As part of my graduate trainee scheme, I have had some brilliant opportunities to visit a wide range of libraries, from academic libraries to museum libraries. My most recent visit was a trip to the library at the Ministry of Justice, which was very impressive.
Arriving at the headquarters of the Ministry of Justice, my first impression was of its imposing concrete modernity, a contrast to the opulent leather chairs and fireplaces of the House of Commons Library. The Assistant Librarian gave us a tour of the resources in the airy, modern and colourful library. With 90,000 potential users, the MoJ library caters for a wide range of professionals, including lawyers, psychologists, economists and statisticians. As well as supplying books and journals, the library keeps all documents produced by the Ministry of Justice, preserving the ‘corporate memory’ of the department. It also collates all the bills and amendments generated in the passage of an Act through Parliament, preserving the material as a complete history of the nation’s law.
I was most impressed by the sheer significance of the books and journals on the immaculate shelves – these sources are the authority on the law of the land, determining how justice is defined, protected and enforced. The shelves house a cornucopia of subjects, ranging from race-related crime to youth justice, sentencing policy to rehabilitation, weaving together political, legal, statistical and sociological works.
Librarians at the Ministry of Justice undertake background research for Parliamentary Questions, a task necessitating incredible accuracy. Another task they undertake involves media searches and media-tracking. A large part of the librarians’ work centres on literature-searching – gathering all information available on a topic requested by an analyst or researcher, thereby providing evidence for policy-making processes. The library team at the Royal Courts of Justice is responsible for providing access and materials for all the judges in the UK – a herculean task.
The most useful part of the visit was the chat we had on law librarianship as a profession. It was surprising to hear that none of the librarians in the Ministry of Justice library had law degrees and qualifications – they all originate from Library and Information Service backgrounds. I found this particularly encouraging, as I had looked into law librarianship but had been rather de-motivated after reading a haughty law library book insisting that law degrees should be prerequisite for the profession. Emma, the newest member of the team, is from a health library background, and possessed little previous law knowledge before this post. It was lovely to hear that she had enjoyed studying Librarianship at Sheffield University and to glimpse her passion for her new role.
In previous visits, there has been a sense of doom and gloom at the prospect of trainees finding library employment after qualifying (see glum faces below). In a time of recession and redundancy, many librarians we’ve spoken to have been sympathetic but not optimistic about our chances of success in this profession. However, this visit was very different. The librarians at the Ministry of Justice seemed highly positive about our prospects, encouraging us to study for our MA and later for Chartership and to seek opportunities in a variety of areas, including law librarianship. I now feel much more positive about my chances of finding a suitable post. This visit provided information, career advice, and, above all, hope!