Opening the doors

Last month, for the first time ever, my library took part in Doors Open Day. My organisation has taken part in DOD for many years, but the library had never been involved before. From my first days in the library, I was aware of the need to raise its visibility, both internally, and externally. We’ve been working hard internally to raise awareness of the service, so that was being dealt with. To add to that, taking part in Doors Open Day seemed to be a good way to show the public more of what goes on in the organisation, and what resources are available to the service users.

My colleague and I worked hard to make sure that the library would be an interesting destination, and the public would know about it. Because the library is in a secure area, the only way to visit was to book onto one of the two tours running throughout the day, and choose at the end to come to the library. We made posters to leave at the booking desk, and another popular visitor area, to tell people how to get into the library. We put signs up in our windows, which many members of the public passed on their way into the building. We told other members of staff about the activities and items we had in the library, so they could tell the public. We’re unsure whether it was the effect of this promotion work, or just general curiosity about the existence and work of the library, but visitor numbers exceeded our expectations – we suspected maybe only 5-10 visitors would continue on past the end of the tour to the library, but in the end at least 20 visitors per tour came to the library, meaning at least 200 people visited the library on the day.*

We restricted access to anything beyond the main ground floor corridor – we couldn’t allow visitors to go where we couldn’t see them, so we had to keep them in this space. To block access to the rest of the ground floor, we used roping, kickstools, and…Magnus.

Magnus, our skeleton staff. Many people think that Magnus retired from the Assistant Librarian role, but we know better…

So what did we have for visitors to do and see int he library? We had three desks to use for display in the ground floor space, and we used each for different purposes – one for an activity, one for display only, and one for browseable texts. We also used the library service desk to display additional items, and freebies for people to pick up. A window hosted a display usually managed by another department, but which we used this year, and which worked well with the materials we had to show.

Unfortunately my phone camera doesn’t cope very well with the contrasts between the areas of dim and bright light in the library, so these photos make it look like there were some very bright lights on the books, when they weren’t anything like as bright as that!

Ink, quills, pen pot, calligraphy examples and an original, hand-annotated copy of a text

At the first desk, we were hosting the materials which another department usually displayed, on technology through the ages. These materials included old quills, ink pots, document bundles and handwritten ledgers, along with a typewriter, floppy discs and dictophones, and these were placed in the empty window space above the first desk. To complement this, I bought quills, a dip-nib pen and nibs, and calligraphy inks. These were put on the desk in front of the technology display, with a layer of blotting paper, laminated example sheets of calligraphy, and a pile of squares of paper, to allow visitors to try their hand at writing with quills and nibs. This proved to be hugely popular, with all ages of visitors – frequently, people were already trying out the quills even before I had welcomed them to the library and invited them to try them! Almost every person who visited the library left with some sort of inked item: the Chinese ladies’ names were particularly impressive, as was the beautiful poem about souls left behind by one visitor.

Historic texts on display on book pillows

We had a display of some of our older and more interesting texts from the special collection on the second desk. This included a 1699 text by George MacKenzie on “Laws and Customs of Scotland in Matters Criminal “ which discusses the crime of witchcraft in some depth (accompanied by a modern English translation by me of the first few witchcraft pages), a text open at a 1665 case of son of a William Wallace trying to claim his inheritance, a text from the 1800s on the trial of Lord Melville for “high crimes and misdemeanors”, a Latin text from the late 1600s, a copy of Regiam Majestatem from 1609, with additional annotations, a book on “the Douglas Cause“, and a selection of other interesting books. After this picture was taken we also added a selection of handwritten deeds from 1700, with beautiful handwriting. Although the library has many modern texts, and electronic resources, we felt that they aren’t as interesting to the public as “old stuff”!  The materials on this desk were the source of most questions from visitors, with people wanting to know about book ages, authors, history, contents,the legal system, the handwriting, and all sorts of other random things!

Books on the crimes, the law and notable trials

 We had a third table, with dictionaries of crime for people to look up the changing penalties for certain crimes. There were also exampes of books about practitioners of the law, and how they view themselves (the Punch drawing about the absurdity of women barristers was well liked – apparently, they’d just have their silly little heads turned by fashion) and materials on notable trials, including one being re-enacted on site that day. These were for visitors to flick through themselves,

The library service desk was used to display a large volume of the record edition of the Acts of the Parliament of Scotland, with a Glendook duodecimo edition for comparison.

Magnus checking the card catalogue for overdues

We had a tour group arriving approximately every 20 – 25 minutes, with the visitors able to stay up to 15 minutes in the library. As the library is in a secure area, someone was needed to escort visitors from the library and the building when they wished to leave. My colleague took this role on, and was busy constanly going back and forth as people requested to leave. I therefore was responsible for doing the talking – not a job I’m generally particularly keen on, and it was quite challenging – getting the attention of an unknown group, who were leaving at random times, and trying to explain the different desks and their contents to them, along with answering totally unpredicable questions. I think I got into the swing of it quite quickly, and I got quite a few laughs from the visitors – one even said I’d made a location and information that could be dry and boring into something interesting and fun, so I’d say I got away with it!

It was great to be able to speak to members of the public about what the library and the library staff do, and they had some interesting questions, which put my general and legal knowledge to the test! Some I knew, some I didn’t know and have found out, and some I’ve yet to check.

  • Where did you get the quill pens from? And the ink? 
    • Feathers I bought on eBay and cut myself, and calligraphy inks that work well with dip-nib pens from Cult Pens
  • Who was the last person to be tried for witchcraft?
    • Helen Duncan, during WWII
  • Was the law to prosecute witches still in force?
    • At the time – I don’t know, probably not! Now – I know it was repealed by the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951 (probably something to do with Helen Duncan, but I’ve not had time to check this)
  • Which court room would trials for treason in the 1700s been heard in?
    • I’ll need to double check this one, but renovations in the 1800s mean I’m unsure without checking about which courtrooms were where
  • When were women first allowed to sit as jurors?
    • I’ve not had time to properly check this yet, but I suspect it was at the same time, or soon after the point when we gained the right to vote. It may have been the Representation of the People Act 1918, or the Equal Franchise Act 1928
Also, there were some unexpected things: someone was so keen on the quill and ink that I decided to give them a few of the spare feathers, to take away and showed them how to cut the shaft to be able to use it to write with. Another person was so fascinated by the translation of the witchcraft text that he asked if he could take it? We were happy to oblige, and printed ourselves another copy. Someone else wanted to understand and discuss the comparable points of Swiss and Scots law. An English-qualified retired legal practitioner wanted to know what the equivalent of Halsbury’s Laws of England was, as she’d never known but assumed it existed (it’s the Stair Memorial Encyclopaedia of the Laws of Scotland). Magnus also was occasionally “interfered” with by visitors, and I sometimes spotted people taking books off the shelves which had a rope in front of them to discourage that. As they weren’t special or unusual, I wasn’t concerned about this, but it was surprising to me that people would touch things that were obviously meant to be off-limits. I suppose I’m just not used to how odd the public can be!
Overall, it was a hectic, exhausting, but very fun day – I’ll definitely be taking part again next year – will you be visiting?

* This is just an estimate – we were way too busy herding people to be able to count them, especially when two tours colluded and we had 40+ visitors in the library at once!

Tips for the traumatised: surviving administration and mergers

Let me begin by confessing: I am not a law firm lucky charm. I’ve worked for 2 different firms over a period of 18 months, both of which went into administration or merged with another firm, which left me unemployed twice in a short period of time.

Unfortunately, my story isn’t unusual: changes in the legal market mean that these sort of events will happen more and more frequently, especially in the mid-sized law firms. My Nostradamus moment now is to predict that most mid-sized firms won’t exist within 5 years, as they get eaten up by the bigger firms, or split down into smaller, niche firms.

So if you’re working in a small or mid-sized firm: you’re in a very risky position right now. So what can you do to both plan for the potential experience of having a job that disappears, and to get through it successfully? I’m going to give you some tips on what to do, when, and how to get through this. And I’ll be honest: a lot of this is unpleasant, but you can get through to the other side intact.

Before changes

See the signs: You need to be plugged into the internal gossip machine, for your own benefit. People talk – it’s wise to listen, and look for the oddities that signal problems. Listen for fee-earner gossip: are junior staff in all sorts of departments complaining about not being able to meet their target for billable hours because there’s just not enough work being passed to them? Are partners hiding in their rooms or working from home, to avoid having to really speak to their teams? Watch out for those odd “partners from different departments who don’t normally have anything to do with each other” meetings starting to happen. Secretaries being asked to block out many hours in diaries for people…with no client meetings or reasons given. Or the all partner, off-site meetings…that go on for two days. Librarians at other firms that may be merger partners will be noticing odd activities too, or may have been asked to research your firms finances. Make sure you’re open with your professional network about unusual activities at your firm, as it gives other information professionals the chance to volunteer information that they’ve gathered. There will also be a mysteriously delayed issuing of the annual accounts, with various “interesting” excuses being given, and getting more abrupt as the lateness increases. There will be firm denials in the press by management of there being any trouble internally. Credit checking companies will be red flagging you as a risk because you pay bills so late. Suppliers will not be being paid, but you will only find this out if you contact them directly to check, or they contact you to complain, because your Finance department will insist that they’ve been paid. Honest. Cross their heart.

Prepare for the worst: go through your work, and identify your useful/transferable work. Gather non-sensitive work you have produced/remove to cloud storage if possible. If you can’t move it off your firms network by upload, try and get a record of it some other way: download, screenshot or photograph it. The administrators or merger managers are not interested in the work of support staff – it will be ignored during these processes, and holds no financial value for them. The only value it holds is for you, for the future, for generic activities such as training materials you’ve developed for educating internal users on subscription databases. ( Disclaimer one – Only you can make the decision on what materials it is legal for you to remove. Disclaimer two – some of these content tools might be blocked by your employer.). If you don’t have one already, get a “professional” email address (gmail is fine) – if your name/initials combination isn’t available, create one using information and knowledge-related terms. Move all account contacts to the new account: social media, mailing lists, LinkedIn etc. You can’t predict when your access to your work email will stop.

Prepare for the best: It may well be that any merger partner firm needs information staff, so there could be a place for you in a new structure. However, like any other employer, they’ll want you to be able to prove to them that you’re good at what you do, and your salary will take that into account. So now is a good time to gather statistics and evidence to show what you do, and what you can do. If you charge out for your time, gather the information that shows exactly what money you’ve brought in. Equip yourself with any facts or figures that help you to make a business case to demonstrate why you and/or your team are an asset.

Make yourself visible to the world: if you aren’t already using social media, now is the time to start. Create a Twitter profile, where you can show your awareness of relevant issues by tweeting links or discussing them with others. Most importantly, create a LinkedIn account, and make sure you organise it to show your best skills and achievements (LinkedIn content layout can be personalised). This is useful for both internal and external promotional purposes: if your firm is going into administration, other law firms need to be able to see immediately what your skills are, and why you’d be an asset. If you’re merging, you want to be able to easily give the takeover firm as much information about your usefulness as possible. They won’t know about the awesome projects you’ve been responsible for internally, they’re highly unlikely to actually come to you to ask about your skills, so you need a place they can look at that hosts all your achievements, to be able to show them. Ask colleagues to endorse you for useful activities – people will be doing their best to help you, so agree the text in advance to ensure it shows your best skills in the best way.

Build up an application bank: create a variety of clear descriptions of your specialist and transferable skills. If you struggle with this, ask workmates to identify what they think your key skills and achievements are. Use these to help speed up the process when applying for jobs by tying these relevant phrases to frequently requested skills. Create a tailored base CV for each role type you’re targeting, drawing out different elements of your skills as appropriate.

Expand your vocabulary: yes, right now you’re a specialist librarian, but your skills are also incredibly wide-ranging and your employment prospects are too. You’re experienced in doing targeted research: use those skills now on your own behalf – compile a list of search terms and work them on search engines! Develop a level of awareness of key potential employers, and start monitoring vacancies before you may think you’ll need to actually apply to anything – knowing how long jobs are advertised for, and how quickly after they appear they can disappear, can help focus you on being prepared and able to apply for jobs as quickly as possible after they’re advertised. Be organised about your applications: a spreadsheet helps manage and prioritise relevant jobs (and ensures you know when your submission deadlines are). It didn’t used to be easy, but it’s far more achievable now to move between a variety of sectors, as” information management” becomes more clearly recognised as a relevant skill, rather than being buried within the term “librarian”. Jobs I was interviewed for: Open Access Publications Assistant, eHealth Project Officer; Grants Officer; Awards Administrator; Research and Information Officer, Contracts Manager, Information Officer; Research and Information Specialist, Legal and Business Intelligence Analyst, and another Project Officer. And don’t rule out the Intelligence Services too – I won’t say how far I got in their application process, but let’s just say your skills at assessing information sources and extracting relevant information from them are useful in all sorts of roles! 😉

During changes

Don’t be ignored: if your firm is merging, nobody will be sparing a thought for you, or about asking you to be involved in any discussions. This creates a huge risk that your department and team will be forgotten about in the frantic activity that goes on during the merger process. This is the point to start jumping up and down in front of the right people, with big signs pointing towards you that say “I’m wonderful!”. If you have a library partner, you can try and get them to ensure that you’re involved in relevant discussions, but remember, you will never be their priority, they have a “core” team that they will be trying to ensure are safe first, before they can spare any time or energy to help you.

Focus your energy: In a merger I was involved in, we began the process of creating the business case for our retention in the new firm, but quickly decided to use our energy in looking for employment externally when we realised from discussions with the library staff on the other side that there was no intention of moving my team across.

Play nice: if your firm is merging/being taken over, make sure that the information professionals on the other side of the merger get all the information they need from you, as soon as possible. Spend any time needed to tidy up your materials, both physically and digitally – it’s good manners and reflects well on you professionally, and at this point your professional reputation is one of your main assets. Contact your suppliers directly if you can: they will have questions about your subscriptions and services, and you can give them the appropriate information on who to contact, and a realistic assessment of the chances of them receiving payment or a subscription being continued. Again, being polite and helpful to people, especially when you don’t have to be, means that your professional reputation is enhanced with people who may be of use to you in future.

After changes

Professional support: this is the bad bit – there is none, in practical terms. You will watch as the lawyers are offered hardship funds and training support from their professional bodies and groups, and their professional bodies issue press releases to the media about how excellent they are, and how quickly they’ve all been re-employed, but there will be nothing equivalent for you from any of the professional bodies you may be a member of. Sympathy, yes, but no practical help. You’re on your own.

State support: the Job Centre staff will not be of any help. They do not know what to do with specialist librarians. Even your existence baffles them. Learn about the various rules, procedures, and entitlements available to you, but expect no actual, direct help: you’re on your own. Again.

Network and talk: You will almost certainly feel traumatised by these processes, either insolvency or redundancy. Learn to separate your sense of worth from your employment – you are not responsible for what happened to you. Tell people what happened (while maintaining a professional “I don’t blame anyone” front). Make people aware you need employment. Let them help you. Be active on LinkedIn (and be amused at the ridiculous amount of people who’ll check out your profile during this period).

Now, this isn’t a foolproof guide, just an attempt to give anyone facing what I’ve been through a bit of guidance, help, and support to know that it’s survivable. Others who have been through similar situations have had input into this too, so hopefully, it’s now as useful a collation of information as it can be.

And finally, just remember: illegitimi non carborundum.

Legal threats for recommending art

Early last December, as the year before, I put together a series of blog posts, recommending as Christmas gifts various library and library-themed items for sale that I’d found on Etsy or other sites.

One post consisted of items purely for putting on the wall: decorative paintings and prints. In order to show readers the visual art I was recommending, I put an image of each item on the blog, along with a direct link to each shop below that image, allowing potential buyers to go directly to where each item could be purchased. People seemed to enjoy the post, and previous ones, and many commented that they were tempted to buy, or would buy, various items I’d selected.

This week, I received simultaneously a notification of a comment on that blog post, and an email, with the same content, headed “copyright violation”.


Considering you work for a law firm I am amazed by your lack of knowledge on copyright!

The image of X in your post ‘Deck the halls with…erm…pictures of books? is the copyright of X and you have not obtained permission to reproduce it.

If you wish to use it, please add a credit and a link to the original image at X or legal action may be taken.

Thank you.

Yes, it’s always good to start an email with rudeness about my professionalism, that’ll definitely get the conversation off on the right foot, won’t it?

Now, as someone who shops a lot online, I thought that most businesses trying to generate sales of images online are aware that, in order to promote to others the purchase of those images, you need to be able to show them to the potential buyer first. It’s a standard practice in any of the many thousands of dedicated shopping blogs to post an image of the product they’re recommending, and a link to where to buy it. The only “use” of the image I was making in my post was to point it out to blog readers as an attractive product, and allow them to click on it to go straight to the retailers shop.

But, since they were unhappy with this approach to promoting their product, I immediately edited the post to remove the item entirely. It was also quite impressive that they were annoyed at me for not crediting the creator, when they themselves did not provide this information in their shop, making it impossible for me to do so. I had actually assumed that they themselves were the creators of the art, since there was nothing saying otherwise on their Etsy sale listing.

They also demanded that I link to their shop… which I had done for that image, and for every other image in the original post. So I was being told off for doing what I had done (linking to their shop), and not doing what it was impossible for me to do (name the artist).

Although, judging by the web address listed in the footer of the email, maybe it was their OTHER site I should have linked to, not their Etsy site. Erm,…what? They have another site?

I don’t know whether they’re somehow unaware that besides their main online site, they’re also running an Esty shop, which is where I found the item, and which I believed to be the only place to purchase it, but that seems to be the case. The Etsy shop has no reference to them having any other website. Now, if they don’t know that they have multiple online shops, was I supposed to know this through my magical powers, and also use those same powers to decide which of the sites that I didn’t know about I was to link to the same product on? It’s a bit confusing! And totally impossible!

So, after removing the image, I sent this reply.

I apologise for listing your image in a promotional capacity in order to encourage viewers of my blog to purchase the item from you, and of linking directly to your own Etsy shop in the text below the image in order to make purchase of that image easier for your customers. It would not have been possible at the time, or now, for me to credit the artist, as your own shop does not provide that information on the listing.

 I assume you no longer wish to have your products promoted to interested buyers, and so will remove the image and the link to your Etsy shop immediately.

 I promise never to promote the purchase of any of your products again, and wish you success in your attempt to generate business online in future, without allowing anyone to recommend the purchase of your products by displaying them, and linking to your shop.

I assume they’re also now very busy contacting anyone else who’s ever recommended their products by showing an image of them and linking to their shop, and sending them threatening emails too…

Also, maybe someone should point out to them that, when selling images online, it’s also good practice to introduce a watermark to the image? You know, so unscrupulous people don’t actually just save a copy of the image and print it out or sell it on, profiting from the replication of an image they don’t own?

Thing 18 – Jings, crivvens, and help ma boab!

I wonder if the makers of Jing are secretly Scottish…or perhaps Oor Wullie fans? Because Jing’s name is awwfy like wan o’ Wullie’s favourite wurds…

Anyhoo – Thing 18, one which looks at a tool for recording your actions on your computer, in order to let others see exactly what you’re doing on your computer, rather than have to explain things in a convoluted way. A screencast! Lovely! This is actually something my boss and I have been discussing on and off for a while – the ability to have a recorded version of how to find/use the things that new staff are most going to want to use on their computers, that we have responsibility for. To have that sort of information available to them at any point (after they’ve recovered from the induction process information bombardment from every department) would be quite handy. The sound recording aspect would be redundant, as we have open plan offices, and sound disabled on the computers, so an ability to tag things with a text box would be best. It looks like Jing would do this nicely.

Unfortunately, as the blog post predicted, I didn’t have the necessary administration privileges to enable me to install it on my work pc, so that’s kicked that one into the long grass.But, the other option, Screencast-O-Matic doesn’t need any install, and works from the browser, so bypasses those problems.

Well, it would, if it didn’t actually need Java installed. Which I don’t have the necessary Administrator privileges to do. Hmmm.

So, for the moment, there’s not really much I can do with these two tools in work, and I don’t have the time just now to faff about with Camtasia or Lightshot, so this plan is going to have to be relegated to the “Something to look at at home, when I have time” category.