Legal Librarians: Moys Classification system and the Duplicates Exchange scheme

Published 11th July 2016

On the recent donation of one of our #ontheroll artefacts, it was suggested by a librarian that First 100 Years look into the innovative and important work done by female legal librarians over the past century. This is a field that is very un-worked, and we welcome any contributions from legal librarians on your work and experiences. This piece gives an overview of a couple of female legal librarians who made significant changes to the way legal libraries work.

Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Moys was born in 1928, and began her impressive career as a librarian in 1951, going on to become a ‘giant’ in the field and founding member of the BIALL. First she was deputy librarian to Howard Drake, and responsible in the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) for compiling the early editions of lists of serials and foreign law. These were essential between the 1950s-1980s before computers. Betty published the Moys Classification and Thesaurus for Legal Materials in 1968. It is a classification system designed to work with the existing Library of Congress Classification (LCC) scheme. The LCC did not have a fully developed K class (class for Law), and this is what the Moys system addressed. It was adopted worldwide with a level of enthusiasm that testifies to the great demand for a Law classifying scheme and also to the excellent quality of the Moys system. Described as possessing ‘rationality and elegance’, as well as ‘clarity and clear logic’, the classification scheme demonstrates her deep understanding and commitment to the subject. The most recent edition was published in 2012, describing Betty in the front matter as ‘a hard act to follow’ and dedicating the fifth edition to her memory.

She first developed and tested the Moys scheme whilst working at the then new University of Lagos in Nigeria. She classified the entire law section, and went on to hold the post of librarian at the University of Ghana. She also edited The Law Librarian, the first issue of which appeared in April 1970. Her publications were also influential for legal librarians, and after five years working with a number of contributors, the Manual of Law Librarianship was published in 1976. For her work on this she became the first recipient of the award from the Howard Drake Memorial Fund in 1977.

After retirement, she redirected her energies to indexing. Qualifying and joining the Society of Indexers in 1985, she then made several important steps in indexing legal texts. She won the Library Association and Society of Indexers’ Wheatley Medal in 191 for her index to the British Tax Encyclopedia. In 2000, two years before her death, she was awarded an MBE for services to classification and indexing. Her vision and attention to detail throughout her career have made her a stalwart of the legal librarian profession. The Betty Moys Fund is a gift made in her will to financially support BIALL members wishing to attend overseas conferences. She also provided in her will for the establishment of the Betty Moys prize be established to reward a new indexer each year.

Muriel Anderson was the IALS Librarian from 1982 to 1991. She was one of only five women in her year to be admitted to the joint honours degree course in French and German at Queen’s University, Belfast. Before succeeding Willi Steiner as IALS Librarian she was Deputy Librarian from 1960. Described as ‘unshakeabl(y)’ committed and loyal to the library, and played a vital management role in an the most significant legal research library in Britain. Under her watch the collection was re-housed, dramatically expanded, and new technology was adopted. She also worked for several months in the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and was Chair of the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL). She authored a number of articles on law librarianship, including a chapter edited by Elizabeth M. Moys.

In 1971 Muriel set up the Duplicates Exchange scheme with Mary Blake. This was moved to electronic delivery in 2003. The scheme allows libraries to share resources and help large and small firms, academic and government Libraries. It allows different institutions to access missing periodical parts, old textbooks and directories.

Both the Moys Classification system and the Duplicates Exchange scheme are innovations which have changed the way legal libraries function. Law libraries are an integral part of the legal sector which facilitate the rigorous work and study which exemplifies the profession in the UK. Too often the librarians who play such a crucial role in preserving documents and archival material are themselves under-represented in the historical record. Please contact [email protected] with stories, information, or thoughts on the role of female legal librarians.


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