Law librarians needed desperately

Caribbean Association of Law Libraries meets in Cayman

Law librarians from 10 Caribbean countries were in Grand Cayman Sunday through Wednesday for their 28th annual general meeting and conference. 

Although they come from different work environments, such as universities, court systems, government departments or private firms, they examined common concerns like building collections on a shoestring budget and the Internet.  

As association president, Tom Borkowski told the 30-plus people who gathered for the opening programme on Monday, “A common mistake people make is the belief that once you give somebody Internet access, then all their problems are solved.” 

While all the information anybody could possible want may be there, “we come across numerous users time and again who can’t search correctly or successfully on Internet or electronic products,” Mr. Borkowski said. 

Librarians help not only by providing access to physical materials, but by using the Internet appropriately to extract information for users, he explained. That is what they have done since the beginning of the profession. 

“We could substitute the word Internet for manuscripts, papyrus hieroglyphs, hard copy or CD-ROMs. We are trained in extracting information for users. Our role will always be one of storage, retrieval and dissemination of information,” he said. 

He urged participants to share their experiences because there will be common problems and solutions whether they work in a large judicial system or a one-person office. He thanked Cayman’s law librarian Beverley Speirs for her role in setting up the conference.  

Cayman Islands Attorney General Samuel Bulgin, who gave the keynote address, presented the perspective of law students and practitioners. 

“You alone have the ability to bridge that vital information gap that can make the difference between winning and losing, scoring good marks or failing to make the grade, in the lives of law professionals and law students alike,” he told the law librarians. 

Mr. Bulgin said it is no exaggeration to state that, without precedent, much of English law becomes unhinged; for precedent to be maintained, prior knowledge should thrive robustly. “Therefore, without your vital presence and effective functioning, the legal profession is maimed,” he declared. 

Because librarians function with such quiet efficiency, there is a danger that they may be taken for granted, Mr. Bulgin continued, so the founders of the Caribbean Association of Law Libraries were to be lauded for their foresight. 

Chief Justice Anthony Smellie invoked names from those early days when he referred to his own experience at University of the West Indies. “As one of the first students of the University’s faculty of Law in the early 1970s, I remember well the sense of great assurance and even pride that I enjoyed at being able to study in the new library at Cave Hill. Then it surely was and perhaps even now remains one of the finest such facilities in the Commonwealth. 

“But even more important was the support we the students had from such luminaries as Sir Clifford Hammett, Mr. John Dryud, Mrs. Velma Newton and Mr. Leslie Fenty; each of whom would willingly carry the light for us as we took our first hesitant steps along the dark and winding corridors of legal history.” 

The first three people Mr. Smellie named were on the working party set up in 1982 to form the library association. Mr. Fenty was elected to the first executive committee. 

The head of Cayman’s judiciary said law librarians continue to make a lasting contribution as professionals and academicians of high repute by providing practical research capabilities. 

Their theme this year – From place to platform: Taking Caribbean law libraries to the next level – evoked the idea of using technology to make libraries accessible across geographical boundaries. “This surely must be the way of the future and the best way of maximising the use of the library resources across the region,” he said. “Indeed, it is the only way of ensuring that library resources can be integrated, maintained and made accessible across the sea that separates our Island states,” Mr. Smellie concluded.  

Court administrator Kevin McCormac and attorney Brett Basdeo of the Caymanian Bar Association also brought greetings. 

Along with sessions, demonstrations and meetings, the librarians had a chance to examine and purchase books and other material from representatives for Wildy and Sons, LexisNexis, Thomson Reuters and Oxford University Press. They even got a three-hour trip to see some of Cayman’s tourist attractions. 

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Mr. Borkowski

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The remarks of court administrator Kevin McCormac, top row, left, are applauded by law librarians and fellow speakers Anthony Smellie, centre, and Samuel Bulgin, right. – Photo: Carol Winker
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