Image [cc] matthileo

After a few days of discussing the future of law libraries and law librarianship with members of the AALL Board last week, I came away with an idea of what the future holds for the law library. Many of us, including myself, have preached the ideas of stop thinking of the library as a place and think of it as the services provided, regardless of where that service takes place. While this has had an impact on librarians themselves, the idea of thinking of the library as a service and not as a physical location has been a tough idea for many outside of law librarianship to understand. Then I started thinking of ways we can help those understand that the law library is more than the books, tables and computers found inside the library. It isn’t about the square footage of the law library, but rather it is about the bubbles of services found inside and outside that physical space. The three-foot radius that is the reach of the human arm is a better representation of how we should think about a law library, rather than the linear footage of books found on shelves.

We’ve spent too long trying to hold onto the ideas that people will seek us out, and far too little time pushing out to where are services are best used. Yes, we’ve gathered statistics on how often our catalogs are used, how many reference phone calls we’ve taken, and how many emails we’ve answered, but we have been slow to adopt the idea that many of these services don’t require a specific space for the service to occur. When someone from the library (whether they are librarian, researcher, assistant, techie, etc.) walks around and provides services, the “library” surrounds them. That three-foot radius that encircles them in a six-foot perimeter and 28 square foot area, is now the library. The same holds true for the electronic communications. Email, web pages, newsletters and other forms of information and analysis that comes from those working under the library department, extend the perimeter of the library in temporary, but accessible places such as computers on the desktops, laptops on the beaches, smart phones on the bus, and tablets on airplanes.

Those who use the services of the library have figured this out long ago. No longer do they need to physically go to the library in order to get the information they need. Many of us have found the results of this lack of going to the library has resulted in that “brick-and-mortar” facility shrinking in overall size, and have viewed this as a negative for the profession. I think that it should be viewed more from a positive perspective and that creative librarians, as well as anyone that works in the law library profession, should take this change in structure and start promoting the flexibility and range of services that have resulted in this change from physical library to service library. Perhaps the idea of the Law Library as groups of three-foot radiuses of services should be what we are telling our patrons is the new structure of the law library. (By the way, I looked up the plural of radius, and radii and radiuses are both acceptable.)

Not only are librarians still thinking of the law library as a place, but some are becoming defensive that unless you work in a physical space called a law library, you cannot consider yourself a law librarian. What a silly notion, in my opinion. In a time where we have a wider reach to customers and potential customers through the three-foot radius of library service, why would we want to narrowly define the profession and those that consider themselves a part of the profession? Defining your profession by the physical space you are located, is going to result in failure. Instead, define the profession by the services provided.

We need to be inclusive, not exclusive. We need to expand our ranks by showing those that provide law library services such as competitive intelligence, business development research and analysis, as well as legal research and analysis, that they are a part of the law library community, regardless if they work in a space labeled the “Law Library” or they work in a series of cubicles called a research center, or they are embedded in a practice group. It is not about the space, it is about the service. It is time to expand your thinking about what is a law library – about who can consider themselves a part of the law library – about what the law library includes, and start expanding and marketing the law library in those three-foot radius bubbles of services that we provide.