Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

AALL 2008 Program: The Evolving Role of the Solo Librarian: How to Do it All Without Losing Your Mind

We will be posting a number of reviews of the programs at AALL 2008 in Portland.  My thanks to Cheryl Niemeier who is the first guest author for Strategic Librarian.  Please send me an email, if you would like to report on any of the programs listed in the Looking for Guest Writers/Reporters posting.

By Cheryl Niemeier

The speakers of this program, Lauri Flynn, Library Manager, Gunderson Dettmer, Menlo Park, CA and Julia Hughes, Barley Snyder LLC, Lancaster, PA, presented the results of a survey of solo librarians, who are mostly those in the law firm setting, while peppering the discussion of the results with real world tips on keeping up on the profession, challenges with tips and secrets of success in dealing with the challenges, and the benefits of being a solo librarian.

They reported that 185 individuals replied to the survey, most of the respondents were solo librarians in the strictest sense of the word (i.e. they had no other staff helping them in the library), and 2/3 were the only librarian in their organization. Additionally the survey results showed that the majority of these librarians work for law firms of less than 75 attorneys, support 1-2 offices, may have other responsibilities such as marketing and training, and most are active in professional organizations.

Participants offered many suggestions for keeping up on trends in the profession while trying to do it all.

  • Monitor e-publications such as,The Virtual Chase, etc.
  • Subscribe to law library listservs and professional association chapters for the newsletters
  • Read ABA’s Law Practice Today, and for article sof interest to small firms
  • Make use of an RSS Readers such as Blogline to streamline the blogs you monitor

The speakers admitted that challenges abound, but offered many tips of secrets of success for dealing with the challenges and the up side is that there are also many benefits to being a solo librarian. 

  • Not having enough time to do it all and do it well
  • Professional isolation–no peers to talk with or help solve problems
  • No coverage in the library when away from the office
  • Hard to juggle research, reference, clerical, management and marketing tasks

Tips/secrets of success for dealing with challenges:

  • Work smart–break down the job and see what things others in the firm could help with such as the receptionist assisting with loose-leaf filing
  • Clarify what really needs to be done now!
  • Schedule your tasks for the day – handling the smaller and simpler tasks first
  • Take opportunities to network with other solo librarians
  • Prepare for time away from the office by scheduling visits from your vendor representatives during the time you will be away or use a temporary library help service
  • Make sure to develop excellent organization skills
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff equals efficiency!
  • Teach your users to fish so they can do it themselves!
  • Be passionate and maintain a positive outlook!
  • Hone your people skills
  • Don’t stay chained to your desk–network with the other people in the firm

Benefits include:

  • Independence/autonomy
  • Flexible schedule
  • Variety of tasks and responsibilities
  • Opportunity to gain a wide knowledge of all aspects of running a library
  • No supervision of staff

Overall, this program was very good and was well received by the attendees. The practical advice was just what the attendees seemed to need. The attendees took away many great ideas for better managing their positions as solo librarians while at the same time gaining affirmation that they are not alone – there are other solo librarians with whom they can identify and who have experience with similar challenges every day in their role as the sole librarian.  Additionally, at the conclusion of the program each attendee was challenged to exchange their business card with another attendee thus making at least one networking connection, and many did just that!

Cheryl Niemeier is Director of Library Services at Bose McKinney & Evans LLP.

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