The Law Firm Library & CIO Relationship

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Later this month, I will presenting with Scott Preston (lovingly referred to around here as “Geek #4”) at the ARK Group Conference focusing on law firm libraries and information services. Initially we were going to discuss the CIO/Library relations, but after discussing it for a while, we decided to go a bit broader and bring it back to an IT/Library relations. The change, however, left me with some of my preparatory notes on the initial topic, and not wanting anything to go to waste, I decided to use these as a basis for a blog post. After going to the CIO Forum at LegalTech a few days ago, it was clear to me that most of the CIOs there are focused on the issues of:
  • Security/Privacy
  • Mobile Technology
  • Legal Project Management
  • Keeping e-mail and the network up
  • Industry Trends (mainly Cloud Storage)
  • Consumerization of Technology
  • Training Users on New Technology
  • Dealing with Legacy Data Systems
  • Technology that can be Outsourced
On the surface, you would think that the CIO is just too overwhelmed to think about the library, but you’d be wrong. CIO's do think about the library… and many think that the library needs to be refocused. The anecdotal stories I hear from CIO's when they talk about the library tend to run in these categories:
  • The Library is a space (that can be better allocated)
  • The Library is about books
  • I rarely talk to the librarians
  • When I do talk to the librarians, all I hear is "blah, blah, blah, library catalog, blah, blah, blah."
It isn’t that CIOs are purposely antagonistic toward the library, it’s more that the library just isn’t on their radar. On the rare occasion the library does surface to them, it is usually with a problem the library has that the technology team needs to fix. It would seem that the CIO's approach to dealing with others on the Administrative side of the house falls into that theme of "Lead, Follow or Get the Hell Out of the Way." This isn’t just the approach CIOs take with the library, it is the approach they take with all law firm administrative departments. Of course, I'm sure many of you reading this will counter that you have a great relationship with your CIO, and maybe you do… if so, congratulations, and thank you for making the library profession look good… but there are many firms out there, big and mid-sized, where the library leadership simply doesn't have a good relationship with their CIO… some of which don't realize how bad their relationships are because the CIO has dismissed them and they haven't realized it yet. This type of relationship makes the library profession look bad. For those that have this type of relationship between CIO and Library Services, how do you fix the relationship? I would think that one way to approach situations like this is to: Engage the CIO and educate him or her on the high levels of work performed by the library in a way that explains both the talent level needed to perform these jobs, and in a way that plays off of the pain-points that the CIO addresses (managing risk for the firm, managing projects, dealing with the consumerization of information, training, etc.) In many ways, the pain-points of running a library and all of its subsidiary divisions (records, conflicts, CI, BD, etc.) parallels the pain-points of a CIO. The library is more than just a place. There is value in the services provided, but that value has to be displayed in a way that others understand it. Once a CIO understands that value, and can relate to it based on their own experiences, then the relationship can grow. It is up to the leadership within the Library to educate the CIO of that value, because a CIO that thinks your department has limited value is very dangerous thing to your career as a leader of a law firm library.

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Jim Darsigny said...

Very interesting post Greg. As a CIO with responsibility for the Library, I can tell you that my appreciation for the challenges faced and services provided by our Library has grown tremendously since I took it on. I agree wholeheartedly that Librarians must highlight the contributions their department makes so that decision makers in the firm appreciate them. Competitive intelligence, lateral hire research, and knowledge management are all services that emphasize the people that make up the library, rather than the physical assets and that is the key. They are, in a way, resellers of IT services but their value add is unique to their field of expertise and invaluable. Library budgets are a significant expense and are under constant pressure to reduce so anything that demonstrates the value add is a big plus.


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