When I was in the US Army, we used to have a saying: “Do not tick off the Mess Cook, the Supply Sergeant, or the Payroll Officer.” The reason was simple… you didn’t want to worry about what was in your food, pay for items that were mysteriously signed out to you and then lost; or, find that your check got routed to Ft. Dix, NJ and will make its way back in a couple of weeks. None of these guys were your boss, or even that high ranking a soldier. However, they had power and could use it in ways that could make things difficult for you if they wanted.

Think of that saying when you read this little email advertisement that was sent out by someone at Westlaw.

“Are You On A First Name Basis With The Librarian? If so, chances are, you’re spending too much time in the library.”
This little doozey was making its way around the law-lib listserv on Monday and was causing quite a stir on at least one blog. Although this is a pretty poor advertisement, I don’t think they meant it the way it came out. A fact which was verified by Anne Ellis later on Monday.
Here is what the ad department at Westlaw was probably trying to say: “If you’re a lawyer, you shouldn’t rely solely on the law librarian to pull your documents or do your research.” That would actually be a great ad.
This contentious ad seems to promote the idea that the librarian is a resource of last resort. Of course, this flies in the face of the argument that most librarians (including myself) tell their lawyers and paralegals, which is: “if you cannot find what you are looking for in a short period of time, call the law librarian for help. Chances are he or she has already researched that topic and can point you in the right direction.”
I’m pretty sure that the genesis for the Westlaw ad was the fact that the sales reps from the legal research providers see the librarians as “gatekeepers.” All of us know how frustrating it can be to deal with gatekeepers, whether it is a certain secretary, paralegal, junior partner, etc. So, in a way, I can understand how the creator of this ad came up with the idea, but the fact that they actually sent this thing around as an email was just bad judgement. You can criticize gatekeepers all you want to your friends and colleagues, but for goodness sakes, don’t put it in an email and broadcast it.
Just like with my Army buddies at the mess hall, the supply room or the payroll office, law librarians have a job to do, and as a general rule, we do it well. So, let’s be a little more careful with how you think lawyers should be using the librarian as a resource in your next ad.