As ageing Baby Boomer law firm library directors retire, there seems to be a growing trend to eliminate the Library Director position and either run the department by committee, or move responsibility for the law library to the Chief Information Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, or to existing Directors of other departments such as Knowledge Management. So far, I’ve seen very little reaction from the associations that represent law librarians (whether it is AALL, SLA, or local associations) in protest of these moves. I now know of at least three AmLaw 100 firms that no longer have a Library Director, and have no plans to rehire those positions because they do not see the value that this position brings to their firms. So, are law firm Library Directors passé? If we don’t start doing something about this trend right now they sure as hell soon will be.

How many law schools are out there that do not have a law librarian as director (usually with an Associate Dean title) running the library? Zero! One!! Why?? Because the ABA guidelines specifically say there must be a director, and even goes further to suggest that the Director hold a law degree and a library degree. Here are the standards for Law Library Director that the ABA places on all law schools:


(a) A law library shall be administered by a full-time director whose principal responsibility is the management of the law library.
(b) The selection and retention of the director of the law library shall be determined by the law school.
(c) A director of a law library should have a law degree and a degree in library or information science and shall have a sound knowledge of and experience in library administration.
(d) Except in extraordinary circumstances, a law library director shall hold a law faculty appointment with security of faculty position.
Interpretation 603-1
The director of the law library is responsible for all aspects of the management of the law library including budgeting, staff, collections, services and facilities.
Interpretation 603-2
The dean and faculty of the law school shall select the director of the law library.
Interpretation 603-3
The granting of faculty appointment to the director of the law library under this Standard normally is a tenure or tenure-track appointment. If a director is granted tenure, this tenure is not in the administrative position of director.
Interpretation 603-4
It is not a violation of Standard 603(a) for the director of the law library also to have other administrative or teaching responsibilities, provided suf cient resources and staff support are available to ensure effective management of library operations.

For law firms, even those in the AmLaw 100, 200 or NLJ 250, there is no such requirement or suggested qualifications for someone managing the firm’s law library. Therefore, law firms have absolutely no pressure put on them to place qualified professionals in charge of their libraries. The only thing that law librarians seem to have is the American Lawyer’s annual Law Librarian Survey, but that has no effect upon any of the AmLaw 100 or AmLaw 200 rankings.

The simple fact is that even large AmLaw 100 firms have absolutely no requirement to have a law library director position. And as far as I know, there is no movement within the ABA, AALL, SLA, American Lawyer, National Law Journal, or any other organization to set a requirement similar to Standard 603 for law firms. Is it time to push for such a standard for large law firms? Or did law librarians miss the opportunity to solidify their roles within law firms and are now watching as the top library positions disappear forever?

  • Not zero. At least one.

    Harvard Law School library's director, John Palfrey, has a number of superb qualities but I don't believe an MLS is one of them.

    Using non-librarians as senior managers at libraries is common outside of the legal profession, so I would be surprised if that trend didn't happen in law firms as well.

  • Thanks David… I forgot about Harvard's appointment of John Palfrey back in 2008.
    I'm with you… I hope this is a unique situation in law schools and not the trend.

  • Actually, I don't have any problem with the trend, if that's what it is. Depending on the organization's library / information needs, there may be better candidates with skill sets not covered by library school but who still understand information and can hire informed managers to handle operations. The best candidate should be selected, not the best librarian candidate, as directors of information centers and libraries.

  • David,

    You're not alone in your opinion that a law library (specifically BIG law libraries like HLS or even the Library of Congress) could be run by someone with exceptional talent. But, these type of positions usually require someone that acts more in the position of CEO or COO where the role extends into the political, fund raising, and lobbying functions. My 'guess' is that at HLS and LOC, the associate director takes on the more traditional "library director" role.

    However, you're point is not lost upon me… I'm hoping that Library Schools, Library Associations, and librarians recognize that if they want to take on the management of law libraries, that they need to understand how to manage and direct the library in a way that fits the needs of those that they support.

    I'm afraid, however, that much of the management style has changed very little in the past 20+ years. Library services, management and direction shouldn't resemble what it was in the 80's and 90's, but it seems that some are still chugging and running like a 20th Century profession.

  • Caren J. Biberman

    I disagree with your statement "I'm afraid, however, that much of the management style has changed very little in the past 20+ years…. it seems that some are still chugging and running like a 20th Century profession."

    I think many of us have changed with the times and continue to look for and find new ways to be relevant to our firms and to provide the kind of services that are needed in today's day.

    If you look at the high profile Library Director dismissals (and there really were just a few of them at the top firms) I think you will see these were Directors who embraced change and were at the top of the their field. I think the truth of it was that the firms did not understand the library director as a strategic planner and in tough economic times they chose to do without the directors and rely on the day to day library managers in the individual offices. I think in the long term these firms may come to regret their decision.

    What I do agree with is that the professional organizations need to take a more proactive role in promoting librarianship as an important and valuable profession. I certainly plan to do all that I can in making that a reality.

    Caren J. Biberman

    The opinions contained in this post are mine along and do not necessarily reflect the views of my firm or any organization of which I am a member.

  • Caren,

    It seems there's a "damned if you do… damned if you don't" situation right now. At least two of the firms I'm thinking of were much more traditional "brick and morter" type libraries. But, I also know of a couple that you're describing where some forward thinking directors were cut loose.
    The disappointing thing in those situations was the fact that even the trailblazer's firms seemed to be comfortable in not replacing them.

    I think this is something that the professional organizations need to address… quickly!

  • Hi Greg,

    Does your firm have a library director?

    I think the latest moves to not replace law firm library directors is more about the economy than anything else. The firms I've talked to that have made this move, have put the position on hold rather than cut it.


  • Nina Platt

    Also, I would be curious to know which firms have no intentions of replacing their library directors. Can you name names?

  • In addition to Harvard, two other law schools have non-librarians heading their libraries — Seton Hall and Buffalo both have faculty members in that slot.

    I recall the accouncement of Buffalo's move — first sentence noted that the prof was selected to head the law library because he "loved book." (I kid you not!)

  • Martin

    If the community of librarians wishes to solidify the position of "library director" (or equivalent) in law firms, they must present a cogent argument to the malpractice insurance carriers such as ALAS.

    A short five point memo stressing: cost savings; standard research procedures; comprehensive resource management; effective hiring program; and continuing education, should go a long way to demonstrating the value of having a library director in a firm's liability avoidance program.

  • Anonymous

    Mayer Brown
    Winston Strawn
    Bass Berry

    To name a few…

  • I am curious to know who babysits the summers when they arrive at these firms that lack a library director? Do they still have librarians but no director? Or do they get rid of the entire library staff?

  • I am currently the interim library director at Dorsey and am posting this in response to Dorsey's inclusion in Anonymous' list of firms not intending to replace their law library directors. The firm does intend to fill the position in the future.

  • Victoria, they're probably issued with a headset and mp3 player and given a pre-recorded guide tour of the library that way – like some historic tourist attractions!