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JILT 1996 (3) - Sue Pettit

Remember the librarians

Sue Pettit
University of Bristol

1. Introduction
2. Electronic Libraries Programme
3. Law Librarians
3.1 Librarians as trainers
3.2 Librarians as information managers
3.3 Librarians as mediators
4. Conclusion

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The electronic library will mean a change in the way information is stored and obtained. Research to speed the advent of the virtual library in the UK is being carried out under the auspices of the Electronic Libraries Programme. The role of law librarians is likely to develop into that of information managers and legal research skills trainers.

Keywords: Electronic library, Virtual library, U.K. academic libraries, Law librarians, Legal research skills training

Date of publication: 30 September 1996

Citation: Pettit S (1996) 'Remember the librarians', BILETA '96 Conference Proceedings, 1996 (3)The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>

1. Introduction

The electronic revolution means that the role of all in academia is changing, be they law lecturers, publishers or librarians. Just as CAL packages promise a freeing from the endless repetition of basic concepts for lecturers, electronic resource books will free librarians from the thankless task of trying to ensure equitable access to reading list materials. Electronic publishing and direct access to information by users will have a major effect on libraries. My concern in this paper is to point to some of the new roles which are emerging for librarians. I will start by considering UK academic libraries in general, then review the current situation in Law.

2. Electronic Libraries Programme

In the U.K., the effect on university libraries of the pressures caused by the expansion in student numbers and the explosion in academic knowledge and information was considered in the 1993 by the Joint Funding Councils' Libraries Review Group. Their report, usually referred to as the Follett Report after the Chairman of the Group, was a milestone for librarians. One of its major terms of reference was "The current and potential impact of information technology on information provision".

The IT aspects of the report have been followed up by a commitment by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) to projects which set out to "transform the use and storage of knowledge in higher education institutions". JISC established the Electronic Libraries Programme (eLib), which has been allocated about £15 million for the next three years. This level of carefully directed input should provide examples of good practice and speed the transition to the virtual library. eLib's scope is wider than traditional librarianship, and its objectives include the use of IT to improve delivery of information through increased use of electronic library services, to allow academic libraries to cope better with growth, to explore different models of intellectual property management, and to encourage new methods of scholarly publishing.

Seven programme areas, with 42 projects, were established by early February 1996:

  • Electronic document delivery
  • Electronic journals
  • Digitisation
  • On Demand Publishing
  • Training and Awareness
  • Access to Network Resources
  • Supporting Studies

At the end of 1995, a call went out for proposals in three more areas:

  • Grey literature
  • Quality assurance
  • Electronic reserve collections

Full details about eLib and the projects it is supporting can be found on its Web pages. I will concentrate here on programmes which immediately address problems affecting university libraries, such as 'On-Demand Publishing' and 'Training and Awareness'.

On demand publishing aims to provide solutions to the fact that a library can no longer provide on site all the information needed by its users. Not only are there insufficient funds to purchase all print materials, an increasing amount of information is available only on remote databases and databanks. The strategy of university libraries is shifting from 'holdings' to 'access'. On-demand publishing projects are investigating technical and copyright issues involved in making materials available for users, either in, or via, electronic format.

Training is an area where there is an obvious role for librarians. This is demonstrated by looking in more detail at just one of the projects in the Training and Awareness area:

EduLib (Educational Development for Higher Education Library Staff).

To quote from its flyer, "The Follett Report places great stress on the increasingly important role which libraries and other support staff must play in turning the use of networked information resources into an everyday part of teaching, learning and research. Libraries are identified as key agents in the provision of training in the use of these resources.

Edulib complements many of the other projects under this initiative. It will provide a nationally recognised and accredited network of library and support workers. EduLib participants will possess both the networked information skills, and the teaching skills needed to work as training and support staff in the Electronic Library.

Edulib will develop and support 12 regionally based consortia throughout the UK. Those consortia will represent the diversity of the higher education community. A team of Development Officers will establish those consortia in conjunction with the Core Team."

The Electronic Libraries Programme holds much promise for the future, and gives some hope that university librarians in the UK will be taking a more proactive role.

3. Law Librarians

To move on to the subject area of Law, I would like to give my vision of what librarians are likely to be doing in the next few years.

3.1 Librarians as trainers

The Second BILETA Report into Information Technology and Legal Education (Consultative Stage - January 31 to March 31,1996) (BILETA, 1996)recognises the significant developments in information technology in the five years since the publication of the Jackson Report (BILETA, 1991). The need for IT skills is seen as an integral element in the education and skills development of all undergraduate and postgraduate lawyers. Librarians already have many IT skills and are eager to collaborate with law schools in developing legal research skills teaching.

For years, librarians at many UK universities have been training students in the use of LEXIS. The Mead contract, allowing unlimited access for a fixed price, led to a better teaching environment in which students had the chance to explore the database for themselves. Regular workshops were set up by librarians, and students received a reasonable grounding in information retrieval skills and the use of LEXIS.

Similarly, at institutions which have CD-ROMs, training workshops and seminars set up and run by librarians are common. Law is a field in which the material available on CD-ROMs has not been central to study. This has now changed. With the arrival of ELR (the Electronic Law Reports), and the CD-ROM version of the All England Reports, the ability to use electronic sources will be seen to be essential by students. Librarians covering additional subject areas already have the experience to provide the necessary training for law students. Those who do not will have colleagues ready to advise them.

Discussions are in progress between CHEST and the publishers on the licensing of various law databases for centralised rather than local access. If these negotiations are successful, fixed price connection to legal databases will be available again. There will also be a lesser need for investment in hardware than for databases loaded on local networks. For several years, librarians have been registering and training users of the BIDS databases, available via CHEST. As these databases did not contain core legal materials, many law teachers are probably unaware of the support which is already available.

3.2 Librarians as information managers

Another role of the librarian can be described as information manager. The cataloguing and classification of books is likely to be overtaken by the tracking of digitised documents via databases by search engines invisible to the user. In September 1995 Stephen White, of Thomson Corporation Publishing Ltd, predicted that in the year 2000 at least 75 per cent of all new sales by the leading law publishers will be of electronic products. The emphasis will initially be on products for practitioners. The White Book was launched as a CD-ROM in 1995, and electronic publishing of tax and company law products is becoming widespread. Many looseleafs are due to follow. The end of looseleaf filing holds a strong attraction for librarians. It will be interesting to see how long parallel publishing continues. Law schools, though peripheral markets for these products, will have a period of much debate on which format, be it print, CD-ROM or online, is most appropriate to its needs. The SPTL report (Society of Public Teachers of Law 1995) entitled "A Library for the modern law school" recognises the increasing diversity of objectives and resources in university law schools. The Society has produced a Statement of Standards in place of the former Statement of Minimum Holdings. A comprehensive list of recommended primary and other major holdings are given. Where available, electronic sources are listed alongside print versions. The law librarian is likely to be well aware what options are available, and implement the sources chosen as appropriate to the law school.

3.3 Librarians as mediators

In the short term, I see librarians continuing to act as advisors, giving guidance on where to find materials. Apart from print, CD-ROM and online databases, the Internet needs to be considered. Unlike America and Australia, there is little primary UK material available to lawyers on the Internet. As a result, the use of the Internet as a source of documents has been low in the UK. Many researchers do not immediately think of it as an option. This situation will continue until "invisible" search tools are available or permanent URLs become common. At present, cataloguers are wary of the transient nature of Internet locations for documents and will not add them to catalogues.

I foresee a phase during which there will be a return to a greater reliance on the librarian's personal knowledge of sources.

4. Conclusion

Law libraries will be affected in various ways by the growth in electronic publishing and advances in information technology. If a positive approach is taken, there will be opportunities for librarians to become more involved in skills teaching, and in the management of information provision in their law schools.


BIDS (Bath Information Data & Services)<>

BILETA (1991). BILETA Enquiry into the Provision of Information Technology in UK Law Schools. (Jackson Report).

BILETA (1996).Information Technology for UK Law Schools. Second BILETA Report into Information Technology and Legal Education, Consultative Stage - January 31 to March 31. <>

CHEST (Combined Higher Education Software Team) <>

Edulib (Educational Development for Higher Education Library Staff)<>

eLib (Electronic Libraries Programme)<>

Joint Funding Councils' Libraries Review Group (1993). Report (Follett Report). <>

Society of Public Teachers of Law (1995). 'A Library for the Modern Law School: a statement of standards for university law library provision in England and Wales'. Special Issue. Legal Studies.

White, S. (1995). The Death of print: a few predictions for the year 2000. 26 Law Librarian 486.

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