By Shaunna Mireau
As a private firm librarian, I have long been grateful for the public law library institutions in my jurisdiction. I confess to being a frequent borrower of the collections of my local law school libraries, the courthouse library, and the provincial government libraries. This parasitic ability has given my firm the ability to target our collection spending on just the material that we ‘usually’ need rather than developing a ‘just in case’ collection.
Public law library institutions have been under considerable economic pressure in Alberta and the rest of Canada. 2013 is the culmination of a perfect storm that has resulting in shrinking libraries in the academic and government sectors. My go to institutions – the University of Alberta Law Library, the Alberta Law Libraries, the Alberta Government Library, and the University of Calgary Law Library have all suffered major budget cuts that have caused massive redesigns in how those institutions deliver services.
This whole situation sucks for individuals. Law librarians who work and have worked in these public institutions are valued colleagues who offer innovation and ideas to the local and national law library communities along with providing the services that those of us in the private firms have benefited from.
However, this whole situation is a huge opportunity for job growth in private sector law libraries.
While I am undoubtedly an optimist, my hypothesis is that when the private sector cannot rely on a certain level of service from the public sector, the vacuum is filled by bringing that service delivery in house.
Shrinking public sector law libraries will mean that small and mid-sized law firms will have to own more material. Whether the material is electronic or print, the expertise in organizing it, making it accessible to users, negotiating licences, and managing internal training as well as budgeting are all librarian tasks. When you add an information professional to an organization, innovation occurs. Law librarians in private firms will have opportunities to branch into knowledge management, intranet development, process improvement and all of the other tasks that information professionals excel at.
Private law librarians have more opportunities to direct their own careers than our public sector colleagues. The portfolio of responsibilities that are attributed to my firm’s library includes knowledge management. The shift to a greater percentage of electronic legal research sources, eBooks and databases helped to increase my law firm library staffing level as well. While our firm has grown and thrived, the growth by the firm libraries has outpaced the organization by a substantial margin.
Public law libraries are reshaping themselves. Private law library opportunities will be born from this process. Like all private sector functions, there is a sales aspect to this. Law librarians will have to sell the need for their presence to firms that don’t currently have an in house information professional. Seize the day.
Shaunna Mireau is the Director of Knowledge Management and Libraries at the Field Law firm, a mid-sized regional firm with offices in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta, and Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories of Canada. She is currently the Secretary of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries and she blogs at Slaw.ca.