Tom Ellen – Law Society Library

Tom Ellen

How did you first get into the information and library profession? I’d done an MA in history and politics and I wasn’t sure what to do as a career, so I had a look at the postgraduate courses on offer and the library and information studies course sounded the most interesting, particularly as I’d enjoyed carrying out research for my undergraduate degree and dissertation. My Dad was also a public librarian, so that gave me an idea of what a career as a librarian could involve.

What qualifications did you take? I did an MSc in Library and Information Studies at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen.

What is your current job title? Systems and Enquiries Librarian

What does your job involve? My job is probably split 50/50 between undertaking research and enquiries, and doing systems work. I am responsible for ensuring that the library IT equipment is working, and also for dealing with the library management system, and the electronic resources, databases, software and multimedia equipment that we have or subscribe to. I also operate the library’s Twitter feed which includes trying to come up with an interesting ‘Friday question’ each week, and looking through our archive for interesting pictures and items to tweet about.

Can you describe a ‘typical’ day? I usually start by checking my emails. Then we have a timetabled rota, so I may be on the enquiry desk helping people who are using the library in person, or on the telephone enquiries line for people calling with research requests or queries. We also receive queries and requests by email. There are four enquiries librarians including me, and the requests are shared between us.

The type of queries can range from a simple question about whether we have a particular book or law report in the library, to an in-depth research request on a particular aspect of the law. We also get historical requests about former solicitors, and requests relating to our extensive corporate archive. As we keep old editions of textbooks and encyclopaedias and have statutes going back as far as the 13th century, including a large collection of materials which are stored in a salt mine in Cheshire, we often get enquiries relating to old publications or Acts which are not on any legal databases, or which other libraries no longer have.

We represent 166,000 lawyers, so we get requests from a wide range of different law firms – from magic circle firms to sole practitioners – as well as from in-house lawyers, retired members and internal queries from other staff. The queries can be about any area of the law, so the research we carry out is very wide-ranging and each request is different. We also offer a document delivery service to supply solicitors and library staff at law firms with law reports, legislation and extracts from books, so I may occasionally cover that service and copy and send the requested documents.

I then usually spend some time tweeting and also doing systems work, including producing guides on tips and tricks for using software, dealing with any issues with our library management system and planning for an IT equipment upgrade. Each day is different and the type of work is very varied which is exciting and keeps me on my toes.

What skills do you think are most important for today’s information and library professional? I think perhaps the key skill for the 21st century information and library professional is the ability to embrace and adapt to change. Things are changing so rapidly in the field of technology and the means and ways in which people obtain and find information, that it is important to be able to keep up with these changes, in both technology and librarianship in general, in order to ensure that we are able to continue to provide library users with the best possible service, particularly in my own field of law librarianship where our users often need information and research very quickly and in the most effective manner. Comparing photographs of the library in the 1980s, when the librarians sat at desks with no PCs and used card indexes, to today, shows just how much has changed and is likely to continue to change in the future – with the growth of big data and the continued rapid evolution of technology.

What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in information management? I would suggest that it can be a very interesting and rewarding career, particularly for someone who enjoys carrying out research and helping people to find the information that they are looking for. It can be very satisfying to help find an answer for someone who has a difficult enquiry or is unable to find the information they’re looking for themselves. I also think that anyone considering a career in information management should try to find out as much as they can about all the different varied paths in lots of different fields that such a career could entail.

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