Visit to the Ministry of Justice Library on 17th March
This was an opportunity to find our more about the role of librarians within the government service. There are some 600 librarians employed across government doing a wide variety of jobs. Ranging from more traditional library work to working with information databases, research and record management roles. The size of government libraries also varies a lot from small libraries working for government agencies with a single librarian, to larger libraries within ministries like health, education and justice.
The Ministry of Justice library is the result of a merger of two libraries in March 2007– the former Ministry of Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor’s Office and the part of the Home Office library that related to the divisions which became part of the Ministry of Justice. Rachel Robbins, the Customer Services Librarian and her colleagues Kathy and Jason, who showed us around and answered our questions formerly worked for the Home Office. At the point that they were scheduled to leave the Home Office, they had no office or library shelves for their material. They managed to secure temporary space for themselves and their library (still in crates) but in different places. At one point it took 10 minutes to find and collect a book and deliver it. During this period they were still able to maintain a service and received a letter of thanks from the Minister.
The two libraries are still not integrated. They don’t have an integrated library management system, although they are preparing a specification for one to send out to tender. They have two catalogue systems and only part of their catalogue is online through the government intranet.
One of the challenges for government librarians is to make sure that the people requesting their services are in fact their customers. For example prison inspectors and psychologists are customers, but not prison governors and officers who have their own library service. These two libraries are unlikely to merge because there is a potential for a conflict of interest. This is an issue that applies to other potential mergers of government libraries. Because of changes in responsibilities arising out of the machinery of government, both the issue of who your customers are and providing service for them is something they need to be constantly aware of.
A lot of their queries are sent by email and they are often asked to do research for customers. Each librarian we spoke to said that they found this aspect was a particularly interesting part of their job. One could sometimes hear their Minister responding to a question or read a government statement and know that some or all was based on their research.
Awareness of their customer’s needs and the nature of their customers work is an important consideration and from time to time visits to meet customers are arranged.
The enthusiasm for the work they were doing, the feeling that their work made an important contribution to the service provided by their ministry, and the positive way in which they responded to what seems like regular change arising out of the machinery of government were responses we received from all the librarians that we met on our visit.