The Sheriff Court Library Service: Visiting Courts

The Sheriff Courts of Scotland have a new library service. Assistant Librarian Julie McGregor kindly agreed to tell SLLG about some of the early challenges of setting up a multi-site service.

The Sheriff Court Library Service was officially launched in April 2017 to provide a library service for all 38 of Scotland’s Sheriff Courts. As part of the SCTS Library Service, the Sheriff Court Library Service mirrors that of the Supreme Court Library Service. The service centralises  the purchase and management of library materials for all sheriff courts, provides an enquiry service and offers training in e-resources to the judiciary and court staff.

The plan 

Although we are based in Edinburgh, it is vital that we visit all the courts to meet staff, assess and record stock and catalogue. Introductory visits to at least one sheriff court in each of the six sheriffdoms were made during summer 2017 but more detailed visits to all courts were then planned for autumn.

The visits

We opted to go to the far flung courts of Grampian, Highland and Islands in October and November before the weather became too troublesome. We worked out that three courts per trip was a realistic plan. Fort William, Portree and Lochmaddy became our first trip and took four days. A couple of weeks later we jetsetted off for three days to Aberdeen, Kirkwall and Lerwick. Two full days in Perth were also fitted around the two big trips.

The challenge 

Our big challenge when preparing for these visits was to plan routes that would cover the courts – all by train, bus, ferry or plane. We also had to fit in with courts that only sit every 2 or even 4 weeks. It felt quite strange being given the key to a sheriff court and just letting ourselves in. What and how much library stock would we find? What condition would it be in and where would it be stored? How are the materials being used? Are Sheriffs and staff in smaller, more remote courts relying on print material or accessing it all online? Would we have enough time to weed, reorganise, record and photograph the stock? Would we have time to visit Orkney and Shetland Public Libraries?!

Observations and reflections

  • Larger courts have a dedicated library room but most courts have library material in various rooms such as Sheriff’s Chambers, on the bench, in solicitors’ rooms or sometimes even in Witness Rooms. Every court seems to have a grand old collection of Public General Acts – although these are now easily available online we left these for display purposes.
  • It’s important to plan but be flexible. We were able to complete our work in some courts; in others we had to fit work around the running of the court and may need to return.
  • The sheriffs and staff we met use a combination of a small number of textbooks and online resources. Both court staff and sheriffs may work in more than one location so it’s not practical to carry looseleafs, books etc. between the courts.
  • Meeting and chatting to the staff in the courts has been a valuable and enjoyable experience. The smooth running of the library service relies on the relationships we build with the staff in the courts. It has been good to put faces to names and we found that our colleagues in the courts we visited are very pleased to have the support of a library service. Having met us they are more likely to get in touch with us for help.
  • Orkney Public Library and Shetland Public Library are worth visiting!

We documented our trips on twitter under #shedlibsontour so watch this space for the further adventures of the Sheriff Court librarians!

Sheriff Courts image

Clockwise from top left: Sheriff Courts of Lochmaddy, Aberdeen, Fort William, Portree, Kirkwall and Lerwick. Photos courtesy of SCTS and J.McGregor.


Understanding the General Data Protection Regulations – FutureLearn course

A discussion of data protection and the course that taught it, by Christine Macleod.

I have just completed the free online course on Understanding of the General Data Protection Regulations course presented by FutureLearn. This was a self-paced, four week course, taking approximately 3 hours per week. The GDPR course is compiled and presented by staff at the University of Groningen.

I was interested in doing this course for three reasons.

  1. The SLLG committee needs to know how to apply these regulations to the SLLG membership data.
  2. As a member of the public (a data subject) I was curious as to what my rights are, and how to protect my privacy.
  3. How does the GDPR apply to my professional work

I completed a previous FutureLearn course on Genealogy by Strathclyde University, so knew roughly what the format would be – articles, videos, interactive comments, quizzes and exercises. There are also additional resources – links and articles you can read on particular topics if you want to research a topic in more depth. After each section you tick a box to confirm you have completed it so you know exactly where you are and how much more you have to do.

The course is interactive and it asks you to write comments on specific questions, like what do you think about privacy and data security. You can read comments from others on the course, and they can “Like” your comments etc. so discussions can start up. Throughout the course there are links to the regulations themselves if you want to read the actual documents or relate the concepts to the particular articles within the regulations.

The new GDPR come into force on 25 May 2018 and any company or organisation (governments, councils universities etc) in the EU that collects and stores data on individuals will have to be compliant with these Regulations by then. It also affects companies outside the EU if they hold data on EU resident

The course covers a variety of topics, from basic GDPR concepts, to processing principles, rights of data subjects, obligations for controllers and processors, enforcement mechanisms and liability and sanctions. Each section in explained in articles and videos with reference to supporting materials

Week 1 Is an introduction and is designed to make you think about why and what you need to know about the new regulations and the processing of personal data e.g. What are privacy and data protection? It uses the Google case as an example which I found interesting it connects you to a real case, and goes back to the case throughout to provide a live example.

It then outlined the basic fundamentals of GDPR, Data protection principles, consent and minors, including definitions and the different roles – controllers, processors and subjects, data protection officers DPOs – the basics of what you need to understand to make sense of the regulations.

There are 6 main data protection principles which form the basis for privacy of information and data protection. I have listed them here as they are the backbone to the regulations, so are important to learn and understand.

  1. Lawfulness, fairness and transparency
  2. Purpose limitation
  3. Data minimisation
  4. Accuracy
  5. Storage limitation
  6. Integrity and confidentiality

These principles are held together by the principle of Accountancy. The Controller shall be responsible for compliance with the principles

Week 2 was all about the rights of data subjects which I found very interesting. It looked at transparency and modalities (the mode in which something is experienced eg – written, spoken, email, by phone etc) and how information about you is held, what is done to it and how to complain; the need for transparent, understandable, language, and any processes must be simple to undertake.

The sections went through the various rights and their exceptions


The Rights to :-

  • access and rectification
  • object and restrict processing
  • erasure (without undue delay) (except for public interest/health, legal claims etc.)
  • data portability (copy supplied is in a readable format
  • how to complain even/especially if data is processed automatically
  • judicial remedies
  • to be represented
  • compensation for material or non-material damages

These are all rights which we as individuals will have, and I feel it is important that we know what our rights are. Many of the comments in the discussions were about how you are asked by your phone to allow access to your emails, photos, location etc. and how there seems little option but to comply.

Week 3 covered the obligations of controllers and processors – who these groups are, where they overlap, what they are accountable for and to whom. It also looked at the appointment of Data Protection Offices and Data Protection Impact Assessments,

Part of the Controllers obligations include achieving data protection by design and by default. By design – data protection has to be built into systems from the start. By Default – data collections must only contain the minimum amount of data required for specific purposes, and only for a specified amount of time.

Week 4 was about GDPR enforcement and compliance, which looked at the co-ordination, powers and roles of the various authorities, such as the National Supervisory Authorities and the European Data Protection Board. It also looked at the tools available to companies and organisation to help them comply, such as certification mechanisms, codes of conduct, and binding corporate rules. It touched on cross-border data transfers, and finally the liabilities, responsibilities and penalties and sanctions of data controllers and processors are subject to if they do not comply.

Through-out the course you are asked to think about how these concepts apply, what impact they have on you personally, whether you think sanctions will actually work. This method involves you and keeps you interested and engaged, and helps you learn. I do feel I now understand what the GDPR is about and how it applies to me in my life and in my work. I have also been asked to share my new found knowledge with my colleagues.

I found the course great at presenting the information, starting from the general to the specific.  It was stimulating, interesting and very pertinent to me both as an individual, and as a SLLG committee member. It made me aware of how I can protect and access my personal data. It also made me think about what the SLLG committee needs to do to protect members’ data. It was in-depth enough to generate more questions (How will the right to be forgotten be applied? Can we have privacy and protect national security?), and stimulated an appreciation of the issues surrounding data protection and privacy in today’s society which is so steeped in social media.

There are lots more interesting courses available on FutureLearn, including several legal subjects eg. “Law for non-Lawyers” and “Maritime Law” , courses useful to chartership “Learning online: reflecting and sharing”, and just interesting subjects like geology and moons – go look and learn!

Law Librarians Explained, a Law School Toolbox blog post

Link: Law Librarians Explained: Everything a 1L Should Know 

Although the context is for American law students, this is a good little introductory blog about law librarians.

Respect your law librarian—they are not just there to reshelf your books

John Passmore’s post includes quotable lines which are worth taking away for any of us explaining our law information service.

….don’t doubt a law librarian’s ability to dig just a little deeper and search just a little more precisely than you can

Even if it might have mentioned loose-leaf updating a bit more, it’s only an introduction to all the amazing stuff we do, after all, so I suppose not everything could fit in it.

Having a highly educated and experienced legal information professional in your corner is huge

If anyone has a comment on the Toolbox blog post or has one (or more!) blog posts they’d also like to share with the group, please let us know.

The Advocates Library: telling our stories through infographics

As a contribution to #librariesweek, Helen and Jane from the Advocates Library write about their use of infographics for highlighting library workings to service users.

There is always a need for libraries, of any sort, to look at ways to raise their profile and remind users of the value they offer.

Back in the spring Helen was thinking about ways to raise the profile of the library. As a result of a 3am light bulb moment she came into work with infographics on her mind. Co-incidentally Jane had also been looking into this method of communicating information in a gorgeous and eye-catching manner. We got quite excited.

As it is Libraries Week we thought we would share our recent experience of using infographics to promote Advocates Library services to our members. Two of our recent infographics are featured below. Save the images to view them larger.

Heart of the Advocates Library

The librarians at the heart of the Advocates Library

Helen saw infographics as an opportunity for marketing and raising awareness of the Advocates Library services with a method of displaying content in ways that would catch and hold our members’ attention. It was not going to present new or particularly complex information as such. It was felt best suited to information that can be given in a bite-sized form, wrapped in pretty packaging.

Jane assessed various infographic sites at the start but has settled on which provides an incredible level of content and functionality for free (more is available with a subscription). Piktochart offers a variety of templates but she tends to start from scratch with a blank page and build up our story for the month.

Each month Helen comes up with a theme idea. As it is discussed, a ‘story’ evolves about the message we are trying to convey. While Helen gathers statistics and information on the theme from departments within the Advocates Library, Jane lets the story develop in her mind.

By the time Helen has a factual outline of the infographic, Jane can get to work with a clear idea of what imagery she wants to create with it.

When Helen and Jane are happy with the result, the new infographic is disseminated as part of the Library news ebulletin and printed out for display at the main Enquiry Desk and remote library rooms.

The industry of the library

The industry behind answering an enquiry in the Advocates Library

Our member feedback has been very positive about the infographic series. We hope that on some level this approach to marketing our library services will improve their understanding of the “library” work done by library staff, much of which is undertaken behind the scenes and probably otherwise unawares by our members.

Libraries are always looking at ways to promote their services. For us, working in quite a traditional environment, we have found doing something relatively unexpected quite effective. We have had a chance to use our latent creative skills and think about alternative ways of communicating with our members. It has been a rewarding experience. We have ideas for the next few months but our challenge will be to keep telling our Library stories in interesting and attractive infographics in the months beyond.

Helen Robinson, Reader Services Librarian & Jane A Condie, Reader Services Assistant,
Advocates Library.