Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.


Using Strategy to Stay Relevant in 2009

This is the first article in a series that  will cover how to handle what is predicted to be a less than easy 2009.

If all the naysayers are correct with their predictions for 2009, we are in for a wild and sometimes unhappy ride.  I tend to be more of a “glass half full” thinker so have had a tough time believing that things should get as dire as “they” are saying.    That said, a discussion that I had with the investment counselor recently really made me feel better.  His company is predicting that we will see a turn around starting by mid year.

This time last year, I decided to get through the recession that was coming by ignoring it.  Since that approach didn’t work and since it is still a few months off from mid year, it would make sense for me (and you) to think more strategically to get through what lies ahead.  Here are some strategic actions to think about:

Find out how the firm’s strategy has changed.  In the past the firm may have been in expansion mode.  This may still be true but with variations.  I would ask for a meeting with your manager or both your manager and the person she reports to.  Invite them to lunch and ask the simple question, “How does the current economic situation change the firm’s overall strategy?”  If you don’t know what that overall strategy is, ask for that information as well. 

In preparation for this meeting, call a meeting with any lead staff to discuss what the answer to the previous question may be, and whether there are any ideas about how to support new strategies.  If you are a solo librarian, do your own brainstorming or gather a group of solos together to discuss what each of you can do within your firms.  However you do it, arrive at the meeting you have arranged prepared to suggest actions you can take to support new strategies the firm has formed.

Demonstrate that you are a leader and a strategic one at that.  For those of you who think that the last suggestion of action would be an impossible task, that no one would accept a lunch invitation, least of all tell you anything, you’ve got to start thinking that nothing ventured is nothing gained.  Step out of your comfort zone and take a chance.   Not much get’s accomplished as a leader without that leader believing in herself.

Ask, “What can I do?” or “What can my department do?”  Now is not the time to think protectively about what you’ve built while in your position.  If your firm is trying to move ahead with the same strategies, just at a slower pace, the services you provide may not change.  If the firm’s strategy has changed, you need to think about how your services will change to meet the challenges ahead.

Involve your staff.  Whatever the answer is to the previous question, invite staff to a brainstorming session to discuss the future, any suggestions from management, and how you, as a team, can support their ideas or the actions you agreed upon at the meeting.  Involving staff helps them to know what to expect and calms them.  Disappearing behind closed doors to develop a plan of action, will increase any anxiety they already have, given the economic situation at hand. 

Do less with less.  You will hopefully have had the discussion with your manager before your administration calls you with orders to downsize, or worse yet, with the names of the individuals who they’ve decided need to be laid off and have developed a plan that includes current staffing levels.  If you have input into what actions you need to take, start discussions about what services are really necessary and what you can eliminate. 

If you have the same experience as me in law firms, you are already being asked to do more than your staffing levels can reasonably support.  So, if the worst action your firm takes is to freeze the hiring of new staff or positions opened through attrition, don’t try to keep up the same level of staff output as before.  Yes, you will need to reassign tasks but, before doing so:

  • Spend time talking with staff about what tasks are really necessary
  • Look for ways to reduce steps/tasks currently being done to provide a service
  • Review your services to determine which services are being used the least and eliminate them if possible
  • Talk to lawyers and staff to find out what services you provide are the most important to them
  • Consider how technology can reduce workload
  • Determine what special projects can be postponed

If your meeting proposal wasn’t accepted or you chose not to meet with management, and the downsizing is ordered or done without your input (and hopefully, you are still there – which is a good reason to set up the meeting with management in the first place),  do the same thinking about what you can accomplish with the remaining staffing level.   Doing more with less may work but will surely create more angst (although using technology may actually help you do more with less).

Assist your staff during any transition.  The staff that remain after layoffs, need your support.  They are most likely frightened that they are next and feel over worked and under appreciated.  Unless you address their feelings and manage their workload they may leave, or worse yet, leave in spirit but stay in body.

Make your services and staff relevant.   Whatever actions you take to get there, make sure that you are providing the most relevant services you can for the situation at hand.   Again, this may take you outside your comfort zone but you will be stronger and more strategic for your efforts. 

Consider using a consultant to assist you with determining the actions you need to take.  Shameless plug:  Nina Platt Consulting provides information audit, staffing study, and integration services.  The goal of these services is to assist libraries and their firms to determine the best equation in terms of services and staffing.  Previous projects that we’ve undertaken have helped identify:

  • What library/information resources and services are most appropriate for the firm’s goals
  • How tasks should be distributed between staff
  • What tasks can be automated or made easier with technology
  • What tasks can be made self service through integration of technology (leaving the more complex tasks (mainly research) for the library staff to do)
  • What tasks can be outsourced/outtasked

We also offer training on these topics as well.

Tomorrow’s article will focus on managing expenses.

Resources for Learning About Information Audits

One of the questions that came out of the Business Case webinar we did last week was in regard to information audits.  What resources would you recommend for learning more about information audit? 

Information audits are one of the best tools we have for learning about lawyer needs.  You can conduct an audit when you are new to a firm and want to learn about the needs of the lawyers quickly, are onboarding a number of laterals or when the firm merges or acquires another firm.  In addition to using the audit when something changes, it should be used periodically (every 2-3 years).

FreePint publishes a report on information auditing.  They also publish articles from excerpts of the report.  Here’s the information about those reports and articles:

Henczel, Sue. Information Auditing Report and Toolkit, FreePint, 2007.  A sample of that report is available at

Henczel, Sue. Preparing and Planning an Audit, FreePint, October 2007. 

Wood, Steve.  Information Auditing: Key Concepts and How to get Started,  FreePint, November 2004.,  p.8.  [Note: this is an excerpt from a FreePint report: Information auditing: a guide for information managers (2004).

Other Information Audit Resources

In addition to the FreePint reports, there are a number of articles about conducting an information audit from a number of sources.  I’ve listed some of them here.  While some of the articles may seem dated, they still have value in defining the process.

Botha, Hannarei and J.A. Boon.  The Information Audit: Principles and Guidelines (PDF), Libri,  2003, pp. 21-38.

DiMattia, Susan S and Lynn Blumenstein.  “In Search of the Information Audit: Essential Tool or Cumbersome Process?”  Library Journal, March 1, 2001.

Dobson, Chris.  Beyond the Information Audit: Checking the Health of an Organization’s Information System, Searcher, July/August 2002.

Henczel, Sue.  The Information Audit as the First Step Towards Effective Knowledge Management, Information Outlook, June 2001

Jones, Rebecca and Bonnie Burwell.  “Information Audits: Building a Critical Process”, Searcher,  January 2004.

Finally, Connie Crosby recommended a class on information audits titled Information Audit & Mapping: From Idea to Action. University of Toronto, November 13-14, 2008.

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!

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Looking for Guest Writers/Reporters

Are you going to the AALL meeting in Portland next week?  If so, would you be willing to be a guest writer/reporter of a review(s) on the following programs that have a focus on management/planning/strategy?

AMPC Programming

A3: Educating the “C” People: Engage Your Decision Makers and Help Them to Evolve Sunday, July 13, 2008
1:30 PM – 2:45 PM
C2: Strategic Plans That Work: Creating a Strategic Plan for a Law Library Sunday, July 13, 2008
4:15 PM – 5:15 PM
E3: The Evolving Role of the Solo Librarian: How to Do It All without Losing Your Mind Monday, July 14, 2008
9:45 AM – 10:30 AM
E6: Fostering and Recruiting the Next Generation of Law Librarians Monday, July 14, 2008
9:45 AM – 10:30 AM
G1: Beyond Volume Count: Exploring the Evolving Tools for Evaluating Library Quality Monday, July 14, 2008
4:00 PM – 5:15 PM
K4: Marketing Your Library: Exploring New Technologies to Create Evolving Newsletters That Energize Your Patrons Tuesday, July 15, 2008
3:30 PM – 4:00 PM
W4: “So Now You’re Conflicts”/”So Now You’re Docket”: The Evolving Law Firm Library Manager Saturday, July 12, 2008
12:00 PM – 5:30 PM

SIS Programming

CS-SIS Hot Topic I: Keeping up with technology: advice for librarians Monday, July 14, 2008
4:00 PM – 5:15 PM
OBS-SIS Program: You want me to do what? Bridging the gulf and building understanding between technical services and public services managers Sunday, July 13, 2008
12:00 PM – 1:15 PM
PLL-SIS Program: Explore: Best Practices in the Small Law Library Monday, July 14, 2008
10:45 AM – 11:45 AM
PLL-SIS Program: Litigation Support and the Role of the Law Librarian Monday, July 14, 2008
10:45 AM – 11:45 AM
PLL-SIS Program: “Who moved my pencils? Managing change in the Technical Services Department Tuesday, July 15, 2008
7:00 AM – 8:45 AM
PLL-SIS Program: Using Consultants and Contractors (aka Outtaskers) to Tame Your Budget Monday, July 14, 2008
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
TS-SIS Program: Energize Personnel in the Library: Managing Difficult and Change-Resistant Staff Members Tuesday, July 15, 2008
2:45 PM – 4:00 PM

Please send me an email if you are interested.  We will be posting the reviews during and right after the conference.

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.

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Ark Conference Session : Developing the Library Business Plan

j0385553.jpgI will be speaking at the Ark Conference, Best Practices & Management Strategies for Legal Library & Information Services on February 26th in New York, along with Jean O’Grady (DLA Piper), Linda Will (Dorsey & Whitney), Silvia Coulter (Hildebrandt), Kit Hartnett (Proskauer Rose), Gayle Lynn-Nelson (LexisNexis), and Joseph Meringolo (Dickstein Shapiro) with Joel Alleyne (Borden Ladner Gervais) as the moderator.

 My contribution to the day will be “Developing the Library Business Plan” described below.

What services do you offer? Who are your clients and how can you impact the bottom line? Developing a library business plan is limited only by your business acumen and creative skills.  The goal is to be able to demonstrate to your leadership that your plans are based on the firm’s business goals and that you have skills that go beyond what they think of as a traditional librarian.

I’m looking forward to spending the day with the other speakers and attendees. 

See the Business Plan category on this blog for articles on the topic.

~ Nina Platt


Intranet Benchmarking Forum Report on Strategy

j04221191.jpgIf you are interested in a quick but thorough list of why managing your intranet strategically may fail, you may want to purchase the Intranet Benchmarking Forum (IBF) report, Intranet Strategy and Governance: The State of the Art, written by Helen Day and John Baptista, June 2007.  Day posts data on the IBF blog from the research they did for the report.  Her posting titled Intranet Strategy; The Intranet Manager’s Challenge was posted to the IBF weblog, Intranet Life on July 23, 2007.     The following challenges are listed as reasons a strategy may fail:

  • Many intranets do not have a clear, documented strategy
  • If there is a strategy, it is rarely communicated clearly to leaders
  • Organisations struggle to align intranet strategy with broader business objectives
  • Senior sponsorship or ownership of the intranet is often lacking
  • While standards for static content are generally good, enforcing standards can be tricky
  • Implementing consistent standards for transactional content is particularly difficult

Day follows this list with a list of key factors for success:

  • Develop a formal strategy that shows the strategic value of the intranet to the business
  • Communicate strategy upwards and downwards
  • Develop a governance model with clear roles and responsibilities
  • Enforce standards and guidelines
  • Ensure clear ownership of the intranet at board level
  • Involve all relevant stakeholders

It looks like the rest of the report may be interesting as well.