So do you want to be transformed or help direct the transformation? This was my primary thought after reading "Law Libraries Transformed" on LLRX by Eleanor Windsor and Ron Friedmann are executives with Integreon, a legal process outsourcing firm with offices around the world. The title intrigued me yet in reading the article I was surprised to realize that the innovation they were advocating was outsourcing of law firm library services. Basically, they seem to suggest that since law libraries have become less about the physical space and collection and more about the research and online resources, outsourcing is an ideal and possibly inevitable solution. While they do note that librarians are more important than ever in filtering the information overload, I have to confess feeling my feathers ruffle a bit at their general assumption that a "library as service" model will always offer greater cost savings and efficiencies. Rather than hide inside my personal closet of law librarian anxieties, I'm going to try and consider the bigger picture. So before you hit your own panic button, take a deep breath, read the full article for yourself and join me.
Outsourcing library services isn't anything new - it first hit my radar a few years ago while working on a legal process outsourcing research project at my previous firm. Nor is it surprising, particularly in the current economy, to hear that we might be on the cusp of a trend. And when you stop to think about it, this is a pretty timely issue given the ongoing discussions in the blogosphere and within SLA and AALL about what we need to do to survive, thrive and advance to the C-level. Heck, I've been listening to and taking part in these discussions since my first information interview with an advertising firm librarian ten years ago. Call it alignment, advancement or whatever you want, but we are probably better served being pro-active about possible solutions rather than just reacting negatively to this news.
So what do we do? I'm sure many of you have some fabulous ideas which you'll hopefully comment on here. A good starting place could be to think about how we could work with this trend (if it is really a trend yet) and turn it to our advantage. Do we set out to completely disprove it as a valid solution or do we find a way to take part in or take charge of it so that we have some say or control over what library functions should or shouldn't be out-sourced? While the article does mention having skilled specialists with advanced degrees in law and business, it isn't clear whether Integreon actively recruits librarians with MLS degrees and library experience - how can we use that to position ourselves as their perfect in-house partners? For example, I'm taking the time to sit down with each attorney at my firm to learn more about their practice, key clients and research needs - the insights gained from these meetings have helped us to tailor our services and pro-actively provide current awareness and education about available resources. How could this knowledge be used to work successfully with an outsourcing firm?
While it does seem like Integreon understands the value of law librarians and what we do, I hope that they aren't too quick to see themselves as an ideal one-size-fits all replacement for most law firm libraries or legal departments. It would be a mistake to assume that the strategic knowledge and relationships we've built over the years within our firms wouldn't be critical for any successful information services solution. No matter what type of vendor we work with, there should be a way to customize contracted services to enhance what we already offer without having to throw the librarian (or library) out with the bath water.