If you say the word “Outsourcing” to a law librarian you’ll notice a few physical reactions that take place. Watch how the hair tends to stand up on the back of our necks; how we tend to raise one eyebrow a little higher than the other; and particularly notice how both hands are clinched into tight fists while we wait to see where you’re going with this “outsourcing” idea. In other words, it tends to get an immediate negative response from most law librarians. Many of us remember the Baker & McKenzie and Pillsbury outsourcing of the 1990’s and those experiences have left many law librarians very defensive when it comes to outsourcing. However, does outsourcing of library and information services have to be a bad thing for law librarians? Perhaps not.
This morning I saw a press release from Integreon announcing that the 140+ attorney UK law firm of “Foot Anstey Engages Integreon for Library and Information Services.” After unclinching my fists, I read through the press release and began to view this as something that may potentially have more of a positive effect on the law librarian field than negative.
Foot Anstey is what we’d call a mid-sized firm with a regional practice in the UK. Firms of these size have a difficult time justifying having librarians and legal research support staff because of the overall costs. So, as a result, these firms tend to hire one person in hopes that he or she will be able to ‘do it all’. In reality, however, it tends to lead to a situation where the librarian is asked to do too much (research, filing, ordering, budgeting, etc.) and in the end, no one is happy. Now, there are exceptions to this story, and I’m sure there are super-librarians out there that can take on the role of solo librarian and fill the needs of everyone in the firm, but that’s got to be an exception and not the rule. For every super-librarian out there there is the poor secretary or file clerk or paralegal that is asked to take care of the library although he or she has no idea how to run one properly.
Therefore, for firms that fit in this category, would it be better to try to manage a library and information services department in-house, or would that money be better spent outsourced to a service like Integreon offers? If Integreon is using experienced law librarians (those with Masters in Library Science or JDs or both), and they are giving firms like Foot Anstey an opportunity to access quality law librarian staff through the use of outsourcing, then perhaps this could be an opportunity for the law librarian community. It will be interesting to see how this outsourced library and information services project works out, and if we are seeing the beginning of a new trend in mid-sized law firms.