Report from the Emerald Isle - BIALL 2016
After an ominously stormy start in London and a slightly delayed flight, I arrived in Dublin on Wednesday just in time to catch the pre-conference 80s-themed party sponsored by Justis, in a lovely (and fortunately undercover) beer garden – cue legwarmers and rainbow colours all around! It was great to catch up over a drink with a few familiar faces and get a sense of what my first BIALL conference would entail, as well as some recommendations of interesting things to see and do around Dublin should time allow.
As it turned out, spare time proved to be at a premium – but this was no bad thing, as the conference organisers had certainly packed the programme with a wide variety of sessions relating to this year’s highly topical theme of ‘the value of change’.
The Thursday began with an introduction by Andy Harbison to the increasing threat to law firms posed by cyber-crime, and gave some alarming examples of just how sophisticated tactics of stealing data have become. Even though we were all considering throwing out the computers and bringing back the hard copies at this point, Andy gave some reassuring advice and stressed that the best defense for firms was not to invest in more technology against attackers, but to effectively train staff to be vigilant and cautious in their every-day environment.
The next session was given by Amanda McKenzie and looked at Knowledge Management - its definitions, history, role in law firms and how it interacts with librarianship/information management - in keeping with the conference theme, KM is a changing and evolving role and one that is becoming essential in managing the rapid technological changes in producing and storing knowledge. After lunch we were given a series of short ‘lightning talks’, including tips for responding to enquiries more efficiently, a case-study of the library needs in an office of primarily support staff, and the benefits and challenges of creating the law collection at Royal Holloway.
I chose two parallel sessions relating to aspects I had learnt about on my library MA course: embedded librarianship and the value of a global collection development policy in a law firm, and it was fascinating to hear about the practicalities of instigating these changes and their outcomes.
Day 2 began bright and early after a rather late night enjoying the food and hospitality of our Hilton hotel hosts. The first session looked at BIALL’s new tool for benchmarking services and how it can benefit library teams in arguing for more resources, defending current services or identifying challenges. We then broadened our horizons to Europe to examine Europe and data protection laws, which included an illuminating history of how data protection traditions varied considerably by country, and how European laws are becoming more complex with the difficulties presented by changing technologies and particularly controlling data online. However, this seems to be good news for us, as more documents being produced = more costs, more lawyers, and more work for law librarians!
The afternoon saw two more sessions of lightning talks, looking at collaboration between a college library and a law school, advice on getting the best out of subscriptions, producing ‘Libguides’ at a university and a case study of patron-driven acquisitions for law researchers. We ended the day with the BIALL Annual Dinner, celebrating outstanding achievements and inspirational stories of individuals and library teams. After heartily congratulating those involved, we enjoyed the live band and even the most reluctant eventually joined in to throw a few moves on the dance floor!
The final day’s keynote seminar focused on another area of technological advancement – big data and artificial intelligence. Alex Smith demonstrated how these technologies have evolved and their potential to assist law firms, including improving processes and analysing large quantities of raw data in order make better business decisions. With the focus on connecting data within firms, we may see new job titles arising in the not-so-distant future – ‘legal knowledge engineer, ‘lean law evangelist’ and ‘curation ninja’ were some of Alex’s suggestions!
Though we might not all be applying to be curation ninjas just yet, the conference rounded off with a panel session on career insights from senior library managers, providing us with a wealth of useful tips on selling your skills, the importance of customer service and people skills, identifying opportunities and ways to build up experience outside of a role. There was a lot of excellent take-home advice for me in this session, having just begun my professional career in law librarianship, as there was in many of the interesting and diverse talks on offer at the BIALL conference this year.
I am very grateful for CLIG for awarding me the bursary which enabled me to attend, and I would recommend to anyone at the same stage of their career as myself that attending the conference is extremely worthwhile and gives you a fantastic opportunity to network with library professionals from all over the UK and Ireland. Top tip: make sure you save some space in your suitcase for all of that conference stash you want to take back to your office - with plane luggage restrictions, I learnt this the hard way!
Rebecca Loughead, Information Assistant