I attended BIALL’s 46th annual study conference from 11-13 June 2015 in Brighton. The conference theme was Charting the C’s: Collaboration, Cooperation, Connectivity. It was my 5th BIALL conference as a delegate, but 1st as a committee chair and speaker (see also BIALL Conference 2013).
I arrived on the most glorious summer’s day, and Brighton had a definite feel of the Mediterranean. My first stop was the Justis Pre-Conference Party, which is often the highlight of any BIALL conference. This year we ate fish & chip at Victoria’s Bar on Brighton Pier, met up with friends old and new, and formed our BIALL conference ‘breakfast club’.
Day 1: Thursday 11 June 2015
The conference was opened by BIALL President Marianne Barber, who welcomed us to Brighton, and gave us ‘permission’ to miss a session to talk to suppliers, or enjoy a stroll along the sea front.
Plenary Session 1: Commercial and Regulatory Evolution of Legal Services
Prof Stephen Mayson (of Mayson, French and Ryan fame) delivered the first plenary session, the Willi Steiner Memorial Lecture on the “Commercial and Regulatory Evolution of Legal Services: Implications for Information Professionals”. The Legal Services Act 2007 enabled alternative business structures, alternative routes to law, and increased the role of the non-lawyer in law firms. 80% of activity in law firms is unreserved, and can be performed by non-lawyers. Parralegals and law librarians are increasingly involved in client-facing or business-related activities. Information is moving from print to digital, from purchase to license, and just-in-case to just-in-time. Legal research is more than retrieval: it also includes interpretation and presentation. Law students are not prepared for legal research in practice, but law firms should not expect trainees to be ‘practice ready’, professional education and training is a lifelong skill.
Academic Group Forum
BI-ALLSIG is a closed special interest group for Academic Law Librarians. The BIALL conference hosts the Academic Forum: an annual opportunity for academic law librarians to meet and discuss matters of collective interest. The meeting was chaired by Angela Donaldson (at her last BIALL conference), and I was the unofficial secretary (taking the minutes). Over 30 academic law librarians attended the meeting, from universities and law schools from the UK and overseas.
I asked if members would be interested in a symposium on supporting international exchange law students (there was some interest and I will follow up with an email to the group); and we also saw a presentation on an employability tutorial for law students (with a business intelligence focus) from Hannah Poore at the University of West England. There was also a discussion on Westlaw and SFX, and more widely legal research databases and their integration with third party resources. Something for BIALL’s Supplier Liaison Group to follow up on.
We at the University of Leicester are currently implementing a new library management system and resource discovery platform (Alma and Primo from Ex Libris). I took the opportunity to speak to a few key suppliers about integrations with Primo, and was rather concerned at their lack of awareness of Primo as a ‘thing’, let alone how it might work with their products. I am awaiting call-backs from their account managers.
Plenary Session 3: Infiltrate and Conquer
Emily Allbon, law librarian turned legal academic, and founder of Lawbore and Learnmore, delivered a session on collaboration entitled “Infiltrate and Conquer: Showing the World What Librarians Can Do”. Emily is a passionate champion of collaboration, she showcased some of her work with students, academics, librarians, publishers, and encouraged us to make collaborations of our own. She warned against the Echo Chamber problem: where libraries operate in a closed system, and encouraged us to make connections outside our libraries. Emily has used technology to showcase her skills, and make people want to collaborate with her. Inspirational stuff!
New and Overseas Delegates Welcome Event
One of my responsibilities as a committee chair was to attend the new and overseas delegate welcome event which took place during the afternoon break. I was surprised at how many people I knew, both from BIALL council and committees, and also the new delegates who were new to the conference, but not new to me.
I was also able to collect our committee member badges (an idea suggested to BIALL council by my committee), which were very lovely indeed and treasured by committee members!
Parrallel Session 2A: Law v Learning Styles
Chris Walker and Karen Crouch are former colleagues from the University of Law, so it was great to catch up with them, and the work they are doing in student study support. This was also my first experience as the ‘official BIALL live tweeter’ (#BIALL2015 #2A). They have used the VARK questionnaire to assess students’ learning styles: Visual, Auditory, Read/Write and Kinesthetic. They argue that ‘law’ is a text-based subject, and favours students with read/write learning styles. The session involved some fun audience participation, as we were asked to draw dots, and write instructions for tying shoelaces. This demonstrated how difficult it is to write and follow instructions, and how easy it is to interpret instructions differently. (Now substitute ‘instructions’ for ‘the law’). Chris finished with a word of caution: the evidence on learning styles is mixed, and we should not be defined by learning styles.
BIALL’s First Night Reception: A Night at the Museum
The first formal social event was A Night at the Museum, held at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, and sponsored by ICLR (of The Law Reports) to celebrate their 150th anniversary. A ‘walking bus’* of several hundred law librarians left the hotel, and walked along the sea front through The Lanes to the Pavillion Gardens. An alternative to the hen and stag parties Brighton is so familiar with!
We were greeted with a gin and tonic (they know me too well), and set about exploring the museum by way of a quiz. I was pleased to team up with Margaret from the Bodleian, whose classical education was much appreciated. I made use of my own special education, and acquired us an extra gin and tonic from the friendly waiter. The evening encouraged much collaboration (on quiz questions and answers) and cooperation (help holding food, drink and quiz sheets), and a great time was had by all. I think many delegates will be making a return visit to the museum and gardens.
* The concept of a ‘walking-bus’ had to be explained to many overseas delegates!
Day 2: Friday 12 June
Plenary Session 4: The Monkey and the Camera
Emily Goodhand @copyrightgirl had the unenviable task of delivering 1.5 hours on copyright law! The session opened with an introduction to the infamous case of The Monkey and the Camera. A monkey takes a selfie, who owns the copyright? a) the monkey, b) the photographer, or c) there is no copyright.* Emily tested our knowledge of copyright law, and it became very clear that we were in need of some education. She then went on to outline some of the recent changes to copyright law (Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988), and their implications for librarians in higher education: s29a, Text and data analysis; s31a Disabled people; s36, For education; s42, Preservation copies, and s41-42 Copying by librarians. The session was similar to a SCONUL copyright session I attended in February 2015 – but it did make more sense second time around, and time flew by as Emily rattled through the new law, answering many questions from the audience along the way.
* As things stand, there is no copyright.
Pepper v Hart 20th Anniversary Celebration
Pepper v Hart is a legal research course run by BIALL’s Professional Development Committee in partnership with Lincoln’s Inn Library. This year we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the course, and invited Guy Holborn and Catherine McCardle, who are instrumental in the course’s success, to cut a birthday cake (it was also Guy Holborn’s birthday).
As chair of the committee, it was my responsibility to give a short speech, orchestrate a ‘happy birthday’ sing-along, and serve the most enormous cream cake in the world (well Brighton)! It was by far the most stressful part of my conference, and I have had many sleepless nights since about cutting cream cake. That said, the cake was delicious, and gone in seconds.
Plenary Session 5: The Library Without Walls
Sara Roberts session was the most powerful and inspirational of the conference. Subtitled “Striving for an Excellent Law Library Service Post-Earthquakes” she recounted her experience at the University of Canterbury after Christchurch (New Zealand) was devastated by a series of 11,000 earthquakes from 4 September 2010 onwards. Ostensibly, a tale of extreme ‘disaster recovery planning’, and accelerated ‘library change’. Sara gave a very moving personal account of life during and after a major disaster: one that causes your library to close – and your family to be without water and electricity, and to use a long-drop for 6 months. The disaster forced the University to reassess ‘what makes a law library’? The law library was relocated into the main library, student numbers and the library budget reduced, printed library stock was reduced, and replaced by online resources. These are changes familiar to law librarians across the world, but they were very acute changes in Christchurch, not gradual over years and decades as we have experienced.
BIALL Annual General Meeting and ‘Have Your Say’
BIALL’s AGM and Members Forum takes place at the annual conference. As a committee chair, I had a few new responsibilities: preparing the committee annual report and budget, helping to check members into the room to ensure the quorum, and responding to any committee related questions during the forum. The AGM is a formal affair, with lots of proposers, seconders and voting. You can vote with two hands if you are both a personal and institutional member! We approved minutes, reports and a change in the constitution to remove the word ‘postal’ from our balloting procedures. The Members Forum is more informal, and there was a question relevant to our committee (about 1 day conferences in the regions), so I also had to address the forum.
Parallel Session 3B: Techno Teach
We saved the best until last! I delivered my first conference paper jointly with Lisa Anderson (University of Birmingham) on “Sharing Good Practice in Legal Information Teaching“. Originally envisaged as a TeachMeet for law librarians, we showcased some of the technologies available to support legal research skills teaching, and focussed on the connectivity theme of the conference. We covered voting systems (Turning Point, Participoll and Socrative); screen and lecture capture (Jing, Captivate, Camtasia and Panopto); social media (Twitter and Padlet); low tech alternatives (visualizer and magnetic paper); and things to consider before using technology (pedagogical purpose, size of audience, hardware, wifi connections, inclusivity, data protection).
Around 30 delegates attended the session – much more than we had anticipated (it was a sunny Friday afternoon by the seaside*, and we were up against parallel sessions from Oxford, Cambridge and Canada). And the session went well – we had lots of questions and positive feedback afterwards, and over 180 people have viewed our slides online since. This was a relief because 30 minutes before our session, the software we had requested was not installed on the presenter’s PC, and the wifi at the conference venue was (at best) flaky. We designed the session to be interactive and student led – so the audience voted on the running order of the session, and had opportunities to discuss their experiences with each other. All in all, a very good first experience as a presenter.
* We treated ourselves to an ice-cream on the beach afterwards!
BIALL President’s Reception, Annual Awards and Dinner
The final social event was the formal President’s Reception, Annual Awards and Dinner. It should perhaps be renamed the BIALL Dine and Disco?! It was held at the Hilton Brighton Metropole (conference venue), and sponsored by Lexis Library. We were greeted with a Kir Royale, and then found a table in the main ballroom. The first awards were presented (journal, supplier and law librarian of the year). Alas, I did not win the coveted Wildy Law Librarian of the Year, but Anneli Sarkanen was a well deserved recipient. The dinner and drinks were followed by the Lexis Library Awards (best commercial and non-commercial library services), and then the disco. Law librarians love a disco. None so more than BIALL’s PDC committee, who were all on the dance floor, and are now considering offering courses in ‘disco dancing for law librarians’!
At midnight, I turn into a pumpkin, so after a few hours of dancing I made my way back to my room. Next year, the BIALL conference is in Dublin and I am already looking forward to it.