Where are we going and what should we be doing to get there?

By Joanne Lecky, Director, Library Systems and Training at McCarthy Tetrault in Vancouver, BC

I recently had the opportunity to attend the AALL conference in Philadelphia and I thought I could take a few moments to reflect in a blog post.  Attending a conference inspires new energy and enthusiasm for what we are trying to achieve in our libraries today.  A conference can also confirm to us that we are on the right track, which is motivating and inspiring in itself.  Sometimes we get so knee deep in what we’re doing that it’s hard to remember how we got there in the first place.

Which I guess leads me to my first comment – why are you where you’re at in the first place?  Why are you doing what you’re doing?  Have a reason, have a goal, have a leading, driving statement or reasoning that supports everything that you are doing in your library.  If you can’t easily justify to senior management why you’re doing it, then you might want to look at not doing it anymore.

The library is a service, not a space.  Whether you call your facility a library, an information centre, an information resource centre, or whatever, it doesn’t matter.  It’s the services that you provide and the level of exceptionalism with which you provide them that matters.  It’s the services that will sustain you in the present and the future.  The library is less and less about the space.

So don’t hang onto your space simply to hold onto your space.  Space costs money.  If you don’t need as much space as you have, why not offer it up to the senior leadership to utilize differently?  You want to be part of a library department that is seen as being responsive to the economic challenges facing the firm and the legal industry.  Don’t cling to the bookshelves because you’re scared about what might happen if you give them up.  The two shouldn’t equate at the end of the day. (Remember, the bookshelves don’t equal what the library is; the library is a service, not a space.)

Better to try and hold onto your space as a social space, a gathering place where people can come to access and exchange information and ideas. Create a welcoming library environment that is seen as a vibrant part of the social landscape of the firm. (My plan to change up library workstations and put in couch and coffee table instead has been reaffirmed).

Get rid of the simple stuff (you know what it is) and you’ll get more of the complex stuff (such as legal research requests, business development research, information analysis, and current awareness services).  Processes that can be outsourced should be significantly revamped or reduced before outsourcing happens; take control of these aspects of your services before you’re told that you have to.

Change the role of the traditional technical services positions towards supporting the electronic library.  There is no way around the fact that the library of the future will be a constantly evolving electronic service.  We need to be continuously exploring ways to leverage the content that is buried deeply within our electronic resources and finding ways to make that content more readily available to our users.

It’s still all about access (one of the first things we learned in library school, no?), but not necessarily about ownership. Can you partner / pair / share with other organizations or join together to form a collective purchasing power or a consortium? This is an obvious thing to do if you are a library in a multi-library law firm; it may be somewhat trickier to implement with libraries with other law firms. Nonetheless it is good to think about the possibilities.

The overall conference message was a positive one. The library is part of the future of the law firm and will continue to be an essential service… as long as you continue to make the tough decisions, embrace the difficult conversations and free yourselves of the things that you are doing just because you’ve always done them.  Make yourself available to explore innovation and be willing (and excited) to explore whatever opportunities the future presents for library and information services.

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