Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

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Strategy for Survival – What do Librarians Need to do to Stay Relevant – Part One

As technology continues to change, so do the roles librarians play.  We are no different than any other profession in that respect.  If you think about it, we are, like “The Desk Set” staff, expendable – at least in the minds of those who manage companies, firms, and other types of libraries.  We are also very similar to:

  • News reporters and newspaper staff,
  • Magazine writers and staff
  • Publishing managers and staff,
  • Bookstore managers and staff,
  • Video store managers and staff, and
  • Record store managers and staff,

in that we are part of the information chain that has kept our customers, clients, patrons, users – those we serve – educated, informed, and entertained.  Additionally, each of us as groups of employees and/or individuals need to stay relevant in this economy as well as the governmental and business climates.  We are all struggling or have failed to determine our place in the online world.

Let’s think about strategies for a moment.  The economy has hurt many of us in that the organizations we are a part of may not have or had their own strategies to survive or the strategies they were using didn’t work.  Borders provides us with a good example.  Amazon does seem to own the market but there are bookstores that have either aligned themselves with Amazon or set up their own online presence (i.e., Barnes & Noble).  These strategies have worked for some but others have failed or given up in moving online.

Borders has more to do with cash flow and other economic pressures than about technology.  In their case, the strategy of moving online didn’t work.  Whether they got to the party to late, tried to run their business online in the same way they ran their former business, stretched themselves too thin, or just ran out of money, they failed to stay relevant to their customers during the economic downturn.  They can blame technology, but if we were to look closer at the situation, we would find technology to be more of an excuse than the facts they don’t want to face.

Many of the organizations where we work (or worked for), that have survived this economy, have done so in a couple of ways – using the strategy of being conservative throughout their existence, or cutting costs during tough times to please those they serve, whether it be shareholders, the public or other constituencies.  This is a strategy that requires a willingness to set aside what’s good for the organization in the long run, for more immediate rewards now and where little thought is given to the future – by the organization or the constituency served..

The economy and the need to survive in what will soon be an online world, have created a perfect storm and that perfect storm requires new strategies for us to stay relevant.

Building a strategy or set of strategies requires us to do an environmental scan (what are the issues our organizations are facing in the industry or segment they (we) are part of) and the analysis needed to understand the impact those issues have on our own internal function.  Along with looking at the pressures we are facing from the outside, we need to do the research and analysis of what our users need by asking them for input – what are their needs to survive or stay relevant.  Without doing that groundwork, we don’t have the information we need to form a strategy and the strategies we create may fail.

Part II will focus on the strategies we can use to evolve instead of just survive.


Musings on the Librarian’s Role in Knowledge Management in Law Firms

Mary Abraham’s post on her blog, Above and Beyond KM titled Librarians vs Knowledge Managers, about a blog post written by Morgan Wilson on his blog,   , titled  reflection on KM and libraries in law firms really got me moving this morning.  Near and dear to my heart, the goals of librarians and knowledge managers are or at least should be the same. 

Morgan discussed his disappointment in how the two roles evolved when placed in the same department which was called Knowledge Management.  Mary discussed her surprise at his musings and questions about whether the two groups should work together.  More concerning, comments made by at least two readers discussed the need for librarians and libraries declining in the future. 

I couldn’t help but comment myself:


This post really caught my attention since I am a librarian and a knowledge manager. I’ve been a librarian since 1980 and I’ve worked with knowledge management in law firms since 1986 where I wrote a two-part article on law firm km – part one, part two. I believe that article was the first law firm km article posted on the web in 1997.

I have a masters degree in library and information science and I’ve taught KM classes for a graduate level program similar to what I attended. I write, speak and consult on KM and, yet, I am not a lawyer. (Note: the caste system is alive and well and doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.) I know a lot of other librarians who have the same interest, education, skills, and, yes, passion. Morgan being one of them.

During all these years, I’ve learned that KM in law firms is a messy endeavor that has survived more by the passion of those who work with it, instead of any firm’s commitment to what using KM as a tool can do for them. There have been jumps and starts that have gone no where and there have been some successful projects at some firms. Any consistency in effort has been done outside of the U.S.

I recent years, KM has started to take hold at firms where the lawyer KM manager or the librarian KM manager have been in place. I don’t believe either have moved of the other in the goal to make KM work. I will note, though, that many of the skills needed by one are the same skills needed by the other.

In library school, I learned more than just cataloging and selecting materials. I learned about defining & building systems, human interaction with systems and more. While working on an MBA, I learned about organizational development, change management, communication and more. I am just one librarian to have all this in my background. There are many more of us.

Much of what is called knowledge management today is library science re-branded. It isn’t new to us. Some librarians may not be able to talk the same talk as a KM manager but that is because the language has changed.

Finally, librarians in law firms (and else where) have never been valued to the degree they should because of old stereotypes that continue to live on because of jokes we’ve heard to often and messages that are reinforced over and over again. We are not a shushing, sensible shoe wearing, or angry lot. We are professionals who have skills that most law firms have left untapped because they don’t fit that stereotype.

I don’t believe where the library is situated organizationally matters. Morgan’s situation has and is being repeated throughout the legal industry where a law firm doesn’t understand what the library is capable of supporting/doing or where the individual in charge (no matter what department) doesn’t value or understand the potential contribution.

The library and KM teams are a powerful force when connected and managed properly. Who does what shouldn’t depend on what part of the team someone is on. Look at the education, skills, experience, etc. to determine who should be doing what. If that isn’t done, and the library is relegated to doing what the stereotype describes and the librarian’s traditional role, that part of the team will suffer. Especially when they have already been playing many roles that the KM team may see as their turf only.

P.S.: For Rick, “connecting people to people and facilitating their ability to make sense of their collective information/knowledge, etc” has been a role the library has thrived on for many many years.


My comment to librarians regarding these two posts is as follows:

I have always said that librarians will be employed in law firms for a long time to come and have never been too concerned with those who have been painting a darker picture.  Lately, I’ve been doubting my stand on this topic and have been become more and more concerned with our future.

If we do not do something to change the perceptions that the rest of the law firm has about our skills, we will be marginalized.  With more lawyers out of work because of the economy, we should expect an influx of the same unemployed lawyers as library positions open in the near future.  As law firms decide that having a lawyer, who has demonstrated an acumen for research, in charge of the library,  we will see the numbers of professional librarians diminish.  Don’t think it won’t happen.  There are many law firms who still don’t get it.    Our associations should support us in changing that perception but I don’t think we can look for anyone to save us.  We each need to take action now! 

  • What do you or other library staff know/do that others in the firm do not know/do?
  • Does your firm understand that you have skills and knowledge that is unique?
  • Does your firm know that you have skills/knowledge that can be used in innovative ways?
  • Do you understand how you can innovate?
  • Do you have any ideas of how to start the discussion about the validity of their perception?
  • If you are fortunate to be working in a firm where you are valued, what advice do you have for others?

I am really hoping we can get a discussion going here through your comments.  If not here, then consider making a comment on Mary’s and/or Morgan’s blog.

Ignite the Web! Audio & Video in the Law webinar

Audio and video tools such as podcasting, YouTube and screencasting are lighting up the web, touching even the legal industry! Register now to join us in a webinar called Ignite the Web! Audio & Video in the Law. Prominent consultant Connie Crosby will give a lightning-fast tour through how these tools are being used in areas such as litigation, training, marketing, public relations, knowledge management and library staff professional development. The session will be held on Wednesday, February 10, 2010, from Noon to 1PM Central.

During the session, you will:

1. become aware of video use in the legal profession
2. become aware of options available to library staff for professional development learning via audio and video
3. learn options available for providing training using audio, video and screencasting

Cost:  $30 per person USD or $60 USD for groups of up to 10 from the same firm


Connie Crosby, Principal, Crosby Group Consulting
Connie works with organizations in the legal, library, publishing and non-profit areas and specializes in information management, knowledge management, and social networking.  She has over nineteen years experience as a law librarian, including ten years as Library Manager at WeirFoulds LLP in Toronto. Connie is also a blogger, podcaster, speaker, writer, and teacher. She is a director and core contributor to the prominent law blog, is a co-administrator of the Ning network Law Libraries and Librarians, is a regular panelist on the The Law Librarian podcast and has been blogging on her personal professional site since March 2004. She is an instructor with the Professional Learning Centre at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, teaching social networking tools to information professionals. She is a main organizer of the large annual event PodCamp Toronto for hobbyists and professionals working with new media. Connie is also author of the forthcoming book Effective Blogging for Libraries to be published in March by Neal-Schuman as part of their new Tech Set series.

Nina Platt, Principal Consultant
Nina Platt Consulting, Inc.
Owner and principal consultant, Nina Platt is a law librarian and former AmLaw 100 firm library director who has worked in law firms since 1986.  Her work in library management has spanned all but 4 of those years.  Nina believes the most effective law firm libraries are critical to both the business and practice of law and that achieving to build a business critical library can only be done through the use of business tools like strategic plans, business plans, business cases, and more.  She has written and delivered numerous articles, presentations, and papers on library and knowledge management topics.   

Questions?  Contact

How Powerful Are You?

Will you be  particpating in the economic recovery that is starting to take place?  The library publications and conferences have reported the news of libraries being downsized because of the economy along with the many other professions (including law) that have seen, what seems, more than their share of reductions.  With what looks like recovery in sight and the promise of more jobs during the next couple years, will our employers decide it is time to quit investing in managing information or at least decide it is not a priority?  Before that happens we can take action.

Decide That You Are Not Powerless.

Throughout the years we have complained about the perception people have of libraries and have worried about what to do about it.  The fact is that the perception exists.  We are seen as powerless people and treated in the same way by many.

In a recent Law Blog article, Ashby Jones reported on the discussion of unwritten rules in law firms that was start on and picked up by Legal Blog Watch.  His article, Ashby asked his readers to participate in writing the unwritten rules through comments, as had been done on the other blogs.  One comment caught my eye and started me thinking about how we can change the perception.  The commenter wrote:

Rule No. 1: Be kind to everyone, ESPECIALLY to those people who you might think have no power: the security staff, librarians, office cleaners, cafeteria personnel, administrative staff, skycaps, and restaurant waitstaff.

I include this, not because I see the other positions listed as powerless, but because the commenter included librarians among them.  Ouch!  My first reaction was to get angry, but I managed to shake off that somewhat unproductive feeling and start thinking about why someone would think we are powerless.  What causes this perception?

Don’t Wait For Others to Change the Stereotype

You might disagree with me, but, here’s my conclusion.

All articles that report on the “hip” librarians, the importance of libraries, the good that we as a profession do in the world, the miraculous feats we use to find that elusive fact, will not change the preconception that the public, our employers and sometimes our friends and family (yes, Dad, I am using my tuition to become a librarian) have of us.  That goes for all the initiatives and name changes our professional associations take on.  We have to do it ourselves.  How?

Can You Feel The Power?

I believe that the notion of powerlessness is at the core of this problem.   If you were asked to list the preconceptions that are held about librarians, you would probably list timid, fussy, myopic, cyberphobic (fearful of computers), metathesiophobic (fearful of change), and subservient.

OK, so there are some librarians, my high school librarian was among them, who have projected an image as the angry librarian whose interest is to control.   While they seem more powerful than the timid librarian, the source of their anger is most likely born out of frustration, fear, and yes, a feeling of being powerless.  Most often, a really powerful librarian that goes against these stereotypes is seen as being out of the norm.

Define Powerless

Let’s think of the word, powerless, for a minute.  Webster’s provides the following definition:

Function: adjective
Meaning: unable to act or achieve oneʼs purpose <I wish I could help you, but I am powerless in this situation>
Synonyms helpless, impotent, weak
Related Words incapable, incompetent, ineffective, ineffectual, inept, unfit, useless; feeble, frail, infirm, passive, spineless, supine, unaggressive
Near Antonyms able, capable, competent, effective, efficient; authoritarian, autocratic, despotic, dictatorial, magisterial, tyrannical (also tyrranic); dominant, dynamic, energetic, forceful, robust, sturdy, tough, vigorous; important, major, significant; high-level, senior, top
Antonyms mighty, potent, powerful, puissant, strong
Double ouch!  If powerless is how people perceive us, then we have problems, and we probably won’t  participate in the economic recovery in our future.
The Path to Powerlessness
I once learned that others can not take your power away from you, you have to give it away to be powerless.  I believe we give away our power every day and, as we do, we perpetuate the librarian stereotype.  Think about some messages you might give to yourself that might make you feel powerless.
  • I can’t change it
  • No one understands what I am trying to say
  • I can’t make people listen
  • It is too much of an obstacle to tackle
Now think of the messages you send to give others reasons to think of you as powerless.
  • The “powers that be” have decided
  • That’s a battle that isn’t worth fighting
  • No problem
Re-engage Your Power
If we want the world to see us in a different way, we need to think in a different way.  We may need to do it for some time, but eventually, the world will get the message that a librarian is intelligent, insightful, strategic, curious, and solution oriented.   Someone who doesn’t just manage and help people find information but also help them understand the value of information.
How do we proceed?
  • Learn to communicate
  • Quit accepting what others think instead of what you think
  • Manage your anger
  • Quit feeling sorry for yourself
  • Feel fear but keep going
  • Acknowledge you are right more often than not
  • Speak up!
  • Be assertive
  • Ask questions
  • Create a vision for the future
  • Share your ideas
  • If you are in a business library, learn about the business and think of your self as a business person first, librarian second
  • If you don’t like being thought of as a business person, find another type of library to work at where you fit in – your staying where you will give you a sense of being powerless and helps perpetuate the stereotype
  • Learn the language of other professions to improve communication
  • Keep working at it, you will see changes
  • Act as if
I know there are more, but this should give us a place to start.
An Aside for Those of Us Thinking We Need Out
Years after graduating from high school and college I visited my then aging high school librarian.  When I told her that I had become a librarian, she said, “Why the hell did you do that!”   If you are wondering why you became a librarian or if you became a librarian because you “love to read” and haven’t figured out why you stayed, Quit.
My apologies for being abrupt but you need to find another profession. In other words, if you are not able to see yourself in a new way, or you truly hate what you are doing, please move on to another career.  This will give those of us, who want to step up, a chance at becoming who we know we are and why we stayed.
To those of us who want to stay, we need to start believing in ourselves and our work.  If we don’t take action we will very likely see our profession go the way of video store clerks.  THAT scares me, as I cannot see myself doing anything other than what I am doing.  Yes, a paradigm shift is taking place in our workplaces.  We need to understand it and find our place rather than fear it.  This won’t be an easy task, but then (as they say), ” nothing that is worth doing is easy.”

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Competitive Intelligence in Law Firms Survey Results

During the end of April and early May of this year, at the request of ILTA Knowledge Management Vice President, Catherine Monte, NPCI asked the directors of the NLJ 250 to respond to a survey regarding how their firms were approaching CI.  With 77 firms responding, we received the following results. 

  •  75.4% are performing some type of competitive intelligence with another 8.8% not doing so yet but are in the planning phase
  • 12.3% have a formal CI program
  • 39.3%  have management or executive committee endorsement
  • 61.5% are seeing the CI request increasing with 7.7% decreasing and 28.2% remaining steady
  • 23.7% are seeing funding for CI increasing with 7.9% decreasing and 55.3% remaining steady
  • 49% of those doing CI research report to the library with 16.3% reporting to marketing, 20.4% reporting to Library/Marketing, 2% reporting to practice group leaders and 20.4% undefined

The following list of resources are those that reporting firms are using to do CI research:

Resources Used In NLJ 250 Law firms for Competitive Intelligence



Capital IQ       


Deal Pipeline  

Debt Market





Incisive Legal Intelligence



Leadership Directories


Lexis AdVantage

Lexis Company Dossier

Lexis Courtlink

Mergent Online






Reference USA

SNL Financial

Thomson Financial Services


West Deal Monitor

West IP Monitor

West Litigation Monitor


Yahoo Finance



We will be posting additional information from the survey at a future date.  In the meantime, we would love to get your feedback on this information including resources you use that are not on the list above.

~ Nina Platt

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Law Librarians’ Role in Developing Associates

If you received your print (and very glossy) copy of the PLMW Magazine, you no doubt read Barbara Holt’s article,  the Law LIbrarians’ Role in Developing Associates.    Her article is submitted on behalf of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL).  This is the 2nd edition of the magazine which supports Professional Legal Management Week.  As stated on the website for the organization that represents 12 co-sponsoring professional organizations, PLMW “provides a forum for recognizing those in legal management for what they do and the role they play in the success of the organization, and in its service to its clients and those who work in the organization.”

Barbara’s article provides an insightful look at the challenges and resulting ideas and innovation used in developing research skills in summer and new associates. Her library’s approach to this charge can be held up as best practices that we as librarians may all want to use.  The description she gives of her library’s program for working with new associates demonstrates exactly what PLMW exists for.  The purpose as stated above is to shine a light on the roles in legal management that are often overlooked in an industry that focuses more on the reason it exists – lawyers, rather than those that work with them. 

What are you doing for PLMW?

Creating a Successful Law Firm Intranet Series: Webinar 3 – Develop

We’ve opened registration for the third webinar in our current series titled “Creating a Successful Law Firm Intranet.”  This one is on Developing with Users, and continues the discussions about our five-phased intranet development approach, which includes research, design, development, rollout, and measurement/maintenance.  Register for the third session, or register for the rest of the series.  Options are available to purchase a recording of each of the first two sessions when registering. 

WEBINAR 3: Developing with users.

     Wednesday, July 23  Noon -1:00 PM Central Time

In this session you will learn:

  • Five pitfalls to avoid during development of your intranet.
  • How to create a test plan to ensure success.

This session is once again moderated by Nina Platt of Nina Platt Consulting, and presented by Amy Witt and Laurie Southerton, along with another law firm case study.  Other details include:

FEE: $30.00 US Save 15% when 5 or more attendees register from the same firm.


REGISTRATION:  Registration is by credit card or check. Registrations received after July 22, 2008 may not be accepted depending on space availability.  

SUBSTITUTIONS: Institutions that have remitted payment of the required fee are permitted to substitute a replacement attendee from the same institution in place of the original registrant at any time. 

GROUP REGISTRATIONS: Save 15% when 5 or more attendees register from the same firm. Please refer to the instructions on the registration form for registering more than one person for the event.

Mark your calendars for the next 2 webinars in this series:


Webinar 4: You built it, now will they come? Plan the successful intranet rollout. 
Wednesday, August 20  Noon -1:00 PM Central Time   


Webinar 5: Measure & Maintain: Planning for your Intranet’s future.
Wednesday, September 24  Noon -1:00 PM Central Time

We hope you will join us for another informative session!