Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.


One Way to Cut Overhead

I ran across Ed Weseman’s post titled “10 Ways to Cut Overhead” yesterday.  I find his writing to be very useful but have to take issue with this one.  Before reading it, I guessed that “one way” was to cut library expense, as any article that talks about cutting firm expense generally does include the library.  Sure enough.  The  following is the point he made about firm libraries.

  • Library. Lower costs through a combination of reduced on-line research and managed availability of services.  By aggressive negotiation with a single on-line vendor for all offices, firms can leverage lower costs for services and related subscriptions.  At the same time, firms can move toward the elimination of subscriptions and reporting services that are not heavily used or are available from other sources such as court, bar association and local law school libraries.

  • I have to say I am puzzled.  It appears he is suggesting reduced online research along with reducing the print collection as well.  He goes on to suggest that lawyers start using libraries (court and law school) that were intended for other purposes.  He also suggests using bar association libraries.  This can be a hit or miss prospect depending on the bar.    

    This type of article always scares me as it takes issues that are complex and reduces them to a single paragraph.  Additionally, it is generally written by someone who is not familiar with the nuances of services needed in a firm.  Not one size fits all – no matter what expense the article covers. 

    So, how do we respond to the need to cut expenses that are seen as overhead?  Here’s my take on the suggestion regarding libraries:

    1. Reducing the use of online research can be risky.  If it is done at a firm that has a policy to recover the costs from clinets while contracts are still in place, a firm could create more expense.  Use goes down, recovery goes down but the cost to the firm remains the same. 
    2. Reducing the use of online research can create liabilities.  Using print libraries that other organizations fund may sound like it will reduce costs but there is more than just costs to consider.  Online services provide more than print services.  By that I mean that a library could never be large enough to hold the materials the online services have to offer.  If a law firm isn’t making similar use of online resources as their opponents are, it is likely that they will do more harm to their clients than good.
    3. Managing access to services can be costly.  The more research resources that go online, the more people it takes to assist researchers (mostly lawyers) to use them.  This may change over time as more lawyers coming into firms are more skilled in online research, but that hasn’t happened yet as new associates are computer savvy but not resource savvy.
    4. Moving to a single source for research without considering lawyer/practice needs can be a mistake.  Yes, a single source does reduce costs but does it provide the resources the firm’s lawyers need?  I did a project recently where I analysed 6 months of a firm’s use of Lexis and Westlaw.  Part of the analysis included identifying what resources were exclusive to each vendor.  It was surprising to me how much they are different.  Don’t eliminate one without doing your homework.

    My next post will focus on how firms can manage library costs more effectively.

    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.”