One of my academic friends (Katie Brown from Oklahoma City University) forwarded me this article written by Virginia Tech’s Library Associate Dean, Brian Mathews, titled “Thinking Like A Startup: a white paper to inspire library entrepreneuralism.” Although it is written from the perspective of an academic librarian, there are many parallels for the law firm library.

I’ve adapted some of the headlines to fit the law firm library environment. If you read the white paper (and I strongly encourage you to do so), I’d suggest thinking of how these ideas play out in our environment:

  • Is Your Law Firm Library Too Big To Fail?
    Our jobs are shifting from doing what we have always done very well, to always being on the lookout for new opportunities to advance teaching, learning, service, and research.
  • Innovators Wanted
    There is a huge demand for librarians who “think different.” The environment needs to foster these different ideas or we’ll be stuck in the status quo. The environment should be one that challenges the status quo and is ready for disruption.
  • Think Like a Startup
    What can we create today that will be essential tomorrow? This type of thinking gives us a way to analyze what we do, why we do it, and how we might implement change.
  • Most Startups Fail; Learn From the Ones that Didn’t
    Look at examples of peers that succeeded. “Get a Plan/Goal that Works.” Setting goals that you can tick off, and meet deadlines, doesn’t necessarily make them good goals. Setting, and accomplishing Goal “A” should help get you to Goals B, C, and D.
  • Build, Measure, Learn: The Methodology
    This is how it works: you take your initial concept and develop it into a shareable format. Test it and analyze the reaction. You then use this insight to build a better prototype. Repeat the process. Iterate forever.
  • Three Essential Qualities of Inspiring Products:
    2. Feasibility
    3. Value
    “Entrepreneurship is a lot like to a science experiment; you’re constantly creating and testing new theses and seeing what works.”
  • Too Much Assessment, Not Enough Innovation
    We invest a lot of time, money, and effort into metrics… but does it work? matter? produce something useful? encourage innovation?
    Ask this question: If we stopped all of our assessment programs today would those that use our services notice anything different tomorrow?
    Innovation needs to be in everyone’s job description.

  • A Strategic Culture (Instead of a Strategic Plan)
    Instead of building a strategic plan that reads like a “to-do” list, they should discuss how we will:
     – develop three big ideas that will shift the way we operate
     – transform how our lawyers work
     – think BIG, and ask BIGGER QUESTIONS
  • Microscopes & Telescopes
    Stop looking at what we’ve done under a microscope and start looking through a telescope at what we should be doing next and work to see, plan and implement the transformation together.
  • Innovating Means Getting Your Hands Dirty
    Coming up with an idea doesn’t take a lot of work, and it doesn’t change anything. The goal is to build something that doesn’t exist; to make those ideas tangible; and to create something that is absolutely essential.

Perhaps my favorite (although probably the hardest to actually follow through on) is the “Too Much Assessment, Not Enough Innovation” heading. Not that metrics and statistics aren’t important, they are, but rather the idea that metrics for metrics sake is not enough. Metrics are “Plan A” and should therefore lead us to Plans B, C, and D. Many of us stop at Plan A (show someone how important we are by the results of the metrics.) What metrics should be enabling us to do is to look at what we are doing, and then improve, remove, redirect, or supplement the information buried in these metrics.

Do any of these topics spark an idea for you?

  • The way most organizations do metrics is the way my 11-year-old son cleans his room — he moves some stuff around, throws clothes in the direction his hamper was in last year, and hides stuff under the bed. You get what you measure; the wrong metrics are worse than useless because you'll move in the wrong direction.

    If an organization doesn't truly understand both the art and the science of measuring, it can never measure up. (Oh, well, sorry about the terrible pun, but it's the thought that counts. Or is it?)

  • Instead of ideas, what are the known examples of successful "library entrepreneuralism? I think if there were a foundation of known cases, then you could start piling on ideas.

  • Jason,

    I'd say that what Marlene Gebauer has done at GTLaw with the library portal and getting technology people hired within the library (and not just borrowed from IT on an ad hoc basis) is one example of library entrepreneuralism. She discussed these strategies at one of the ARK conferences a few months ago and caught the attention of a number of librarians in the room.

  • Okay… I'll add one more, but seriously people, I can name four or five off the top of my head. I know you have to have some comments on people you consider an entrepreneurial in law libraries (any type of law library):

    Lynn Oser from WilmerHale is someone I'd consider to be an entrepreneurial with her redefining the business model of her library under the title of "Total Library Service Management." Lynn along with IMS consultants adapted the ITIL principles to fit the services and expertise of those in the library. Great stuff… great ideas… put into action.

  • Do you consider use of RFID tech in libraries as part of this? What about decentralized library staff (the so-called embedded librarian)?

  • I suppose I see it manifest itself most as products, although I'm sure there are examples of entrepreneurialism within operations too.

    Catherine Reach (firm librarian then director ABA Legal Tech Resource Center, now Chicago Bar) and her ABA team developed and pitched a set of software discounts for ABA members that didn't fit the model that the ABA had for its normal sponsorships. Her success came after a number of years of trying. She wrapped the service with weekly online training sessions. ABA Tech EZ

    The Nova Scotia Barrister's Society is rolling up their law library, but it won an award for an interesting annotated, online version of the province's civil pro rules. They partnered with the tech folks who developed CanLII and created an enhanced resource for their lawyers. Nova Scotia Civ Pro Annotated

    I often think of the subscription-based Social Law Library as entrepreneurial. On a visit to their library a couple of years back, I remember being impressed at how they'd developed their document delivery service. They also do Web site hosting and development for their members. Both Social and Jenkins have been out front in creating very customized electronic licenses for legal research databases that enable them to reach well beyond their physical walls and into lawyers offices.

  • Jason,

    The RFID issue would revolve around whether someone was simply replacing one technology (barcodes) with a more advance technology (RFID) without any value-added results. Certainly it may speed up things, but it kind of reminds me of when Henry Ford talked about automobiles vs. "faster horses". In that example, RFIDs are really "faster horses."

    As for the embedded librarians, at least the way we've discussed it on this blog, I'd say that is much more entrepreneuralistic (is that a word??) What I mean by that is that it is a different method of delivering services, and one that makes many librarians nervous because they desire control over service. Entrepreneural Law Librarians don't let the status quo of "you can't let your staff out of your site because they might forget they work for you" concepts prohibit them from providing service in the way that best fits the needs of the lawyers/firm over the needs of the library leadership.

  • Greg,

    I agree with you on embedded librarians. In fact, the idea of control is usually a legacy problem to begin with. I might also go the other way with it and add centralized library/reference desk to this discussion. I'm still waiting for a business model to evolve around a library/research service that serves multiple firms rather than just multiple offices of a single firm.

  • Jason, I think you could argue that a lot of subscription law libraries fit that model, whether they're totally private or mixed like in Ohio and California. Their services and collection are shared across many firms, who provide financial support in dues but don't own any of the content and aren't direct employers of the staff.

    Isn't that also what Integreon is doing with its outsourced library functions? It sounds like their UK operation is a mixed bag of onsite staff and remote staff serving a bunch of different firms. But I could be wrong.

  • Greg,& Jason, As an independant law librarian/consultant I have had an entrepreneural business model for the past 30 plus years in the area of research on demand,law library audits,etc. My latest "tweek" is providing firms with mult-time zone offices, research services outside normal business hours ( evening/weekends) to meet the "new normal" of 24/7 service that lawbiz requires to provide TMQ for their clients.