Profile of a Law Librarian

The Bar Council Law LibraryJohn Duffy

Sub-Librarian (Collection Development & Systems)

Bar Council of Ireland Law Library.

What path did you take to get to your current role?

I graduated from Robert Gordon University in 2000 and began as a cataloguer, working on a short-term contract in Trinity College Dublin. From there I took a temporary position as Assistant Librarian in ITT Dublin, with responsibility for cataloguing, systems and collection development. My next post was a return to being a cataloguer in the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas, but over nearly six years there the role evolved to take in systems, online services, and a large amount of the acquisitions and collection management duties. My job title was “eResources Librarian” when I left.

My current role is a further widening of these duties, with management responsibility for all aspects of what used to be called “technical services”: collection development, systems, and an array of online services, both commercial and developed in-house. I have reporting responsibility for four assistant librarians in this area, as well as a separate team working on digitisation.

Describe a typical day

My work tends to be quite project driven. At the moment a major revamp of the Law Library’s public website is being planned and I’m part of the team working on the design and content for that. I also assist with the routine flow of information through the organisation to our users, such as publishing content to our intranet or indexing digitised judgments.

What traditional library skills are important to have within your role?

The ability to see your service from the user’s point of view is absolutely crucial, and even more so as we move into an era of mobile services where users aren’t necessarily coming into direct contact with library staff or facilities. Designing things intuitively is vital for the library’s survival, and testing where the weak points are with analytics and surveys is also important.

What non-traditional library skills are important to have within your role?

It’s a cliché, but communication is key: within teams, throughout the organisation, and out to the users who are the reason our service exists in the first place. Every librarian should consider communications and marketing as part of their job.

Are there any specific software packages or technologies you use on a regular basis within your role?

I couldn’t live without Notepad: a  surprising amount of web content gets created or processed through it. I stumbled across InfoPath seven years ago and have made great use of it for creating and editing XML data. I was sad to see it has been discontinued by Microsoft. If anyone has any suggestions for a replacement I’d love to hear them!

[Editor’s note: I’ve heard good things about Oxygen which is paid for software.]

Law libraryWhat is the most rewarding part of your role?

Finishing things! Having a project, any project, completed, signed off and operational.

What is the most challenging part of your role?

Keeping all the plates spinning, making sure lower priority work does actually get done and that it’s not all grand projects or quick fixes.

What are the career prospects within your area of librarianship?

Times have been tough lately for the profession as a whole and I certainly don’t envy anyone starting out. The techie and systems side of librarianship can sometimes be undervalued too, by senior management who don’t understand what it is or how it differs from IT support. That said, there’s always a need for good technically-minded librarians. Bide your time, hone your skills, and the opportunities will come.

Do you have any advice for people interested in pursuing a role in your genre of librarianship?

The old saw that nobody wants a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole, is apposite. Always present yourself as being about solutions, improving efficiencies, adding value to services. Never lose sight of what the technology and the processes are for: making life easier for the people who use the information we hold.

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