CILIPS Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland
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Gill Black, Knowledge Management Assistant, Brodies LLP Solicitors

Category: Meet our Members

This blog is part of our Meet Our Members series, focusing on different members and their careers.

Life as a Law Librarian

When I was eight years old, I collected rubbers: colourful ones, scented ones, ones that looked like food, ones that looked like other objects and one from every tourist attraction I ever visited. Nothing very unusual about that, except that mine were categorised, cross referenced and I taught myself to type on an ancient typewriter so that I could make up a catalogue. So when I followed up my law degree with a post graduate diploma in Library and Information Sciences, it didn’t really surprise anyone.

Life as a Law Librarian within a law firm is amazingly varied. To begin with, there is what you are called. Information Officer? Legal Information Officer? Knowledge Manager/Officer? Knowledge Management Assistant/Officer? Library and Information Services Officer? Whatever the label (I self-identify as a Law Librarian!) our role is to support the firm by providing high quality legal research resources, along with the training to enable our colleagues to obtain the best from these. We also provide direct support to client work by undertaking legal research ourselves and an increasing element of our role is to build knowledge management systems and processes within the firm to enable effective and efficient knowledge sharing and knowledge capture at all levels of the firm. Oh, and let’s not forget actually looking after the books, journals, looseleafs, subscriptions, invoices, and all the admin that every librarian will recognise from whichever field you operate.

Law firms come in all shapes and sizes, and their library services follow suit. In my career I have been a solo librarian, a member of a two-person team and a member of a large multi-office team in a multi-national firm. My current role in a five-person team is the perfect proportion – big enough to have support and camaraderie but small enough so that everyone chips in together and you are able to do a bit of every part of the job.

The smallness of some of the teams, and particularly when you are operating as a solo librarian, means that external groups such as CILIPS are lifelines for training, advice and support. My main piece of advice for anyone starting out as a law librarian would be to join professional groups and get involved – attend training seminars, sign up for networking events, take part in committees. If you are in a large firm with only one or two information professionals, you can feel very isolated, so build your own network. I was a committee member, training organiser and latterly Chair of the Scottish Law Librarians Group, and such contacts and experience benefit you all the way through your career.

Another way that CILIPS can help you is to help you prove your worth to your employer. Not everyone fully understands what an in-house librarian offers to a firm, but lawyers tend to appreciate post-nominals and official external validation of your skills. Becoming Chartered was a great way for me to objectively demonstrate that my skills and experience were recognised externally and helped me to prove the value that I was adding to the firm. This year I am undertaking revalidation for much the same reason: I aim to re-evaluate my own skills to identify what value I am bringing to my own career and to my firm and guide me on future development and experience. Law Librarianship can be different every day and for every librarian, so it is up to you to map your own path to get the most out of your career.

Overall, I am one of those lucky individuals who actively loves coming into work in the morning. You never really know what the day might bring and if you find that one killer case that will help your colleague answer their tricky legal conundrum, you will have one happy customer and huge job satisfaction (my eight year old self would approve!)

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