National meeting of UK EDCs

Europe House, 32 Smith SquareI attended the national meeting of UK European Document Centres on Friday 23 October at Europe House in London.  The meetings used to be an annual event, but there has been a hiatus, and this was my first ever meeting (in nearly 4 years in post).


There is currently a Pan-European Working Group on the future of EDCs, and this was the main theme of the meeting.  A survey of EDCs was conducted in September, but the outcome has not yet been published.  Of the 31 ECDs in the UK, only 14 were represented at the meeting, and only 2 others sent apologies.  Even with BREXIT on the horizon (UK referendum on Europe), there appears to be apathy within the UK regarding Europe and EDCs.

The morning discussion was led by Ian Thomson of (the almost legendary) Cardiff EDC.  He is representing the UK in the Working Group, and was keen to learn how other universities, manage their European information services.

There was general agreement that the title ‘European Document Centre’ no longer reflected the service.  EU documents are now published online, and the modern EDC is less a physical space and collection of printed materials, and more access to and expert advice on finding online EU information.

Many university libraries are weeding their official publications, which includes materials in the EDC.  There was concern about preserving ‘the last printed copy’, and the British Library is happy to accept donations of material to fill their own gaps.  [The British Library will be collating an online archive of BREXIT materials].

There was strong support for the role of the EDC network, at both UK and European levels.  The EDC network provides librarians with support and access to a expertise and training.

Ian also spoke about the work of the Cardiff EDC: it is a separate unit within Cardiff University, with a high profile and reputation at all levels (University, Wales, UK and Europe).  The Cardiff EDC (re)aligns their work to the University strategy: discovery, content, learning space, teaching and learning, research support, community outreach.

Although they are involved in many large projects (European Sources Online); Ian was keen to stress that other EDCs could have success with small interventions to promote their services, e.g. a welcome event for Erasmus students, careers talks about working in the EU, guides to travel in Europe for international students, and an event or quiz to mark Europe Day (9 May).

The afternoon sessions involved a series of short presentations:

Jacqueline Minor (Head of European Commission Representation in the UK)

A welcome introduction stressing importance of EDCs, and access to objective information, in run-up to UK EU referendum.  The EU is to take an impartial stance, but will provide information, and work to correct factual inaccuracies.

Patrick Overy (EDC Exeter)

Info-Europa newsletter (a weekly bulletin of EU publications)

Eurodoc (an email discussion forum for EU information)

Frederico Rocha (EDC Cardiff)

Sources of EU news and current awareness:

EurActive, EUobserver, Politico

The Local (European news services in English)

Euro | Topics (European news aggregation service)

Ian Thomson (EDC Cardiff)

European Sources Online is a value added search engine linking EU policy and information, and indexing primary and secondary EU sources, as well as guides to EU information.

Silvia Cobo-Benito (EU Bookshop)

All EDCs have privileged user accounts with the EU bookshop.  This allows the user to order multiple copies of items (100 copies per title per language).  Many EU publications are free – although some (print on demand titles need to be purchased).  Two types of publication: central EU publications and UK representation publications.




CLSIG Business Information course (16 July 2015)

I attended a Business Information: Sources and Search Techniques course run by Karen Blakeman for CILIP’s Commercial, Legal and Scientific Information Group (CLSIG) on 16 July 2015 at CILIP’s HQ in London.  The course was advertised as key resources for business and official information.  As the law and official publications librarian, and back-up for the business librarian, the course seemed like a perfect fit for me.

Karen Blakeman is a well respected and established librarian, who specialises in teaching advanced internet and business information research skills. (A version of) the slides for the course are available to download from her website (the course materials are constantly updated).  The course was well attended, with a good mix of librarians from the academic, public and commercial sectors, including a former colleague (good to catch-up).

The course began by looking at new trends in business information, including the UK government’s open data (‘free v fee’ and ‘missing’ information); the EU’s right to be forgotten; and Google’s control over you and the internet.  We discussed some of Google’s limitations, including how it personalises your search and results, changes search algorithms, and conducts experiments on the unsuspecting public.

Advanced Google search tips

Open a ‘private’ or ‘incognito’ window in your internet browser:

  • Chrome = Ctrl+Shift+N
  • Firefox = Ctrl+Shift+P
  • Internet Explorer = Ctrl+Shift+P

Force Google to use your search terms:

Google will change or exclude some of your search terms …

  • Use the Intext prefix e.g. intext:term to force it to include a word
  • Use the Verbatim function to force a phrase search
  • In search results, Search tools > All results > Verbatim.

Use Google to search a website or domain:

  • Use the site command eg.
  • Exclude a site e.g.

Limit your search by date:

  • In the search results, Search tools > Anytime > Date
  • If combining with a Verbatim search, use the daterange: prefix, and use Julian date.

Consider using a different search engine:

  • (not will find EU forgotten results
  • Bing will provide alternative results
  • Try Bing It On and take the Bing v Google challenge (I was a Bing person).

Company  and Financial Information

Company information relates to ownership, directors, structure, share price, accounts and activities.  The availability of company information depends upon the type of company, size of company and the jurisdiction (country).  In the UK, small and medium sized companies only have to file abbreviated information with Companies House.

UK company information is now available free-of-charge via Companies House.  The database is currently under beta-service via the Gov.UK website.  Company Check is an alternative; and Kompany and Open Corporates offers global company information.  I had much fun stalking researching friends and relatives on the various company information databases.

We touched on subscription company information sources including Legalinx 7side, Bureux van Dijk, Dun and Bradstreet, Factiva, Perfect Information and Thomson Reuters, but we did not examine these resources in detail.  This is where I was disappointed with the course, as I had hoped to learn more about when and how to use these resources (see On Reflection).

As regards financial (stock markets, commodities and exchange rates) information, we looked at Yahoo Finance and Google Finance, both of which give up-to-date free-of-charge financial information.  However, for academic research subscription financial information sources (e.g., Bloomberg and DataStream) are the preferred sources, and again we did not really cover these sources in the detail I was hoping for in the course.

Statistics, Industry and Market Data

Statistics are a hot topic in my workplace (I’m involved in a project to review official publications and statistics).  Karen recommended OFFSTATS – a guide to global statistics created by the University of Auckland.  In the UK, there are the Office for National Statistics and Gov.UK Statistics websites; and in the EU, Eurostat.  We also considered the open data agenda, and the making available of raw data via Data.Gov and the EU Open Data Portal.

We were introduced to Google Public Data Explorer, which is one of Google’s best kept secrets.  It can find publicly available financial and demographic data from major global organisations including Eurostat, World Bank, IMF and OECD (but not ONS).  Also, Zanran was mentioned as a search engine for statistics and data.

Karen encouraged to question statistics: to be aware the statistical correlation does not equal causation, and to ask questions about data methodologies.

As regards market data, the British Library’s Business & IP Centre produce free industry guides, and market data is available from companies like Report Linker (available through our Nexis subscription), and aggregator services like Market Research and Research and Markets, and reports can be purchased on a pay-per-view.  There was brief mention of Key Note and Mintel as subscription services.

On Reflection

On my journey home, I was a little disappointed that the course had not covered the major subscription databases in the depth I had hoped for. On reflection, after writing this report of the course, and considering that the course covered many other things not mentioned in this report, my expectations were perhaps a little unreasonable.  I am all too familiar with the problem of having too much content and not enough time!  In her introduction to the course, Karen mentioned that she used to teach the material as a 3 day course – I rather suspect that she could still teach it as a multi-day course now.

PCAPHE Success!

PCAPHEAfter 2.5 years, I have finally completed my Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice in Higher Education!  I am beyond happy: not only did I pass, I received an overall grade of Merit, far exceeding my own expectations.

It all began back in February 2013, when I started Module A, a double module on teaching, learning and assessment, which also led to HEA Fellowship.  I then took 2014 off for maternity leave, and returned in February 2015 to complete Module D, a single module on elearning, which completed the credits required for the postgraduate certificate.

The course was hard work: it was academically challenging, and hard to balance with my normal workload and family life.  At times, I found it difficult to understand and apply the academic theory to my library practice. Over time, I began to redefine myself as a teacher rather than a librarian.  The course was also very enjoyable and inspirational.  It has sparked my interest in teaching and learning, and certainly improved my own practice, and therefore hopefully my students’ experience. It has also opened the door to many new opportunities including collaborative presentations with academics at the HEA teaching workshop and librarians at the BIALL conference.

Would I recommend the course?  Yes, definitely (but maybe not the year off)!

Am I going to do another course? No, it’s time for some ‘me time’, no more study (for a while at least)!


3rd Annual Learning and Teaching Conference 2015

The Leicester Learning Institute hosted their 3rd Annual Teaching and Learning Conference on 30 June 2015.  The conference theme was Beyond the Placement: Where Next, and the focus was on careers and employability skills.

We heard from a variety of colleagues about employability schemes in their departments or colleges.  Richard Sandell (Museum Studies) described how practical vocational skills are interwoven into the MA degree curriculum.  Mark Goodwin (Genetics) discussed careers planning and support from year 1 of the BA degree course.  And Korin Grant (Economics) described an alumni mentoring scheme for BSc degree students.

One of the most enlightening talks was by Jennifer Williams from Teach First, who outlined their recruitment process, how Leicester students perform (compared to the national average), and which attributes Leicester students need to develop (humility, respect and empathy, leadership & resilience).

Some key themes to emerge from the conference were:

  • Consultation and partnerships with students and employers;
  • Embedding employability into the curriculum;
  • Accrediting employability programmes (HEAR statement);
  • Teaching students to articulate their employability skills in CVs and interviews.

There is some work we in the library can do on the employability agenda, particularly related to research skills and business intelligence.

BIALL Conference 2015

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).

Brighton BeachI 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

BIALL BadgesOne 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

Night at the Museum InvitationThe 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

20th anniversary cakePepper 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).

BIALL Cake AfterAs 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’!

BIALL Dinner

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.

CILIP Mentoring, Chartership and Revalidation

I attended an Introduction to CILIP Mentoring course on Friday 27 February at Aston University.  CILIP is the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, and it offers a Professional Registration Scheme, whereby members can be recognised as Certified, Chartered or Fellows.  (I am a Chartered Member (MCLIP), having achieved my professional recognition in 2002, under very different chartership regulations).  All candidates on CILIP’s new professional registration scheme are required to have a Mentor.

The course was organised CILIP’s West Midlands Member Network – although a similar one is now being hosted by the East Midlands Member Network on Thursday 23 April at De Montfort University.  It was run by Carol Brooks and Gill Colbourne, who are CILIP’s Mentor Support Officers for the East and West Midlands respectively.  The course was attended by delegates from academic (higher and further education), public and government library sectors.  The course was delivered in two halves: the morning session was an introduction to mentoring skills, and the afternoon session covered CILIP’s professional registration scheme requirements.

The morning session aimed to define mentoring, and how it differed from managing and coaching.  It also examined ‘effective listening’ and ‘powerful questioning’ skills.  We had an opportunity to try out our new skills in role plays (a personal horror), which highlighted how hard it is to resist the urge to ‘parent’ your mentee, and tell them what to do.  We also looked at how to establish a good mentor/mentee relationships, and focussed on initial meetings, shared expectations and confidentiality.

The afternoon session focused more on CILIP’s professional registration process including the how to find a mentor, the mentoring agreement, the Professional Knowledge and Skills Base (PKSB), and a personal development plan.  We also looked at the portfolio, evaluative statement and assessment criteria, and had an opportunity to review a weak evaluative statement.

The course was enjoyable and thought provoking, and it made me question my own professional development, as much as my desire to help others develop their own.  At the course, I learned that CILIP are propsing to make revalidation obligatory, and this has since been reported in CILIP’s Update.  I have been considering revalidation for many years  – it was part of my annual appraisal way back in 2008, but got sidelined by a baby (who is now 6 years old).  I have since submitted my revalidation (a log of my continuing professional development and a 250 reflective statement), which was a fairly quick and painless procedure.

So where do I go from here?  Well I plan to register as a CILIP mentor in the Summer, once my workload has eased a little.  I’m also considering starting on my own path to Fellowship …


Module D: eLearning

After a 1 year leave of absence (maternity leave), I have restarted my Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice, and am now undertaking an optional 20 credit module on eLearning: Resource Development and Student Support.  The aim of the module is to ‘design, develop, implement and evaluate an interactive online learning resource’.  I am required to produce a 3 hour online learning resource, write 2,000 words on my project plan, design and implementation, and another 2,000 words evaluating my project, all by Monday 15 June!

I have chosen to create an online learning resource to support the OSCOLA referencing style used by the School of Law.  I currently run a 2 hour OSCOLA referencing workshop once a term, where I have developed the speed referencing learning activity.  However, many students are unable to attend the workshop, either due to timetabling issues or to them being distance learning student, so I have a lot of individual OSCOLA enquiries too.  I have been considering developing online resources (beyond adding my teaching materials to SlideShare) for some time.

There are only 6 face-to-face classes in this module, with a lot of additional learning resources being available online – as we experience online learning as well as design online learning.  We are already at the half way stage (the 3rd class is tomorrow), and I a am still only at the design stage.  Only 12 weeks to go – so I’d better get a move on designing and developing my resource, or there will be nothing to evaluate!

Pregnant Pause

It’s been over a year since my last blog post – I’ve been away on maternity leave.  I enjoyed a wonderful Spring and Summer with my older daughter and new baby boy, and then returned to work at the end of October.  I thought I would take some time to reflect on returning to work after maternity leave …

Being a full-time working parent is not new to me; but being a full-time working parent to two children is new, and while wonderful it is also damn hard work!  I was only able to take 6 months maternity leave this time, and it has been a wrench leaving my baby, who is still breastfed.  I am fortunate that my university has a nursery on-campus, and my baby is just a few minutes walk away, which has given me great peace of mind.  The nursery staff are fabulous, and my baby has settled in well, although he has caught every germ in the nursery (as to be expected).

I had a phased return to work – just 3 days per week for the first month, to ease my baby into nursery, and me back into work.  While this worked well for my baby, it worked less well for me, as I found myself with a full-time workload and part-time hours.  I was fortunate that my return to full-time hours began in December, which is one of the more gentle times of the academic year, and I was able to catch-up.

When you are on maternity leave, you worry about your maternity cover: are they doing your job properly, and (crucially) are they doing your job better than you?  I was fortunate to have an excellent maternity cover – one of the assistants in my team stepped up to the role.  She did a great job (she made some great legal research videos), but I think that she was pleased to see me return.  On my first day back, a student came in with an obscure question about south african law reports, and the relief on her face was obvious to all.

I was only away for 6 months, but there were a lot of changes in that time.  There is a new assistant in our team (she started a week or two before I went on premature maternity leave), yet I feel like the new girl.  There is a new acquisitions manager, who has implemented lots of new policies, procedures and systems, which seem to change on a almost daily basis.  And we have a new library search engine – which appears (at least to me) to be much worse than the old library search engine.  Yet at the same time, there is a lot that is familiar: the office door is always locked at 8.45 when my colleague arrives at work, and the team still meet for coffee in the library cafe at 10.30 precisely!  I was also pleasantly surprised to find that Lexis Library and Westlaw had not rebranded and changed their database!

The media is full of stories about full-time working parents, and full-time working mothers in particular, and opinion is polarised.  My university has all the proper family friendly policies and procedures: we have good maternity, parental leave and care for dependents policies, but I don’t always feel supported.  However, I have struggled more with family, health and education services that are not working parent friendly, and entirely inflexible when it comes to making appointments that are not in the middle of the working day.

I hate to admit that I ‘clock watch’ in the afternoon, and I have a recurring daily appointment on my work calendar than simply says ‘go home’!  It’s not because I’m a bad employee, or less committed than my colleagues; but because I have to leave work on time, or face the consequences of not collecting my children from their childcare (upset children, late fees and social services).  I may leave the office at 4 o’clock, but I don’t sit down at home until 9 o’clock, by which time it’s almost time for bed.  I am entirely left out of office conversations about last night’s telly, and going out for drinks after work is unthinkable!

I’ve been really busy since the new year: I’ve been on a couple of training courses, I’ve restarted my teaching course, I’m working on a project to review official publications, and I’ve been accepted to speak at the BIALL conference in the Summer.  I’ve also been out of the office a lot: away on training courses, visiting other libraries, on holiday for school half-term, and on holiday to care for my poorly baby.  I’ve found it really hard to keep on top of my workload, and need more support and flexible working options.

I have considered making a formal request for flexible working, but I’m undecided on what ‘flexible’ should be (let alone if my employer would agree).  I have two children at very different ages and stages, and what would suit us now, would not work in a few years time.  For the time being it is ‘watchful waiting’ – a lot can happen in 6 months, let alone 3 years …

Speed referencing

I first heard about speed referencing at the HEA Teaching Research Skills to Law Students workshop earlier this month.  It’s a format for an activity in a referencing workshop – think speed dating meets OSCOLA.  I decided to give it a go in my Referencing for Law workshop earlier this week.  The workshop started with a traditional introduction to OSCOLA referencing, and the speed referencing activity followed thereafter.

I created 10 referencing exercises – a book, book chapter, journal article, website, UK Act, UK SI, UK case, EU legislation and EU case.  A copy of the title page or key information for each item was placed on a table.  The students were given a blank worksheet and a copy of the OSCOLA quick guide.  They had 90 seconds to reference an item, and then move on to exercise at the next table.  The speed referencing activity took about 20 minutes altogether – allowing some time between exercises.  At the end of the activity, the students were given a copy of the answers, time to review their results, and to ask questions and receive feedback.

The speed referencing went surprisingly well.  The students said they enjoyed the practice.  The time constraint made them realise that they could reference legal materials quickly, and that referencing did not have to take forever.  Eleven students attended the workshop, so it was a fortunate match of numbers – number of students to number of exercises.  The students preferred to stay in their seats around the tables and move the exercises around.  This worked well with the number of students, but did detract from the ‘active’ part of the activity.  I wonder if students are conditioned to learn while sitting still?  It’s certainly not the case for my 5 year old daughter – who appears to learn whilst maintaining a constant state of (com)motion!  

I will definitely give speed referencing another go – I am scheduled to teach referencing again to LLM students as part of their dissertation preparation training.  I think it’s a fun way to liven up an otherwise dull workshop!