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Welcome to the summer issue of Legal Information Management (LIM) which celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL). Back in 1999, on Friday 16th April 1999 to be precise, a BIALL Council meeting took place that was held at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in London. The minutes of that meeting record that,
Before the meeting opened, Mary Blake [then President of BIALL] informed those present that the date was a special one in BIALL history, as it was 30 years to the day that BIALL was established. She had marked the occasion by bringing a birthday cake and Michael Maher [then Chair of the Association] provided bottles of Champagne for a toast after lunch.
In this article Dunstan Speight, President of BIALL 2018–2019, provides a short overview of current challenges and opportunities facing the profession. In addition to trends affecting all types of law libraries, the article discusses some of the main issues facing the three main types of information service: academic, law firm and chambers, and professional bodies. The article concludes with a discussion of how core skills and experience are still relevant in the fast-changing world of legal information.
Guy Holborn revisits the research he carried out in preparing the chapter on law libraries from 1850 to 2000 in the Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland. Much of the material he gathered was not included in the chapter as published for reasons of space. Drawing from both the previously published chapter and the unpublished material, he selects four themes relevant to BIALL in its 50th anniversary year: legal education and law libraries, the development of law firms and their information services, the content of law libraries and the information needs of the profession, and the emergence of the professional law librarian.
The role of the law librarian or legal information professional is thought by some to have been diminished significantly by technological advances which provide instant access to an enormous range of materials direct to individual users at their desks. The reality is that the wide range of instantly accessible materials makes the experience and knowledge of the information professional more important, not less; and imminently expected advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence are likely to confirm the vital importance of the legal information professional at the centre of legal services.
In this short article, David Ibbetson, the Regius Professor of Civil Law at the University of Cambridge, writes about the value of the law librarian in the academic context. His wide-ranging interests cover English and European legal history and, in particular, the historical relationship between English Common Law and the legal systems and legal thought of the rest of Europe. His experiences of using law libraries and receiving assistance from academic-based law librarians has led him to acknowledge the true value of the profession.
This article, written by Samuel Wiggins, examines current trends within commercial law firm libraries, and considers how those trends might continue over the next five to ten years. Areas considered include legal technology, the future of the library space, the role of the professional body, training, and the relationship between traditional librarianship and knowledge management.
The legal information landscape has always been one of instability and change. The rate of these changes seems to be speeding up as societal and technological changes interact and impact our lives. In the face of this volatility, we should remain constant by being the human factor between information and our clients. We are the interface between new technology and the changing information usage behaviours of our clients. We must understand both aspects to ensure the best outcomes. Our client centric attitude positions us perfectly to be leaders when exploring, and perhaps even creating, new solutions. We are best placed to bring them back to our institutions and provide the human touch to ensure they are implemented in a way that will succeed and add value. It is important to embrace this constant state of flux and find our value in being supportive change agents, while also ensuring that we can ensure, and advocate for, the importance of safeguarding legal information for generations to come.
In this combined article, five authors provide a brief summary of the activities of the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL) and the developments in law librarianship over the past 50 years, each writing about a different decade. Barbara Tearle (writing about the 1970s), Christine Miskin (the 1980s), Michael Maher (1990s), Fiona Fogden (2000s) and Narinder Toor (2010s) each bring their own experiences and memories to their writing and complete a half century of reflections to coincide with BIALL's 50th anniversary in 2019.
In the 1970s London law firms realised just how useful law librarians could be and there was a huge growth in their number during the 1980s. The first co-operative venture began in the mid-70s when we produced a Union List of Holdings and from that grew the City Law Librarians Group. By 1986 there were at least 60 firms in London employing over 150 professional law librarians. Provincial law firms were generally smaller but by the same date firms in Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester, Norwich and Bristol were employing law librarians.
This was the decade of the IT office revolution which would have a profound impact on working practices within law firms, including the library. The first, and arguably biggest, change was the creation of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee in 1991. The first law firm website was set up in 1994, and by the end of the decade virtually all law firms were using this as the key way to present their offerings. The first text message was sent in 1992. In 1994 Amazon was founded, as a source for buying books! By 1996 we were able to organize our contacts and diaries on a PalmPilot. Google was founded in 1998.
It is apt to start this review about the 2000s by mentioning ‘a project called UKILELI…it aims to create a database of UK full-text legislation and case transcripts; available via the web. More critically it aims to be free.’ It was later renamed to the more easily pronounced BAILII. BIALL had voted to support the project with a donation and to encourage law libraries to do the same.
Back in December 2009, I joined Arnold & Porter as an information professional. Working at a law firm that values and celebrates the contributions made by their support staff, has meant that this role has transformed into a very rewarding career. Reflecting on the last 10 years, the one word I would use to sum up law librarianship is expertise. As information professionals, we research and review areas and concepts that are unfamiliar but we are adept at not only pinpointing the key points and issues but conveying them with clarity, certainty and confidence. As well as providing this invaluable support, we guide, inform and advise. Over the past decade, BIALL has remained central to the law librarian community, helping us to navigate the ever changing landscape of the legal sector.
In this article, the authors, Catherine Bowl, John Furlong and Caroline Mosley look at the direction the Association's Annual Conference has taken over the past 50 years since the first Conference in Liverpool in 1970. The emphasis is on the mid-1990s to the present day, during which period the authors served as Chairs of BIALL's Conference Committee1.
In the article, Jennefer Aston reflects on the involvement in BIALL of law librarians from Ireland. She writes about the development of the BIALL Irish Group, some of the challenges that Irish law librarians have faced, notes how the legal sector in Ireland grew in the 1980s and 1990s and describes the collaboration and the activities of law librarians in Ireland. She also invites former Chair of the Association, John Furlong, and current President, Renate ní Uigín, to give some thoughts too.
In this article Loyita Worley describes the relationships between the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL) and its fellow organisations around the world. She looks at the way that BIALL has promoted law librarianship internationally and mentions some of the activities of the Association including its recent project work in Sierra Leone, as well as noting a few reminiscences along the way.