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Catherine Bowl appointed as President of the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians


Travers Smith LLP is delighted to announce that its Deputy Head of Research, Catherine Bowl, has recently been appointed President of the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL).


In this interview, Catherine provides an insight into her prestigious appointment and discusses how the pandemic and subsequent hybrid working has impacted the legal information sector.


Catherine congratulations on your appointment – could you tell us a little more about the role and what being President actually means?

The role of President means I am the Chair of the BIALL Council and will chair all of our quarterly Council meetings over the next 12 months. The President is also an ex-officio member of the Association's Committees: Awards and Bursaries, Conference, Legal Information Management (BIALL's journal), Professional Development, PR & Promotions, Publications and the Supplier Liaison Group. The Committees all meet regularly, and I aim to attend at least one meeting of each committee to gain a better understanding of their work. The President also represents BIALL at our sister associations' conferences so I shall be attending the American Association of Law Libraries virtual conference in July. If travel restrictions are lifted, I hope to be able to go to the Canadian Association of Law Libraries conference next year.

This is clearly a very high-profile role – it would be fascinating to know what it will involve and where your focus will be over the next 12 months?

My focus will revolve around communication, training and best practice as well as diversity and inclusion. BIALL is a great forum for networking so whilst restrictions are still in place it is more important than ever to maintain regular communication between our members and to increase two-way communication between the Council and Committees and the membership. For some members the pandemic has resulted in training budgets being cut so there will be a focus on offering more frequent online training sessions and we hope to review and update our Professional Skills Framework. Earlier this year a Diversity and Inclusion Working Group was set up, so I'm looking forward to seeing this area of the Association's work evolve.

What does the BIALL actually do?

BIALL was formed in 1969 and comprises some 500 legal information professions in the UK and Ireland. Our members include those working in academic institutions, law firms, barristers' chambers, government departments, law societies and the Inns of Court who share best practice and promote the value of law libraries.  The Council comprises five Officers, President, President Elect, Immediate Past President, Hon. Secretary and Hon. Treasurer as well as five Council members who represent the interests of the membership. The work of the Association is carried out by Council and the Committees. The Committees arrange events as well as our annual conference, promote BIALL, coordinate awards, administer our bursary programme, liaise with suppliers and publishers and oversee our publications, a quarterly newsletter and journal, Legal Information Management. Decisions about the running of the Association are made at Council meetings, also attended by Committee chairs.

What challenges has the pandemic presented to the legal information profession and how has Travers Smith dealt with them?

Prior to the first lockdown many legal information professionals had never worked remotely. In fact, some employers were previously unreceptive to the concept, so our members had to adapt very quickly to a new, sometimes very isolated, working environment.  They have also had to learn new IT skills in order to deliver remote training sessions to lawyers and students.  At Travers Smith we have been very well supported and the excellent Tech team has provided us with the equipment and training needed to enable us to work so efficiently from home. Communication, including regular Town Halls has been brilliant, ensuring that we remain connected as a firm and everyone has been very caring and looked out for one another.  

One of the biggest challenges to the profession has been the inability to have access to hard copy collections. My own team been in the fortunate position of being able to enhance our online resources and on other occasions our very accommodating Facilities team has arranged for books to be couriered to lawyers' homes.

On a more positive note, has the hybrid working world that has evolved over the last 12 months presented some opportunities for the legal information profession?

The way we have worked over the last 12 months has certainly presented the profession with opportunities, particularly in the area of training and development. Prior to the pandemic most of BIALL's training courses were held in London or other regional cities. However, our Professional Development Committee has arranged some very successful online courses over the last year and I envisage the online format continuing, with a few exceptions, and making training more accessible and better value for our members. Earlier this month BIALL held a very successful three-day online conference, including a virtual exhibition and networking opportunities.

As I mentioned, at Travers Smith we have enhanced our online collection over the past 12 months, making our resources more accessible to our users. Larger electronic collections will enable law libraries to reduce their hard copy collections. BIALL is currently involved in an initiative with the International Law Book Facility, a UK based charity which sends second-hand law books to non-profit organisations in common law jurisdictions, and I see this is a CSR opportunity for our profession.

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