Ben Gilad, noted competitive intelligence theorist once wrote something to the effect of “bird watching is a fun hobby, but you shouldn’t do it in the middle of a busy highway.” Greg’s last post about needing investigative reporters on staff is to me a bit like bird watching on a highway. I see the point, even the theoretical beauty, but it also potentially dangerous.  In this case, not to the bird watcher but to me and those in the industry like me – the competitive intelligence practitioner. 

As CI practitioners it our jobs to be the guardrails at the top the cliff, to identify the early warning systems for both the firm (business of law) and clients (the practice of law).  It is our mandate to embed ourselves in practices, to keep the pulse of the firm, monitor the outside world and bring it into the firm to make decision making better, easier, smarter.  It is our jobs to make sure that client interaction happens with the most current and relevant information on hand. 

The scariest, though not entirely surprising part of the post for me, was the notion that firms use a myriad of business development and competitive intelligence resources and tactics to attempt to provide proactive service.  What is scary about that you might ask? The perception that this is not happening, and that there are tools and tactics not people, training programs and processes behind the service.  CI, is still seen, even by prolific law office management as being a set of tools and tactics, rather than a highly skilled group of people.  This is where we have failed our firms.  It is a bit like suggesting that the library as a place is providing information rather than the librarians and other information professionals who work there. How many times have you heard in firms “oh, the library (meaning the people but referencing the place) can get that for you”.

The jury is still out on whether CI is in fact a profession or a series of competencies, but one thing is clear, there are firms doing CI just as described in the post. It is not merely about access to databases, data manipulation and current awareness.  There are law firm CI practitioners (be they librarians, BD people or otherwise) who are embedded in practices, providing quarterly analysis, monthly reports and the like.  Just as there are law firm librarians who are great at asking questions – using their reference interview skills to verify fact and figures just as a journalist would do.

I will concede however, that despite our best efforts there is something missing. And it may well be the concept of training, certification or even recognition of a CI as an actual discipline rather than a series of tactics and tools.  This might be where journalism as a known and classic trained discipline can supercede.    There are many consulting firms out there (I won’t name names, but send me a note if you want some referrals) who will work with Librarians, Business Development folks, and CI people to set up current awareness portals staffed by real analysts (some even former journalists) on the other end – people – who can provide the extra layer of analysis the Investigative Journalist post envisions.  Many of these same consultancies will work with firms to provide primary research to back up secondary findings, but the thing that is missing is a road map.  The plan if you will, for how to take CI farther in firms, moving it away from market research, data crunching and analysis frameworks towards being the strong, recognized and necessary guardrail it is designed to be.

So while I welcome out of work investigative journalists to join the ranks of law firm support staff along with the librarians, business development people and others being downsized across industries and professions, in true CI fashion, I must as act as the guardrail here and suggest that until firms know where they are going, its best not to get caught watching the birds. [Zena Applebaum]

I had the honor of presenting to at the Texas Library Association Conference here in Houston today. The topic was on Library and Knowledge Management’s collaborative roles within a firm, and how they can work together to bring in better processes, automate certain manual procedures, and add analyze data in a way that makes it (and as a result, KM and Library) more valuable.

Below are the thoughts I wrote down to discuss six questions. These questions were raised at the ARK KM meeting earlier this year and, although the audience was substantially different, I thought it would be a good reference point to cover what is expected of us, and how we can contribute to the operations of the firm in unexpected ways. Thanks to Sean Luman for stepping in and co-presenting with me after Toby suddenly had a conflict.

[Note: Click here to see the Prezi that went along with the presentation.]

How Do We Assist the Firm In Using the Knowledge Base?
Law firms collect enormous amounts of information every day. Much of this information sits in databases, shared drives, email, Document Management Systems (DMS), Client Relationship Management Tools (CRM), and other repositories. Some of it is valuable, but much of it is not. So when we ask about the Knowledge Base, we really need to ask ourselves:
1. How do we make it easy to put good data in?
2. How do we make it easy to pull good data out?

How Do We Assist Our Attorneys in Doing the Same Work More Efficiently?
If you ask most lawyers how they work, they will talk about how they are the expert in “X” field and that nearly everything they do is original or “customized” work. That the client’s needs are so unique, that it takes their expertise to understand it and make it happen. On the other hand, if you ask the client what their lawyers do (and remember, many of them worked at law firms before going in-house), they would say that a lawyer pulls out an old document, or a standard form and changes the name of the old client and inserts theirs. Then bills them for four hours of work at $800.00 an hour. Although there is some cases where the work is truly unique and customized, most work in law firms is repetitive legal work. Although clients have let firms slide for years on the “customized” vs. “commoditized” work, many clients are now pushing back on their lawyers and demanding that they work more efficiently, and if they don’t, the client demands for the lawyers to “write-off” the portion of the bills that they think comes from inefficient processes.

This is a golden opportunity for KM and Library to step up and help. It’s not a new concept. Libraries and KM have been attempting to bring efficiencies into law firms for 20+ years. However, the billable hour model did not support the concepts of streamlining processes, creating clause libraries and Best Practices Documents, or creating checklists to make the work go faster and smoother. Most lawyers (although they would not publicly admit to it) would think that thinking of their work as commoditized work was beneath them, and that all the work they did was customized, therefore, streamlining wasn’t an option. Richard Susskind has a book on this topic and has spent the last four years traveling around the world talking about how lawyers that continue to think this way will soon find themselves without clients.

How Does KM/Library Drive the Strategy for Legal Project Management?
Project Management is the big buzz word in law firms these days. Although many discuss it in different ways, it really boils down to the idea that all of the work performed is done so by the appropriate people and or technology. Work should be pushed down to the most effective/efficient level. KM and Library have a role to play in Project Management because there are many jobs that the firm has to do that the library could take on, or that KM could automate. Whether it is called Six Sigma or Lean Sigma, Legal Process Management, or Alternative Fee Arrangements, all of these ideas mean that all work performed on a matter is performed at the appropriate level (no Partners doing Associate work, etc.) and that the work is performed at the right time, and in the right order. Librarians and KM workers that understand and step up to take a seat in this process will find themselves to be a very valuable piece of the overall project.

How Do We Provide the Best Information for Business Development & Legal Practice?
Since 2008, the push in law firms has been to cut overhead. Although firms are still watching the bottom line in 2012, there is a new focus on how to develop new business and start increasing revenues. KM and Library is strategically position to assist business development projects because these groups sit right in the middle of a wealth of internal and external information. Biz Dev looks for opportunities in Lateral hiring, Cross-Selling to Existing Clients, Attracting Clients Away From Other Firms, and Being Ready for Alternative Fee Deals when they come around. Library/KM helps strategically position the firm for these opportunities by finding methods of identifying prospects and working on processes that push the key information into the right hands at the right time. The two pieces that KM/Library can be most effective is in the areas of Automation and Analysis.

How Do We Partner With Other Departments to Provide Insight regarding Our Clients and Potential Business Opportunities?
The “Administrative” side of the law firm (Marketing, IT, Biz Dev, Practice Development, Professional Development, etc.) has a very important role to play in the new environment of the law firm. Not only do they need to make sure that the law firm runs smoothly, but they also need to look at ways of increasing potential opportunities.

Marketing, for example, is constantly needing information about what our clients are doing, down to the individuals within our clients’ companies. They are also charged with keeping our attorneys well prepared, usually at a moment’s notice to discuss what is going on with the client, and any potential risks the client may currently be facing. Again, a perfect Library/KM opportunity to have a strategy that focuses on identifying external resources and internal knowledge in a way that creates an end product that can be assembled quickly and allows for quick analysis as the need arises. Portals and Enterprise Search tools are one of the biggest areas that Library and KM can offer to support these needs.

How Do We Do It All With Fewer Resources?
Library and KM (as well as any department in a law firm) is still feeling the pains of the recession. Less staff… less budget… fewer resources… all the “new normal” of law firm administration. Unfortunately, we can’t sit back and say “sorry, we can’t support that because you cut our budget.” It means that you have to think creatively about what it is that you are doing. It means getting rid of old projects and processes that either aren’t working, or aren’t worth the amount of effort that your having to put in. Again, think of the “push processes down to the lowest appropriate level” of work and determine if automation can be brought in for processes that are now manual processes. Can existing software do more than you are making it do? Can we remove duplicate work? Can we set up self-help systems that allow those seeking the information to go directly to that information? If you think that everything you do has to be customized, then just like the attorney, you will soon find yourself without clients, and without a job.

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:
    1.Usability
    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?

When Emily Clasper stood in front of a group of “eager to learn librarians” to discuss a class on 21st Century Search Trends, she was shocked that when she came to a PowerPoint slide that discussed Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the slide might as well looked like this:

Η βελτιστοποίηση μηχανών αναζήτησης

It seemed that many of the librarians in the audience had not heard of the term before, and I imagine that the minutes she spent discussing SEO strategies sounded much like the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons (“wamp waa waa waaa wamp”).

Clasper, who thought that SEO was something that every librarian should at least have the basic grasp of understanding, was a little shocked at the lack of knowledge coming from a group of people that should be some of the best users of online resources.

I mean, we need to use it, right? We have online resources, Web sites, and digital content we want to put into the hands of our patrons. We want to market our services and the opportunities we provide to our communities. We aim to remain relevant in the every day lives of the people we serve. So isn’t understanding and applying the basic principles of SEO to our digital environment kind of a big deal?

It did make me wonder where the disconnect came from between Librarians (at least the one’s in Emily’s audience… as I’m sure all the readers of this blog are SEO gurus, right??) and the value that SEO both as creators of information, and as consumers of information. Emily points out that as users of online resources, “aren’t we obligated to understand as much as we can about where our information comes from?” If we don’t understand the basic concepts of why certain results are placed higher on the page than others, are we then blindly trusting search engines and the filters and rankers that are being used?

I started thinking about the other side of this coin and wondered if maybe librarians were thinking too narrowly on who their audience is today. As much as we hammer the idea that “the library” is not simply a place any longer, I think many librarians still see their audience as those that do come in to that place (perhaps expanded a bit to include those that make requests via email as well as physically come into the library.) Although the information we create online may be designed for those that hold a library card, or attend our university, or work in our company… should we simply limit the exposure of our information to those groups? Perhaps the understanding of SEO strategies can expand the reach of the information we collect beyond our traditional doorstep.

Traditionally, SEO strategies have been housed in the Marketing or Internet Technology groups, and not in the library. Therefore, if the library wants to understand if these strategies can help expand our internal and external reach, the first step would be to find those who define your organization’s SEO strategies and determine what you need to be doing to be included in that strategy. Search isn’t just about the basic Boolean “AND OR NOT” structure any longer. A better understanding of Search Engine Optimization will make you a better consumer of information as well as a better contributor of information.

As the school year ended, I told my three daughters that I was going to cancel the cable subscriptions because I didn’t want them sitting in front of the TV all Summer watching The Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. However, like most of my home projects, I haven’t followed through on my promise. Instead, we’ve been addicted to the show The Voice, and we’ve been spending our “family time” discussing Christina Aguilera’s ability to look like Betty Boop characters and Ce Lo Green’s choice in sunglasses. Oh, we’ve also been discussing the talent on the show as well. The initial idea behind The Voice was to take unsigned talent and judge them by their skills as a singer, not by their looks. Although as the show has progressed, it seems that there is some judging on “showmanship,” what actually caught me off-guard last night and this morning was that “unsigned” didn’t mean “never signed.” Some of the talent is getting a “second chance” at grabbing the music industry’s brass ring. It was this “second-chance” aspect that got me thinking about projects that failed, but may still be worth giving another chance to see if maybe the time is right for a comeback. As usual, you’re going to have to stick with me for a minute as I try to draw this parallel between musicians and legal projects.

Two of the most polished singers on The Voice, Dia Frampton and Javier Colon, aren’t amateurs. Not only have they been signed by major record labels, but both have released multiple CDs, all to limited fanfare, and then they were dumped by their record labels. (See Javier’s and Dia’s work under their band names, Javier and Meg & Dia.)

It’s a common story… great talent gets you so far, but without the proper planning and support, even the best talent can go unnoticed and end up labeled as a failure. Sound eerily similar to some of the KM, IT, Library, Biz Dev, CI, and so on and so forth, projects that are given their initial chance in the law firm. Inevitably, some of these projects aren’t given the support they need (adequate funding, equipment, personnel, etc), or the planning is so poor that they fail (lack of proper environmental testing, rolled out to the wrong group, etc.) Although there are many projects that fail because they are “bad projects,” there are many “great projects” that fail because the people supporting the projects have failed in their support.

So, just like Dia and Javier, are some of these failed projects worth another chance? Perhaps some of those projects were ahead of their time (meaning your firm just wasn’t ready for them two years ago, but perhaps now they are.) Perhaps some of those projects took a hit when the great recession hit in 2007-2008, and now that business is picking back up, it is time to give those failed projects a second chance.

The biggest hurdle on giving something a second chance is overcoming the fact that they failed in the first place. Maybe, as with the premise of The Voice, you should have a little selective ignorance of what happened in the past, and listen to the value of the project in the here and now. Perhaps you’ll turn your chair around on a worthwhile project and wonder how you let it fail in the first place.

Just for a little fun, here’s a couple of videos from Dia Frampton… the first one, Monster, was a failure, and the second one, Heartless, seems to show that sometimes things are worth giving a second chance.

Monster (Meg & Dia) – Labeled a Failure


Heartless – Worth A Second Chance?

Very interesting article written by Phoebe Connelly at the Atlantic on “SXSW 2011: The Year of the Librarian” where she discusses the librarian micro-track at SXSWi where the discussion didn’t focus on tech for the sake of tech, but “rather, it was about processing data with a purpose; data for a greater good.”

Whether it was the work conducted in search of open government standards, rural librarians and lack of Internet access in American homes, or the effects of data visualization on how to manage the vast amounts of raw data that is hammering our society right now, it is librarians that are out in front of these issues to discuss what the can be done with these topics. As she quotes Justin Grimes, “Librarians are the boots on the ground. We don’t care what the tech is, we care about what the user actually needs. That’s our mandate.”

So, thank you Phoebe for helping spread the message that librarians are out there working between tech and the needs of the users and helping both sides find each other in a way that makes a difference.

[Note: There has been an update on the status of the Archives Library that says that they will not be abolishing it. Please see the ALA Update.]

The Archivist of the United States (AOTUS), David Ferriero, wrote that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is facing a funding situation where they are “Doing More With Less.” An 8.2% decrease in funding for FY2012 means some hard decisions have to be made, one of which is the abolishment of the National Archives Library.

Bernadine Abbot Hoduski, well-respected Government Documents Librarian, and founder of the Government Documents Roundtable (GODORT) in 1972, send out this email to the GOVDOC-L listserv, and I asked her if I could reprint it here to help get her message out about what happens to the actual material held in the National Archives Library. Bernadine points out something that we all know happens during economic downturns that cause governments to begin cutting services:

As we all know as librarians, libraries are often the first to be cut in an economic crisis. We also know that once the resources in these libraries are lost they are almost impossible to replace.

I’ve taken the liberty of including some links when possible, and placing some of her key questions in bold-face type, and hope that AOTUS would address these issues as soon as possible.


[Note: There is an update from ALA that seems to contradict the initial NARA memo. I’ve placed it at the end of this post. I’ll keep you updated if any new information comes out of NARA clarifying the closure and layoffs that were initially announce.]

Hello All,

The Archivist of the United States has issued Memo 2011-113, which announces the abolishment of the National Archives Library by the end of this fiscal year.

I went to the NARA site and found the Archives Library Information Center (ALIC) to find the number and jobs of the staff and the services provided. This center is heavily used by historians, genealogists and others. Check it out yourself.
The library is part of the by-law program run by GPO and is entitled to all the government publications issued through the GPO. The library collects publications such as phone directories and other publications that concern personnel. These types of publications usually do not go to depository libraries or if they are, they are discarded when the new edition is issued. NARA keeps those older editions and these are invaluable to researchers and genealogists as well as agency historians. Since some of the planning for the future of the depository library program has depended upon back up collections at NARA and LC and the national
libraries, it is important to know what will happen to the collections held by ALIC. 
  • Will [the collections held by ALIC] be kept by NARA and sent to other units or will they be discarded? 
  • Will librarians throughout the world be able to borrow those publications and will they be able to send researchers to NARA in DC to do research? 

The staff at ALIC have provided excellent service and have created on line tools to help researchers more easily find both government documents and other resources.

  • Who will provide this service once these librarians are gone?

It is important to know what will happen to RG 287 (This is the collection of several million government documents collected and cataloged by GPO. The collection was transferred from the Department of Interior in 1895 to GPO and was organized by Adelaide Hasse. It was transferred to NARA by GPO in 1972 so it would be permanently protected as government records). RG287 is under the control of NARA Legislative Archives. It is not clear where RG287 is housed and whether it is kept as one unit or scattered among various units of NARA. It is not clear as to who is providing service to this collection. It would make sense to transfer library staff most familiar with government documents to legislative archives so that the nation can continue to benefit from the expertise and knowledge of librarians at NARA. As we all know as librarians, libraries are often the first to be cut in an economic crisis. We also know that once the resources in these libraries are lost they are almost impossible to replace.

I have listed the names and positions of the library staff below along with the memo from the Archivist. Please send this message on to your state association listservs and other organizations.

Bernadine Abbott Hoduski

National Archives Library (ALIC) abolished – Archivist Memo 2011-113
7 positions to be eliminated:
Current Library employees:
  1. Jeff Hartley [Chief Librarian]
  2. Carolyn Gilliam [Reference]
  3. Randall Fortson [Reference A2]
  4.  Torin Pollock [Technician]
  5. Melissa Copp [Cataloger]
  6. Nancy Wing [Reference head A1] (Military)
  7. Tim Syzek [Reference (Military)]
  8. Marquetta Troy [Technician]
  9. Maryellen Trautman [Documents Cataloger-By Law] 
Bernadine Abbott Hoduski

AOTUS listed these links for more information on the budget for NARA and the plans that are in place right now:

[Update: From ALA Governmental Information Subcommittee]

New Post: “Update on the National Archives Library Information Center”
By Jessica McGilvray
—— Update on the National Archives Library Information Center
In the last couple of days there has been much concern about the status of the National Archives Library Information Center (ALIC).  The National Archives will be putting out an official statement on the issue, but in the meantime I was able to speak with David McMillen the External Affairs Liaison at the National Archives.  He assured me that the library is not closing and the collection would remain accessible by the public.  There are going to be changes to the library.  Due to budget constraints the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will be merging library services with other services.  This means that:

  • The library will remain open and staffed and public access will remain
  • The library collection will remain intact (with the exception of the bound serial set being moved because the library has purchased an online version).
  • Like most libraries facing budget cuts, acquisitions will be substantially reduced.
  • Seven positions will be reassigned, not laid off.  Some of those people may be providing library reference within a different unit, but it is too soon to say where people will be assigned.
  • The records management process with the Government Printing Office will not be affected by this merge.

Jessica McGilvray
To view this Post in Connect, go to http://connect.ala.org/node/131094.

I’ve watched the video embedded below from 37signals co-founder, Jason Fried, a few times and have enjoyed the concepts that he discusses about where do you really want to go when you want to get work done. Fried details why work (as a physical place) is not where people want to go when they need to actually “get work done.” The primary reason is that “work” has too many distractions, and people trade in their “work day” for a series of “work moments.”

One of the places that Fried mentions where people go to actually get work done is the library. This has been sticking in the back of my brain for a few weeks now about how we value “The Library” (a physical place), and the hodge-podge concepts that are attempting to move “The Library” into a more progressive place that resembles a Starbucks or Barnes & Noble store instead of the traditional quiet space.

Should the physical space of a library be a “third place” of social gathering, discussion and idea sharing… or would we benefit more if the physical space of a library reverted back to the traditional area where everyone expects it to be a quiet place to go and get work done without interruptions? As a librarian, or as a patron of a work place library, which would you prefer? I’ll be covering this topic at the February Ark Conference in New York and would love to get some suggestions to share.

Greg recently described the changing role of library spaces. An environment once valued for its utilitarianism now entices guests by offering comfort and camaraderie. A change from tradition? Certainly. But this evolution of the library’s space duly reflects the changes in the latest generation’s social interactions and, yes, the rise of social media. That rise is often couched in terms of virtual features and benefits, but the true diamond in the rough of #sm is its effect on our very real lives and our very real relationships.

Social media is more than a technologically advanced version of the letter. The ease and speed with which we can now communicate with multitudes has allowed us to build and maintain bridges that we simply would not, and could not, have done without social media. And while it means we spend more time sharing virtually, it also means we spend more time bonding personally. To be sure, there is plenty of rough in a world of social media, but there is also a sparkling web of social connectivity that, lo and behold, triggers live, in-person interactions that otherwise would not be. And despite its seemingly superficial and ephemeral nature, social media has changed not only the way we communicate, but also the way we learn and the way we expect to learn. Enter the library, with its ability to offer just what our newly connected society needs — a physical space uniquely capable of nurturing our new social ecosystem and fostering the camaraderie and connectivity we now use to learn.
Accommodating and encouraging social learning is just one of many services a library can provide. But carving out that service reflects a recognition of the changing nature of communication and will truly make any library shine.

I ran across two posts today that demonstrate the transition that the physical space a library occupies is going through right now. Betsy McKenzie at Out of the Jungle Blog had a follow-up post on the Cushing Academy’s (private school in Massachusetts) ditched all of the books in its library and created a “digital library” with the focus on making the library more about “service” than about books. Apparently, the success of this transition is so popular that the headmaster has gone “from pariah to prophet.”

The other post was in the Columbia Spectator (Columbia University newspaper) about a (what I assume is an undergrad) student who found her way into the law library and was sorely disappointed in what she found:

  • Books
  • Quiet 
  • Lots of room to spread out and study
  • No food or coffee
  • No decent WiFi 
  • No cell phone reception

From this student’s point of view, the law library at Columbia Law School was so restricted that “the library feels vaguely like a maze of finding what you can and cannot do. Figuring out what you’re allowed to do will be harder than any work you bring.”

The student wasn’t completely negative in what she found in the law library. For example, the service she received from the law librarians and staff was “exceptionally helpful and friendly.” Hmmm… there’s that word again… “service.”

We’ve argued in the past that the library is not a place which only houses books, but rather is a place that serves its community and provides it with a place for that community to come (physically or virtually) to access the information that community requires. To equate a library as a place to find books is as short-sighted as equating it as a place to get coffee. Libraries serve their community. In serving the community, the library may offer coffee… bagels… rest rooms… WiFi… and even a book or two. All of these things are important, but they are secondary to the overall service that is provided to the community.