Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

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.

Cost Recovery : The Basics

I will be presenting a program, Cost Recovery : The Basics via webinar for the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), Private Law Libraries Special Interest Section (PLL) on February 13, 2008 at Noon (12:00pm EST).    This is the first of a two part series on cost recovery that PLL is sponsoring with a Continuing Professional Education (CPE) grant from AALL.  Click on the title above for more information.


5 Strategies for Developing Technology Know How

j0402233.jpgI am often asked how I learned about technology. I have to say that I’ve had little formal training as I started out unless you count the 3 day training session North Dakota held for librarians in 1982. I was a director of a mid-sized public library at the time and (if I must admit) quite a bit younger.

The North Dakota State Library had decided it wanted to replace the teletype machines that were in city/county libraries that we used for interlibrary loan requests. The goal of the training was to give us everything we needed to know to purchase a computer, modem and communications software, get it set up and running, and teach our staff to send interlibrary loan requests as they came in.

The computer we purchased had 640k RAM and one 5 ¼ floppy disk. The modem had a baud rate of 312. In other words, the computers we first used did not have much power or speed.

But, I digress. The training was a great base for what I would learn later. We learned how the computer worked from the ground up. Up until then I had only used an OCLC terminal as a work-study student and some type of computer that required a coupler to send messages while at my first job. The training I received during those 3 days in North Dakota not only allowed me to go back to my library and set things up, it also helped me understand better how the hardware and software worked going forward.

Next came building databases and managing the library system at my first law firm position, along with trying to make DOS CD-ROMs work on Macs. I also took a great class where I learned how to take a computer apart and put it back together.  A process that took the mystery out of how the computer worked.

In the next position I taught myself HTML and learned more about databases.  While consulting for a short stint between positions, I learned more about library systems, web development and how a networked was set up.  I also took a class on how to evaluate electronic resources with addtional classes in project management and systems development as part of an MBA degree I have yet to complete.  Throughout my career I’ve consistently worked to learn more about the various enterprise applications from a user perspective but keeping the big picture in mind – thinking about integration with knowledge management initiatives and more.

At my last firm, I learned more about web development including gathering user requirements and delivering them in the form of an intranet.  Most importantly, I learned that technology needed to be tied to the firm’s goals and objectives and that technology for the sake of technology meant nothing. I also learned how to help people transition through the changes that technologies bring to their lives.  I would not say all the change initiatives went smoothly, but understanding the people side of change and acting on it made a difference.

So, what would I recommend for those of you who are just starting out, want to learn more and don’t have formal training?

  1. Attend training that gives you the basics. You can read to pick this up as well but nothing takes the place of a hands-on class where you can ask questions.

  2. Attend training that takes you beyond the basics. Even if the training doesn’t appear to apply to you, you will pick up something you can use later.

  3. Volunteer for projects that give you exposure to technology – requiring you to learn. I have always found that it was easier to learn something if it made a difference.

  4. Ask questions. I have always been treated very well when I asked IT to explain something I didn’t understand. Just like us, they like to be able to demonstrate what they know.

  5. Read whatever you have time to read on the topic of the use of technology and, most importantly, specific topics that interest you.  As of late, my interests have been in using technology for knowledge management which to me encompasses many topics. 

The bottom line here is to be inquisitive and willing to explore.  Also, don’t focus on becoming an expert in technology.  Instead, learn enough to be able to see the big picture and how the library fits into that picture, converse with technical staff and plan for the future.

This article was originally published in the MALL Newsletter, Sept/Oct Issue.


7 & 1/2 Tips for the 2007 Class of New Librarians

With all the blog posts and articles being published today that deliver advice and tips for new law firm associates, I decided we should do the same for new librarians.  It’s been a while since I’ve been a new librarian but I still have some sense of what they are experiencing.  I’ve also been very lucky to be able to work with a number of new librarians over the last few years.  You may have other words of advise for new librarians than what I think is important.  If so, I invite you to leave comments with tips you would like to share.  So here goes:

  1. Take a deep breath and look for someone to assist you if you are asked to do a project where you have no clue where you should start.  If you are in a library with multiple staff, the librarian that hired you and the librarians around you expect you to ask questions and as I said in an earlier post, there are no dumb questions.  If you are the only librarian, find a mentor that you can talk to when you run into tough situations.   Librarians love to share (at least most of us do).  You will do well to find a more experienced librarian wiyh whom you feel comfortable and ask if she will take on mentoring you.
  2. Say “Let me get back to you” if you have to scramble to figure out the answer to a tough question.  Never do it in front of your client or while they are on the phone – it doesn’t build their confidence that you know what you are doing.  Instead, tell them that you will need to check on the answer and get back to them.  At the same time, don’t make what you did look like magic.  Saying “it was no problem” diminishes your work.  Even if they are amazed at the speed in which you got back to them and even more amazed by the work, fight the urge to make it look like a mystery.  You might instead, tell them how you found it, which in many cases is even more amazing.
  3. Be open to the fact that the theory you learned in school may not apply to all situations in the real world.  In many cases, the theories for today’s challenges haven’t been developed.   When faced with a decision that has no precedent in your library or others, get input from your clients and staff and make a decision.  It may be right or it may be wrong.  You will not know for a bit.  The important thing is to move forward – even if you have to take a step back if it doesn’t work.  If we waited to make all decisions until someone else has laid the groundwork, we would not be able to keep up and will eventually would be overwhelmed.
  4. Take your responsibility to provide correct answers and good decisions seriously.  Admit mistakes and let anyone affected by your mistakes know that the answer or decision you made needs to be looked at again.  There is no room for mistakes with many lawyers, but if you admit the mistake and offer a solution to repair the situation, your credibility will survive at a higher level than someone finding the mistake on their own. 
  5. Be professional in all you do.  Start by providing the best customer service you are capable of giving.  If you place a high value on customer service, being an effective member of whatever team you are on,  and continuous improvement of your skills, professionalism will follow.   Complaints, gossip, and a sense of entitlement detract from being a professional.  If you aren’t customer service oriented, get moving in that direction.
  6. Take chances.  Dale Carnegie said, “All life is a chance.  The man who goes farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare.”  Somewhere in my upbringing, I was taught to be a risk taker.  I can blame my dad more than I can blame my mom, who I normally has to take the heat for both good and not-so-good parts of my personality.  It may have been because I was part of a large family where we needed to take risks to stand out.  It may come naturally to some and be difficult for others to do but without risk not much changes and we don’t move ahead.  In this day of massive change, we need to take risks to make a difference and, as in my family, to stand out.
  7. Ask what terms mean.  All to often, we forget how much of our language is jargon and expect new staff to know what we are talking about.  Additionally, in law firm libraries where there is more work than staff, preparing to train new staff may be given short shrift.  If the orientation you get is less than useful, turn the problem into something positive and show your leadership skills at the same time by offering to put together materials to be used for the next staff member’s orientation.   You are in the best position to know what is needed.

One final thought, If you are working with lawyers or other busy professionals, who may sometimes be less than cordial, remember Stuart Smalley’s affirmation, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog-gone it, people like me.”  There are times our confidence gets shaken, even with years of experience.  When that happens, don’t let it prevent you from being the best dog-gone librarian you can be!


Developing Business Relationships: The Art of Staying on the Island

I have to admit that I am an avid Survivor fan – the television program where contestants try to “outwit, outplay, and outlast their competitors”.  They spend a lot of time talking about “playing the game”.  Called strategy, gamesmanship, or politics,  playing the game conjures up scary images and even scarier memories for some of us.  What I find interesting on Survivor is that most of the contestants have no idea how to play the game.  You get to watch individuals going about their day thinking they are in control of their existence on the island, when in reality, they are probably the next person to be voted off. 

They are like many of us who need to learn how to stay in the game, get a place at the table, play ball, and other clichéd descriptions of being political.  What do we need to learn to be part of the Final Four and ultimately the Survivor?  Recent articles on and provide some answers to that question. 

How to Build Your Credibility and Increase Your Political Power, an article on, written by Patty Azzarello, addresses the issue from a CIO perspective.  While we aren’t all CIOs, the article does put forth some ideas we could all benefit from.  They are:

Credibility and political power go hand in hand. 

Political power does not come from technology, it comes only from relationships.

CIOs can build their credibility and political power by focusing on two fundamental actions: managing what you are known for and building a communication plan for your stakeholders.

You can substitute whatever your area of expertise is for technology in the second sentence and find what you know will never be as important as who you know.  Sad but true.  Yet, while this last statement seems negative, it is what it is, so, we are better off doing something about it than wishing it wasn’t so.

How to Win at Office Politics, an article on, written by Kelly Pate Dwyer, offers advise that is a bit more practical.  Ms. Dwyer breaks what we can do into 5 steps, providing sidebars with useful information.  The five steps are:

  1. Figure out Why (and IF) You Want to Play – Let what’s most important to you guide your actions.
  2. Create Strong Relationships – Build the personal network you need to reach your goals.
  3. Observe & Listen – Gain the insight to predict and avoid roadblocks, and take advantage of scoring opportunities.
  4. Promote Yourself, Tactfully – Make yourself visible and indispensable.
  5. Help your Colleagues – Gain respect and leverage, and get help in return.

The focal point of both articles is the need to build relationships.   How, you ask?  There are many articles and books on the topic.   The book Relationship Edge in Business: Connecting With Customers and Colleagues When It Counts by Jerry Acuff provides a how to on building and maintaining business relationships. 

I can tell you that developing these skills is not easy for those of us who are introverted, and, while extroverts may find it a bit easer to develop the relationships needed to be successful, it is still difficult work.  They are essential, however, and worth the work.  Besides the articles and book listed above, additional books that may be useful are:

Influence Without Authority, written by Allen R Cohen and David L Bradford, 2nd edition, 2005.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, written by Robert B Cialdini, 2006.

I’m not suggesting you adopt the Machiavellian viewpoint of “the ends justify the means” using any means to stay in power and build support (which, by the way, is not as Machiavellian as it sounds, but that is another post.)  I do believe, however, that we need to be strategic in our work to stay on the island.  

The Knowledgeable Librarian (Do you know what your librarian knows?)

Librarians have always worn many hats as they have run their libraries. 

As a Director of the Carnegie Library in a small city in North Dakota, I was responsible for human resources, accounting, grant writer, fundraiser, marketing/public relations, facilities, information technology (it was 1982 and we had one computer), and whatever else the Library Board asked me to do.  I even remember taking on the job of purchasing a toilet at the Home of Economy and finding a plumber to install it in the Boys Restroom in the library.  I had a staff of three but they already had responsibilities that kept them busy. 

Today, librarians continue to wear many hats that give them skills most people wouldn’t rattle off if they talked about what a librarian needs to know. Since my time as a public librarian, I’ve had many experiences and taken advantage of learning opportunities whenever I could.

The library directors and managers that I know best today did the same. Whatever we didn’t know, we learned. What worked for us was the love of learning. Any librarian, who is worth their salt, is a life long learner. So, what skills do you need to be a library director and more specifically, a law firm library director or manager. The following lists, that I developed with help from my friends, tell the story.

Business skills:  Includes basic business skills/roles along with some skills/roles unique to librarians.

  • Strategic Planning
  • Staff Management & Development
  • Interviewing (staff and clients)
  • Leadership
  • Influencing Change
  • Change Management (people side) 
  • Project Management
  • Business Process Improvement
  • Use of Metrics & Surveys
  • Marketing/Public relations
  • Networking
  • Negotiation
  • Accounting/Budget Development & Tracking
  • Marketing Research/Competitive Intelligence
  • Communications (oral and written)
  • Copyright laws
  • License negotiations
  • Educator/Trainer
  • Library Facilities Planning

Organizational Knowledge:  Library directors/managers need to build knowledge around the following:

  • Law Firm Management and Firm Financials
  • Practice of Law (litigation and transactional) and Practice Areas
  • Technology used by the Firm.
  • Legal Market – the market law firms do business in
  • Legal Information Market – the market the library vendors do business in

Technology: Law firm library directors need to understand the technology used by their firm. In some cases the knowledge is needed as background, but in many cases, librarians actively work with the following technologies in many firms.

  • Accounting System
  • Library Management Systems
  • Knowledge Management
  • Content Management
  • Document Management
  • Client Relation Management
  • Intranet/Portal Strategy and Design
  • Search Engines
  • Taxonomies
  • Usability

I’m sure these aren’t complete lists. If you have ideas of other skills needed by law firm library directors and managers, please leave a comment.