Reading between the lines

By James Thomson

Melbourne Law School's new Law Librarian, Carole Hinchcliff, has a simple philosophy about the importance of a law school's library.

Carole Hinchcliff 

"I always think of the law library as being at the heart of a law school and I think that's true of the Melbourne Law School Library."

Since arriving at MLS in February 2008, Hinchcliff has been charged with the task of enhancing the Law Library's strong reputation.

Central to this push has been the establishment of the Law Research Service, launched in February 2009. At the heart of the service, the first of its kind in Australia, is a team of dedicated law librarians and research assistants who provide a one-stop-shop for legal research.

A faculty member with a research request simply submits their question to one email address or one phone number and the law research service team swings into action. Hinchcliff hopes the provision of a high-quality research service will allow faculty members time to concentrate on thinking creatively, analysing, writing and transferring knowledge.

"It's all about providing research support to increase the quality, quantity and impact of the Law School's publications."

Hinchcliff has more than two decades of experience in law libraries. She completed a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Law at the University of Melbourne in 1983. On completing her articles at Aitken, Walker and Strachan, Hinchcliff married and travelled to the US with her husband, Professor Ken Hinchcliff, now Dean of the University of Melbourne's Faculty of Veterinary Science, where he was studying at the University of Wisconsin.

Hinchcliff soon found herself working as a volunteer researcher for Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson (now Chief Justice). In order to get up to speed on US legal research, Abrahamson suggested Hinchcliff work at the University of Wisconsin's Law Library and begin librarian studies. Her career in law librarianship was under way.

In 1987, Hinchcliff joined Ohio State University's Moritz Law Library. She stayed there for 20 years, working in various positions, including that of Associate Director of the Moritz Library from 1996 to 2007.

As well as working in the library, Hinchcliff taught a number of advanced legal research courses and also worked as a supervising attorney for the law school's mediation practicum classes, liaising with local courts and observing and coaching students in real-life mediation situations.

She says it was a fascinating experience, both from the point of view of helping students and dealing with some very interesting cases. "I've seen some things that are better than what's on Judge Judy or any of those TV shows," Hinchcliff jokes.

Hinchcliff and her husband returned with their family to Australia in July 2007. "We're delighted to be back in Melbourne," she says.

Hinchcliff says one of her other priorities is promoting the Melbourne Law School Law Library's rare and special books collection. The Law Library has held a lecture series on the collection since 2002 and interest has been strong.

One addition to the rare and special books collection that Hinchcliff has her eye on is a database of annual volumes for renowned law publisher, the Selden Society, which will be released later this year. The Selden Society database will create interest well beyond the legal world. "For example, old English cases are quite fascinating in that they provide a record of everyday life," Hinchcliff says.

"The rare books collection is a great way we can connect to our alumni who have a love of law books, an interest in legal history and the legal profession, and excitement about the research possibilities when older legal materials are available online."

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 1, March 2009.