How did you first get into the information and library profession? Like many others, I did a degree in another subject before being drawn into the library profession. After graduating with a biology degree, I struggled to know what career path to take. I had enjoyed the literature research aspect of my dissertation but didn’t think there would be a job doing that sort of research every day. I also knew a career working in a lab would not be for me and I could not see how I could get a job related to my degree.
After a short stop-gap doing admin in my local solicitors, I went back to my careers advice centre at university and looked at my options using Prospects planner. Of the job titles it suggested would be suited to me, “information scientist” jumped out at me – it had the research aspect I had enjoyed and also the “science” aspect appealed to the biologist in me.
After doing some background reading and getting in touch with CILIP, I found myself moving down to London to start a year as a graduate trainee in a law firm. It was the best introduction to the career I could have had and assured me it was the right choice to then study for a qualification.
What qualifications did you take? I did a MA in Librarianship at the University of Sheffield; it was the same university I had done my undergraduate degree and was highly rated so it felt like a natural choice to return to the city.
What is your current job title? My current job title is Senior Information Officer and I work in a law firm in London.
What does your job involve? ; Can you describe a ‘typical’ day? In a brief sentence, my job involves supporting the lawyers and the firm with the provision of business and legal research. But it is really a lot more than that… The information team are embedded with the practice groups we support – our ‘main library’ was disbanded a number of years ago – so whilst the team all have a similar job role, the activities we get involved in can vary a lot, depending on the department. Although there is no typical day, some of the more standard tasks I do are:
- Producing current awareness for the departments and teams I support – this is both for the larger practice groups (litigation and employment) and for the discrete teams within those groups, be that retail or fraud, for example. It means reading updates from a quite a number of sources (I like Feedly for my RSS; Lexis Publisher for newspaper content) to distil them down to what is relevant for the team to know. What I really enjoy is meeting fortnightly with one of the teams to discuss the latest from my bulletin – it meets their need to have a chance to discuss the key topics in the news and work out what actions need to be taken as a result, based on a recent case or news story on a legal development.
- Conducting business research on a potential client. Our team produce intelligence reports on companies and competitors as and when needed by the lawyers or business development teams. I find this quite interesting as you get to look at both well-known large multi-national companies and also those you had not known existed but have a very niche or important product. These reports are well received by the lawyers and were highly praised when our team won the Halsbury’s award for Best Legal Information Service (commercial sector) London in 2012.
- Assisting with legal research for the fee earners – be it searching for cases, commentary on legislation, finding EU directives or regulations.
- Answering any other queries which may come my way – they can range from looking at a company’s ownership to finding title registers for properties; from compiling press articles to cover the development of a particular news story to tracking down Parliamentary debates on a topic or piece of legislation.
- Conducting training sessions on our databases. Our team runs regular training sessions on our databases and also how to get the best out of Google – these sessions are CPD accredited and give fee earners tips on getting the best from the commercial databases we subscribe to and also the advanced search techniques they can use on Google. We also meet the new intake of trainee solicitors when they join the firm and run a session on legal research skills for them before they reach their departments. As well as these planned training sessions, any day could also involve giving a quick refresher at someone’s desk on using the databases.
- Intranet and know-how management. We all take a role in keeping the information services pages of our intranet up to date and also keeping our own internal know-how current. We have an internal wiki for the library team which contains a lot of useful information on tips on tracking down certain legislation or company information from other jurisdictions as well as information on the coverage of the databases we subscribe to.
- (and finally…) Administration. There is a certain amount of admin that I do as part of my role – this can be book cataloguing, checking in of looseleaf updates, processing invoices, locating missing books and maintaining the collections relevant to my practice areas, and contributing towards preparing the annual library budget.
Some of my day (usually lunch or after work) is also devoted to SLA Europe (the European chapter of the Special Libraries Association) and the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL). For SLA Europe I volunteer on their Digital Communications committee, looking after their LinkedIn presence and contributing to our digital strategy. The committee are currently redesigning the website and it is exciting to contribute to that. Within BIALL, I have been involved in their PR & Promotions Committee for a number of years, first as a standard member, then as vice-chair before taking the role of chair this year. I helped develop a wiki for law librarians of common or unusual questions, and this year we are looking at new ways to showcase the work of law librarians and of BIALL.
What skills do you think are most important for today’s information and library professional? I think today’s information professionals need to be adaptable. I won’t be the first person to comment on how much the profession has changed over the years, and that change will continue. To be adaptable and to be able to apply your knowledge to new situations, be that new technology or a new workplace, will be vital.
I also think communication skills are key. The work we do, both for our employers or for our profession, needs to be communicated out in the most appropriate way. So being able to write articles, summarise research, put together a Powerpoint presentation, use social media are all important abilities for information professionals.
What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in Information Management? I would advise those entering the profession to look widely at the sectors and workplaces in which your skills can be applied. Visit the graduate open day run by CILIP, as well as that organised jointly by BIALL, CLSIG and SLA Europe, to get a feel for the diversity of roles information professionals fulfil.
I would also advise getting involved in a professional organisation; be that volunteering for a committee or simply attending their networking events or seminars. They are vital for maintaining your CPD and also meeting your peers. Do not underestimate the power of your network!