I recently stumbled across a report, How College Students Evaluate and Use Information in the Digital Age, from Project Information Literacy (PIL). The report was published in November of 2010, based on research conducted in the spring of that year. Therefore, some of these students might be entering your firms this year as summer associates or have already joined your ranks in other positions.

The entire report is fascinating, but one particularly disturbing finding was about how these students use librarians, especially as compared to their responses from the prior year. In ranking “Sources used for Course-Related Research”, the students placed librarians second from the bottom (above Blogs) at 30%, down from 47% the prior year. When asked about their personal “Everyday Life Research”, the students ranked librarians at the very bottom at 14%, down from 33%.
I think it is fabulous that Librarians were listed as a “source” right along with Google and Wikipedia, and that as early as 2009, almost half of the students used librarians as a source. What isn’t so great is the 17% drop in just one year. 
What is also interesting is that PIL found in a 2009 study that the students do use the library, but just not the librarians or the services provided.

As a whole, the results suggested that students do, in fact, use libraries—but most of the respondents used library resources—not librarian-related services.

I happen to believe that law students, as opposed to undergraduates, do utilize the librarians as sources to assist them and that some of this does carry over into the law firm. However, it still feels like we are starting in a hole and trying to back-fill our way up to level ground. 
How can we get there? PIL offers a thought-provoking recommendation in the 2009 report:

Librarians should systematically (not just anecdotally) examine the services they provide…this may require looking at things through a new lens, if need be. Questions should be addressed about how and why services and resources are used—not only how often (e.g., circulation or reference desk statistics)…At the same time, we recommend librarians seriously question whether they are developing a set of “niche services,” which only reach a small percentage of [users].

The recommendation that we examine the “how and why” we do what we do is absolutely key and one that we need to be able to answer in a way that makes sense to management and clearly demonstrates value. So take any statistics you are currently gathering and add in this component. It might make a big difference.

Colleen Cable is a Library Consultant for Profit Recovery Partners bringing the “consultant angle” to Three Geeks.