There has been a lot of comment in the blogosphere recently about embedding librarians into legal teams, whilst this might work well in bigger firms for the solo librarian in a smaller firm it’s not always practical or desirable. This post by a member of the Scottish Law Librarians Group discusses this in the context of a library relocation.
- You will be kept involved and informed at all stages of the process.
- Your knowledge of how the physical library is actually used is important, and your contributions to the best layout and use of space/furniture in the library space will be taken into account.
- Your shelf space will not be reduced. In fact, it may actually increase, in acknowledgement of the fact that as time goes on, library stocks and the space needed for them tend to increase.
- The books will be carefully packed and moved by expert movers.
- The library will be in an attractive, central, easily accessible location, to encourage all staff to use it fully.
- Nobody will remember you exist until the day before the move, when in desperation, you finally pin an Important Person down, and rip the new floorplan out of their hands.
- Anything you say about library layout and actual library space/furniture use will be completely disregarded in favour of the plans of someone who thinks libraries are just an element of attractive interior design (“Those old books will look just *lovely* over there, beside the radiator. Wait, what do you mean heat’s bad for books?”).
- Your shelf space WILL be reduced. And you’ll continue to be told it’s the same amount, until you try and reshelve your stock, and find you’re short of at least 15 feet of shelf space.
- Your books will be packed and moved by expert FURNITURE movers, who have no idea why you’re upset when you unpack the boxes and find that books have been put in them in no order at all. Other than perhaps size. Or colour.
- You will be placed in an out-of-the-way corner, perhaps originally planned to be a staff breakout area, but later decided against as it was felt to be too gloomy and/or poky. Natural light will be a distant memory.
And a librarian being away from the library stock means it’s harder to easily help the people coming along with an obscure question, which will often involve checking a dozen textbooks, and moving between different shelving areas as the hunt develops. To have to go and ask a librarian for help can be hard enough, without highlighting the fact to everyone in the vicinity by having to follow them across an office to get to the library.
The library is also a place where people can come to be dumb. Not dumb as in “unable to speak”, but dumb as in “asking questions because you don’t know the answers and need help to find them”. In a law firm hierarchy, things can get competitive, and it’s hard to admit that you don’t know something, particularly when you’re a trainee (“But we didn’t cover this on the course!” is a frequently heard and plaintive wail). But, in the library, the librarian’s not your line manager, or anyone who will be concerned that you don’t know something – they’re actually the person who’s there specifically just to help you. And to be able to feel confident that you can ask the librarian for that help, you need to be able to access them in a place where it doesn’t feel like anyone is listening in on conversations and waiting to pick holes in your knowledge, or checking exactly what books you’re looking at. You need a place where you can explore vague ideas without feeling you’re being assessed…you need a library. And the librarian, who can act as a sounding board to tease out those meandering thoughts on a topic, and firm them up through questioning and analysis. That isn’t something a trainee can do while sitting at their desk, with their line manager lurking behind them!
Nor should the library ever be viewed as some sort of a meeting space, decorated with those pretty things called books – as stated above, it needs to be a neutral and easily accessible place, available at all times, and to all staff. And, despite stereotypes, libraries are no quieter than any other part of the office!
So, if ever you see some Important Person in your workplace wandering about looking at the library shelving with a gleam in their eye, and hear them mutter about hotdesking, and breakout areas in the library….grab a rope, whip up a lasso, and pull them aside for a quiet chat about why librarians might actually just be the best people to help inform discussions on how the library is and could be used?
Oh, and a parting mention of my favourite library relocation problem – an office which had a library area where the lighting was linked to a motion sensor on the roof. Under that motion sensor was placed….a shelving unit. As shelving units are not well known for their vigorous activity, this meant the lights turned off every 45 minutes. Unless the librarian performed a gymnastic stretching and waving routine at their desk…