Library Routes from the BIALL Newsletter (Sept 2013)

I am published!  I was asked to write the Library Routes feature for the BIALL Newsletter.  My professional life story: how I became a law librarian.  On reflection, it’s not a hugely exciting story, certainly not an international best seller.  As I wrote the article, I did reminisce about the good old days.  I also realised how much has changed in the last decade, personally as well as professionally.  For those who are not BIALL members, and can not read the newsletter, this is my story:-

I never held any childhood ambitions to be a librarian, but I have always been drawn to the ‘helping professions’, first wanting to be a police officer and then a social worker. 

I graduated from Keele University in 1997 intending to become a social worker.  I returned home to my family, and started to work for social services, to gain the pre-course work experience required for the (then) postgraduate diploma in social work.  However, at just 21 years old, I had doubts about my ability to work in the profession, so decided to seek an alternative career, and return to social work when I had grown up. 

I applied for a number of library assistant posts at local colleges and universities, and started work as Learning Resources Assistant at East Birmingham College (now City College Birmingham) in Autumn 1997.  East Birmingham College was a further education college, specialising in technical vocational education, with a large number of Rover and Land Rover engineering apprentices.  I found myself in a great team of people, doing a job that I really enjoyed, and I was encouraged to pursue a library qualification. 

I enrolled on the masters degree in library and information management at the University of Central England (now Birmingham City University).  I studied part-time, every Wednesday for two years, and continued to work full-time.   East Birmingham College was an Investor in People, and they sponsored my studies; although I had to make-up my time off work, which meant many late night librarian shifts.  In my second year, I took an elective module in official and legal information, under the tutelage of David Butcher, and decided that I wanted to be a law librarian. 

The College of Law (now University of Law) opened a new branch in Birmingham in 2001.  As a newly qualified librarian, I started work as Senior Library Assistant in Summer 2001, and worked alongside the Branch Librarian Lindsey Withecombe (now Fratus).  On my first day, I was given a hard-hat and overshoes, and we started work building a brand new law library.  The first law students started six weeks later, and we only just got the books on the library shelves in time.

My first year at the College of Law was a huge learning curve.  I had studied legal information, but had no experience of legal research.  Nor had I any experience of the private education sector, and the particular demands of law students.  I remember how we collapsed with exhaustion after the first practice legal research assessment!  I was one of the many who have benefitted from an introductory legal reference materials course.

Under Lindsey’s mentorship, I was encouraged to become a chartered librarian, and to become more involved in the law library profession.  I joined BIALL and the ALLICE local law library group, and attended my first BIALL conference in Cardiff.  Those early years at the College of Law were some of the happiest of my working life.  In 2004, after a reorganisation of library services, I was promoted to Information Officer at the College of Law in Birmingham.  And there I stayed for nearly 10 years …

So what tempted me to leave?  I wasn’t actively looking for another job, but after 10 years at the College of Law, I was ready for a new challenge.  When the University of Leicester advertised their law librarian post, I applied without any expectation of an interview, and was rather surprised be offered the job.  A few months later, I started work as their Information Librarian, and also began 15 months of daily commuting between Birmingham and Leicester, before eventually relocating in at Easter. 

I was originally appointed to look after law, criminology and official publications, and I thought that the diversification would be good for my career.  However, I got a little more diversity than I bargained for.  After another reorganisation of library services, I am now academic liaison librarian for 7 departments including not only law and criminology, but also archaeology, ancient history, history, history of art and film, english and museum studies!

I still consider myself first and foremost a law librarian, and I’m still actively involved in BIALL and the EMLIP local law library group.  I have become Chair of BIALL’s professional development committee, and now find myself organising legal reference materials course for new recruits to our profession.  I am now also studying for a postgraduate certificate in higher education, because in my new role, teaching qualifications are more highly valued than library qualifications and chartership.



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