It almost never fails when I run into someone I used to work with. The conversation starts with “Hey… how’s the law library world? It’s gotta be tough with all those books being online now.” (The implication being “aren’t you worried about becoming irrelevant?”) I reply with “Yeah, that makes it a whole lot more difficult to manage with all that information in a dozen different places than it did when it was a book in the library.” I’m not sure who they think is managing the information which is usually behind a very expensive paywall. I would guess they either think that it is managed directly by the vendor, or worse, that the Information Technology department is now the de facto library managers.
One of the benefits I get from being the current President of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) is that I get to go to different types of meetings and engage with legal professionals who are not law librarians. These are law professors, recruiters, marketers, technology/security professionals, legal administrators, in-house counsel, and others in the legal industry. One of the questions that I’ve heard, especially from in-house and corporate lawyers is the fact that they need help managing their legal information. When I ask if they have a librarian or some type of specialized legal information professional, the answer is typically “no.” When I prod further, I find that many corporations downsized or eliminated their corporate library staff during the Great Recession period. I don’t think that is a surprise to many of us. Corporate libraries were devastated at the beginning of this decade. I think that is coming back to haunt some corporations.
This isn’t to say all corporate libraries were eliminated. There are still many out there that are around and thriving. But, more often than not, most were severely affected by the economic downturn, and seen as an easy cost reduction because the corporate management saw libraries as books and space, and librarians as keepers of books and space. In reality, librarians are managers of information, and we have more information at our disposal than ever.
It is time for the corporations to rethink how they are managing their information. My rule of thumb for law firms is that somewhere between 1% to 2% of revenue is spent on external information resources. It’s a guess on my part for corporations, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that same rule of thumb applies to them. If there are no information professionals, such as a librarian, or an information analyst, managing these resources, then I would bet they are being mismanaged.
IT departments are not equipped to manage these types of vendor relations, nor are they experts at understanding what type of information best fits the corporate environment, and what alternative products are out there. Information professionals do.
Corporate lawyers may understand some of the valued resources that are needed for their departments, but do you really want your attorneys dealing with vendors, researching new products or updates to existing resources, and establishing training? Information professionals do.
Secretaries and Administrative Assistants are great people and wonderful at supporting the corporations. However, many are just not experienced in what it takes to plan and create a strategy for what the information needs are for the entire company, or even for an individual department. Information professionals do.
In this era of readily accessible information, we do not suffer from a lack of information resources, we suffer from an abundance of irrelevant information that looks on its surface to be relevant. Information professionals are your line of defense against the abundance of information, and are your due diligence agents for identifying the resources which best fit your needs and your budgets.
If you are one of those corporations who reduced your library staff because you thought “all those books are online now,” it may be time to think about reestablishing those duties. I would suggest reaching out to a local library or law library association if you have one in your area. Or, get in touch with an organization like AALL, SLA, or other specialty library associations and have them point you to someone local who could advice you on where to start. That information is not going to manage itself, so step up and get the professional help you need to get your information resources under control, and part of your overall corporate strategy.