Justis services are used all around the world, including in areas as far-reaching as Myanmar thanks to the hard work of EIFL (Electronic Information for Libraries), and the support from library professionals, including former University of Oxford law librarian Ruth Bird.
We recently caught up with Ruth, who was awarded the ALLA 2018 Life Member award, to find out more about the eLibrary Myanmar project, her own role in this important initiative and how rewarding her involvement in this project has been.
EIFL is an NGO providing electronic resources to universities in newly emerging democracies. As part of their eLibrary Myanmar project, EIFL has negotiated initial contracts with a range of providers, which includes Justis for access to JustisOne. When the universities have access to these resources, the librarians are first trained to use the resources, and then how to effectively train academics and students in how to use these resources.
The eLibrary Myanmar project began with just two institutions in 2014 and participation has grown steadily since. To date, EIFL has arranged these contracts for 13 universities in Myanmar, and after the initial set up period of 3 years the universities take over the management of the negotiations and resources themselves. This is done through the newly formed Myanmar Academic Libraries Consortium (MALC), also established with the assistance of EIFL.
The main work is with the librarians at the universities; we have a programme where we train them in basic IT literacy, and then in the use of the e-resources. We then identify ‘master librarians’ who receive further training. We also train them in how to deliver training themselves, and it is their role to then train the academics and researchers. We have 3 local coordinators who manage the training programme we have established. We have also set up institutional repositories at several of the universities to promote open access.
I also conduct training with the librarians on management topics such as organisational charts, job descriptions, collection policies, managing change and leading teams. It doesn’t sound exciting, but it is necessary. Most of the librarians have a Masters in Librarianship but have not had exposure to more recent developments in management.
Alongside my work on the eLibrary Myanmar project, EIFL has been contracted by the Danish Institute for Human Rights, who are establishing Human Rights Institutes at two law schools in Yangon, Myanmar. They have asked me to spend a week training the law academics in the best use and purpose of the legal e-resources. These include Oxford University Press and Hein, with JustisOne providing the primary resource for case law, supplemented by free online resources.
Researchers and faculty are taking advantage of the e-resources, and the training provided by the librarians in bibliographic systems, providing an understanding of how to reference and cite e-resources is further encouraging this. Broader impact on legal education and the legal sector will take time to filter through, as the curriculum and methods of teaching undergraduates will need to develop to encourage more critical thinking skills and independent study.
Seeing the enthusiasm of the librarians, their eagerness to learn and implement the proper use of the resources, and the growth in their capacity to take on the challenge of the changes involved. Perhaps the best, unintended, consequence is the improvement in the status of the librarians, many of whom have a Masters degree. Academics used to view librarians as lower status staff, but their attitudes have changed greatly as the librarians are those who have these advanced skills and are training the academics to use these new resources.
I think this sort of work is invaluable. There are no law librarians in Myanmar, and I have been able to help with some of the complexities of the resources, although it will be a while until their curriculum will be more like one we know in the UK. Most of the work I have been doing with the academic librarians is related to management issues as well as training, and it is not restricted to law.
Ruth Bird is a former Bodleian Law Librarian, University of Oxford, with over 10 years’ experience in private practice. Ruth was a member of the Council of the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL) and was Vice President of the International Association of Law Libraries (IALL). Ruth is an Honorary Bencher at Middle Temple.
If you would like to know more about EIFL (Electronic Information for Libraries), the eLibrary Myanmar project, or the other important work they do elsewhere in the world you can find more information on their website.