SSNaP Reopening the Libraries: 6th August 2020

Although we haven’t been our usual active selves in 2020 I am pleased to report that we ran one of our famed SSNaP sessions on the topic of reopening the libraries in August. We felt it was important to share ideas of best practice and also to stay in touch with colleagues from different areas of the sector to see how they were dealing with the challenges of the year. Six members met on Zoom to discuss how they were managing.

In some ways our return to work was very similar, and in some it varied greatly. Our colleagues from firms and members’ libraries have been working right through lockdown either remotely or at a greatly reduced office capacity and were making plans to return in a staged manner, whereas others had gone entirely online and had no plans to return to the physical library workplace for quite some time.

Many legal institutions still rely heavily on print resources even during a pandemic! (Image from libreshot, creative commons licensing)

A common theme was that of personal responsibility. Most of the people present agreed that it is extremely difficult to manage the desire to complete work professionally while balancing this with averting risk either to themselves or to service users. If masks are not mandatory in the workplace it can be difficult to distance particularly when library and information services may not have much designated physical space in a small firm, or when required to hotdesk.

We spoke about the practicalities of Click and Collect services, sanitising and quarantining materials, and how difficult it is to manage resources in some workplaces which are so rooted in the tradition of print (and delicate print at that). We discussed how our usual routes for interlibrary loans had almost entirely collapsed due to the lack of availability of print loans, and our concerns for the production of print material such as looseleafs if nobody will be able to borrow them for the forseeable future.

However we did manage to find positives in some of the chaos of the previous few months:

  • Many workplaces were adapting quickly to more flexible working, such as allowing staff to adjust hours to account for busy periods for public transport
  • Universal acceptance of online meetings means working between different sites is much easier , for example in the case of firms with offices located in both Glasgow and Edinburgh
  • Some opportunities have arisen for staff to take on responsibilities in new areas while working from home

At the time of our SSNaP we felt that we were over the hill of lockdown so the initial panic of the pandemic had abated, but that the difficult circumstances restricting our work remained. As I write we have tier systems with different restrictions for different areas of Scotland and although much of the work that was put on pause has now resumed, unfortunately we are still dealing with the fallout. Guidance from our professional body has not really been specific enough to help with our often traditionally minded sector, and we felt that the next steps from SLLG should be to gather resources relating to the our own circumstances. As such that’s what we’ll be focusing on in the coming months – gathering advice and developing strategies for how to safely resume our in-person services in the event of future lockdowns, and pulling together information on what we’ve learned about our services for the past year.

If you have any comments or thoughts on the reopening of libraries we’d love to hear them. Please leave a comment on this post, or you can contact us on

SarahLouise McDonald

Winter: Social(ly Distanced) at Avizandum

Usually around this time of year we like to meet up and have a lovely evening in the company of our colleagues from across the SLLG network. For a number of years Elizabeth and her team at Avizandum in Edinburgh have very kindly hosted this social event, and even though we’re not able to experience their hospitality in person this year we’d like to remind all our friends and colleagues that Avizandum is open for business right up to Christmas Eve.

Avizandum have a host of books and products that would make wonderful gifts for the legal professionals, friends and family in your life. You can email them with requests or visit them online. They’re still processing and sending out orders, and locals will also be able to visit the bookshop in person.

We hope that however you’re celebrating this year you have an enjoyable and restful festive break, and we’ll look forward to seeing you in 2021!

Member Profile: Roddy Waldhelm

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 

SSNaP Assisting Remote Users: 20 November 2019

On the 20th November of last year we held a SSNaP on the topic of ‘Assisting Remote Users’, very kindly hosted by the Supreme Courts Library. With eight members in attendance we were looking forward to a session exploring different types of software currently in use for remote working and discussing the pros and cons of each.

Beginning with Microsoft Jabber, the SCTS library team described the benefits they’d found in the software which their institution recently installed. As the Sheriff and Supreme Courts are required to work across a large geographic area the ability to screen share for demonstration has been a incredibly helpful to their training provision, and the quick chat functionality has allowed for coworking with ease from different sites. However a lack of clear guidance during the initial roll out period meant that much of the setting up of meetings relied on the team’s own ability to troubleshoot for their users before the content of courses was begun. Although they felt that these teething problems were frustrating, the SCTS library team acknowledged that the implementation of the software had been a massive step forward for such a traditional workplace.

Colleagues from the Scottish Government gave us a quick rundown of Skype for Business and WebEx, highlighting how compatible online meeting software has been for the hotdesking and flexible working model that SG have been utilising. Although the issue of individual licenses and cost have been raised, generally it is felt that the functionality to open ‘rooms’ and to leave them open, to pop in and out as necessary, and to share screens, documents, polls and chat have been very helpful in managing their workload remotely. It was noted that when using meeting functions it’s often better to have a separate microphone than to rely on the internal ones on laptops or devices, though Skype and WebEx allow for you to use your phone as a microphone which can be helpful.

Our third platform under discussion was Collaborate Ultra, which is the service used by the University of Edinburgh to present and provide training, as well as holding video and voice meetings. When training is conducted in this manner one person presents and another moderates the chat box so that links and responses can be provided in text in addition to the verbal commentary. Recordings are possible using this software meaning that sessions can be recorded and uploaded for reference later, and it is also possible to submit recordings for subtitling using transcription services, increasing accessibility for any recorded material.

After demonstrations of each platform we discussed what we thought to be the main highlights and issues:

  • Most seem to have very similar functionality, but can be applied differently depending on the need of the organisation.
  • Firms and small organisations will be restricted by finances as to what kind of package they can afford.
  • Using these to create short videos or recordings can be beneficial, but hosting and storage space can be restrictive.
  • Video conferencing etiquette and moderation can be difficult to get the hang of, but when they are put into practice by everyone they help make the tool more effective.
  • Other departments (e.g. training teams) can conflict with the needs and requirements of library & information service teams, which may lead to some internal gatekeeping of resources.

We discussed some other tools which could be used to offer assistance remotely, such as Slack (a team working app), Zoom (videoconferencing software), Slido (a tool for conference audience interaction), and Prezi (a presentation platform that allows the hosting of short videos). While each have their place, it would be unlikely a company or institution would purchase licences for or be able to support every one.

We discussed how to manage without the support of the institution and the difficulties this presented. Examples of database training videos being provided but having to be transcribed manually and hosted internally seemed familiar to most and unsurprising to others. For law firms it’s possible they would call in contractors to deliver training rather than expending resources on developing users internally. While there are benefits such as reduced workload to the library team if contractors are used, it can clip our wings with regards to the added value we can get from these platforms if we’re not allowed to explore their uses.

By the end of the meeting most members were in agreement that it would be very worthwhile getting to know how to use the tools available to us a little better. Of course, at that point none of us could have forseen that six months later the vast majority of the country would be working remotely and using the very technologies we were assessing!

Attending this SSNaP was very helpful in reminding me personally that information professionals are endlessly creative when it comes to utilising new technology to assist them in their work. We’ve seen nothing but adaptability from individuals across the sector in altering their services to suit the needs of their users over recent months. I feel privileged to work in information provision at this critical time, with not only the tools but also the collective experience of my colleagues in SLLG to help shore me up through this uncertainty. I hope that the more we use these technologies the easier and more accessible they will become, and I know that in the mean time our community of legal information professionals will continue to adapt, learn and provide our services as best we can.

I’d like to extend my thanks to the SCTS Library Service for hosting this SSNaP and to Kayleigh McGarry and Jennie Findlay for demonstrating.

SarahLouise McDonald