by Jeffrey Nelson, Research Services Manager, Squire Sanders (US) LLP
Connect, collaborate, and strategize. As information professionals look to the future, these themes are nothing new, but at this year’s SLA Annual Conference never have they made more sense to discuss. As we try to prove ourselves as invaluable assets to our firms, a pop culture reference immediately comes to mind. Fans of the television series The Good Wife will be familiar with Kalinda, the in-house investigator at the fictional law firm Lockhart & Gardner. Kalinda is often sent out into the streets to get the scoop, dig for dirt, or find anything she can get her hands on to help her firm win a case. She knows which sources are credible and she knows when information is actionable. She performs competitive intelligence research on other firms, background checks on individuals and corporations, and most importantly, she finds the needle in the haystack every time. With these skills and unstoppable determination, Kalinda’s ability to establish herself as an important asset to her firm’s partnership is commendable. Most of you will recognize these responsibilities as what we are asked to do each and every day.
Using Kalinda as a fictional role model, how can we prove our worth as she has done? My first step was realizing I needed to take advantage of the network of knowledge I had access to – the SLA community. Despite qualifying for the Veteran Member Travel Grant, I had yet to attend one of the Annual Conferences. If I truly want to prove my value to the firm’s partnership as a resource for delivering credible, accurate, and actionable information, then I need to embed myself in the discussions of the community at large. The SLA Annual Conference not only reinforced many of my existing best practices, but also gave me a renewed confidence to take what I learned to the next level.
To follow the Legal Division’s 20th Anniversary theme set out by Chair Tricia Thomas of looking to the past, present and future, we must continue to keep ourselves in the forefront of the information age. At the Bloomberg Law/Legal Division Breakfast and Business Meeting, I found myself in awe of the amount of SLA star power in the room, which included our division’s past leaders, current division and organizational board members, and many of the organization’s rising stars. With so many influential members in one room, it is not difficult to see why the Legal Division, despite its young age, has grown into one of the largest and most active in SLA.
Our past truly is the key to our success. When looking to our past members and leaders, I saw that a great many of them are still extremely active in the community and take great pride in being a part of the Legal Division. Personally, I found the speech given by Connie Pine, founder and first ever Chair of the Legal Division, to be quite moving and inspirational. She and the other founding members noticed the growth of law firms and recognized that law librarians lacked a forum to collaborate and develop professionally within SLA. I learned about her positive and negative experiences during the process of establishing a voice for the legal community within SLA. These experiences have helped shape our division into what it is today.
This brings us to the present. Since founding of the Legal Division, the digital age ushered in countless challenges and the role of the librarian has been deeply impacted. Have we learned all that we can from our predecessors? What are we doing now to take on to these challenges as a community? At the Legal Division’s Unconference, one of the standout conference sessions for me, a group of us discussed the pros and cons of embedded librarianship, the struggles with cost recovery in the age of alternative fee arrangements, and determining the return on investment of tools such as reference trackers. It is discussions like these that underscore our biggest challenge – the possible need to rebrand ourselves while simultaneously boosting the bottom line for our companies. Fortunately, we have the information and skills to take this challenge head on. In a society driven by connectivity and collaboration, we have the necessary access to critical market information which our community can analyze, strategize, and act upon. I appreciate that SLA still places an emphasis on gathering in person once a year to strengthen our communal bonds. Discussion and collaboration strengthens our group; we can use our shared information to prepare for the future. As librarians, we understand the pitfalls of certain sources and we encourage our users to be aware of the information they collect and how they use it. Now, more than ever, it is important to manage information and demonstrate our capabilities as we disseminate it to those who rely on us. The conference taught me that the benefit of successfully accomplishing this will be twofold – it will not only help us in our jobs but also will help us strengthen our professional community.
Conference keynote speaker Mike Walsh spoke a lot about connecting the dots between the present and the future. For example, he shared with us that the company Intel keeps anthropologists on staff; they serve as the bridge between the creators of their products and the consumer. I realized that we are positioned perfectly to assume the role as anthropologists in our companies. Mr. Walsh advised us to “think anthropology, not technology.” This highlights the importance of having experts who not only understand information and its medium, but also how it is used by the user. Mike Walsh also suggested that it is not necessarily how we collect information but also how we visualize it in real time. Let’s listen to him and stay ahead of the curve. We can accomplish this by developing relationships and learning from one another. We may debate the titles of our positions – “information professional” vs. “knowledge officer” vs. “librarian,” among others – but with regular collaboration with one another and our ability to use information in real time to our benefit (either for our companies or our profession as a whole), I am confident librarians will be relevant for years to come.
Prior to attending the conference, I had been well aware of the various hot topics that are so often discussed among our community, but nothing beats interacting with other professionals and exchanging ideas in person. I’m appreciative of the opportunity I had to attend this year’s conference, and I hope to be able to return in coming years. The conference highlighted so many challenges that we face as information professionals but also assured me that we are well prepared for these challenges. We can face those challenges doing what we do best – finding the actionable information and making something of it. The single greatest takeaway from the conference for me was that our organization’s past has inspired me to be proactive in the present in order to ensure my spot in the future.
(Note: orginally published on http://legal.sla.org/newsletter/lddv2n2/connectingthedots/)