BIALL Solos / one man bands

The British & Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL) was formed in 1969. It is an independent and self-supporting body representing the interests of legal information professionals, documentalists and other suppliers of legal literature and reference materials in the UK and Ireland. BIALL organises regular training events at both a national and regional level, publishes a quarterly journal Legal Information Management and runs an Annual Conference. Practical support and advice is given through a number of schemes run by committees, by its publications and through a series of special interest groups. This article is about the BIALL Solos group.

All librarians face challenges but if you are a part of a small team or if you are a “one person librarian/information professional” running an information service single handed or with minimal assistance, you face some particular ones.

Information professionals working within a team can rely on the support of their colleagues to share the workload, discuss ideas, and together support the organisation in achieving its goals whatever they are. For lone information professionals, the responsibility of running of the information service can be more daunting as they are the only person supporting their lawyers/barristers/clients in their research needs, and in maintaining all the resources such a service requires.

There may be specific issues such as technology, or lack of it, marketing and supplier relationships, including pricing and availability. Information professionals working alone or in relative professional isolation do not always have the time and resources to get involved in training and professional development activity. Getting cover to attend a seminar is difficult and people may be spread over a large area.

Nevertheless, there are advantages to being a “solo” or “one man band” (OMB). You may have more independence, flexibility and variety in your role and you will have few if any, staff problems – apart from never having enough time to do everything.

A frequent disadvantage is, however, the lack of regular interaction with other information professionals. In July 2002, David Byrne, a solo information professional, made a request to the BIALL Council to establish a Special Interest Group for solo workers and a “One Person Library/Small Teams” Special Interest Group was formed. This group should not be confused with the Freelancers and Solos which is independent of BIALL.

In the early years, BIALL Solos ran sessions at the annual BIALL conference but in 2008 the group was in danger of folding. However, at the 2008 conference David Byrne managed to speak to a few people about the group and soon afterwards a new Steering Group was set up and it was given a new lease of life.

The first thing the new Steering Group did was set up regular monthly conference call meetings. At this point there were six key members: Celine, David, Hazel, Jas, Michelle and Vivian and they worked their little socks off to get the group off the ground again. At the first meeting diary dates were set up for the next six months, and investigation made into setting up a blog for the group.

Also at the first meeting the Steering Group was encouraged to flag topics and speakers or contributors for future training sessions. Topics that cropped up initially were “Electronic resources versus hardcopy”; Marketing; Trainees and PSLs, although many more have since been developed.

Following this meeting an email was sent to both the BIALL Solos mailing list and the main BIALL membership mailing list to let everyone know a new Steering Committee had been set up, and reminding members of the aim of the group – to provide a forum for them in which they could share experiences, seek advice from peers and generate discussion within the profession.

The Steering Group felt strongly that there was a need for training and development for solo workers as it is often difficult for a solo to get time off to attend training sessions. With the recent advances in technology they explored the possibility of audio seminars, where the audience dials in via a conference call. This method of delivery suits those who find it difficult to take time away from their desk, as they just need a telephone and the time to join the session, with no travelling costs. It also means that the Group is able to offer free training sessions because there is no room hire fee or technical support fees and no travelling expenses needed for the presenter.

The first new seminar took place in January 2009, when 11 people dialled in to hear Matthew Mazey give a presentation on Media and PR for Information Professionals. Seminars are now held approximately three times a year and usually run for around an hour. An invitation to register is sent to the BIALL solos mailing list a month or more in advance. Details on how to join the meeting are sent out a day or two beforehand, as are any slides being used by the presenter which gives attendees the chance to look at the presentation in advance and prepare questions.

On the day everyone joins the meeting by telephone; the chair keeps things in order and explains how the process works. The presenter gives the talk, followed by a question and answer session. Numbers are generally restricted to 20; this is necessary to avoid cost and to keep sessions interactive.

Since the first seminar, further sessions have included talks on Web 2.0, managing challenging times and career development for solo. Most of these sessions are available on the BIALL Solos webpage – however a log in is needed for the actual resources. Future sessions are planned on copyright, using LinkedIn, and company information research.

The BIALL Solos group has provided support to many information professionals across the country and encouraged them to develop their skills in a cost-effective manner, without having to take time away from the office. Members of the group feel they have a real community that they can interact with and no longer feel isolated in the workplace.

The OMB/Small Teams Group mailing list is open to all BIALL members who feel that the focus of the group is relevant to their professional lives. Join by emailing a request to

Vivian Grainge is the Library and Information Service Manager at Freeth Cartwright. She works with one part time assistant and covers eight branches. She is a member of the PR and Promotions Committee and has been on the BIALL Solos Steering Group since July 2008.