SLA Europe, BIALL and CLSIG Open Day

A few of the trainees spent the day at CILIP headquarters for a series of presentations, most of which pertained to law librarianship. Below are the main points I got from each speaker with a link to their presentations.

Google is not God; it is important to find and use authoritative resources. Therefore librarians still have a key role to play.

The profession is stereotyped, which can be frustrating. Jacky suggested that she was offered one (corporate) job because she was the only candidate who did not look like a librarian!

Jacky changed jobs and sectors every few years with support from TFPL. Examples include higher education, architecture, law and medicine. Having subject experience was of little significance compared to general skills like management, empathy and communication, though Jacky did say that having worked with lawyers was considered useful. She would have liked to try working for the BBC, MI5, newspapers and charities, and is considering voluntary services overseas.

At the BMA library Jacky project-managed the movement and rebranding of the library, bringing it into the 21st century and making it a part of the organisation’s strategy. Before and after photos are included in her slideshow.

Just apply for things and make the most of opportunities. Be proactive rather than wait to be asked. This includes applying for voluntary roles to gain experience and show your commitment to the profession. Keeping a blog and tweeting also demonstrates current awareness and motivation.
 It is not necessary to meet all the criteria of a job advert if you argue your case.

Sam asked employers what they look for in graduate-level candidates, and the main criteria were enthusiasm, fresh ideas, up-to-date digital skills, people skills, drive to achieve...and cheaper labour. Experience and specific training were not expected.

Compared to working for a law firm, the job of an academic law librarian is NOT to do the research for the students but to teach them how to do it for themselves. Emily does a lot of training sessions and even sets coursework for the students. There are a lot of meetings and committees. Emily pointed out that by choosing this position over one in a law firm she was able to have more responsibility earlier on.

Problems for the sector include: tightened budgets across higher education and increased publisher costs (also publishers splintering); balancing the needs of teaching and research; space limitations; the balance of hard copy and electronic; outsourcing; improving standards of legal information literacy and last but not least engagement with students.

It is important to get involved and try new things. Emily set up Lawbore, the online resource for lawyers. It provides a web-guide to authoritative resources, a range of tutorials, and a blog to keep students up-to-date with new developments in law. Lawbore is now hugely popular not only with City students but on an international scale. Emily is also involved in BIALL (more committees!), which has been great for networking and keeping in the loop.

Law librarians still specialise, either by department (cataloguing, acquisitions etc.) or by subject. However in smaller law firms, in which the teams are much smaller, librarians may have to cover several or even all areas themselves.

Work for a law firm is research-heavy. Enquiries can relate to the law, companies, people, press, current affairs... There is a lot of training to provide for new trainees, new joiners plus any additional training needs for new resources, refresher courses etc. There is relatively little cataloguing to do; firms tend to have their own systems and these can be quite relaxed.

A law firm is a professional work environment. Advantages include:  good resources, interesting work, relatively well paid (subject to the firm). However the work is demanding, time sensitive, and in some firms librarians are treated as “only support staff”.

Sandra does not have any law qualifications but her employers have not expected her to have prior experience of law, only information management. She spent 12-18 months at three different firms before settling at Mishcon de Reya. She took the opportunity to be responsible for the firm’s intranet and the job has grown with her. The knowledge management department has also tripled in size since she started.

Danny appreciates how lucky he is to work in such a well-funded library. There is a huge variety of material that, as a librarian, he gets the chance to handle. Although apparently it is best not to know what some of these things are worth! 

It is also an intellectually stimulating environment, with lots of opportunities to learn and to get involved with projects. The library is constantly organising exhibitions, talks and other such events. Danny’s advice is to get out of your comfort zone.

Marie is “currently in my first professional post as an Information Officer for the law firm Trowers & Hamlins”... see her blog for details about how she got there.

Regarding library school, Marie advises students to make the most of the tutors and especially get to know your personal tutor as you may want to use them as a reference. In her experience, employers are not interested in which modules you chose, so it is best to pick your favourites and get the best mark possible. Make sure not to miss opportunities to build your CV in your spare time – during her degree Marie won the SLA Europe Early Career Conference Award (ECCA) 2012.

Marie also encourages librarians to embrace social media. Twitter, a blog, LinkedIn and 23 Things are all great ways to gain (and demonstrate) current awareness and can provide you with great support...even job opportunities. Further to this, it is important to develop your own digital brand so that when employers look you up online you make a good impression.

We are living in a digital age, in which technology is developing very quickly – so much so that training in any specific programme is soon out-of-date. Therefore librarians should make sure they are experts in two core areas: people and information.

Simon gave some statistics on the huge (and increasing) amount of information that is being produced and talked about the possibilities of storing and organising this digitally. Libraries are working towards building larger library networks online. Simon believes the future for the digital librarian is as a liaison between IT and the library, translating the jargon and ensuring that the online systems are making all the information accessible. He is in favour of automated systems because “humans make mistakes”.

Simon has been an army librarian, e-resources manager and now works for the British Library on their Qatar project. He is a self-taught programmer and another winner of the SLA Europe Early Career Conference Award.

Working at an Inn of Court (also Middle Temple, Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn) is a blend of academic and research librarianship as the Inn is used by trainee and practising barristers, as well as judges and clerks. The library therefore offers training and signposting but will also carry out research for some patrons. This can be time-pressured. Additionally the library maintains a daily current awareness service in the form of a blog, and a gateway site of free authoritative websites – because google is not good enough!

It is a conservative and traditional environment in which to work; Tracey enjoys the formality but agrees that it does not appeal to everyone. However the Inn has embraced the modern age in that it subscribes to electronic resources, uses social media and provides wifi access. It also runs social mobility schemes.

In addition to Inner Temple, Tracey has worked at Lincoln’s Inn, the House of Lords and the law firm Lewis Silkin. Often her change of job was motivated by her drive to acquire experience and move up the career ladder.

Start with jobs in a larger organisation so you get the chance to learn from others. Then find opportunities to shine.

Fiona found work experience at her local library during holidays before completing her library qualification. She then worked for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, then Baker & Mackenzie. Finding that the professional services staff were being regularly restructured, Fiona set up a sideline business offering freelance negotiation training – so as not to keep all her eggs in one basket. In 2006 Facet Publishing published her book: Negotiating Licences for Digital Resources. She continues to work part-time for Linex Systems, a software company, and runs half-day workshops on the topics of Negotiation and Using Excel to Manage your library budget.

Fiona’s advice is to sell yourself – remind your boss of your achievements and aspirations and ask to take on projects. You are always on show whether that be in person at work or socially or electronically. Do your core job well and then you will be given more opportunity to play to any other strengths and interests. As your career matures you can start to specialise and consider more niche roles and opportunities

If you feel you are stuck in a rut, talk to your boss or careers department about why you are not being promoted. She also recommends volunteering for professional bodies (e.g. CILIP), using social media, taking qualifications (Prince2, CIPS) and writing articles. The information sector is large and changing rapidly, so you do not need to follow a traditional librarian’s path. Find the new gap in the market and move into it e.g. Information Architecture, Outsourced service co-ordinator.

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