Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

Second webinar a success – Creating a Successful Law Firm Intranet 5-part series

We just finished presenting the second webinar in a five-part series on Creating a Successful Law Firm Intranet.  This time the topic was intranet design, and we included the five areas of intranet design as well as a law firm case study.  Amy Witt talked about requirements, project plans, and staffing; Laurie Southerton talked about architecture and visual design; and Meredith Williams gave an inside look at the design process within her firm, Baker Donelson.  The session was well-attended and jam-packed with great information!

After the session, a response to some feedback was posted on the Law Firm Intranet blog regarding the role of the library and your intranet.  During the webinar session, librarians were inadvertently left off the list of those who should be involved, which was obviously an oversight.  We won’t let that happen again!

The next three webinars in the series will focus on the next consecutive phases of intranet design: develop, rollout, and maintain/measure.  Mark your calendars to attend, and more information will be posted as registration opens for each session.  For those of you who want to hear it all, there will be an option to purchase the rest of the series as well as purchase recordings of the first two sessions.

Webinar 3Intranet Development: Develop with users.
     Wednesday, July 23 12-1:00 p.m. CDT

Webinar 4: You built it, now will they come? Plan the successful Intranet rollout.
     Wednesday, August 20 12-1:00 p.m. CDT

Webinar 5: Measure & maintain: Planning your Intranet’s future.
Wednesday, September 24 12-1:00 p.m. CDT

Stay tuned for more details.

-Amy Witt

Planning for the Law Library of the Future

Planning for a law firm library that meets the needs of its users may seem like a very large task in this age of new technologies that have and continue to drive change in the legal profession. Actually, the planning, if done proactively (rather than responding to needs as they arise), is the easy part. The implementation of that plan is the most difficult challenge – especially if the needs keep changing.

To simplify planning, library directors and the people they report to, could break the whole into parts and address them in a consecutive order. The image below outlines the parts of a law firm library plan and the order in which to do the planning. The parts, in order, are Lawyer Needs, Resources, Services, Staff, Processes, and Technology.

Lawyer Needs:

Before beginning to plan for a new or reinvented library, the needs of the users, generally lawyers must be assessed. This can be done with an information/knowledge audit where the lawyers are interviewed individually or in groups and/or surveys are distributed to garner needs. Information/knowledge audits can be done by library staff but it may be a good time to hire someone from the outside to take a fresh look at what’s needed. Alternatively, if the leadership of the library is new, that fresh look could be done in-house.


While this part of the plan is not a plan for all resources, it will provide a starting place for determining what print or electronic resources need to be purchased or subscribed to in order to support the law firm’s practices. The information/knowledge audit should assist the firm in learning what the basic sources are and what format the users are willing to use for those resources. At the same time, there are options that reduce the shelving space needed for the library and bring both efficiencies and effectiveness to lawyer research that should be considered for phasing in over time.


The information/knowledge audit will also point out services that the lawyers and staff need. Follow-up interviews with those who indicate they are interested in a new service or in changing an existing service, will garner more information for planning services. Traditional services include:

  • Reference
  • Legal research
  • Collection development
  • Cataloging
  • Processing materials
  • Purchase of resources and payment of same
  • Management of the physical library
  • Current awareness (routing of newsletters and periodicals)

Less traditional and new services taken on by library staff in law firms include:

  • Business research
  • Marketing research
  • Competitive intelligence research
  • Technical, scientific, and medical research
  • Knowledge management
  • Intranet management
  • Conflicts
  • Records management
  • Training on research resources
  • Evaluation of electronic resources before purchase
  • Current awareness (electronic delivery that is not limited to the newsletters and periodicals subscribed to by the firm)


Staffing the law firm library at the appropriate level is not often understood by firm management. If the information/knowledge audit uncovers unmet needs, it may mean resources and services that require additional staff. Many firms think that the library staff can be smaller in size with the availability of electronic access to information. If anything, the opposite is true. The addition of electronic resources generally increases the workload of library staff.

In the past, a book was a book. Those who needed to use a book, were trained from childhood. Electronic resources bring new challenges. The need to train is greater as is the complexity of evaluating resources for purchase. In addition, more information is available that was not available in the past. As the information has grown exponentially, the need for using that information has grown as well. Lawyers are trained to do legal research. Librarians are trained to research within any source or subject area. Their training makes them experts in finding information where ever it may reside and in whatever format. It also makes them the likely candidates for providing cost effective non-legal research.

Every firm’s library needs will be different depending on their practice and the lawyers expectation for resources and services. This makes it difficult to continue to use the ratios that have been in existence for 30+ years. Those ratios of lawyer to library staff are for a library that no longer exists. Trying to hold on to those ratios will not serve the firm well. Determine staffing levels by reviewing firm needs and expectations of resources and services and planning accordingly.


So far, this discussion has been about the “what” and “who” of planning for the law firm library. Processes are about the “how”. How will the specific tasks needed to provide resources and services be done? What are the most cost effective means and tools for completing these tasks? For example, ordering, receiving, processing, and shelving or delivery of resources must be proceduralized in detail to be done effectively. Additionally, the most effective way to manage collections is done using a library management system. The high-level plan does not need to include the detail of each process but should lay out a roadmap for creating the processes.


The plan must have a technology component that is a high-level look at the processes to determine how and what technology should be used. It should include plans that outline what technology to purchase and what vendors to consider for those purchases. It also would outline the process for reviewing and selecting vendors. Yes, this is Information Technology’s purview, but library staff needs to be involved as users of the products that will be used to manage the library, and as users and advocates for users of the electronic research resources.


The image above is circular to denote that the planning process is never done. As the world changes, so does law and the lawyers who practice it. Those changes will continue to change the needs of the lawyers and their staff and those needs will mean changes in the library. During the last 10 years, significant change worldwide has had a dramatic impact on law firms and their libraries. No one could predict back then what would happen and be correct. Planning is that type of exercise. You create the plan and make changes to it over time to adjust for new needs.
Note: While there is no discussion of budget in this post, the plan will create a need for a budget. A follow-up post will discuss the budget process.

PLL/SIS Toolkit – An Important Element for Implementing a Private Law Library Strategy

j0382971.jpgThe American Association of Law Libraries (“AALL”) and the Private Law Libraries Special Interest Section (“PLL”) have long been a good resource for a private law librarian who is looking for support in communicating needs to management and to their firm.  The PLL Toolkit, which was published years ago, was used by many librarians to inform decision makers about the library and its staff.  Available only in a print format, the Toolkit was greatly missed as it went out of print.

The PLL Resource Guide Series, Law Librarians : Making Information Work was directed at law firm administrators and managers who may be deciding to hire their first librarian or need information about space planning, the changing role of law librarians, and other topics. 

I used these publications to assist my administrator and firm leaders in their understanding of the value of the firm library.  The most successful use was in convincing the partner in charge of a branch office of the need to hire the first branch librarian at the firm.  The series continues to be available for sale almost 10 years after the initial publication.  While in need of some updating, it is still useful.

Fast forward to the present and we will find that PLL has once again published the PLL Toolkit, this time on the group’s web site.   Created by a team of private firm librarians, under the leadership of LaJean Humphries, Library Manager at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, PC, the kit includes information on:

Most of the topics are accompanied by subject bibliographies outlining additional resources. 

I have to admit that I didn’t realize the wealth of information this toolkit represented until recently.   If you haven’t spent time reviewing the great information the Toolkit provides, I would recommend that you do so now.  You will be glad you did.


5 Reasons Librarians are Better than Search Engines.

j0409425.jpgI have long agreed with Danny Sullivan of on most things but I have to respectfully disagree with one of his recent comments with regard to Microsoft’s and Google’s book digitization projects.  Sullivan, quoted in In Microsoft vs Google, Search is True Prize published in the Guardian Unlimited on February 2, 2008 and currently available via the Semantic Web Company website, said:

The projects are strategic, said Danny Sullivan, Editor-in-Chief of Sullivan said Google sets the tone by spending large sums of money to develop new businesses without rushing to make money back. Books is one example. It undertakes many “pie-in-the-sky” projects betting some will become big money-spinners once they are popular, allowing Google to sell advertising alongside them.  “Microsoft and Google are both building libraries and the way you get the books off the shelves at these digital libraries is through their search engine. Their search engine is an electronic librarian,” Sullivan said.  “The battle shouldn’t be over getting the books, the battle should be over who is building the best librarian.”

Yes, search engines have come a long way since the 1990s, but they have not reached the capabilities that would put them kin to a librarian.  What skills and knowledge to librarians possess that search engines don’t?

  • Librarians have critical thinking skills that allow them to look at a question from many angles before working on the answer. 
  • Librarians understand nuances that aren’t contained in the text of a book or web site.
  • Librarians have muti-dimensional problem solving skills.  They understand that questions could lead to more questions and answers could lead to more problems.
  • Librarians recognize differences in their users that search engines have yet to learn.  Humans know more about human motivation than computers could ever understand.  
  • Librarians ask questions.  They are taught to ferret out the researcher’s real question through reference interviews.  Researchers often don’t know how to ask the right question to get the answer they are seeking.  Reference interviews aren’t set questions and answers that a computer can put forth and understand.  They are discussions between two human beings that lead to a better understanding of the question by both parties and better answers for the researcher.

My sister, while doing some research recently, likened searching on the internet to setting off fireworks.  The search is like an explosion that sends millions of answers off in several directions much like a firework can send fire and color up into the night for all to see.  While reviewing one set of answers, another set of fireworks could be set off distracting you from what you already found and taking you further away from what you need.  There is no one to guide you to the right materials.

Building a better librarian (er, search engine) is a lofty goal and we all know we need better search engines.  However, thinking of a search engine as a librarian is a bit short sighted.  I’ve worked with good librarians who, while even using bad search engines, find information we would have thought could not be found or used a few years back. 

If an improved search engine could make a resources easier to find, think of what a librarian with a good search engine could do for your company.  A search engine, no matter how good it gets, is still a tool.  Librarians add a human element to online researching.  They are the guides that can keep fireworks associated with holidays, not searching.

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“Secondary” Research gets Its Cred with CI Professionals

Traditional competitive intelligence (CI) professionals are finally getting what librarians have known for years – what they call secondary research has its merits.  Evidence of this change of view will be provided to members of the The Iowa Chapter of SCIP at a program presented tomorrow (Nov 30th) titled CURRENT & CREATIVE COLLECTION TECHNIQUES FOR RESEARCH PROFESSIONALS.

In the past, when attending SCIP meetings, I would hear from speakers that primary research was the way to go with secondary research being a fall back when needed.  During a webinar on CI that I attended, Leonard Fuld responded to a question regarding librarians as CI professionals by saying they weren’t suited.  While I think we have some work to do on developing analysis skills (generally speaking, as some librarians do a great job of analysis), I do think there is a huge role for librarians to play in CI.

Given the fact that librarians are expert in what the traditional CI professionals call secondary research,  those professionals would be wise to team up with librarians in their larger organizations or look to librarians as potential hires as part of a CI team.  Our skills can’t be learned in a one day session, no matter how good it is.

Any thoughts from the librarians working in the competitive intelligence arena?  Any thoughts from traditional CI professionals?

“The Librarians” debut on ABC in Australia

Love, betrayal, revenge.  Strictly Non-Fiction Comedy.

Librarians seem to be hungry to see librarians portrayed on the big screen or in this case, on television.  ABC in Australia is airing 6 episodes of “The Librarian” which is set in a public library.  I can’t say the story line excites me but it is still the nod that we all seem to desire.  The Australian Library and Information Association is showing its support with ‘The Librarians 2007 Blog’.  If this sounds like your kind of entertainment, relax, you don’t have to go to Australia to see it.  Full episodes are available at the show’s website.

If you want to know more about what went into the creation of the program, You can read the ALIA blog for an interview with the creators or view the following promo.

Now if we could just have a law librarian sitcom.

The Stupid-Questions Answer People

While reading the article “Survival Tips for Summer Associates Entering the Real World of Law Firms” written by The Snark, humor columnist for the Fulton County Daily Report, I couldn’t help but think of librarians.  The Snark provides new associates tips on their first days in their firms, admonishing them to not joke about their salaries, not plan any free time, not ask stupid questions, and hide their pens.  While we can’t help them with the first two and, I have to admit, I would be the first to eye a nice pen, we certainly know about stupid questions.

Actually, I think we know that, for a first year associate who has been thrown in feet first, there are no stupid questions.  The orientation we did at my last firm for summer and fall associates always ended with encouraging them to contact the library if they thought they had a stupid question.  We told them that the library was their safe haven if they ran into something they didn’t know how to proceed with, we didn’t judge, and most importantly, we had no impact on whether they were hired. 

When these same summer and fall associates started with the firm, we reminded them of the safe haven and told them that our goal was to help them achieve success.  We also assigned a librarian to each of them to act as research mentor (an idea I picked up while visiting Trish Thomas at Alston & Bird).  The librarians would check in periodically to see if there was anything they could help with and remind them that they were available if something came up.  They also coached them in online research by sharing usage reports and explaining online research costs.

If all this makes us the stupid-questions answer people described in The Snark’s article, than I would wear the label proudly.  In my mind, there are few things more satisfying than watching a new associate grow into an expert legal researcher.  The added benefit to all this is the new associate becoming a return customer of library or information resource services through out their careers.