Day In The Life - Sarah Wheeler: BIALL Newsletter, November 2011

Supreme Court Assistant Librarian

Every day begins with a brisk walk over Westminster Bridge to Parliament Square, the home of The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. I’ve had the privilege of working at The Supreme Court since it opened in September 2009, when the Law Lords moved out of the House of Lords (where they sat as the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords) and into their new home across the road, in the former Middlesex Guildhall, becoming Justices of The Supreme Court. The building itself is fabulous; stained glass windows, beautiful carvings, two impressive light wells and a pop-art carpet designed by Sir Peter Blake (which I try to refrain from spilling tea on).

Today the Court is handing down judgments. For this I have to put on the hat of Deputy Web Officer and prepare web pages with the latest judgments and news story. This is all ready so that at 9.45 I can sit back with a cup of tea, turn on the TV and watch the judgments being handed down from the comfort of my ergonomically designed office chair. The Supreme Court is the only court in the UK at present with cameras in the court rooms, meaning that not only can the public watch cases live on Sky’s website, but staff can watch the proceedings from any TV in the building. Once the Justices have read out the judgments it’s time for me to upload them onto the website as quickly as possible (IT systems allowing!).

With the website updated my focus can now turn back to library work. The library is housed in what used to be the main court room. The ground floor was removed to create a triple height modern open space but still retains original features such as the wood panelling and decorative ceiling. The library is not open to the public as it is for the use of the Justices, their Judicial Assistants, Court Reporters and other Supreme Court staff. On Fridays when the court doesn’t sit, however, it is the highlight of the guided tours run by the Court and tourists can come and admire the Gainsborough hanging over the textbook collection and our oldest book, a 1661 volume of Croke’s reports. From a librarian’s point of view it’s not that impressive a book, but the tourists love it!

I work alongside the Librarian, Christine Younger, in our office at the base of one of the light wells adjoining the library. In it we’re very proud to display our collection of Wildy’s owls and our own Supreme Court teddy bear, Toffee. As with any small organisation, you get to know everyone and this is especially true of the Supreme Court. Not only does this allow us to build up good relations with the library users, but it also makes it a friendly and enjoyable place to work.

I usually continue my day by checking the progress of ongoing enquiries and monitoring the library email inbox for any new ones. First up is a request for help from another government department library looking for a law report. We’re always happy to assist other government libraries where possible as there have been times that their help to us has been invaluable. Aside from that, there’s a speech to track down, guidance needed on using the databases and a curious citation to puzzle over. It turns out to be one of those days where I wish Norman French had been on the school curriculum instead of German. Once everything is ticking over I can get on with some of the everyday tasks: checking in serials, processing new books and updating the statistics.

After a quick break for lunch and watching the news, I start work on the next library newsletter, which involves checking my weekly Westlaw alerts, RSS feeds and court websites. The newsletter keeps the Justices and their Assistants up to date on new publications in the library, recent articles about the Court or its cases, and cases from a selection of other Supreme Courts. It’s definitely well used by the Justices as there is a guaranteed flurry of requests for articles within a day of it being sent out.

There are also some new books which have arrived and I want to get them catalogued as quickly as possible. I have to admit that it’s not solely for the benefit of library users – instead I quite like cataloguing and classification. One of the major projects during my time here has been the reclassification of the entire textbook collection from Dewey to Moys. Though a challenge to complete in three months, I found it very interesting work and it ultimately led me to join the editorial board for the 5th edition of Moys.

With this done I can call it a day and head out to tackle the obstacle course that is Westminster Bridge in the evening. I avoid the dancing Queen, the bagpiper and the man with a snake but still manage to get myself into a large number of tourist photos before reaching Waterloo and my train home.

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