New strategic plan for Supreme Court Library Queensland

I’m pleased to announce the publication of one of my recent projects, the new five-year strategic plan for the Supreme Court Library of Queensland, Australia (SCLQ).

Queen Elizabeth II Courts of Law, Brisbane by Wikipedia user Kgbo – CC BY-SA 3.0

The project, which ran through 2018 and early 2019, comprised research, interviews, survey and workshop design, plus co-writing the finished plan with Supreme Court Librarian David Bratchford.

Researching and writing the plan gave me the opportunity to explore one of the most fascinating and challenging sectors of the information profession – the law.

Institutions like SCLQ provide information services to judges and officers of the court, to members of the legal profession, and in some cases to members of the public who come into contact with the court system. SCLQ also holds a public heritage and education role, offering exhibitions, lectures, and educational visits. This puts them at the nexus of many challenging issues in the digital age.

In an era when people are already defending themselves in court over minor issues like parking tickets, using smartphone apps to guide them, how do we prepare strategically for a world where there may be more self-represented, digitally-assisted litigants? What does access to justice look like in the emerging digital landscape?

Where software can take on some of the cognitive work of legal professionals, what will change about the way law is practised? Machine executable contracts are already here. Law firms increasingly use electronic products which do not require human curation, such as awareness alerts set for specific topics and keywords.  How will these changes, plus the rise of alternative legal services providers, affect the use and management of information within the sector? Will law firms of the future look less like traditional practices and more like tech companies whose domain happens to be the law?

Could the work of judges also be affected by technological change? Researchers at Swinburne University have suggested that AI could help ensure consistency of sentencing, addressing emotional bias and human error. Online dispute resolution technologies may accelerate a trend towards less adversarial justice, with implications for the role of the judiciary.  In pioneering Singapore, all Supreme Court courtrooms and chambers are fitted with video devices, flat screen monitors with rotatable arms, and other resources for the use of electronic documents. Will the law librarian of the future serve as the Court’s Chief Information Officer?

Given that all of these possibilities are only emerging, how does an institution make wise strategic choices, preparing for the future without being rash, adjusting for both anticipated trends and the possibility of disruptive surprises? This is especially challenging in the legal sector, where tradition and precedent are significant factors.

For SCLQ, I researched the future of both the legal profession and the law library sector, including interviews from international practitioners and researchers across both fields.

I then worked with SCLQ to devise and deliver both staff workshops and user surveys, complemented by my own one-to-one interviews with the library’s senior leadership team and other stakeholders.

Finally, the Supreme Court Librarian and I wrote the new strategic plan across several drafts and iterations. You can read a one-page summary of the full document, outlining key priorities and objectives, at the  SCLQ website.

The Supreme Court Librarian wrote of our collaboration:

“For the library’s CEO and leadership team members, who collaborated with Dr Finch, the experience of undertaking the project with him was extremely positive. We found him to be knowledgeable, experienced, organised, and highly professional, while remaining approachable and good tempered throughout the term of his engagement. He was a fast learner and a good teacher, always generous with advice and happy to share his experience. His enthusiasm was infectious, and helped inspire us to first create a compelling vision and then embody it in the plan.”

You can read more at my testimonials page, and I hope to return to the topic of legal information services on this blog later in the year.

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