On Tuesday 8th February a small group of trainees gathered for a trip to the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS). Our visit began with a tour around the library, our guide being Gerry Power, a member of the Academic Services team. We made our way to the entrance of the library which can be found, somewhat confusingly, on the fourth floor of the building, with the rest of the library following on the floors below. The institute was founded in 1947 and started its life in one of the houses on Russell Square, moving to its current home in the mid-seventies. IALS was founded with the aim of facilitating legal research throughout the UK. As a result the Institute allows free access to all academic researchers in the country. Legal practitioners and law firms are also welcome to use the collections, however a fee is payable for the privilege, with the size of the law firm reflecting the size of the charge. Undergraduates and taught postgraduates are generally not eligible to use the library, unless they are studying towards a taught postgraduate law qualification at the University of London. Members of the public may purchase a £25 day ticket to use the library. Gerry explained that they charge this amount because they are providing access to the best legal collection in the country.
In terms of stock, the library’s priority is to collect primary materials made up of books, journals and e-resources. The library doesn’t stock many textbooks or manuals as their focus is academic research, rather than learning. The collections cover law in the UK as well as law from commonwealth countries, individual European jurisdictions, USA and parts of Asia and South America. The collection is therefore very large and as a result space is fast becoming an issue. Gerry explained that there are future plans to extend the library into the space next door - a plan which IALS feel is a necessity as they have now reached capacity. To help alleviate the problem of space a separate store in Surrey is used to house old and little-used materials.
A large part of the IALS library collection which does not demand physical space on shelves is their electronic resources, which are freely available to users. IALS also hosts BAILII (The British and Irish Legal Information Institute), a digital database which provides free online access to primary legal materials. The library at IALS contributes to the BAILII database to help make law quickly available on the web for anyone to access.
Because of the increasing importance of IT to the library, IALS information services now have three dedicated computer services librarians to organise and manage computer services. There is also a busy document supply service which is heavily used by customers throughout the country.
The library is large and is organised using an in-house classification scheme, developed in the 1940s. To help reduce confusion for users when navigating their way around the collections, the library runs induction classes and individual teaching sessions. These classes not only help people to understand the layout of the library but also encourage users to search the catalogue themselves for materials.
After our tour of the library, we were met by Katherine Read from Academic Services for a session on website evaluation. Katherine explained that since the rise in computer use, there has been a reduction in information literacy skills, particularly in younger people who often rely on the internet for information. We were given a very interesting presentation on how we can educate users to evaluate websites and ensure the information they are finding is reliable.
All in all, our trip to IALS was a valuable one. It gave us an interesting insight into how a large, specialist library is organised and managed, and how they cope with ongoing challenges such as space and access.
City Law School Library