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Law Society library services and hybrid working

04 Feb 2022 / Law Society Print

The next chapter

Hybrid work arrangements are now playing a central role in a new and evolving work culture. Mairead O’Sullivan opens the book on how the Law Society Library is tailoring its services to members’ needs.

Last July, following the retirement of my esteemed colleague Mary Gaynor, I took over as head of Library and Information Services at the Law Society’s library. We were fortunate to be joined last November by Paula Murphy as the new deputy librarian.

It is an exciting time for the library – as 2022 stretches ahead, it brings with it a sense of newness, possibility, and an opportunity to embrace change and look to the future. A new team engenders fresh ideas and enthusiasm for the challenges that lie ahead.

One of my first tasks has been to examine the library’s response to the changing work environments of our members and students. Hybrid work arrangements embraced during the pandemic (and assumed temporary) now play a central role in a new and evolving work culture for many of our members.

Like all periods of adjustment, there are advantages and disadvantages, and pre-pandemic work habits and practices may no longer be practical or feasible in the home office. This is where the library can help.

Our initial response to remote working was swift and effective, but I want to build on that impetus and ensure that our members’ transition to working from home is as seamless as possible.

We were in the fortunate position in the library of having already put in place the technological infrastructure required to deliver a modern and dynamic service, but if COVID has taught us anything, it is the importance of planning ahead. We never take anything for granted, and our key objective is to make every member and user of the library aware of the supports and services available to them, regardless of their geographic location.

Tech trends

Our document delivery service is a fast, efficient, and reliable service that members can access simply by emailing libraryenquire@lawsociety.ie.

Members can request precedents, case law, journal articles, legislation, legal research, and book loans – and they are guaranteed a response that same day. Last year, we responded to 4,904 queries and emailed 3,060 documents.

The weekly LawWatch newsletter is delivered to members’ inboxes every Thursday and includes recent case law from the courts, featured articles, new legislation, and a new feature called ‘precedent of the week’, included in our first issue of 2022.

The library catalogue is modern and interactive, with over 51,000 records, allowing members to search for unreported judgments and download signed PDF copies as we receive them from the courts. We digitised our entire unreported judgment collection a number of years ago, so users can search for and download cases as far back as 1952.

There are currently over 20,000 judgments freely available on the library catalogue. Members can also request book loans via the catalogue, without having to contact the library desk directly.

Our library app ties in with the catalogue and provides members with the option to search the catalogue while they are on the move. It has proven particularly popular when members are in court and need access to a judgment quickly. Judgments can be downloaded to members’ phones instantly.

Members and students now have access to a wide range of e-books, on topics including conveyancing, company secretarial, information technology, internet law, and mediation from the library’s e-book platform.

Users are invited to contact the library for further information and to request a login password. In addition, library staff have access to over 300 e-books via databases such as Bloomsbury Professional, WestlawIE and LexisNexis. Extracts and chapters can be emailed to members, within copyright guidelines.

‘Library Chat’ is a relatively new feature that was introduced last year. The chat feature sits on the front page of the main Law Society website. It provides members and students – and, indeed, members of the public – with the option to chat with a member of the library team. It complements our enquiry desk service and is a fast and easy way of asking a quick question.

Last year, over 3,000 books were borrowed by members. We are constantly expanding our comprehensive and diverse book collection, and I am proud that our collection of wellbeing books has proven so popular.

Members can borrow five books over a ten-day period. In order to ensure secure delivery of loans to members, books are sent out by DX courier service or by An Post. There is a delivery charge of €5 per packet for DX delivery, or €5 per item for An Post delivery. Students can borrow three books over a seven-day period.

Positive experience

I am supported in the library by six professionally qualified librarians and, while there is no denying the pivotal role that technology plays in enhancing the quality of the library service, it is the skill, work ethic, and experience of the staff that I hope sets it apart and provides our members and students with a positive user-experience.

I am equally conscious as I write this of the hard work and dedication that went before us. Seasoned users of the library – and, indeed, more recent members – will be aware of the impeccable standards set by my predecessors, Margaret Byrne and Mary Gaynor.

Indeed, if we look even further back at the history of the Law Society Library, we can see truth in the old adage that ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’.

Established in 1841, the library is referenced in the very first rule adopted by the profession, when the Society was reconstituted as the Society of the Attorneys and Solicitors of Ireland, which called for the “institution and support of a library, for the use of the profession, and for providing means for the instruction of apprentices”.

Over 180 years later, in these challenging and uncertain times, the library’s primary focus and objective remains its members and students and how best to support them. The library is an anchor, a cornerstone in the Society. It has a role in the professional life-cycle of every member of the profession, from their first day as a PPC student, throughout their career, and right up to retirement.

We are here to serve our members. It is your library, and we never lose sight of that.  

Read and print a PDF of this article here.

Mairead O’Sullivan
Mairead O’Sullivan is head of Library and Information Services at the Law Society.