Sandra Smythe, Knowledge Manager, Mishcon de Reya and BIALL Committee Member

Sandra.SmytheHow did you first get into the information and library profession? I used to volunteer to help my school librarian at high school during breaks and lunchtimes, something I don’t think I’ve admitted to since leaving school until now. I have always loved books though and been surrounded by them at home so it was a place I naturally gravitated towards and my school librarian was wonderfully inspiring and engaging. However, it didn’t really cross my mind as a career as I was determined I was heading down a science path but as it got closer to the time needed to start thinking about my UCAS application I found myself a bit lost. It was actually my parents who suggested the idea to me and it then seemed blindingly obvious so I started looking into the qualifications I would need and the courses available (and the rest as they say is history).

What qualifications did you take? I took a BA (Hons) in Information Management at Queen Margaret’s University College, as it was then, making me one of those, seemingly, very rare creatures – a librarian who did their qualification as their first degree. I was determined when I started that I would be looking for a career in public libraries but I did a 3 month work experience placement in my 3rd year in a service that provided information to people interested in starting new businesses and found I loved working with corporate type information.

What is your current job title? Knowledge Manager

What does your job involve? I work in a law firm library, and indeed have always worked in law firms for my whole career. For most of my career I worked as a typical librarian in this type of organisation, which involves researching legal and corporate/people information, current awareness and training. However, a few years ago my role at my current firm changed and I now look after our KM Systems, mostly our Intranet and our document automation process as well as being the person who generally tries to fix IT issues with our suppliers and in-house team. I also work closely with the head of my department, the Director of Knowledge Services, on managing our enterprise search engine. And, by no means lastly, I manage the training offered by Knowledge Services and the day to day administration of the department.

Can you describe a ‘typical’ day? I’m sure almost everyone working in law librarianship says there is no such thing as a typical day but I can do my best!

8.40am – My working hours are 9.30am to 5.30pm, as is common in most law firms, but I usually head in early to start working my way through my daily current awareness searches. We offer a very bespoke CA service, which is much loved by the fee earners, and everyone in the team is expected to help with the many daily searches and weekly briefings and alerts we run. I also check my emails and respond as needed – I use my inbox as one of my to do lists so I like to keep it as empty as possible!

9.45am – Add and classify items sent by the Litigation Professional Support Lawyer to our knowhow database.

10.15am – Content management type work on the Intranet – this often involves adding content for the PSLs I support or troubleshooting problems for content managers.

11am – Research databases induction for a new joiner. The firm I work for has grown incredibly in the 7 years I have worked here and we always have new joiners to train.

11.30am – Create new Intranet pages for a content manager and sort out the menu links.

11.45am – We are currently running a library audit so go through a spreadsheet listing details for our collection put together and give instructions where needed for the project person. We never seem to have time for this type of work so it has been a long time since our last audit (ahem) so this can take some time!

12.30pm – Prep for upcoming training sessions, we run a variety of courses aimed both at fee earners and support staff so try to have a varied programme organised a few months in advance.

1pm – Lunchtime! I often attend one of the lunchtime training sessions organised by the litigation department, as I’m their KS liaison, or generally for the wider firm or I try to force myself out to swim at the nearby outdoor pool.

2pm – Work on marking up a precedent for automation – this is time consuming, detailed work but involves working closely with the relevant PSL and has been one of our big success stories over the last few years. The automated precedents allow for more efficient working and also help with risk management.

3pm – By this time I will probably realise that whilst happily getting coffee and tea made for me by my colleagues I haven’t yet done my turn at the tea run so I’ll take a quick break from the document automation mark up to do this.

4.00pm – Meeting with Intranet upgrade project team.

5pm – Troubleshooting emails with supplier over issues we’ve been having with a database and testing of solutions.

5.30pm – Home time! I’d say I might stay a few mins late doing general admin etc but I have 3 dogs eagerly waiting for me to come home and walk them with my husband so I’m off out the door.

What skills do you think are most important for today’s information and library professional? I think we all need to be flexible and willing to take on new tasks and skills. I think there are a number of different opportunities for information professionals and the path their career can take at present but we have to not only have the skills to fulfil these roles but also to accept them as information roles. We obviously then need the technical skills as well but I have found that the more I get involved with “systems” work the more the very traditional skills around classification, taxonomies and organising information are called upon as well as noticing and caring about small, fiddly details.

What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in Information Management? There are a lot of opportunities to find out more about the different types of careers in Information Management so I would say go along to the career days etc and if there is an area you are interested in ask a librarian involved in that area to speak to you. I think one of the great things about this profession is that everyone is generally really friendly and willing to help. Of course, it is easier to find the right people you need to speak to if you are involved in relevant groups and if you do decide to pursue a career in Information Management I would definitely recommend joining a professional group. Although, in the interests of full disclosure I should say that I’m a member of the British & Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL) Council and Chair of the City Legal Information Group so I would say that! But being involved in both these organisations has given me opportunities to grow my skills and my knowledge as well as introducing me to a number of wonderful colleagues I otherwise wouldn’t have met.

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