastic regime for the impending week; no joy deprived schedules or overly unrealistic expectations of myself – nothing. I had projected feeling ill at ease, guilt-ridden in a situation so converse to the usual as this but so far, I can only express pure exultation. In such circumstances it feels natural to implement a reflective perspective of the past few months and contemplate the intellectual advances I’ve gained on the territory of legal librarianship and indeed on life itself.

The first term of my degree was a sharp, steep learning curve that was enjoyable, exhausting and enlightening all at once; seemingly insurmountable challenges have been conquered and I can finally say with conviction that I’m on my way to being qualified.

IMG_1614[1]Amongst the two simultaneous modules I have to express my preference for the “Information studies” module which, as vague and all-encompassing as that may sound, turned out to provide tutorial on a very specific set of skills. The objective of the module was to answer a real life information enquiry, which interestingly for me, was instigated by the “business consultant” of the university who is using research into mentoring to establish a new service for Robert Gordon to offer business clients in the oil and gas industry. Her research requirements were very specific; to enquire into the literature on mentoring where business objectives are the primary focus (rather than the usual objectives of development of the individual/’s career).

As I laboured hour after hour on this rather obscure topic, one of the most illuminating actualities to transpire was the retrospective realisation of the inferiority of what I had, back then, ventured to call my “research skills”. The completion of this assignment was a humbling process of intervention; never again will I conduct research into anything with the patchy, sporadic and serendipitous approach I had found it satisfactory to employ during my undergrad degree. Though the library was always my favourite retreat, I clearly never understood the gravity of what it was actually for. Yes I went on the tour and induction (no doubt in a very hung over state) but I somehow missed the pertinence of the message that this miraculous place was not just a cosy abode in which I could study and concurrently live out my Hogwarts dream (catch The University of Birmingham in the right nook or cranny and a Hogwarts-esque quality cannot be denied) but it is, indeed, the gateway to knowledge; the podium to understanding; the key to knowing.

I know it may be considered contentious to use the word “gateway” now; we prefer to think of ourselves as enablers, facilitators of learning but I feel that it is appropriate phrasing to use in referring to an educational establishment and on an academic journey where I honestly did feel, at times, that knowledge and understanding was eluding me. This was due partly to the fact that I personally found the experience very intellectually challenging and partly because of the frequent demonstrations of reluctance and (dare I say) hostility to my scholarly progression. I realise that negativity and vilification is an ugly emotion and so I shall dither here no longer but the experiment whereby I proved that my dissertation tutor had hidden in her room and pretended not to be in when she was in fact, occupying the room all along (yes, that’s right; I waited silently outside until she ventured to surface) must bear some significance to my claims.

I suppose this is some-what an aside, a digression perhaps but the point I seek to render is that my comprehension of both the purpose of a library, particularly within an academic setting and my research skills have evolved dramatically for the better. I hasten to add that there were also some very positive experiences of learning at The University of Birmingham but I think what I encountered irradiates a wider issue; that perhaps more needs to be done in correlating the fundamental teaching at universities (i.e. classroom learning, the lectures and lecturers themselves) to the support offered by the information services and libraries. It is only when the two entities are combined that learning is at its most cataclysmic.

It may be that my experience was obscure, indeed at the Robert Gordon University there is an admirably seamless dialogue between the teaching and support services though I can’t quite tell if this is because of the mode of learning (i.e. distance learning – online) or that my personal conception of the benefits of the library has matured. Either way, I’m enjoying learning about libraries in so many new and interesting ways that I’d never even considered I could.

My second module was slightly less technical in that rather than refining my database interrogation skills and my understanding of information user needs, I learned about the “management” aspects of librarianship. Management is a notoriously woolly subject and I have to admit, there is only so much theory one can learn that could be considered useful. I do agree upon its necessity though and now feel better acquainted with some of the key concepts such as HR, planning, finance and strategy. By far the most enjoyable part of the module was the assignment itself in which I outlined a proposal for the establishment of in information services. Using my local Borough as the hypothetical setting allowed me gain an understanding of the considerations one would have to take in the successful implementation and maintenance of such a service.

What else have I learned since writing? Of not is my visit to the Law Society Library in London which was far more “Hogwarts-ier” than anywhere I’ve been so far. After tinkering up the perilously rudimentary “stairway” onto the upper level of the library, the librarian offered a fascinating insight into the functions of the collection and the varied community it serves. As I clung to the weathered balustrade and cast my eyes across the multitudinous collection I appended a further dimension to my conception of legal information services. It was fruitful for me to observe such services in a non-corporate environment.

There were similarities such as the database of know-how the library has been building for around two decades in IMG_1620[1]their efforts to avoid duplication of labour, just like the one at Clyde’s (although obviously in quite a different format), the core legal databases and the notorious evidence of preference for good old-fashioned hard copy books which seem so ingrained in the traditional domain of law. There were differences too though, exhibitions of the librarians’ innate passion for preservation which is perhaps less prominent in a corporate environment; we were told about projects whereby the librarians have begun to record basic biographical information on the individuals of firms across the country. The termination of such directories by the big publishers has inadvertently begun to create a void in crucial information that has helped people to trace family history. Many people visit the law library in the hopes of tracing an individual, often to facilitate the implementation of wills and such legal documents which is enabled by the information recorded in these directories, the librarians have diligently picked up where the publishers have left off and tried to culminate this information from various other sources in order to have the data available in one consolidated collection. Conservation was also an issue which I’ve never witnessed arise in commercial settings for obvious reasons, there was a heavy emphasis on historical law books and archives for which there are large designated repositories which can be accessed relatively quickly (even though a predominant part of this is based offsite, up North). At Clyde & Co, it is practically dangerous to keep any books which aren’t up to date and I painfully admit that in manay cases, when one book is catalogued, its predecessor goes straight in the (recycling, obviously) bin.

Finally, this past few months has propelled me to the “front-line position” on the enquiries desk. Thrill and dread coincided when I took my first session in the “hot-seat” handling enquiries from international offices and practice areas seemed a rather daunting task when I was secretly still at the stage where I had to google the definitions of terms like “arbitration” and “tort”. Though I still feel I have a long way to go, more and more I’m really enjoying getting my teeth stuck into research that is serving big law cases. I feel I’m slowly mastering the basics, honing my case law and company information research skills. I like the fact that the work is varied, you never know what you’re going to get asked;no one enquiry will ever be the same (unless it’s an enquiry from the lawyer I won’t name who asks a question, forgets he’s asked it and resubmits it, only to a different person that handled the initial enquiry… oh the futility!). I finally feel that I’m cultivating a unique skill-set that I’m enjoying employing and developing in my day to day work; the experience is irrefutably enhanced by my the theoretical studies of my masters degree and though I feel I’ve never worked harder than I am now, I’m also enjoying things more than ever.

I shall end in the vain I began – with the mention of The New Year. Though I’ve attended a few CILIP events and IMG_1625[1]tours I do feel I would like to be more professionally involved; I can’t help but feel that corporate law librarians are slightly under-represented by CILIP though, and though I’ve attended events of great interest and relevance I’m still searching for my niche. I have a lot to give and will make it my New Year’s Resolution to seek out opportunities to give a little back or get more involved with some of the causes that perhaps aren’t directly linked to what I do on a day to day basis but represent the wider picture of librarianship because it is fast becoming one of my greatest passions, and in a sector where advocacy is vital, I’m sure my voice is needed somewhere to add to the noise of how important libraries are!



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