Antagonism is a Two-Way Street

Image [cc] noluck

[We are very happy to have Guest-Blogger, Jeffrey Brandt, who gives us the CIO perspective on the relationship between Law Firm Libraries and Law Firm CIO's.]

After my highlight of his post “The Law Firm Library & CIO Relationship” in the PinHawk Technology Digest Greg, was kind enough to reach out and ask me to write a guest post rebuttal.  Who can refuse an offer to guest post on 3 Geeks?

Greg said a few things in his post that I took exception to. First he said that "It isn't that CIOs are purposely antagonistic toward the library...."  Then he said that the CIO’s approach to dealing with the library (and other law firm administrative units) is "Lead, Follow or Get the Hell Out of the Way."  I would like to think that those descriptors describe very few of my fellow CIOs.

It is only natural that Greg would be biased from the librarian point of view.  As a veteran CIO I suppose it is quite safe to say my bias is from the opposite direction.  But I was also one of the first CIOs to have the law library report to me in the early 1990s, and as such, maybe I have a special affinity for the library.  What I said in my brief highlight was that Greg had missed something - the part about the library being antagonistic toward IT.

I first want to say that I have been very fortunate in my CIO roles to work with some very great librarians in my 25+ years in legal.  They’re smart, professional and I’d work with all of them again in a heartbeat.  And since I am sure Greg will make some comment on who holds the power, I want to note that I’ve worked with librarians as peers, almost/semi peers and as direct reports.  A good relationship isn’t a function of direct reporting.

I can recall the days when many librarians wanted little to do with electronics.  When the library began to report to me, I was shocked by how little was known about the new CD-ROM and online technologies.  I would think and say, “How can you not be interested in these things that will fundamentally change the way you work?”  Over generalizing some, I could say they were a very insular group, their only care and concerns were for the books and the center-of-the-firm, showcase space.

I can still recall a rather hostile crowd of librarians at the beginning of a presentation I gave for the AALL way back in 1995, and the many librarians who warmed up during the presentation and came up to talk to me and ask me questions.  Greg’s point, “there are many firms out there, big and mid-sized, where the library leadership simply doesn't have a good relationship with their CIO” rings an old bell with me.  But I would have thought we would have progressed a bit further in 16 years.

I always appreciated my relationship with the librarian.  The last thing I want them to do is remain insular.  In my last role, one of the first things I did was bring the librarian into my weekly meetings with my IT and eDiscovery reports.  I have worked with the librarians at my firms to successfully launch KM programs, to improve the document management systems, and to help consult on various aspect of information management.

There is a lot more in common between IT and the library than you might think.  Let me take just two examples.

Let’s take the library itself.  A showcase place that, rightly so, librarians take a lot of pride in.  The physical books being purchased are lessening, losing out to on-line research.  Many administrations want to reclaim the space and repurpose it for non-library uses.  On the IT side, how many firms still have computer rooms?  Many of those showcase computing facilities have been placed in secondary space in secondary cities or completely outsourced to a co-lo provider.

What about billings?  It used to be that some libraries turned a small profit.  At a minimum, hard-working librarians were able to make sure billable revenue covered the non-billable research that was conducted. Most all of that has vanished as clients today refuse to pay for any electronic research.  On the IT side it was telephone charges.  Complex billing and cost recovery systems used to be the norm, capturing every phone call made and placing them on bills.  One of the first things clients refused to pay was telephone charges, and many firms were forced to take it as pure overhead.

Too many librarians remain insular today.  They do their “library thing” and not much more than that.  But this is not 1995.  Not even 2005.  No group can remain insular and isolated.  Improved process and technology have pulled all the groups closer together.  Look at the evolution of finance and records.  A few librarians have stepped out to work with knowledge management teams, marketing and other areas of the firm.  More need to do this.

Greg says CIOs are interested in Security/Privacy, Mobile Technology and a whole laundry list of other things.  That is true, those certainly are topics that a CIO needs to be interested in.  Some, I might argue, should consume more of the IT Directors time, not the CIOs.  But I think a good CIO is really all about advocacy, enablement and forwarding the business strategies.  That advocacy and enablement is across all practices - administrative and legal.

Greg’s views and mine converge when he talks about engagement and education.  But again, it should be a two-way street.  As librarians you need to be aware of what changes are happening around you.  So if you’ve got a CIO who is antagonistic (purposefully or not) toward the library and are not sure how to proceed, send him or her to me and we’ll talk.  The library, the librarians and the services you provide are too important to waste in a hostile relationship - whoever’s fault it might be.

Bookmark and Share


Anonymous said...

I'm reminded of a law firm librarian friend who @10 years ago was in a firm where the IT person abruptly left and left a mess behind. The firm eventually promoted her to supervise IT because she "knew how the lawyers worked" and they could teach her the IT knowledge easier than they could teach an IT person how the lawyers worked.

There was also another law firm librarian who was getting less than stellar response from IT when products didn't work. She resorted to having the lawyers call IT directly. Seems when IT heard that the lawyers couldn't get their work done, the problem gained more importance. Has IT figured out that when the library's products don't work, it's everybody's problem?

John Hightower said...

With over 15+ years working as a law librarian, I have mostly worked with good IT people. Two were horse's patooties, but I am truly blessed with a great director now and wonderfully cooperative staff.

The key, I think, is teamwork. We had a similar situation where a savvy, but non-IT person was put in charge of IT. It improved things immensely.

Jill said...

Excellent post! Can't wait to share with my IT Director (with who I've enjoyed building a partnership to review and roll-out various products.)

Tony C. said...

Antagonism is hardly a comforting word on Valentine's Day. One might say that CIOs and librarians are divergence of two cultures. But it could be a convergence if both are concerned with the same issues having one goal in mind-- business development in the firm's interest.

Personalities aside, the two as a team can play on the strengths of each other and could ultimately win the grand prize in the IT version of the "Fear Factor".

So here's a few suggestions to open up collaboration.

- Shed the fear of technologies. Information still needs to be gathered and managed. Technologies just make it easier.

- The common mistake a 1L makes is not asking questions. So don't be that 1L.

- Stay in the loop by asking to be invited to meetings if it concerns your work and operations.

- Keep the "What-ifs" coming. No chance to win if you don't try.


© 2014, All Rights Reserved.