New Law Librarian Orientation: Creating a Flexible and Welcoming Onboarding Experience

By Allison C. Reeve Davis, Library Manager, Littler Mendelson P.C.

Originally published in the PEGA-SIS newsletter. To view the original posting visit the PEGA-SIS Blog.

What We Had Always Done

When Littler Mendelson, P.C., moved headquarters to Kansas City from San Francisco in 2015, the new librarians received a wealth of training. The Director and San Francisco librarians spent countless hours training us on reference response best practices, labor and employment law-specific resources, proprietary projects like legislative and class action tracking, library orientation, and history of the library’s role in the firm. The transition was nearly seamless thanks to their dedication, and the Kansas City librarians were ready to train new hires as they continued to arrive the next couple of years.

In the past five years, Littler’s library staff has doubled, meaning we’ve had the opportunity to welcome and train a dozen new librarians. Managing the onboarding processes, I realized we had taken for granted our stored knowledge and undocumented best practices. New projects, changed procedures, even how we communicated was second nature to the 2015 crew, but new hires were still asking me questions about requesting time off, firm-wide events, and who’s who in firm leadership after a few months into their employment. I was repeating instruction and information Human Resources (HR) and I shared within the first two weeks of a new hire’s time in the library. I realized my mistake of assuming early information retention and taking for granted what was ingrained in our library culture.

Goals for Orientation

We provide training and orientation to welcome new hires to the law library, make them part of the team, align them with institution initiatives, and teach our procedures. These goals aren’t reached within a few e-mails or brief meetings. It takes time for someone to feel part confident in a new job.

A manager’s response to continued inquiries from a new librarian is not to ask new hires to memorize or refer back to previous e-mails, because staff should feel comfortable reaching out to colleagues, requesting meetings with management, and asking questions. However, gaps in knowledge need to be addressed earlier in a librarian’s tenure. My goal was to provide as much of our undocumented knowledge in a methodical trajectory that also encouraged collaboration and continued communication throughout the first few months after a new hire begins.

There’s a balance between spacing out information and keeping a new hire engaged. We all remember new jobs where, during the first two weeks, we read manuals front to back without much hands-on experience. This scenario creates boredom and confusion over the job description. Instead, offer a variety of e-mails, videos, meetings, and task training to keep the day interesting.

An Orientation Assessment and Team

How does a manager create a more informative, but not overwhelming, orientation? First, assess what already exists. You likely have an arsenal of e-mails, procedural documents, peer trainers, and HR videos at your disposal.

Make a list of those documents and communications, including contents, schedule of distribution, and deadlines for completion. I already had a schedule of e-mails I was sending to new hires, but these needed assessment for relevancy, content, and timing. Manager meetings with new librarians needed a set agenda, brief time slot, and frequent contact.

In most institutions, managers are unable to alter the orientation process at HR. Paperwork, technology training, and videos are mandatory and must be completed in the timeline dictated. Within your own department, however, lies more flexibility.

This should not be a solitary effort of just a manger. What do I know? I’ve been here for five years and have already admitted to myself that I’ve taken knowledge for granted. More recently hired librarians were extremely helpful in creating our new orientation program. I asked for their input inquiring, “What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started?” The response was greatly instructive and showed me exactly where knowledge gaps existed.

Our team already had a system of training new hires on their initial tasks. We reviewed this approach to ensure that (1) every Assistant Librarian trained the new hire on at least one task and (2) a new hire has a strong grasp on a duty before moving onto the next one. I also discovered that complex topics, such as online resource billing and law for non-lawyers, were pieced together through disparate conversations. The orientation team also suggested the brilliant idea of creating mentorship within the department.

Through the assessment of what I already had and a review of staff suggestions, my onboarding team set about reorganizing and formalizing the library’s orientation. The team included leaders from the Assistant Librarian team, a Research Attorney, recently hired librarians, and peer mentors.

What We Do Now: Components of Library Onboarding

HR Orientation

As previously mentioned, HR requires a schedule of paperwork, in-person training, and videos. It is important to provide your new hires time to accomplish these early tasks. At Littler, these activities span over the first two weeks of employment, but rarely require a full day’s attention. During these early days sprinkle in library welcome and training e-mails.

Schedule of E-mails

A schedule of e-mails helps engage new employees, while leaving time for HR obligations. I send no more than two per day. A list of these with brief descriptions follows:

  • “Welcome and bio”: invitation for a brief meeting and introduction to colleagues, request for a brief bio, and initial tasks of signing up for library distribution lists and exploring the intranet. Attachment: “Who’s who in Littler Knowledge Management”
  • “More about Littler, Jargon, and Orientations”: familiarize client-facing services and big library projects, acronym library, Wexis IDs and passwords, required library orientations.
  • “Department Policies, Professional Development, and Keeping in Touch”: attachments including library-specific e-mail and PTO procedures, resources for career growth and networking, expectation of e-mail and in-person communication with manager.
  • “KD* Librarians: Proactive as often as we are Reactive”: overview of research request types, library sub-teams, quotes about librarianship, Littler KM philosophies on service, best practices, and service standards. Attachment: our in-house introduction PowerPoint called, “Introduction to Employment Law and Working with Attorneys” (*KD is our abbreviation for Knowledge Desk, the library’s formal name at Littler.)

Articles and PowerPoint Presentations

Look for other helpful resources introducing new law librarians to the profession. I’ve recently shared, “How to Read a Legal opinion” (Kerr 2007, 51-63) and “A Guide to Fee-Based U.S. Legal Research Databases” (Lee and Strojny 2018).

In-Person Meetings

Either every day or every other, I schedule a brief meeting with the new librarian to cover the most important information conveyed in videos, orientation sessions, or e-mails. With this information, the librarian builds a notebook for future reference, and we set expectations on policies and communication together.

In-Person Big-Topic Training

We offer two formal, in-person orientation sessions required for the new librarian, but also open to those who already work in the department. There is never shame in reacquainting one’s self with important topics. The first of these covers online legal research cost recovery, and the second session covers the basics of law, the legal marketplace, and specific issues in labor and employment practice.

Process Training with All Peers

All new Assistant Librarians receive training on reference research and responses. They also work with peers on various tasks in a weeks-long schedule. This ensures that the new hire gets to know her colleagues and that we do not overwhelm her by introducing all duties at one time. New hires copy their trainers and manager on all reference responses until otherwise instructed and will continue to copy the manager for feedback and mentorship on complex nuances.

Mentors

Finally, we set in place a system of mentorship. One or two seasoned Assistant Librarians are assigned to serve as a point of contact for those little questions that pop up throughout the day. They provide a welcoming and friendly contact from day one. After the first few weeks of orientation, the new hire, mentors, and myself will celebrate successful training with lunch downtown.

Flexibility and the Future

With each new hire, I review all e-mails, documents, and plans before sharing. Some of our introductory information is necessary for anyone joining the library, but a seasoned law librarian may not require a list of legal databases or overview of broad legal issues.

As our profession changes it is important to be flexible in orientation messaging to align with new expectations. Staying abreast of the legal market, legal knowledge management, or American Association of Law Libraries’ Book of Knowledge (2018) provides managers with new resources and new law librarians perspective on how to be successful in new roles.

What we have now is a robust, months-long, flexible schedule of orientation events. Team-wide collaboration allows for training with all peers, timed communication allows for in-person reiteration of important information, the orientation notebook centralizes information for future reference, and assigned mentors ease integration with a new friend at work. Keeping the initial goals in mind teams can create an engaging and relaxed onboarding experience.

References

2018. “Book of Knowledge.” Accessed March 15, 2020 at https://www.aallnet.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/BoK-FINAL-06.22.2018-web.pdf.

Kerri, Orin. 2007. “How to Read a Legal Opinion.” The Green Bag 11, no. 1 (Autumn):51-63.

Lee, Jootaek and Strojny, Brittany. 2018. “UPDATE: A Guide to Fee-Based U. S. Legal Research Databases.” Accessed March 15, 2020 at https://www.nyulawglobal.org/globalex/US_Fee-Based_Legal_Databases1.html. Update of Rumsy, Mary. 2006.

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