Welcome to the first in a new series of blog posts in which we have a few words with some of our members. We hope that this series will be interesting and inspiring, and that it will provide a valuable insight into the work that goes on in different organisations across the law library sector. Mostly we hope that you’ll enjoy getting to know some of our members a bit better!
We recently spoke to Roddy Waldhelm, former Head of Solicitors Legal Information Centre (SLIC) in the Scottish Government Legal Directorate. Roddy retired in March and has since been enjoying his time at home, but very kindly agreed to let us pick his brains on his career, his favourite things, and top tips for those new to the profession.
1) How did you get started in law library work?
Like most of my career it was completely unplanned. After 7 years working at British Aerospace’s Technical Information Bureau in Filton, Bristol I had applied for a post as Head of Library Services at Amnesty International in London. Quite a jump from guided weapons to human rights and rather surprisingly I was appointed.
After six months the commute from Bristol to London was beginning to take its toll so I looked around for a local library job in Bristol. I saw an advert for Chief Librarian at Osborne Clarke.
The latter was the biggest law firm in Bristol (and indeed the south of England outwith London) and as I had absolutely no experience of law librarianship I wasn’t expecting much to come of my application. Much to my surprise (and perhaps theirs) I was appointed. Steep learning curve as you may imagine but I had an experienced colleague who had joined OC from Linklaters who kept me straight. It gave me a good grounding in the hard copy (and latterly digital) English and UK law information sources.
2) What do you think was the best part of your job?
I always enjoyed the legal research side of the job and working with my SLIC colleagues and with our users.
3) What do you think has been your biggest challenge in the workplace to date?
Last year we had to move the library from the ground to the first floor of Victoria Quay. This necessitated a review of the hard copy stock and a certain amount of rationalisation to ensure everything could be accommodated in what would be a reduced amount of shelf space. As we were effectively shifting and merging two libraries (open access stock and closed access archive) this involved quite a complicated project management process. Fortunately Emma [McLarty] prepared a very thorough plan for the move which ensured everything went off without a hitch. The fact that due to other factors the library staff moved 4 months before the stock was an additional complication which meant we got plenty of exercise running up and down the stairs. Sad to think the stock is now sitting in splendid isolation in Victoria Quay!
4) If you were to tell a colleague about one aspect of your service that you think more people should know about, what would it be?
I suspect most people will know about this aspect of the service but in 2001 I introduced a daily legal update for Scots and UK Law which was circulated via email to everyone in the Government Legal Service for Scotland (GLSS). Almost 20 years later the update is still being produced in much the same format (although with a very smart re-brand courtesy of Emma and Kayleigh [McGarry]) and now goes to the GLSS, Scottish Government policy colleagues, Law Officers, Senators, Outsourced firms, academics etc.
5) If you could change one thing about your job or the law library sector, what would it be?
Although I am still a fan of physical books it would be fantastic if all hard copy Scots law resources could be digitised and made available online. A massive task but surely not impossible in the era of Google books etc. And don’t even get me started on the unavailability (or difficulty in sourcing) local Statutory Instruments pre-2007…
6) If you were on a desert island which book, record and luxury item would you like to have with you?
Book – ‘Our Mutual Friend’ by Dickens. I’ve just started reading it and as it’s a bit of a doorstop it would keep me going for a while
Record – ‘Atmosphere’ by Joy Division. Rather a sepulchral track but I’ve always found it uplifting. Simon Armitage, the Poet Laureate, is another fan but cannot stand to see it played out of context – when it was used in an episode of ‘Peaky Blinders’ he had to walk out of the room! Whereas when it was used in the first series of ‘The Trip’ with Brydon and Coogan set in the North of England it seemed entirely appropriate.
Luxury – a beer dispensing machine
7) Which book would you be most tempted to steal from a library?
‘Rumour at Nightfall’ by Graham Greene. The second and third novels by Greene were respectively ‘The Name of Action’ and ‘Rumour at Nightfall’. In retrospect he considered them to be very poor and so refused to have them ever re-published in his lifetime. Rather oddly this proscription still seems to apply after his death. I have the former and to be honest it’s not a bad read. So I’d like to try the latter. The NLS has both books, just saying…
8) What is your secret superpower, and what would your superhero name be?
Hardly a superpower but I am an assiduous collector of books and records. I managed to track down all the colour-coded Penguin classics (Red for Russia; purple for Latin etc) in their original first editions (122 in total). I thought I would never get the last one I needed: Nietszche’s ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra (No 118) but after many years I eventually found it at the Christian Aid booksale in St Andrew’s and St George’s church in Edinburgh. So my name would be ‘The Collector’.
9) Do you have any sage wisdom you’d like to pass on to the next generation of information professionals?
If you want something – just go for it. Don’t be held back by thinking ‘oh, that’s not for me’ or ‘I couldn’t do that’. Have confidence in your own abilities and don’t be afraid of appearing cocky or ‘gallus’. As noted above I went for the job at Osborne Clarke with no knowledge of law librarianship and got lucky. When I applied for the GLSS job I had been out of law librarianship for three years and was not exactly au fait with Scots law information resources. But this ‘go for it’ approach applies not just in job applications but in any aspect of your work. I was asked at one stage to give a presentation to all 600 Senior Civil Servants in Scotland on the subject of ‘Knowledge Management in the GLSS’ at a conference hosted by (nowadays we might say ‘curated by’) Shereen Nanjiani who at that time was a well known STV presenter. A somewhat daunting prospect you may think but my own view was: ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ Even if you make a mess of it, people will have forgotten all about it a day or two later. As it turned out it went ok (but I am sure they had also forgotten about it a day or two later!). Don’t be shy – just give it a go. Good luck.
Thank you so much Roddy.
If you would like to take part in our Member Profiles series or would like to nominate a colleague who works in the law library sector, please email SarahLouise on email@example.com.