2016, the year that tried to break me..

Well, THAT was a busy year! And it’s not going to get any quieter this year either….

So, why was it so hard? Well, last year involved these things in the library:

  • Implementing a brand new Library Management System
  • Getting the core library materials (textbooks and looseleafs) recatalogued (1,200+ items by the end of the year) on the new LMS
  • Reclassifying all library materials to a new in-house classification system
  • Setting up the subscription records for hundreds of journals and looseleafs
  • Relocating all stock to match the new classification system, over a three floor library
  • Driven to the Borders and back three times, to pack and relocate 40 sacks of books and law reports
  • Setting up and stocking a new room with library materials
  • Coping with recruiting and training three different assistants in six months*
  • Spending a month running the library on my own
  • Me having two different managers
  • Managing a mid-year wholesale move of the library from the oversight of one department in the organisation to another
  • Dealing with the associated chaos related to every single thing that had previously worked smoothly when we were in the original department 
  • Hosting a pre-law intern for two months
  • Hosting a Masters student on placement for a month
  • Gaining the assistance of a librarian volunteer to help with the recataloguing project
  • Writing a demanding but successful business case
  • Going through the process of successfully recruiting a Doctoral candidate to work on a proposed archive project
  • Taking on a temporary promotion in order to focus on setting up a new library service
  • Drafting job descriptions for both my own promoted role, and two new library roles 
  • Starting the internal and external recruitment process for two new library roles.

So, not all bad things, but definitely a huge amount of work for two (or at times just one) people to have done, often utterly phyically exhausting work too – book relocations from the Borders, and manual moving of all stock over three library floors.

We have been hugely assisted by the amazing volunteers we had/have, in the form of EM (top legal research and analysis skills, eternally cheerful book relocator) and LM (amazing cataloguer and super focussed relabeller). WT our Robert Gordon placement student was an absolute star, and came in at a point where discussing how the library worked (or didn’t) helped to identify things we should be looking at reviewing. Plus, she left us a fab marketing plan to use in future!

Also, KM the Assistant Librarian has been the brightest point in the year. She came in to a situation where I was drowning in workload and struggling to keep things to the high standard I expected the library to provide. She immediately started taking on responsibilities, without me having to task them to her, and I quiskly learned that could trust her to do the work to the same level (or higher) than I would have done it myself. She is a wizard with spreadsheets, and she’s built on the excellent work of KB, to bring order and clarity to the budget spend, renewal dates, predicted invoicing and all sorts of things that were just impossible for me to get to. She’s rapidly developed advanced research skills (she already had a good headstart with her law background) and can do pretty much anything that comes in as an enquiry. She has almost certainly saved me from having a breakdown this year, because I was able to begin taking time off, and know I wouldn’t just be coming in to all the work I’d left, plus more that had built up when I was off. I was able to discuss plans for the library, and her input helped shape them in a way that was right for the service and our work capacity. If KM hadn’t come in, I don’t know how I’d have got through this year. And now she’s going to be able to continue her work, as she will be covering my librarian role as I step away from running the library service to temporarily take on a new role.Together with KB, the Assistant Librarian who will return this month, they are going to be an amazing team in the library, and I’m really excited about what they’re going to be doing with the service when it’s in their hands!

Next year promises to be equally hectic, with me taking on responsibility for creating a new library service within the organisation.This will involve getting the library location fitted out, ensuring the resources are there for the library staff, integrating the existing LMS with the new service, creating a user portal for each element of the service (existsing and new), recruiting the new staff, training the new staff, communicating to the organisation what is going on, and anything and everything else that comes up.

I am quite sad in some ways about my new role, as it involves stepping away from the day to day work of the existing library service, in order to oversee the creation and management of an equivalent service to meet the needs of the other part of the organisation. I’ve never been in a library role where I didn’t have responsibility for doing legal research or user training, and I don’t know how I’m going to cope. The research work is one of my favourite parts of the job, so it may be something I’ll really miss. Or maybe I’ll enjoy the policy work more – one of my tasks in the new role will be to develop and implement service-wide policies: collection management, stock selection, disaster management, stock insurance policies…

And I have a lot of other stuff to do to: I have an ILM qualification I’m close to finishing but I can never find time for (other than at home and weekends, which is not how a work-based qualification is meant to work), the Informed award that I’m involved in, and I’m inching closer to getting my Fellowship portfolio together. So I’d like to get those cleared off my plate so I can focus on other things.

So, 2017 – I can do this!

* The turnover wasn’t because of me, it was because one person went on maternity leave, and a different job opportunity that came up for the first maternity cover person, meaning they needed to be replaced by a third person within three months.

Time flies when you’re having….a lot of stuff going on!

Phew, it’s been a long time between blog posts here, huh?

Mainly, this has been because I’ve been super busy at work, between settling in to my role, and working hard with our intake of summer students. Settling in, and having people get to know me (made much easier now by the fact that the Information Services team and our Library have been located on one of the main office floors since mid April, so we’re far more visible to staff) means that the fee earners have become more comfortable with asking me for research help, and passing research tasks to me to deal with, so my day-to-day workload has been picking up. Plus I’ve been checking over and altering the training materials I inherited from my predecessor…and testing them out on the Summer Law School students!

The Summer Law School at my current workplace is partially similar to the one which was run by my old employer, but it’s also substantially more involved. Unlike the previous 2-sets-of-students, 4-weeks-each-session scheme I was involved in at my old workplace, this Law School involves only one set of students in a single 8 week session. The participants have come through a highly competitive application process, with tough application sifting and interviews bringing the hundreds of applicants down to only 12 or so attendees. During their time here, they experience the wide range of types of legal work available in the firm, while attending weekly business skills training sessions, and also participating in a group charity fundraising project. It’s a VERY intensive experience for them, and I was super impressed with how well they all coped…it’s not easy to work as a team while you’re also competing against each other! That competitive element comes from the fact that the Summer Business School is effectively an intensive 8 week long interview, as at the end of it, the best candidates will get offered a traineeship place.

So, as part of my role, I’ve been supporting these students as they get used to the various differences between studying law, and practising it. It’s an excellent opportunity for them, allowing them to get to grips with different departments and their work. However, it’s also potentially overwhelming, because they’re being presented with scenarios and situations that they may not have encountered yet (they’re here prior to completing the last year or two years of their studies), so I’m there to help them with any information-related issues they come across, and guide them with research tasks they get given. We also have some online resources available to staff that are more business-oriented, so the students were unlikely to have encountered them before, and I gave training and support on those.

As a neutral person whose role is specifically to help and support them, and being placed outside their formal mentor/team situation, I’m able to give them information about how the firm works/what’s expected of them/ the appropriate way to do things, without them worrying about it being factored into decisions about traineeships. I’m also able to provide some reassurance that, just because their line manager thinks the answer will take 5 minutes to find, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will actually be that quick (otherwise thy’d have done it themselves)!

But it’s not just the students that have been learning during the Law School, I’ve been learning too! Not having worked in the academic library environment, I didn’t know how much support law students had available to them from the library in their universities. Or how much power those library staff have to prod the students into attending training on the online resources they’re likely to need and use. However, from working with the students during the summer, I realised that many of them were only using the most basic functions of certain databases like Westlaw and LexisNexis, and didn’t fully understand some of the deeper tools available to them, which implied that they’d skipped a lot of the training on offer to them! To make up for this, I encouraged the students to book time with me, in order to go over certain subscription resources in more depth, and to explore new ones. In these sessions, we looked at the more advanced options in the resources, and used additional tools like setting up news alerts, and creating subscriptions in RSS feed readers. I was quite surprised that RSS feed readers were a new idea for most of the students, but impressed with how quickly they grasped how much time they could save by using them, and how much of a better awareness on certain topics they could develop by using them to manage their news sources.

I also realised (thanks to being able to ask academic librarians online) that the academic version of resources like Westlaw often didn’t have the same tailoring available to the users as the way we access it. This was down to the fact that the students were accessing it via IP authentication, whereas we login with passwords, which means each user has an individual, tailorable experience, including folders, search alerts and RSS feeds. They were most disappointed when they realised their academic access wouldn’t give them the same tools, as many had said how useful the folders and alerts options would be when undertaking research for their dissertations!

And now the summer students have all gone, and we’ll be welcoming some of them back in a few years, so it must be quieter around here now, right?


Now we have the new trainee intake, all settling in nicely with their teams, and now starting to ask their own research questions.

It’s never quiet in the Library, really!

The need for speed

I had a few minutes of fun today checking my reading speed on this site. Probably a not very accurate test, but it does check your understanding of the text you’ve just read, by questioning you on aspects of it at the end of your reading time. I got 100% accuracy each time I tried it, and a very fast reading speed each time. I wanted to average out my speed, but there were only 3 sample texts, and repeating them wouldn’t be very accurate, so I had to settle for the average of the 3 texts: 754 words per minute.That seems to put me above “college professors”, and below “high-scoring college students” (ok – that seems slightly back-to-front, but hey-ho!) on their scale. 

Now, although I’m actually generally a very fast reader anyway, I think that years of doing legal research has actually trained me to be a more accurate skim reader. I may not necessarily understand the details of what I get asked to research (I’m not a lawyer, so the esoteric points that they may want to find out more about are quite often entirely new areas for me), but I can usually pick out the relevant material from the content quite quickly.  I don’t have time to read everything I’m looking through in-depth, but in the process of skimming, I end up assimilating some basic information about the topic too. It means I can retain or discard materials quickly, and collate only the relevant stuff to pass on to the enquirer. Of course, it also means I can get a response together more quickly than if I had to read every item in full…and everyone is happy when they get a reply to their query fast!
And the best bit? I only have to do the skimming – the really hard bit, when you have to read the whole thing, and interpret how that relates to a specific situation, is down to the enquirer to do. And *that* is why I would never want to be a lawyer – too much thinking involved!  😉 

It’s not about the speed, it’s about the skill

Recently, I was regaling my partner with exciting tales of what thrilling things I’d got up to at work that day, while he listened with eager attention. Well, actually, what he was doing was trying to go to sleep, and I was babbling at him about research problems, but…

I was explaining that I was frustrated that I was busy when a research enquiry that had come in, and that when I actually got a chance to do it, I found the answer within a few minutes. “I could have had that result back to the enquirer in minutes, rather than hours, and looked really efficient, since it was so straightforward to find.” I was pouting.
“Yes, but your enquirer has no idea of the level of skill it took you to find that answer. They asked you because they didn’t know how to find it, and you are the expert. Just because you could find it easily doesn’t mean it would be as easy for anyone else. And answering too quickly could make it appear that it was an simpler task than it was. To them, and probably others, it wasn’t an easy task: don’t make the hard things too simple, because they’re not.” he mumbled, and rolled over.
You know, he’s quite wise sometimes, that boy – the pressure to get things done and passed over to enquirers as soon as possible can make even the person doing the requested research work forget that the job they’re doing is more skilled than you might expect. Just because you can do it easily, it doesn’t mean others would.
And, it’s not about how fast you can do it, but the skill you use to do it.