Profile of a Systems Librarian

 

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My name is David Hughes and I am the Systems Librarian in the library of Dublin Business School.

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

A rather convoluted one!   A BSc in Molecular Biology saw me start a PhD, but for various reasons, that crashed and burned.  To salvage a Master’s degree from the wreckage, I had to do some fairly extensive library research.  Funnily enough, I did think about librarianship at the time, but saw a syllabus for a Master’s course and thought ‘that’s really dull!”

However, using Biological Abstracts (ask your parents!), I was impressed by the power of subject indexing to aid the retrieval of information that I needed and thought that would be something I’d like to try.  After a brief detour as a trainee computer programmer, I found an indexing position with a start-up that had landed a contract with Elsevier B.V. to produce database records for EMBASE.

After that company was bought out and closed down, I moved to a job as an Information Scientist with a UK government department.  This was a gateway role: I was indexing, classifying and doing other IS stuff (e.g., bibliometrics), but also doing some more traditional library roles: such as cataloguing and literature searching.  For personal reasons I was moving to Ireland and it was suggested to me that to improve my employability here, I should do the library degree at UCD.  After completion of the Master’s I had two part-time jobs: working on a XML project in UCD and at DBS as a part-time library assistant.  Incredibly I was offered full-time positions in both but chose DBS, so here I am.

Describe a typical day

A typical day involves handling queries (email, telephone, instant messaging) from students & staff, a lot of which concern access to resources, and performing triage on any library IT issues that have arisen i.e., can I solve the problem; does it need to go to our IT department or is it something a vendor needs to look at?  After I finish this, for example, I have to investigate why YouTube won’t work on Internet Explorer on our student PCs and/or find a solution if possible.   At the start of term, there’s also the need to make sure that all students can borrow from the library and have access to our electronic resources. Similarly, I have to ensure that ex-students can no longer borrow books or access our resources.    That’s the bread and butter, but there’s usually ongoing projects to manage or to work on (in recent times that has included implementation of a new library management system [Koha] and snagging our new reading list software [LORLS]).

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

Search and retrieval and the reference interview in particular; you’d be surprised by how many queries consist of: “it won’t let me login” and replying “tell it I said to let you login” won’t cut it. However, you never know when some other skill is going to be needed; cataloguing came up in the context of the library management system switch for example.

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

IT skills, obviously. Project management: a lot of library work consists of discrete projects (go on, think about it), and having some project management experience is important. People skills and being able to communicate effectively; it’s important to be able to say “no thanks!” politely but firmly to cold-calling electronic resource salespeople.  Thinking about it, people skills should be a ‘traditional’ library skill as this is a service professional after all.

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

Koha, Microsoft Office – one of the best things I ever did was take a Microsoft Access training course.  MySQL, Notepad ++, Zotero, HTML.

What is the most rewarding part of your role?

Hopefully making a difference to our users by either by giving them access to the information that they need or resolving the particular library IT issue they have at the time; it’s nice to receive thank you emails and see smiley emoticons on the instant messaging service.  It’s almost pathological, but I like solving problems; I like (pretending) to be the expert!

What is the most challenging part of your role?

There are a million and one things I’d love to do, but can’t because of corporate IT policy – that’s not a complaint, it’s just the way thing are, so some workarounds have to be found.  Time management – answering all the queries, getting all the trivial jobs done and finding the time to keep abreast of what’s happening in the LIS world; Twitter is absolutely essential in this regard.  Librarians shouldn’t just be providing access to information to their users, but should be actively seeking to improve their knowledge of their own field: every day ought to be a school day.  Maintaining a quality service in a time of budget cuts.

What are the career prospects within your area of librarianship?

Mixed. On one hand, IT skills are needed for more and more aspects of librarianship. On the other hand, critical though system roles are in the 21st century library, there’s a danger that they will be hived off to IT departments.  This would be bad as IT departments (in my experience) just don’t have the same service ethos as we do.   A little IT knowledge – even just being able to understand what IT staff are talking about – can take you a long way. Having a 10 minute conversation with the technical support guy for our print management software in her presence was what convinced my manager, the awesome Marie O Neill, to offer me the systems role in the first place.

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

In general, find a niche for yourself. Network, network, network! In particular, look at spreadsheet (e.g. Excel) and database software (e.g. Access, MySQL) in a little depth.  Learn some HTML and XML.  Don’t worry about not being able to code; chances are you’re not going to work in a library where that’s required.  Be willing to admit you don’t know something but you are prepared to go and find the answer. If you’re interested in systems librarianship, The accidental systems librarian by Nicole C. Engard and Rachel Singer Gordon (Medford NJ   Information Today Inc.) is well worth a read.  Also, be aware that you don’t have to work in a library to use these skills, and don’t worry about Imposter Syndrome, it’s not just you; a lot of us feel that way.

Profile of a Law Librarian

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Clare Brown

Library and Information Manager

Collyer Bristow provides bespoke legal services to a wide range of businesses and individuals in the UK and internationally.


What path did you take to your current role?

The local library used to employ a couple of students a year from my school as Saturday Assistants. My form tutor decided that it would be a good idea to put me forward as a candidate, and happily, they took me. I quickly realised that no other career would do and the head librarian there put me in contact with The Library Association/CILIP.

As I reached the end of the second year of my Library & Information/English degree at Loughborough University, it was apparent that business and law were my areas of interest. Part of the degree was writing up practical experience so I wrote to a number of law firms to ask for a summer job. Bond Pearce (now Bond Dickinson) in Plymouth was happy to introduce me to law librarianship, and my University was pleased with my report. I firmly believe that this invaluable experience was the reason why in September 1995, I was able to join London law firm Kennedy’s as Library Assistant with such confidence.

Since then I’ve always either worked in small teams or solo roles where I can be in direct contact with the lawyers. Although management roles are financially more rewarding, there is nothing like the challenge of day to day research. As proof of the transferability of our skills, I provided information services to a local government Department for Children and Young People for a few years; though the information was different, the users still required a prompt intelligent response to queries.


Describe a typical day

Typically I start the day by producing a bulletin of the day’s news, cases, legislation, and government press releases. Though much of this is now distributed electronically and delivered directly to the lawyers, I find reading through the newspaper headlines essential.

Once that has been sent out, I then deal with any email requests. This could be anything from assisting with company searches, pitches, database issues, to in-depth research for matters/articles or issues arising out of current affairs. I dash through the admin such as post, circulation, cataloguing, invoices and filing so I can get on with projects.

Projects for September included a CLA audit. We also need to review some databases so that is  time-consuming in the latter part of the year. New trainees also started in September so there was training and inductions to carry out.


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

The core skills for legal information professionals are being able to help users find the right information, at the right time, presented in the right way, and for the right price. In twenty years this has remained central to what I do for the lawyers.


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

Every workplace skill has a place in the librarian’s role. We are organised and practical project managers, we are experienced commercial negotiators, we are technologically aware, we are thoughtful counsellors/mentors, and we are imaginative and creative, which makes us excellent all-round communicators.

However more specific to the legal information role has been a requirement to add value to raw information. It has always been the case that a certain level of filtering is required. For instance, when someone asks for a list of cases on a particular issue, they would be unimpressed if you hadn’t checked through for relevance, importance and currency. But increasingly there is an expectation for you to understand some of the legal and commercial angles which might arise from your research.

As part of an increasingly more knowledge/expert-based role, I have been involved in the creation of legal content for the firm’s new website. Combining my interest and expertise in social media with the firm’s Reputation Management team has created an opportunity to work at the cutting edge of a really new area of law.


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

Thomson Reuters and Lexis Nexis are two big publishers providing the majority of both raw legal information and value added services, so most law libraries will have access to one or the other. However demonstrations of other products are useful and informative. Bailey Solutions remain my go-to company for library management systems and Penlib works really well for small firms.


What is the most rewarding part of your role?

The most rewarding part of my role has been the recognition of my writing skills by the firm. I was named as ‘Star Writer’ in the IT, data and privacy sector by The Lawyer, and given that the other four were lawyers, that is quite an achievement. Sometimes the work we do as information professionals goes unrecognised by other industries, so it is up to us to rise to the challenge and stand out.


What is the most challenging part of your role?

The most challenging part of my role is staying one step ahead of the news, and trend spotting. If I can alert my lawyers to potential developments, they can provide original commentary and, as a result, raise the profile of the firm. However as we are a full service law firm, there are many areas of ongoing interest and keeping abreast of it all can be overwhelming.


What are the career prospects within your area of librarianship?

There will always be a market for legal information professionals but the legal market is changing. Over the next 10 years or so, I believe that the industry will splinter further, leaving a new type of marketplace. There will be the high volume claims firm which will have outsourced all back room services; there will be boutique firms offering specialised services; and big name accountancy, business consultancies, family offices which will increasingly offer legal services; and potentially, local authorities will start offering paid for legal services to the public.

All of these will offer opportunities to information professionals but we have to remain flexible and willing to change with the landscape. As for promotion, corporate/legal information still lacks the opportunity for a progression up the ranks; our role is particularly ‘user’ or ‘client’ facing. However there is still no reason why we cannot become Chief Information / Knowledge Officers or even be made Partner in this new legal world.


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

Academic ability is not important, what matters is your attitude. Mental flexibility, imagination, problem solving abilities, and endless patience, are absolutely essential.