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.


Scottish Government Library 10 Things course

SLLG Members wanting to learn more about social media and collaborative tools may be interested in the 10 Things course run by the Scottish Government Library.  The next 10 Things course starts on 23rd March 2015 and is free to access.

Originally posted on Scottish Government Library:

10 Things is a self-directed online course developed by the SG Library which aims to encourage you to spend a little time each week developing your social media and information searching skills.

Each week we’ll post details about one or more of the tools from our 10 Things course and encourage you to try them out and reflect on them. We hope to present a realistic challenge you can fit it into your schedule.

Find out more and register at the SG Library 10 Things page.

For those SLLG members not working for the Scottish public, education or voluntary sectors, you can still access the content from the 10 Things page.

The Social Dread-work: a basic discussion on confident social media use

SLLG Network Meeting, 2007: “Is anyone using social network tools at work?”
A lack of confidence and worries about privacy were cited as reasons for not using social networks.

SLLG Network Meeting, 2015: “What advantages and risks of using Social Media?”
Although many had access to at least one platform of social media, there was a sense of reticence about posting information onto it. Most felt they had “nothing to say” or were happier to avoid potential social media pitfalls. The popular feeling was social media remains a distraction from work more than a workplace resource.

At first it may seem SLLG members are behind the times talking about social media like this, but these statements are unsurprising.

Given SLLG members are acutely aware of the importance of information (the dangers of it even) through their professional experience, an apprehension is well founded.

There are many reasons why we might not want to use social media either professionally or personally. However, being afraid of publishing on it or thinking it will take up too much time are ones which must be resisted. Social media should not be filled with trepidation for law information professionals, should they want to use it fully.

Social media is torrential in its output. It is mostly things of no worth. It requires constant monitoring.

Well, kind of. There’s no duty to read everything. Read what you want.

It is perfectly possible to manage the volume of social media information:

  • Read, subscribe and follow the few accounts only of interest
  • Stop reading, subscribing and following accounts no longer of interest
  • Check what the accounts you read, like to read
  • Use list options and filter functions available on the platform to manage accounts
  • Set a brief time to regularly read a little of what is being published

Social media is too un-professional. It is for short attention spans. It is not in depth.

Well, kind of. There is a professional side to social media which belies its name.

Social media is increasingly an acceptable interface used for good information dissemination. People are getting better at providing worthwhile information over social media, often linking to more materials.

Social media is access to professional organisations, fellow sector colleagues and friends – all of whom are publishing content which can be freely followed. It is possible to create a personal Social Community of worthwhile contacts and interest to inform and even inspire.

You don’t have to publish or reply to anything. That’s the most important thing. But you mustn’t be held back by “social” anxiety should you ever want to.

Being aware of acceptable boundaries of social media means successfully publishing to it becomes easier. Indeed, there are lots of hints and tips to be found on how to best publish on social media with confidence.

Information professionals are already well versed. We have some different deterrents.

We have understandable reservations, such as:

  • I am boring and have nothing to say
  • I could get into trouble if I say the wrong thing
  • I don’t want to lose ownership of my words

And there are warning stories well documented about social media too:

In his article, How one stupid tweet blew-up Justine Saccos life , Jon Ronson reports on examples where things published on social media “hoping to amuse people” went very wrong for the account holders.

Similarly too, a warning tale is presented in: My co-worker writes a mean blog about me , where the writer came across a work colleague’s blog which included numerous posts belittling them in the workplace.

And probably most famously, the Twitter Joke Trial.

Thankfully, these incidents are rare, and easily avoidable if a sensible approach is taken.

Choose the platforms best suited for your information.
Get to know the platforms available. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs (to name the most used) each have strengths and weaknesses depending on who you want to reach and in what form. Often the platforms can interconnect and publishing on one can trigger a notification on another, should you wish to be on multiple platforms and widen your audience.

Take time to understand and adjust privacy settings to suit your needs.
Privacy settings are flexible and it’s important to learn their setup. That way the content you publish is far more strictly controlled by you as to its audience. Remember, good as they are, settings are not guaranteed to protect your words. You cannot predict the reach of what you publish. If you don’t want a curated series of screen captures of your publications read back to you in seven years, then don’t publish it online – write in a paper notebook which at any time you can burn.

Think about what message you are going to post.
If you have nothing to say, then that’s OK. Having a reason to publish something for your audience is not just good practice for social media, but has been for all publishing. The rules are essentially the same, if just at their loosest and transient on social media.

Some publish on their hobby or interest. Others use it to promote their profession or service. Some upload photos of their pet. Others upload photos of their meals. Some people publish a narrative on any subject that comes to mind. Others publish without thinking. As long as it is nothing malicious or incendiary, it goes on without a hitch.

Delia Venables lists her “gripes” of social media publishing as including:

  • Too often
  • Not enough interest
  • Not enough reciprocation
  • Poorly composed

Delia has a point, but might be a little heavy handed here. We are talking about encouraging publishing. Restricting poor content is not maybe as helpful as guiding what the motives should be to posting better content. It’s more positive, perhaps, to follow some simple “do’s” rather than lecturing “don’ts”.

Although, let’s start with a Don’t:
Don’t become concerned with frequency. Publish whenever suits you. You’re in control.

If publishing from an employer’s social media:

  • Follow company policy
  • Publish only authorised information
  • Respond to communication in a polite manner

If publishing from a professional platform:

  • Ensure the information is largely relevant to your intended audience
  • Be willing to follow and discuss topics with sector professionals

If publishing from a personal account:

  • Consider if you’d be prepared to read it out in public or office space
  • Think about the information you are presenting more than the structure (Is the structure a joke? Is the information of the joke offensive to a bystander?)
  • Give credit when the information source is not your own
  • Be comfortable with the extent it identifies you
  • Be happy at how it represents you

Consider your social media interactions with other published postings:

  • Based on a contextual understanding of facts?
  • An opinion you can defend?
  • Supportive or constructive?

These are not intended to be prescriptive. Though they should be enough to begin publishing with confidence.

The vast majority of tweets, blog posts and status updates posted, flow as single ripples in the raging media river. Thankfully there are some people out there who will enjoy and be interested to follow the unique ripple you choose to make. Avoid sailing over employer policies into choppy waters, getting dragged under by trolling undercurrents or being dashed on the hateful rapids, and social media is a rewarding experience to dip into. Especially this is the case for those in our sector, who are more self-aware than most about navigating into good information streams.

Using social media competently is becoming easier the more we appreciate both its virtues and failings. Social media is designed to share thoughts – random and informative alike – with cheap simplicity. The value comes from how it is used.

Reading social media can be of worth: giving direction, support and entertainment and provide news and information otherwise unknown. Writing on social media can provide others with the same interest and insights. That is its strength.

Ultimately if you want to be active on social media you should do so in the way you choose: have what account you want, follow who you want, read when you want, publish if you want. Happily, from experience on the SLLG social media platforms, library groups and information professionals are proving the adage:

You can’t do social media wrong, but you can do it right.

If you have any thoughts about this blog post, please comment below. We’d love to find out more tips and ways to get the most from social media for SLLG members.

You can follow SLLG on Twitter, LinkedIn and on this Blog. SLLG members are also encouraged to use the social website features provided in the members’ section.