Image [cc] Seattle University Law Library

We’ve discussed the idea of embedded library researchers on this blog in the past, but as I was having a conversation on alternative ways of promoting the value of library and research services in a firm yesterday, I started wondering if the idea of the “embedded librarian” could be flipped on its head. There are many places where it is just impossible to place librarians within practice groups, but what about embedding library concepts, practices and knowledge within the practice group through someone that is already in that group? In other words, how about turning one qualified member of a practice group into a de facto member of the library?

Within each practice group, there tends to be a “go to” person that knows the ins and outs of where things are located, what resources are available to the group, and tends to answer those group “pardon the interruption” emails that fly about when someone in the group isn’t sure where to find the answer. You can probably go to anyone in the group and ask them who they go to when they are trying to find a resource they’ve used in the past, or who they go to when they need to see if they are citing properly for the court in which they are filing their brief, or who they go to when they want someone to proof what they’ve written. Typically, each group has one… and an opportunity for the library and research team is to determine just exactly who that go to person is. Perhaps it is a paralegal, or a secretary, but it could very well be an associate or even a partner within the group. The key is to find them and start building a relationship.

In building the relationship, you want to determine what are the patterns that show up when other members of the group come to this person for help? Are they the same types of questions, such as, citation, editing, finding previous work, scenarios? What are resources they are using to answer these questions? Do they know all of the different resources that are available through the library’s paid subscriptions or what’s available for free through the Internet or locally available resources? Is there something that could be purchased by the library that would help? Is this person using the resources effectively? Does this person know when he or she is overwhelmed and needs to reach out for help to the library research staff or others within the firm? These are all good questions to ask that will make them an even better go to person, all while establishing the value of the library and research team in assisting them find the right answers, quickly, efficiently, effectively, and with higher quality results.

The key here is to strike a balance of training and assistance, without attempting to upset the culture established within the practice group. It should be viewed as the library coming to show their support to the group and the individual, and not as a power play to pull that research into the library. Quite frankly, most libraries have a large enough workload and wouldn’t want to take on additional tasks that could be handled on the practice group level. My initial thoughts on how to best strike this balance is through informal training and conversations. Once you’ve established who the go to person is, built a relationship, determined the types of issues that they face, and understand what additional resources, guides and training they need, then work with them on their schedule, in a one-to-one style of informal training. Establish a mutual understanding that the library is there to assist them when they need it, and in the end, that you are all on the same team, ready to jump in to solve a mutual problem.

Just as with most project, start small, find champions, communicate, and be willing to adjust according to the needs of the people you are trying to help. Once the relationship is built, it would seem logical that there would be additional rewards that flow from this relationship. One example that I can think of off the top of my head is that the library would have an “in” with this group now. Having that inside person can open up many opportunities for the library and research group. In a way, it would be like having a de facto library researcher embedded in the group. Someone that when they are asked to solve a problem would be able to say “the library showed me this resource that can help us answer this question.” That’s not just a win for the library, it’s a win for that practice group and the firm.