Yes... the title is a Star Trek reference (after all, this blog is called 3 Geeks and a Law Blog). We'll get to the management styles of Engineers Montgomery Scott vs. Geordi La Forge in a minute.
Since the Great Recession started in October 2008, I've been seeing and hearing more and more comments about how librarians need to give up certain things in order to survive the economic downturn. While some of those statements may be true, I'm not sure I like the blasé attitude that I'm hearing from others in the field about ceding ground on a number of library issues. For example, I had to sit through a library meeting on the east coast a few weeks ago and listen to a consultant tell the group that if your employer (law school, firm, court, etc.) is discussing layoffs... go ahead and volunteer some of your staff for layoffs so you'll be seen as a team player. WHA??? I looked around at the room waiting for someone to jump up and hit the speaker, but very few in the audience seemed to have noticed the great insult the consultant hurled at them. I had missed the first half of the presentation, so I thought maybe I missed the front end of this story that made the "go ahead and volunteer some staff to be laid off" as the punch line to the joke mentioned earlier. But when I checked with a friend afterward and she said that it wasn't a joke and that the consultant was giving clients the same advice. And, just think... those clients are paying for that advice.
This morning, I read an article on LLRX.com called "From the Law Firm Library Trenches: A Conversation Between Two Veterans" where a running dialog between two experience law firm librarians (Karen Krupka and Elaine Billingslea Dockens) discussed a variety of issues. Now, I'm going to be a little unfair to the two authors because I'm going to criticize a small piece of an otherwise great article and probably take the comments out of context as well. So, now that I've apologized in advance...
When discussing the value of membership in professional organizations, attending professional conferences, and continuing education programs, both Karen and Elaine agreed that if the firm doesn't pay for these activities in its professional development budget, then "you should pay for it yourself and include the expenses in your personal budget." I agree... but felt that about five "you should fight for this" statements that were missing between the "firm not paying" and the "pay for it yourself" statement. The library's professional development budget is probably one of the smallest line items in your budget. Giving in on this produces very little "budget cutting" and ends up being a morale buster and in my opinion creates a situation where you're hamstringing your ability to be risk manager for your firm. It is through professional development events that we connect with our peers, get the latest information on what new products are being introduced, and have the ability to foresee issues that will affect the firm in the near future and be ready to proactively address them now rather than react to them later. Rolling over on issues like this may make you a team "player", but it most certainly doesn't make you one of the team "leaders".
There is always a "game" being played between the leaders of the law firm libraries, and those that want to cut what they see as firm overhead. In the crudest of terms, it can be called the "Prove Your Worth Game." First of all, if you don't know there's a game being played, or you don't know the rules of this game, you've probably already lost. Libraries tend to have one of the highest budgets in the firm, and are always under attack. Since you probably spend most of your money on two specific vendors, it makes it that much more difficult on other line items (such as professional development). When you're faced with the situation where you have to make cuts, you can be a team "player" and methodically go through and trim line item after line item and even volunteer a few more things along the way. Or, you can be a team 'leader' and start trimming those same items, but at the same time standing up to those that want to cut overhead and let them know the overall effect that each of these cuts will have on the firm and the library's ability to manage risk for the firm.
This brings me to my Scotty vs. La Forge comparison. Take this conversation between the two engineers and see if you can spot who is the team player and who is the leader:
Geordi: Look, Mr. Scott, I'd love to explain everything to you. But the captain wants this spectrographic analysis done by 1300 hours.
Scotty: [thinks about it some time] You mind a little advice? Starfleet captains are like children. They want everything right now and they want it their way. But the secret is to give them only what they need, not what they want.
Geordi: Yeah. Well, I told the captain I'd have this analysis done in an hour.
Scotty: How long would it really take?
Geordi: [annoyed] An hour!
Scotty: [looks unbelieving] Oh. You didn't tell him how long it would REALLY take, did you?
Geordi: Of course I did.
Scotty: Oh, laddie. You've got a lot to learn if you want people to think of you as a miracle worker.
There will be many times when you'll need to cede ground on issues like professional development and have to face the fact that if you want to do it, you'll have to pay for it out of your own pocket. However, items like professional development shouldn't be given up with out a fight; otherwise those that are looking to cut overhead will see you as weak and will be back for more. If you are expected to pay for your own professional development today, and you give in without a fight, then what will you be asked to pay for out of your own pocket tomorrow?