An anniversary announcement

Last month, June 2015, was my 20th anniversary of working in law libraries. In June 1995 I started my first post library school job working in the library at the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow, from there I quickly moved on to the Faculty of Advocates to be a reader services library assistant. Since 1998 I’ve been in a variety of roles in two law firms, I’ve been at my current firm for nearly 12 years.

I don’t intend to blog on how things have changed in the last 20 years, others have already done this (see the posts on the Renaissance Utterances blog and Instead to celebrate this anniversary I am attempting CILIP Fellowship. CILIP describes Fellowship as –

“Fellowship is the pinnacle of professional recognition; a celebration of leadership and of significant contribution to the information professions.”

So why am I attempting this –

  • I’ve been a CILIP member since I joined as a student in 1993 and at times have felt that their perceived bias towards public and academic libraries is the case. A way to show CILIP that corporate sector librarians are just as good is to achieve their top qualification.
  • As a mid-career librarian Fellowship is the next natural step, it’s a long time since I Chartered and although I have revalidated my Chartership since I feel that the structure of Fellowship will be a good way to move forward personally and to make a difference to my organisation.
  • Peer pressure! A group of librarians I am friendly with are also attempting Fellowship and I can’t help but feel that if they can do it so can (and should) I!

And now that I’ve made such a public statement on attempting Fellowship I had better get started. Watch this space for thoughts as I move through the process.


Library Camping Again

The last conference I attended (the Ark Group Managing Your Law Firm Library) was seriously disappointing so could a free unconference event beat it in terms of learning opportunities?

Having been at Library Camp Glasgow last year I had a good idea what to expect, I decided not to pitch a session but was fully prepared to join in the discussion in the sessions I attended.

As I expected when I decided not to pitch a session none of the sessions were directly relevant to working in a corporate library so I chose which sessions to attend based on personal interest. Up first I went to to the session on CILIP Professional Registration, although I’ve been chartered for many years I am involved in the mentoring scheme for new candidates so I felt I had valid opinions and thoughts to add to the discussion and things to learn. The main thing I took away from this was that support for chartership is devolved to the home nations, as a mentor I probably should have known this before. My main contribution was probably to reiterate to CILIP that communication over the new professional registration rules has been poor and still needs to improve and the issues with the VLE such as training only in video form remain. Amongst other things we also discussed why we charter and is it still relevant today, there was a consensus that it’s useful to give structure to our CPD and to prove to current and future employers that we are keeping our skills up to date. Upcoming obligatory revalidation got the thumbs up from everyone.

For my second session I went to Martin Wade’s session on internet privacy and libraries. A really interesting discussion starting from IFLA’s current work to create a privacy statement for library associations to sign up to. The focus of this discussion seemed to be on public libraries, also touching on school libraries. However the main points that I took from the discussion are that digital literacy (or lack of) is a big issue and that libraries need to strike a balance between ethics and legislation to remain our trusted spaces; these issues are also relevant in corporate libraries. We do some work on digital literacy in our research training, there is possibly a gap for us to work with the IT team to do more in this area.

Lunch was a good chance to catch up with some people I don’t see often enough and to take a wee wander around the Mitchell Library picking up a leaflet about their services for businesses as well.

My first afternoon session was “Do you practice what you preach?” The concept of this session was that we teach the users of our services good practice but do we follow these practices ourselves? I know that I am OK at recording my CPD on the CILIP VLE but this session made me think about reflective practice. Do I do enough reflective practice? Probably not, when caught up in a busy day it’s easy to forget and hard to spare the time. Also just reflective practice on its own isn’t enough, how do I turn reflective practice into action to make changes? Something I need to reflect on I think 😉 In this session we also talked about keeping a personal bibliography. I already note all the books I read using Goodreads and I use Evernote to keep blogs and online articles I might want to refer back to but as I don’t do any scholarly research or writing there’s probably no need for me to keep a “proper” bibliography. I do intend to investigate some of the software used for this though.

My last choice of session was 23 Librarians Live – based on the 23 Librarians blog – a chat about our skills and where else other than traditional library jobs we might use them. This was a really interesting chat which I won’t give detail of as participants career journeys are not mine to share. The main conclusion was that librarians have lots of skills that are transferable to other jobs or to use in expanding what we currently do, often in unexpected ways.  A key tip was to concentrate on skills and not job titles.

Overall it was a worthwhile and interesting day. There were times it was frustrating to get bogged down in one person’s job or one sector and not to be able to look to the whole profession; if ever there was a time for librarians and libraries to work together for the good of the profession it is now when there are so many threats against us. There is also a lot we can can learn from sector to sector if we are willing to be open, perhaps because law firm librarianship in Scotland is so niche this is something I do anyway through necessity. Thanks to the participants who did share so much in terms of experiences and hints and tips, I hope I might also have said something useful to other people at Library Camp!

So did library camp beat the expensive law firm library conference? Yes, in terms of the inspiration and motivation I got from the day, I have lots to think about and ideas to take forward for my personal development. The law firm library conference probably wins on directly relevant work stuff but I enjoyed library camp much more.

Thanks to the organisers for your hard work in making a good day and to the sponsors, those chocolate muffins were yummy.

Some thoughts on MOOCs

Late in 2013 I made a foray into the world of the MOOC, specifically on the FutureLearn platform. My main purpose was personal interest in the content of the courses themselves but through the process I’ve had a few thoughts about the format itself.

My first attempt at a MOOC was a two week course on Fairness and Nature, unfortunately it coincided with a fortnight when I was very busy at work and socially and I failed to find time even for the 4 hours a week it requires. And with such a short course there was no time to catch up, the inevitable happened and I gave up after only a couple of days. Thankfully it is running again in March so I have signed up to try again.

Next I tried Web science: how the web is changing the world and was much more successful with this one.  I found the subject interesting so I was keen to keep going with it, it also wasn’t pitched at too difficult a level and not too many new topics to scare me off! The topics in this course were information professional relevant so I was able to count them as CPD for my Chartership revalidation, that helped a lot with motivation to do it at work lunch breaks.  I also found that with a 6 week course getting behind matters less as there is opportunity to catch up before the course is over.  I managed to complete this MOOC in the Christmas holidays, only a few days late, and was pleased to score quite highly on the test so I must have understood and remembered the content.

I tried a third FutureLearn MOOC, Sustainability, Society and You in January and again failed to complete!  This course required more engagement with blogging suggested along with participation on the FutureLearn platform, I found that I just didn’t have time for the work required.

More generally what do I think of MOOCs?  Starting with the FutureLearn platform itself, I really appreciate that there are transcripts of the videos. I read fast so this allows me to squeeze the course into lunchbreaks and rare free evenings. I also learn better from reading than from listening, transcripts cater for different types of learners.  I haven’t tried the other MOOC platforms to make a comparison but FutureLearn is pretty user friendly and I like it.

I believe that the reason I keep failing with MOOCs is lack of personal investment, chiefly they are free (I understand that they are free to widen access to education but this can also be a drawback) but also I don’t know the tutors or other students and I have no connection to the university. It’s just to easy to give up when life gets in the way.

I have tried distance learning before with the Open University and found this much more successful and I completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Social Science in 2008.  Making a considerable financial investment was a huge incentive not to waste that money and actually finish the course and gain a qualification.  The structure of tutorials and marked assessments kept me on track timewise and tutor support also helped when the going got tough.

I don’t know enough about the higher education sector to comment on the future of MOOCs and how disruptive they will be to the sector but for me they don’t work very well, I’d rather just read a book on a subject I am interested in.

Library Camp Glasgow

Who’d have believed spending a Saturday in the Mitchell Library talking about libraries could be so much fun? I certainly wondered why I was up so early on a weekend day as I headed to the Mitchell Library in Glasgow for my first library camp.

So what is library camp? Well there are no tents involved so if someone could enlighten me where the name comes from I would be grateful! Library camp is an unconference, there are few rules, and the participants decide what they are going to discuss. Most sessions were pitched on the camp wiki beforehand and one brave person pitched a further session on the day.  The pitched sessions were organised into a rough timetable for the day so participants could choose which they wanted to attend, and as there are no rules it’s possible to move from one session to another.

Before we got going on the serious discussions there was some fun stuff – library bingo to encourage us to circulate and meet new people, and a competition for the best 60 second rant!

My main reason for going to library camp was to investigate the unconference format to see if might be suitable to use for events for another library organisation. I knew I was likely to be the only corporate librarian there so wondered how relevant the discussions would be to me, as it turned out there was one session of direct relevance to my job.

I elected not to take part in any of the discussions in the first session of the morning and instead went on a tour of the Mitchell Library led by the lovely Myra who works there. The Mitchell has certainly changed since the last time I was in it about 15 years ago, so much brighter and more welcoming I hardly recognised it as the library I used to dread visiting to dig through old volumes of Hansard.  Very interesting tour, I think I might book on another tour in the hope I get to see in the stacks next time.

The first session I took part in was the discussion about business information. The leaders of this discussion and the other participants were mainly interested in business information from a provider’s point of view but as a consumer/user of this sort of information it was very useful to be part of this discussion. It is definitely a growing area of work for law firm librarians so any efforts to improve the access to this expensive type of information will be very welcome. It was also useful to meet those involved in working with business information. I even joined Glasgow City Libraries so that I can investigate the services of Business @the Mitchell the next time I work in the Glasgow office.

Next up lunch and a chance to meet more people and chat over some rather tasty sandwiches (and soup).

The afternoon sessions I chose were for personal interest rather than for direct relevance to my job.  First the session on attracting young people to library work to correct the problem of the ageing demographic of library staff. It was interesting to hear how various organisations are dealing with this problem and some innovative ideas that are being talked about. However the discussion soon widened to the problems of graduates, short term contracts, low pay and general lack of professional jobs.  I am not sure we reached any conclusions that can easily fix all these problems.  My last session of the day was on e-content in public libraries.  As the owner of a Kindle I haven’t been using the public libraries recently so I was interested to hear if improvements in e-book provision might change this.  Certainly the developments in some libraries look impressive and whilst they’ve not reached Edinburgh yet as soon as I get chance I will investigate their e-content offerings.  I like the idea of listening to an audio book on my bus journey to work and browsing magazines via my phone.

So did I enjoy my first library camp? Yes, I did.  I met and talked to interesting people who are passionate about the libraries they work in (and libraries in general), and it was refreshing to widen my horizons beyond law firm libraries. If you are willing and able to be open and share and to take part in the discussions library camp is fun and energising and I recommend people to give it a go.

Oh and today I am very much enjoying the jelly beans I found in my goodie bag!

CPD23 2012 Thing 16 – Advocacy, speaking up for the profession and getting published

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Advocacy for public libraries is not something I have been involved with. Firstly because the threats to public libraries aren’t quite so terrible in Scotland as they are elsewhere in the UK and secondly because I work in the corporate sector.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t care about public libraries, I believe that they still have an important role to play in society. However I admit to being one of the many people who has drifted away from using the library regularly. As a child I visited weekly and pretty much read my way through the entire junior library! As a student I registered at the local library in wherever I was living at the time and carried on using the library regularly. Until I moved house a year ago I continued to visit the library every couple of months, my use being solely to borrow novels.  However since I bought a Kindle I haven’t been back in the public library, it’s so much easier just to download what I want to read.  Therefore how do I advocate for a service I no longer use either personally or professionally?

I am under no illusions that corporate libraries are also under threat for several reasons. Of course there is the recession, with less money to spend the library is often an easy target for spending cuts.  Then in law firm libraries there are threats from outsourcing of support services, increased use of online services and law firm mergers. The energy and spare time that I have for advocacy has to be spent on working to ensure a future for the library I work in.

CPD23 2012 Thing 15 – Attending, presenting at and organising seminars, conferences and other events

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Since the start of the recession in 2008 it’s been much harder to get funding from the training budget to attend conferences or training as what budget there is must be spent on business essential training which often means expensive legal training for the lawyers, this means there’s not much left for the rest of us to share.

But it’s still possible to get to events by being creative.  I applied for a bursary from the Scottish Law Librarians Group to pay the conference fee for a Career Development Group conference and work were happy to pay the travel costs so I was able to attend. Many professional organisations offer bursaries so look around and don’t be afraid to apply, you might just be successful.

An ex-colleague managed to get free attendance at a couple of conferences by running a workshop session at the conference. If you’re confident enough to do this it’s a great way of getting to conferences and has the added benefit of raising your profile within the profession.

Organising conferences and events can seem really daunting so start small!  I recently organised a visit to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery library with dinner afterwards for the Scottish Law Librarians Group, easy to organise and enjoyed by the attendees! Obviously organising a full scale conference is an awful lot more hard work than just a library visit, but joining up with a professional group and helping them with their events programme is a good way to start.  I’m not sure what events we’re planning next at the SLLG but I am sure our convenor will make sure I have plenty of tasks to do to help make it a success!

And I’ve also been lucky enough to be invited to attend two conferences organised by publishers we have accounts with for no cost. I was unable to attend the PLC conference earlier this year but a colleague was able to attend so we didn’t lose the free place. However I am able to attend the LexisNexis KM conference at the end of this month and by combining attendance with a long overdue day working in our London office it makes it cost effective for my employers to pay the necessary travel and hotel costs. The cost to me of the conference? Accompanying my account manager to the drinks afterwards and hearing about his holidays!

CPD23 2012 Thing 14 – Zotero / Mendeley / CiteULike

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I work in a corporate law firm and as lawyers have their own way of citing cases and other references I have no need to use any of these tools in a work context. I’m not studying at the moment, nor do I have any intention to study again soon. Therefore I feel that these are tools I can quite safely ignore for the time being.