Renaming the Private Law Libraries Special Interest Section (PLL-SIS) of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL)

self-imagepost authored by Michael Ginsborg, Reference Librarian, Arnold & Porter LLP

In the Devil’s Dictionary, Ambroise Bierce (re)defines “lawyer” as “one skilled in circumvention of the law.” If Bierce were our authority in the matter, it would seem that a law firm librarian aids in circumventions of law. But as the Devil’s Dictionary makes clear, certain identifications carry a host of associations, whether or not within standard use. Given changes in our profession, what we call ourselves has become a renewed subject of interest.

In 2009, members of the Special Libraries Association (SLA) considered a change in name to the “ Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals” (ASKPro). The proposal was the result of extensive research by SLA. Although SLA members did not adopt the change, proponents advanced compelling reasons for it. They found that “libraries” no longer adequately represented the range and variety of their skills and careers, now often pursued without library affiliation. As a result, continued identification with libraries failed to convey their unique “strategic” value to their employers and clients. The SLA Board offered the proposed rebranding to more clearly communicate this value..

Jean O’Grady, PLL-SIS Chair, recently announced that the PLL Board will examine the merits of renaming our PLL-SIS, and the Board discussed the issue in the October 23rd Law Librarian Conversations. Jean advances equally compelling reasons in the context of law firms. First, PLL’s use of the word “libraries” reveals nothing specific about we do. PLL members provide a wide array of services, including “Competitive Intelligence, Business Intelligence, Knowledge Management, records, docket, web development, and other emerging digital roles.” As Jean observes, our roles have radically changed, reflecting “seismic” shifts in the legal industry. “Librarian” and “libraries” fail to convey how our new responsibilities and skills serve the goals of our law firm or corporate employers and clients.

Second, law firms with libraries are rapidly reducing their print collections and “embedding” librarians in practice groups. In fact, at least one AmLaw 100 firm has no print collection, and smaller firms, like this one, have done likewise. Available data – as in this presentation by Bess Reynolds – clearly show an accelerating trend toward digitization. So it can be persuasively argued that changed circumstances warrant a new organizational name without the reductive and outdated connotations of “libraries” and “librarians.” Carol Ottolenghi describes a familiar connotation in her article about naming those we serve as clients. If called “patrons,” some users “initially think of us as ‘clerks who like books.’” Changing PLL’s name could also help reverse such unwelcome perceptions.

The PLL Board has invited us to offer our comments. I find myself rather conflicted over the Board’s proposal, in much the same way that one SLA member said she was over ASKPro. Why? On the one hand, law firm clients and attorneys will continue to misunderstand what we do if we bill our time as librarians – a point that Jean makes in the Law Librarian Conversations program. On the other hand, the symbolism of “libraries” and “librarians” still matters. Indeed, it has assumed greater importance in our era of digital transformation. Among senses in which we still “like the books,” we believe copyrighted works deserve the widest dissemination among our clients. The words “libraries” and “librarian” suggest that we care about sharing resources and expertise, and maintaining a right of access as close to ownership as possible. They suggest that we favor the continuing availability of interlibrary loans and that we oppose digital licensing restrictions impairing access rights. And they suggest that we belong to a collective enterprise that sustains the indispensable benefits of these unique forms of sharing and preservation for future use.

My ambivalence has no ideal remedy. The nearest approximation to a remedy falls consideration short, but I cannot think of a better alternative than to offer a “hybrid” idea for rebranding. For example, the name “Private Law Librarians and Allied Knowledge Professionals” (PLLAKPro) comes perilously close to sounding like a Dickensian Office of Circumlocution. Whatever name emerges, perhaps PLL-SIS can accommodate a hybrid, emphasizing the primacy of librarians, so that we can continue to signal the ideals of librarianship.

Evaluating eBooks in Law Libraries

Ellyssa Kroski, Manager of Information Systems, New York Law Institute
ekroski@nyli.org | http://www.nyli.org | http://www.ellyssakroski.com

Bess Reynolds, Technical Services Manager, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP
breynolds@debevoise.com

Last week we had the pleasure of speaking at the Law Library Association of Greater New York (LLAGNY) education event: Going Digital – The Challenges of eBooks in Law Libraries. We discussed the current landscape of eBooks right now, the many vendors, publishers, and aggregators that are making these digital volumes available, the variety of pricing models employed, and criteria to determine which of these packages is right for your library. We tackled the current challenges and obstacles to be overcome by both private and academic law libraries interested in implementing an eBooks program. And finally we discussed what law libraries are doing to make eBooks available to their attorneys and patrons. Continue reading

Librarians Taking Their Know-How on the Road: Empowering the Next Generation of Law Firms

by: Steven A. Lastres, Director of Library & KM, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP and Scott Bailey, Director of Research Services, Squire Sanders

A group of librarians from The Private Law Librarians Special Interest Section (PLL SIS) of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and The Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, D.C. (LLSDC) have been brainstorming ways to promote the value of law librarians. The idea is to demonstrate to lawyers, the “C” level and other professionals that work in law firms not just the traditional value to the practice of law, but to show how law librarians can be strategic allies in supporting the business of law. Continue reading

TRAINING AS A LIBRARY FUNCTION: SOME OBSERVATIONS FROM THE OUTSIDE

Posted by Chuck Lowry. Chuck is an enterprise sales representative for Fastcase.  He can be reached at (703) 740-5941 or clowry@fastcase.com.

Over the past many years, I have been in and out of law firm libraries pretty regularly.  I have observed a few things about how librarians train themselves, train their staffs and train the attorneys.  I offer a few thoughts on the subject, not from the heights of expertise, but from the trenches of experience.  A few areas of concern present themselves, and we shall take them up as they occur.  I am neither so credulous nor so arrogant as to think that I am offering more answers than questions.  Indeed, I think it is likely that different libraries and different librarians will not necessarily have the same answers to these questions.  As resources and situations differ, solutions will necessarily be tailored to individual firms.  There is no group better able to make the adjustments and alterations, I suspect, than law firm librarians. Continue reading

A Pro Bono Project Fit for a Library

Pamela Lipscomb is the Manager of Reference Services at Arent Fox LLP in Washington, DC.

In 1972, the nonprofit National Health Law Program started publishing An Advocate’s Guide to the Medicaid Program. What started out as an in-house project has developed into a comprehensive publication depended on by lawyers, journalists, researchers and community organizations. It was formally published in 1991 and has since been updated twice. When it came time to publish the fourth edition, NHeLP not only wanted to include the recent health reform legislation, but it also wanted to broaden the presence of the Advocate’s Guide to include a web-based product. Continue reading