SLLG at the Hidden, 15th August 2018

One wet Wednesday evening 8 intrepid SLLG-ers braved The Hidden at Edinburgh’s Central Library, putting our well-honed librarian skills and information spidey-senses to the test.

Being honest souls we declared from the outset that we were not mere lay participants, but did have a level of library knowledge. This was met with much enthusiasm from the team at Visible Fictions, who were running the event. We on the other hand realised we should perhaps have kept that under our hats in case we somehow failed to solve the mystery and let the profession down…

Once the remaining participants had arrived we were taken down into the library for a short talk from one of the librarians. She began her presentation on the history of the library, discussing the influence of Andrew Carnegie and taking us through some PowerPoint slides. There was then an issue with the computer and when she went off in search of IT, things took a bit of a strange turn…

It was revealed to us that one of the librarians, Daisy Sinclair, had disappeared, missing for a number of days following some mysterious behaviour as she researched a secret of seemingly monumental and dangerous importance. Before we knew it we had agreed to investigate, as the librarian showed us the first clue. Working in groups we set about cracking the code, and before long it we were moving round the library on the trail of Daisy and her Secret.

The general public were still in the library which added a certain something to proceedings, and it was certainly an atmospheric and more authentic setting than other escape room challenges. The allotted hour passed quickly, and my team certainly found ourselves frantically trying to decipher clues as we moved around the main room of the library. Without giving too much away clues were hidden in books; written on old index cards and scribbled on photographs tucked within the pages.

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Returning to base after an anxious search of the library, each team reported back its findings as we tried to work out what was going on and what had happened to Daisy. With a few prompts from the librarian we were able to work as a group to solve the mystery. Whether we could trust her, or her requests to upload our findings to the mysterious computer was another matter!

This was a fun way to spend the evening, and a good opportunity for this particular SLLG member to reacquaint herself with the collections held in the Central Library. The team from Visible Fictions ensured a slickly run event.


Visible Fictions are keen to roll this out to school groups and I can definitely see it appealing to older teenagers. There are no smartphones, tablets or web searches involved so tech savvy teenagers will have to rely on their wits and some old school code cracking with pen and paper to solve the mystery.

Underneath the fun escape room style adventure, there is a serious message about the power of media, the reach of the internet and trust. Perfect for the Fake News era.

Emma McLarty



Law Librarians are remembered on First 100 Years blog

Law interest blog, First 100 Years, aims to provide a digital space to record the work and stories of women in law in the UK since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919.

Background to the First 100 Years blog.

As part of this project, law librarians Elizabeth Moys and Muriel Anderson have been remembered as fine representatives of law librarianship in one of the stories now told.

Legal Librarians / First 100 years

Moys is best remembered for her eponymous classification scheme known in so many law libraries around the UK and the World over today. Anderson is notable for her success in developing the IALS Exchange scheme. The blog post delves a little further into the careers of these two major names in law librarianship too

The last paragraph of the post about these two influential women is worth quoting outright here:

Both the Moys Classification system and the Duplicates Exchange scheme are innovations which have changed the way legal libraries function. Law libraries are an integral part of the legal sector which facilitate the rigorous work and study which exemplifies the profession in the UK. Too often the librarians who play such a crucial role in preserving documents and archival material are themselves under-represented in the historical record. Please contact with stories, information, or thoughts on the role of female legal librarians.

Too true! It would be great if more achievements of law librarians were documented.



CIA job advert: The Librarian Identity

The CIA is inviting applications for the position of their librarian. And the job description is as amazing as you would expect. In what other job advert for a library post has there been a criteria section based on “current mission requirements“?

The CIA clearly value their librarians, calling them: “The US intelligence community experts [of] information sources“. They back this up with an impressive salary scale: $50,864 – $118,069!

Even so, it’s a salary that’s a bit high not to be expected to kill a double-agent operative/someone ignoring copyright law with a thrust of a book to their oesophagus, no?

The successful applicant will have a recognised information masters degree  and  possess strong skills in at least one aspect of information science. Advanced abilities in “non-romance language” is also desirable. Unfortunately this does not mean having the ability to not say “No, I love you more, sweet-pea” to your girlfriend.



Includes a licence to photocopy


As CNN points out in their article about the job advert this week, the CIA employ around 1,400 librarians, despite overall job prospects for librarians in the US currently slowing.

The article goes on to say any prospective applicant for CIA Librarian will be required to pass medical and psychological tests, including a lie detector test, as well as extensive background checks. And you better not have – as the youth say – “Chased The Dragon” in the past 12 months: the CIA won’t consider anyone who has taken illegal drugs during the year prior to any application.

Neither the CNN report or the job advert itself says if the librarian will be provided with a standard issue sidearm. So I’d say it must be that the librarian packing heat is a given.

Many thanks to our SLLG member, Sharron, for spotting this. Sharron is unwilling to confirm or deny her application for the job at this time.




Blindspot: 111

We have all had the experience:
Someone at our enquiry service asking for a case, only they are vague on the details.
So you ask where they first found out about the case’s existence.
And they say: “off the tattoo on a woman”
We’ve all been there.

Law Librarians, like the FBI Agents on the US Dramas they sit at night watching on TV in their pyjamas and drinking wine, are never truly off duty.

So begins the mysterious case of…

PAGE 111

Blindspot – for those who have not heard of it – is a US detective TV show. The protagonist of the series is a much tattooed amnesiac woman. The tattoos, though, are more than just sweet ink. Each one is a clue to a crime which hasn’t been committed yet. It is up to the FBI Agents to select and decode a tattoo in each episode in a race against the clock (it’s only a 45 minute show) to prevent the crime (the tattoos are cryptic and not just a list of dates and times and pertinent details pertaining to the crime).

Sort of an urban Quantum Leap for the millennials.

Our own SLLG Agent, Maria, sat watching episode 1.7 (Authentic Flirt) when her librarian senses started tingling.

Having brought home FBI photos of the girl’s tattoos, Agent Patterson’s boyfriend picks one or two up to try helping out and recognises one as depicting the door to the entrance of the Brooklyn Historical Society library. But what about the roman numerals tattooed as part of the door? Could it be a Dewey class? No! An ISBN!

Agent Patterson breaks the roman number down – it isn’t a modern 13 digit ISBN, but a 10 digit ISBN. “Whatever this book is, it’s old.” the agent declares, “It was published pre-2007, when 13-digit ISBNs started being used. So we are looking at a 10-digit ISBN and 3 other numbers – possibly a page”.

Maria could hardly believe what she was seeing wasn’t through rosé-tinted glasses when the detective work lead the cast of the show to the library where they input the ISBN into the OPAC and, on dashing to the shelf, remove…

Faculty Decisions, 1787-1792!

Classic law report action

Classic law report action


In it they find page 111 has numerous letters circled in pencil. They quickly crack the coded message on the page and save the day.

In no way a bored law student has done this

In no way a bored law student has done this


But, for Maria, the legal information enquiry had only just begun.

Maria wanted to know more. Was this page 111 from a real report? Did someone own the page with the code pencilled in it? Maria tweeted a screenshot of the show to the SLLG and Faculty of Advocates and her Twitter followers.

Anneli – a law librarian in England and BIALL member – read the tweet and concurred that she also saw the episode and wanted more answers: was the volume genuine?

Could law librarians find the law report?

Anneli, did what any good researcher does – she repeated the steps to see if she could replicate the results and find the same volume. She rewound the videotape.

To her excitement, the Brooklyn Historical Society exists and there is an OPAC to their library collection:

Interestingly this same screen can also be seen on a panel in the USS Enterprise on Star-Trek The Next Generation

Interestingly this same screen can also be seen on a panel in the USS Enterprise on Star-Trek The Next Generation

But the library does not hold Faculty Decisions.

Even if it did, the FBI Agent’s ISBN search would have proven fruitless outside the show.

It is true that the 13-digit ISBN only came into distribution in 2007. Agent Patterson in Blindspot is quite correct there. However, although she authentically recalls this rather obscure 10 to 13 digit ISBN fact, she fails to register the wholly more important fact here: the 10 digit ISBN only came into being in 1970.

Going to the ISBN Agency site would have given Agent Patterson the start year of 2007 for generating 13-digits as well as more fun ISBN information. Interestingly, the ISBN site doesn’t mention when the 10-digit variant began. A quick Wikipedia search for ISBN, though, would have told the Agent ISBNs only came into existence in 1970 and before that was the SBN, a 9-digit version which itself had a very limited run from just 1966.

An ISBN field search in the OPAC would not have retrieved the record for Faculty Decisions published in 1792 (which being a series title would more likely have an ISSN anyway, but I digress).

Undaunted, Anneli searched BAILII for the cases shown most fully on screen:

  • Lord MacLeod against Alexander Ross and Charles Munro
Faculty Decisions, Macleod v Ross and Munro in Blindspot

Faculty Decisions, Macleod v Ross and Munro in Blindspot

  • John Hay against Andrew Sinclair

This was a wise move because BAILII now includes the full text of Morison’s Dictionary of Decisions (and supplements) in the database.

Morison’s Dictionary is still used as the best source of Scots law cases which predate the Session Cases series. It contains copiously detailed reports for most of the cases heard in the Court of Session 1540-1808 (arranged by legal subject) and, critically, also provides citations to where else a case is reported.

MacLeod against Ross and Munro is found at 1788 Mor. 16070 and gives a report citation of Fac. Col. 22, p. 37.

Faculty decisions 1788, p37 Macleod v Ross and Munro

Faculty decisions 1788, p37 Macleod v Ross and Munro in Edinburgh


John Hay against Andrew Sinclair is found 1788 Mor. 1194 and Fac. Col. 28, p. 45.

Both found in Faculty Decisions, 1787-1792, just as Agent Patterson deduced.

Maria put a call out for librarians to look at their own sets of Faculty Decisions. However, early Faculty Decision volumes are rarities. The Society of Advocates in Aberdeen didn’t have the earliest volumes. Only a few libraries retain them to that early extent. Maria knew a library that did though and asked the Advocates Library in Edinburgh to check their complete set.

Faculty Decisions is the precursor and, for a time, parallel series to Session Cases. They are the official law reports of the Court of Session 1752-1841. They are taken from the Faculty Collection (indeed, the Decisions remained cited as the Faculty Collection Fac. Col. until 1825), which were Court of Session reports collated by members of the Faculty of Advocates, more commonly known as Session Papers and unique to the shelves of the Advocates Library.

Reading only a few prescient paragraphs of any history or introduction to Scots law, say, A History of Private Law in Scotland, edited by Reid and Zimmerman, for example, would have explained this to the FBI Agent Patterson and her boyfriend.

The Advocates Library holds the volume in question. It confirmed the citation matched the case. But page 111 was completely different.

Page 111 Faculty Decisions, 1789

Page 111 Faculty Decisions, 1789

Did page 111 refer, then, to a third currently unknown case, in another book? The key now was finding what was the case being reported on that page 111.

Anneli turned to Westlaw and their full text search.

If this was a Bond movie Anneli wouldn’t just be clicking links from her desktop PC, she’d be travelling to exotic locations by now – posing as a femme fatale legal historian in Brooklyn! Infiltrating Westlaw HQ in London at an evening soiree with a USB stick disguised as lip balm! And… visiting wherever BAILII is!

From the words seen on the page on screen, Anneli transcribed a few key phrases.

Amazingly the search proved the third case theory revealing it as a case, again printed in Morison’s Dictionary.

Charles Grey against Charles Hope. 1790 Mor. 8796. A typical case of the era about Sasines (Scottish land registry) disputes.

Morison’s also gave another report citation: Fac. Col. 199, p. 229.

It led back to Faculty Decisions 1787-1792 and its mismatching page 111.

Maria got in touch with the SLLG. The trail had gone cold. Could we write something on the SLLG blog?

I studied what evidence Maria and Anneli passed to us. Maria and Anneli had established all 3 cases were in a single volume – but that volume had a different page 111 from the show. I looked at the photos, was there anything I could do to try helping out?

I couldn’t help but think straight away: were we now faced with the infamous ‘Magic Bullet’ theory? Another report of the same case being used, masquerading as the report printed in this volume of Faculty Decisions? Was there a 2nd shooter?


A visual illustration of how one faculty decisions volume can have two page 111s

A visual illustration of how one faculty decisions volume can have two page 111s


Studying the page from the show closely, we see the header “—rt of Session”.
Again, only Faculty of Decisions uses this (Session Cases use ‘Court of Session &c.’ until 1969). It seems like a lot of effort was made to make a page look genuine, when they had a genuine page literally to hand.

The page was starting to show the signs of foxing all over its integrity.

The enquiry was back to where it all began: the dodgy ISBN as the only lead for us and Agent Patterson. Could it still mean anything?

Maria had entered it into Google when the episode first aired and concluded the ISBN represented nothing at all. Or didn’t it? I wasn’t so certain.

Presenting a 10-digit ISBN in roman numerals is ludicrously stupid. Almost too stupid. This is because, like all legitimate ISBNs, it “checks out” when a mathematical algorithm is applied to it. The 10-digit ISBN, therefore, must have a last number from 0-10 and 10 (being 2-digits long) is represented as an… X!

What if the 10th number was an X? Then the ISBN could be a 9-digit IBN from 1966-1969 and it was a 4th number for the code breakers to find elsewhere! And: Faculty of Decisions 1787-1792 is volume X! Pieces were all starting to slot into the puzzle.

That fake ISBN is clearly part of a bigger code. They’d need a cataloguer on the inside, sure, to put it erroneously into the MARC record of the Brooklyn Historical Society catalogue for it to relate to Faculty of Decisions 1787-1792, but cataloguers can be a shady bunch. So I’ve heard.

That number could get us somewhere. Not to the correct case, or whatever it was we were trying to find, but to somewhere, maybe being something?

But there was no screenshot to confirm if X was the 10th roman numeral that it surely had to be.

The situation was all too obvious. I was going to need to pull an all-nighter forensically looking at a lot of images of those tattoos all over that actress to find it.

Maria knew I’d lost sight of the original reason for our investigation. “Mulder! It’s over!” she exclaimed. She was right. I’d gotten too deep! I deleted “Tattooed ISBN women” from the Google image search box. The information enquiry was finally finished.

Together, we pieced together the clues we had to resolve our investigation. The volume and the cases were all legitimate but page 111 shown on the screen was likely a composite created for the purposes of TV.

The plot device was probably deliberately made with such incredibly oblique references woven into it that nobody of sound mind would attempt to track it down, find that it was not held by the Brooklyn Historical Society, wouldn’t have an ISBN and was not an accurate print of page 111 and break the credibility of a show where tattoos are codes to crimes which haven’t been committed yet. Yes, you’d need to be severely unhinged to find a chink in the believability of that show, by those means.

But the producers of Blindspot were wrong. What we discovered is actually a pretty decent training exercise for law librarians.

Can you locate Page 111?


Shelf of faculty decsions

Shelf of faculty decisions



Many thanks to Maria and Anneli for permission to use their photographs in this blog and for letting us tell this fun adventure (with some license) to our SLLG members.