Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting New York City during LegalWeek and enjoying the frigid 19 degree weather that comes with visiting New York at the end of January. LegalWeek itself is typically made of of legal technology folks and lots of e-discovery vendors, most of whom are outside my normal circle of friends and colleagues. Luckily for me, there is a group of Knowledge Management leaders attends a little informal gathering and we talk and bounce ideas off of one another. During the introductions phase, I saw a trend in titles among my librarian peers. Out of the total of about 75-80 people in attendance, 15-20 people there that I knew were managers, directors, and chiefs over their law libraries. So, about 25% of the attendees were law librarians. However, only one actually had the term “library” or “librarian” in their title. I didn’t find it all that surprising, but it was something that stuck in my mind and made me contemplate once more what others think of when they hear that someone is a librarian.
Let me start this conversation by modifying something I wrote when I said that “the library is not about the space.” Librarians are not restricted to a librarian title. Creative librarians bring value well beyond what is stereo-typically thought of in regards to what a librarian does. As in many industries, as librarians move up the ladder, we expand our responsibilities and skills in a way that breaks down the walls of what people think librarians do. As a result, we take on new roles and titles that may or may not have the word librarian in it. It doesn’t mean that the librarian profession is somehow devalued, in fact, I would say that it is the opposite. Librarians are breaking barriers and advancing into positions which a decade or two ago would have been unobtainable.
I am a law librarian. But you wouldn’t know if from my title as Chief Knowledge Services Officer. Because many of us oversee services like research, competitive and business intelligence, knowledge management, conflicts, intake, records, due diligence, and other duties, we’ve changed the scope and the titles of our departments, and our staff as well as our own titles. Regardless of those department names and job titles, we still regard ourselves at librarians. And take pride in that. That being said, the work we now oversee is not solely that of a librarian, and we are seeing others enter the domain of what we might have thought to be “law librarian” work, and turn that into “legal information” work. On the flip side, we are seeing those who are professional law librarians move into specialized work that fits their skill sets, but in not viewed as “law librarian” work. Both of those scenarios are great for the law librarians and the legal industry as a whole. It is an expansion for librarians to take on new roles, as well as lead others who are highly skilled, but not necessarily law librarians. It’s a great opportunity for those willing to seize it.
The discussion regarding the value of the terms “library” and “librarian” is much like dancing on the edge of a knife. Many law librarians have a strong attachment to the term and reject the idea of using other terms, or expanding beyond traditional law library titles and roles. I think that is far too narrow, and we tend to be too exclusive a profession. We all remember the uproar when the American Association of Law Libraries asked its members to change the name to the Association of Legal Information. That was soundly defeated (4 to 1) with many saying that they were not ready to remove “Libraries” from our identity.
I’m not saying that we should fight that battle again. But, I did talk with someone at the LegalWeek conference about that and said that he looks back now and realizes that there was an opportunity missed for the profession. He was in the camp of not changing the name because he thought it would lessen the stature of law librarians. Now he looks back and sees that he was being too restrictive in his thinking and that expanding beyond the title wouldn’t reduce librarians’ influence, but rather would have opened the door for librarians to expand their influence in the legal industry.
This was a long way to discuss the fact that law librarians bring great value to the legal industry, with or without librarian titles. We should not be limited to specific titles or responsibilities. Just because a librarian now has a title without the word library in it doesn’t lessen their influence as a librarian. We are about the skills we bring. We are about the way we train our staff and have them engage in the strategies of our organizations. We are about the way we lead fellow law librarians, and other professionals so that they are solving problems and bringing value to the entire legal industry. We are librarians, but we do not have to be called librarians in order to advance the values and skill of our profession.