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.

Who supports the support staff?

Sadly, it looks 99% certain that yet another mid-level Scots law firm has succumbed to the pressures of the legal market, and will be entering administration, before being sold off in a pre-pack arrangement to a law firm, or firms.

I have the dubious honour of being the only person who’s worked for both the Scottish law firms that have gone into administration in the past two years, one of which collapsed and one of which was sold in a pre-pack deal. I think, therefore, that makes me fairly well qualified to make some predictions about what will happen next in this process, and who will suffer.*

In this case, the original firm, or parts of it, is being rescued by another firm. The first thing that will happen is that the partners will soon start making their moves over to other firms that they’ve been negotiating with in the background. If they’re lucky, they’ll be able to take some of the staff in their fee-earning teams along with them. What they’re almost guaranteed to be unable to do though, is to take any of the support staff of the collapsing firm with them, unless there are already pre-existing vacancies for their skills in the new firm. So most or all of those support staff in the original firm will be made unemployed.

If the firm collapses rather than merges, the solicitors will have access to the excellent support (both financially, via access to hardship funds, and professionally via access to training courses) of their professional body, the Law Society of Scotland.

The clients are also protected by the Master Policy, and various structures that are in place to protect them and their interests in case of an extreme event like insolvency.

But what help do the support staff have?

In law firms, the term “support staff” covers a wide range of staff: HR, General Office/admin, IT, reception, secretarial support, and, of course, library services. Some of these staff may have a professional body that they could be members of that will support them during life-changing events like sudden and unexpected redundancy. However, most of them don’t. That means there are a lot of staff who, if made redundant, have no support. No organisation with hardship funds. No access to retraining or skills development opportunities. They’re left to make the best of a bad situation, all on their own.

Additionally, if there has been any misconduct by the firm management, the Law Society actually won’t investigate the issue themselves, they await the complaints of members of the public, despite having the power to initiate an investigation. And what member of support staff, who wants to continue working in an industry where the fee earning staff have the power, would start such a complaint, and ruin any chance of being employed in a law firm again?

Some people, when I explain how unsupported these staff are in law firms, say “well, you should join a union!” This is only ever said by people outside the legal sector, that have no understanding of the fact that law firms do NOT like their staff to have this sort of representation, or the ability to defend themselves from possible management manipulation. No law firm I’ve knowledge of recognises the existence of unions for their staff, or would engage with one which tried to represent support staff. Joining a union is not the answer.

Despite all of the problems and stresses that the support staff go through during the administration and merger process, despite the fact that they are the ones that bear the brunt of all the compulsory or “voluntary” redundancies that firms, these are the staff that are never, ever mentioned in the legal press. The Law Society quotes statistics on the re-employment levels of staff after redundancy, but the staff they are referring to in those statistics are the fee earners. If asked about the statistics on re-employment of support staff however, they say they’ve not been given those figures. More to the point, they’ve not been interested enough to find out about those figures – support staff are irrelevant to them. Also, all the legal news providers, apart from Roll on Friday, have ignored the situations that support staff have been left in when law firms go into administration, and how many of them may remain unemployed or be forced to leave the legal sector after events such as this. For them, support staff are totally irrelevant too.
So when you read those legal news stories, saying how terribly the fee earners are suffering when firms merge and go into administration…try and remember that the support staff are suffering too.
The only difference is, the support staff have no-one to speak up for, or look after, them.

*I don’t blame most of the staff at my former firms for what happened – many fought hard to protect their staff, but they could only do so much when they had little power to change things.

The UK Supreme Court and a Yes vote

The House of Lords Constitution Committee has published its eigth report, “Scottish independence: constitutional implications of the referendum“.

Within that, Sections 79 to 83 discuss the effect of a potential “Yes” vote in the upcoming referendum, with the following result:

    1. If an independent Scotland were to have its own supreme court, justices with experience of Scots law would no longer be appointed to the UK Supreme Court. However, given their UK-wide remit, serving justices with this experience should continue to sit on the Supreme Court until their scheduled date of retirement.

Open Access and the law librarian

                                         Unofficial Open Access logo

Last year, I sector hopped a bit, going from a law library, to the academic sector, and on to a public body. During my academic sector interlude, I was working with Open Access publications, sourcing academic materials in the appropriate formats and versions, and uploading them to the institutional repository. Now, to anyone working in academic libraries, that sentence probably needs no further explanation, as they know exactly what it relates to. However, outside the academic sector, the topic of Open Access and the institutional repositories holding OA materials isn’t something that’s very familiar. In the special libraries catering for sectors such as law and health, library staff are used to having to pay (usually huge sums!) to access materials behind paywalls, and although there are some good initiatives to give wider public access to certain materials (e.g. www.legislation.gov.uk), there are very few resources which we can access for free. You’d think we’d be leaping with joy at the prospect of accessing any materials for free…but from what I can tell, awareness about the concept of Open Access materials hasn’t really come over very strongly to the commercial sector. Although the sort of materials that are created by academic researchers aren’t particularly a core material of a type that that solicitors tend to want frequently, it’s useful to have a good general idea of what materials could be found in institutional repositories.
So, for commercial librarians, here’s a short, guide (based on my own, non-expert knowledge) to Open Access materials, what you can find, what you can’t find, and why everything’s where it is (or isn’t). It’s slightly simplified in some areas, so please academic librarians: no shooting me for not properly mentioning/explaining the Finch Report!
What is Open Access?
Open Access relates to the ongoing initiative in academic institutions to make research outputs from academic authors more easily available to the public, by placing those materials (usually referred to as “research outputs”, as they can cover a range of textual and non-textual formats) into institutional repositories. Currently, the bulk of the research that is produced by academic authors and institutions is effectively inaccessible to the public as it is published in journals that can only be accessed via a paid subscription, or in a limited manner. As the public is the actual source funder of the research that is produced, for the output of the research to be inaccessible to them is not a reasonable situation, and the Open Access initiative seeks to address this imbalance. This enclosure of high quality research behind publisher paywalls can also stifle academic discourse and innovation, making it harder for innovations and developments in academic work to progress. In particular, it can be an issue for professionals in developing countries, who cannot afford access to the latest research materials in their fields, but who would be best placed to put the theories outlines in research outputs into effective practice, especially in the medical area.
How the research is funded
A large amount of the research done in UK universities is funded by money provided by a variety of research bodies, including the Wellcome Trust, the Research Councils UK (RCUK), HEFCE (in England), and multiple medical charities. As a condition of this funding, RCUK and other funders imposes a requirement that the outputs of this research be made available to the public (the funders of the research grants) via Open Access methods such as depositing appropriate versions of materials in an institutional repository. The eventual aim is to have 100% of RCUK funded research outputs made available via Open Access methods within a five year period (starting in 2013), with the intervening transitional period having increasing targets for the percentages of research outputs being made available, beginning with 45% in year one. (3.10). Other funding bodies are imposing similar access/deposit requirements. From 2016, a massive national exercise to assess and rank the academic output of centres of research (the Research Excellence Framework, or REF) has mandated that all journal articles and conference papers materials submitted to the REF “must be deposited in an institutional or subject repository on acceptance for publication.” As the REF materials represent the highest standards of academic work completed in each institution, this mandate means that more, high quality research will be being placed into institutional repositories from 2016, if not before (as universities gear themselves up to meet these requirements). So, both the bodies funding research, and the national exercise that assesses the quality of that research are supporting a move to make materials available via Open Access.
How the materials get online
There are two ways for academic materials to be made available to the public: via either the Green or the Gold route. The Gold route involves the author paying a fee to the publisher to allow the final, published version of their material to made immediately available to the public via their institutional repository or the publisher’s website. Green has three methods of implementation. One method involves no payment by the author to the publisher, but in return the publisher places an embargo on the public sharing of that material on the author’s repository. The embargo can vary in timescale, covering a period of anything from 6 months to two years. The second method involves placing research outputs into OA journals that are free of charge and allow immediate access to anyone. They are usually run by enthusiastic individuals and academic departments, and some of them are high quality. The third method involves the academic placing the research outputs directly into a repository, and not publishing it as a journal article out of it at all.
However, for both Green and Gold routes, the payment of publication fees and embargos on public access relate only to the final, published-in-a-journal version. The author is free to deposit the submitted version (i.e. the final, peer reviewed version of the material they submitted to the publisher, but which the publisher has not edited or typeset, also (confusingly) called the post-print) into their institutional repository at any point. Although the publishers really, really don’t like that, and some try and claim that authors are barred from putting ANY version of their work into a repository, even the earliest versions that the publishers never touched a character of, unless they themselves say so. This is an incorrect, and is a too wide-ranging interpretation of the rights of the publisher over the author’s preceding versions of the submitted work.


What use could it be to me?
When information professionals are trying to source legal materials for library users, there’s usually one of two things that those people want – either the latest materials, or the most in-depth materials. For the latest materials, you’ll always want to go first to those extortionately expensive subscription sources you’ve paid lots of money for, but in the situations where there’s no demand to get something topical, when you’re trying to find some learned discussion of a topic…then checking institutional repositories might be a good idea. Or those times when you’re given a citation for a journal that you don’t have access to, you could start the hunt for it by checking for the version of the article which may be deposited with the authors institutional repository in its pre-publication format. The content of the article is still the same, it’s just probably laid out in a different way to the final version (the publisher typesets and puts submitted materials into the house style), and it’s the content that the users want to get a hold of, not the nice column layout. Currently, it’s pretty hit and miss whether you can find what you’re looking for in a repository, but as explained above, the odds of finding material are improving by the day, so it’s increasingly worth a shot to look. I found quite a lot of interesting materials on Scots law via these institutional repositories, quite often from international journals. These are particularly useful because they often provide an introduction to certain aspects of the law from an outsider’s point of view. When being asked to begin research on a new legal topic, this is exactly the type of material that can assist the legal information professional in establishing a basic knowledge of a topic, before moving beyond that into greater detail.
Why’s it not there?
Unfortunately, as with all things that are a good idea on paper, the system doesn’t always work as planned. For example, you may know that a certain academic wrote a certain paper for a certain journal….if it was research funded by RCUK, then there’s an increasing impetus to make sure that the author deposits an Open Access version of it in a repository, so it should be available. However, there are also a LOT of reasons why what you’re looking for isn’t where you’re looking for it, and I’ll explain a few of the reasons below:
  • The information above currently relates mainly to journal articles and conference proceedings, items which are in a text format: other materials such as posters or audio/visual materials are not as likely to appear in a repository due to the difficulties of making these formats available in an appropriate way. However, as protocols for the uploads of these materials are developed and implemented, it’s likely that more of these non-textual materials will become available.
Technical skills/support
  • The author may not have the technical skills to upload their materials to the repository themselves, and may be unwilling to ask for help to add them. They may also be relying on assistance from others such as OA support teams specially recruited to assist in sourcing and uploading materials. Therefore, the availability of their materials will be reliant on the support staff being available to deal with those materials for the academic.
Availability of appropriate document versions
  • Only certain versions of materials are suitable for deposit in repositories. If the author hasn’t kept earlier versions of their work, and therefore only have printouts of earlier document versions that would need retyped or scanned, it may not be possible to make it available via Open Access without dedicating disproportionate resources to the task. This means it will not be a priority for addition to the repository, as contrasted with upload-ready materials.
Publisher restrictions
  • Publisher embargoes, and the confusion around them, means that many materials which should be freely available are locked away until the expiry of an embargo period set by the publisher. When the public tries to access them, they’re directed to a publisher paywall. This isn’t very helpful, and as a non-academic, hugely frustrating.
  • Books and individual chapters in collections are unlikely to be available on repositories, due to the fact that, unlike journals, there is no collective agreement for how books will be treated. Each book or chapter will need a separate negotiation with the publisher, and as this is a hugely time consuming task, with little likelihood of success (what publisher wants to invest in publishing a book, only for it to be freely available to the public in a year or two?), books are not a priority for adding to repositories.
Author understanding of copyright
  • Some authors may not understand that they retain the copyright in their work (unless it was commissioned), and they can often be told by publishers that no version of a published article can be shared on a repository. Although this is untrue (the copyright of everything up to and including the peer-reviewed, final version submitted to the publisher remains with the author), academic authors, especially those early in their career, can feel intimidated and anxious about getting published and will accede to publisher demands without disputing them. They can be too willing to assign copyright to publishers, when they should retain copyright and simply license the publisher to publish the item. This means that some academics may be wary of doing anything with their work which they believe the publisher has not authorised them to do, despite the fact that they do not need such authorisation to deposit their own work.
Location of the main author
  • If you know someone was the author of a paper, and where they’re employed, you’d hope that you could find it on their university’s repository. However, the author you’re looking for may not be the main author, and therefore the materials won’t necessarily be available on the author you know’s own institutional repository, but on the repository of the lead author. This can be a particular issue in medical studies papers, or any where a large number of academics did some research on a large project. and has been credited as an author (if anyone mentions the Lothian Birth Cohort to me, I tend to get a twitch…200+ authors on one paper!!).
Willingness of the author to participate
  • Some authors do not agree with the move towards making materials available via Open Access. Some authors feel that allowing anything other than the final, published version of their work will harm their reputation. Some feel that allowing free access to academic materials will damage publishers, especially publishers of small, independent journals who may support associated professional societies who are reliant on the income from journal subscriptions. Some authors just want to stick their heads in their sand and hope everything will go away. And some authors are very happy to share their work via the repository, and are keen to help make it available as widely as possible. Your chances of sourcing materials will be heavily tied to how engaged with Open Access goals an author is.


Where to look
Of course, if you have good details of where the author of material works, you can go straight to their institutional repository and begin searching there. If, as is more usual, you have only been given vague information, you could start with the sites that search across those repositories.
  • Google Scholar allows users to search across many academic sources. It will also allow access to book chapters, if available.
  • MIMAS has a tool here for UK repositories.
  • OpenDOAR is a listing of Open Access repositories around the world.
  • DOAJ is “an online directory that indexes and provides access to quality open access, peer-reviewed journals.”
  • Another option, as suggested by Charles Oppenheim, is to go directly to a university that you know does good research in an area, and check their repository directly. For Scots law, that would be Edinburgh Research Explorer (ERA) at Edinburgh University, Enlighten at Glasgow University, AURA at Aberdeen University, and Strathprints at Strathclyde University.
I hope this information is useful, and good luck hunting through the repositories!
Many thanks to Ian Clark (@ijclark) and Charles Oppenheim (@charlesoppenh) for their input to this article, and helpign me to keep the information as accurate as possible.