by John J. DiGilio, National Manager of Research Services, Reed Smith LLP / Past-Chair of SLA’s Legal Division
It is hard to believe that 2012 is passing by so quickly. The end of the first quarter is but days away. For many of us, the first few months of the year seemed more like a mad dash
than a slow, steady crawl. With the world seemingly emerging from the worst of its recent economic doldrums, business and the resultant need for our services appears to be on the rise. That doesn’t mean to say, of course, that our libraries are going to go back to functioning as they did before the economic downtown. That runs counter to conventional business wisdom that says once you’ve learned to do more with less, that “less” is the new norm. No, the challenge in our libraries goes from maintaining the status quo on thinner budget and smaller team to showing real progress and innovation without bumping up either that budget or that team!
There can be no mistaking it – the last few years have been tough for libraries across the board. Public libraries, academic libraries, government, private sector … no one has been immune to the effects of the world’s faltering finances. It is a testament to our value and our ingenuity that we have survived and even managed to flourish under these more austere circumstances. We may have complained about dwindling budgets and staff cuts, but never was it said that workload or demand decreased as well. It was actually quite the opposite. Our performance was up even while the markets were down. Even so, it is hard to not feel like our libraries have gotten stuck in the muck of it all. After all we have endured, where do we go from here? How do we get ahead?
The reality of our industry is one of constant change and innovation. The world of legal information is not as beholden to the markets as we might think. Whether we are in times of boom or bust is irrelevant. We have to keep up! Feeling stuck on occasion is normal, so long as we do not actually let it slow us down. In a sense, keeping a library running and moving forward is very much like maintaining a wagon, coach, or cart of days gone by . . . When it starts to slow down or get stuck, you have got to grease the wheels. While good ol’ elbow grease is a good start, it is not going to be enough. The wheels of success require something more heavy duty. Here are a few suggestions:
- Change Your Perspective: Sure the last few years were trying. But is your glass now half empty or half full? It is easy to dwell on all that has changed or gone away. However, librarians are futurists. We see what is coming. That is the easy part. The real challenge is seeing the new opportunities that such fundamental shifts in what we do and how we do it present. If you can’t see the opportunity, you can’t take advantage of it.
- Take the Lead: Once the possibilities are clear to you, talk them up and let others know where you are going. They just might follow your lead! If you are a team leader, or want to be, the more palpable your enthusiasm the more comfortable folks will be following you into the unknown. We all like to be thought of as “go to” people. The reality is that we have to give people a reason to come to us. By establishing yourself as being on the forefront of positive change and progress, you give them that impetus.
- Don’t Go it Alone: No matter how ready you may to embrace the future, there is always a very real and very rational fear of the unknown or failure. Sticking your neck out always comes with a degree of risk. If you really want to succeed in innovating and improving your services and resources, tap the talents of those around you. If you give others a stake in what you are trying to do, they will be much more likely to push for its success and feel invested in it overall. By pooling the skills and abilities of others, you are more likely to produce an outcome that is truly going to maximize overall satisfaction and appreciation.
- And finally, Don’t Just Toot Your Own, Make Beautiful Music: In today’s legal industry, it is not enough to just complete a project or incorporate positive change and do it well. The people who use your services and benefit from your work have to actually see the value. You can’t just tell them what you did and expect accolades for your work. You have to let them know why it matters to them. You have to personalize it to the way they work and show its importance towards their own success. We librarians can no longer afford to be silent partners to our firms and attorneys. Silence may once have been thought of as golden, but today it is a ticket to obsolescence. Now, more than ever, we have to get in front of the people who matter, talk their talk, and show them what we can do to rock their professional worlds.
No one ever said change would always easy. No one ever said it would always be good. The wisest among us can simply say that it will always be. Like so many other things in our lives, change in our profession is what we make of it. The future is as much within our control as we want it to be. We all get stuck from time to time. As innovators and survivors – as LIBRARIANS – we have to remind ourselves that the only way to get out of a rut is to give ourselves a good push.