The Law Library staff at the University of Michigan (MLaw) has launched an educational campaign promoting the key benefits that the library offers. The library promotion points out the benefits that can help a student succeed during their time in law school. The MLaw Library Director, Margaret Leary, ticks off a few of the benefits they want to remind the students that are available in the law library:

  • a quite place to study
  • experts to help them with Legal Practice assignments
  • student journal work
  • research for seminar papers
  • selection of note topics for student journal competitions
  • and a lot more…
In addition to the poster campaign, MLaw Library is also promoting its Ask A Law Librarian live chat reference. (I actually used this service to get in touch with the folks at MLaw Library to prepare this story!!) The library still offers tradition email, phone and (gasp!) live in-person help, in addition to the chat service.
“The posters are augmented by new MLaw Library pins we wore during orientation, enhanced orientation sessions for the 1L’s and each student journal, and a new “lunch and learn” on Sundays, aimed at the student journals but open to anyone,” Leary explained in an email. She also knows that in addition to getting to those 1L’s early, it is also important to give them something to remember you by. Apparently, the quickest way to the 1L’s heart is through their stomachs. Leary goes on to claim that “the Library was the first to give the 1L’s free pizza, forever endearing them to us!” 
There are a number of posters hung around the law school promoting the library services and benefits to students, faculty and anyone else that wanders into the law library. Here’s the blurb for the poster promotion:

We’ve just launched an educational campaign to introduce students to library staff and remind students of some of the key benefits associated with library services. We want to keep the library’s tremendous resources front-and-center in the minds of our students as they consider research projects and papers in the course of the year. This “flipbook” presentation will introduce you to the posters appearing now throughout the Law School.

Go check out the posters and see if it piques your interest in how putting reminders of the services you provide “front-and-center” of your customers, clients, patrons, etc. helps determine the value that they see in you.

Law firms need libraries and need law firm librarians. There have already been several rebuttals posted in reaction to Mr. Lamb’s article, but mostly from the perspective of the library, who presumably want to keep their spaces and their jobs. I however, as a competitive intelligence practitioner, come at from a different perspective – I couldn’t do my job as effectively if I didn’t have law librarians doing theirs and I know many an associate or partner who would feel the same. The question we should be asking instead, is what is the cost of not hiring a law firm librarian??

As Mr. Lamb mentions in his article, the pace of information creation is accelerating. It is my job to take that mess of information, digest it and provide my lawyers with something tangible, actionable and competitive. And how do I do that? For a start, I employ law firm librarians, to help me at every stage of the process. In addition to being the best keepers of information, law librarians are also the most knowledgeable in respect to what sources are the best. As many people (especially inexperienced associates), I am a creature of habit. When a problem comes across my desk – I turn to the sources I use time and time again whether paid subscription databases (which law librarians also spend time vetting and scrutinizing for useful content), free sources or media searches to answer the question. And every time I run into a wall – I send the question to my law librarians, telling them what I have already done and they, without fail, the librarians (seasoned and new) suggest another several places I should look. I’ve seen many partners, students and associates often doing the same. Moreover, once we’ve strategied about new places to source additional information, they do that looking for me, saving me time – letting me get straight to the analysis. To put it in basic terms without over simplifying what they do, law librarians know stuff and they know how to execute. They know how to look for stuff, where to look for it and most importantly in the billable-hour-is-king environment, they know how to do it efficiently.

Which brings me to the next point of Mr. Lambs article that has had me in a fit for several days, “why would a firm need or want to draw a line between where that information came from?” followed closely by the differentiators of “internally created information” vs. “externally created information”. In the land of law firms, there is and should be a huge difference between these two positions and the two positions need to remain distinct, despite Mr. Lamb’s assertion. After all, it is the internally created information that is both a law firm’s currency by way of product and the service it has to sell. Not to mention that librarians as a general rule are not in habit of sourcing material of their own creation. Law librarians (or any librarian as far as I understand) tend to leave the creating of information for the law makers, the authors and the journalists.

Mr. Lamb posits that there is a gap between the way librarians describe themselves and how he would like to see them described. I disagree, law firms and the holy grail of client service are all about relationships, about building trust and being armed with the best possible answer to a problem. Would it not make sense then, for those in the position to broker this information – be it legal research, business development dossiers or client current awareness be imbued with the very same characteristics of loyalty, accuracy, intelligence and friendliness that clients want and expect from their lawyers? Law firm librarians are doing it right – they are meeting the ultimate goal of expert client service and consistency, they are evolving with firms and will continue to do so, as long law firms continue to have information and research needs.

[Note: I had someone email me this to post, but needed to stay anonymous]

I read a great article in the ABA Journal entitled, Does It Pay to Hire a Law Firm Librarian? by Patrick Lamb.  I though Lamb offered a very pertinent discussion about the future of law librarians and about staying relevant, particularly the points about about knowledge management (internal and external), resource evaluation and finding information and making it pertinent.

Lamb touched on the notion that we have a unique role in that we touch vendors as well as many internal departments and consequently have a deep and unique knowledge base of both internal and external information bases. As this articles suggests, it is important that we spread that message and take advantage of opportunities that may arise.

One point I think Lamb missed was ability to critically analyze and present information  Through experience, education or both, librarians are and can be subject matter experts who take large amounts of data and distill it into relevant summaries of information.  If you send out a newsletter of selected stories and summarize the contents, you are doing this.  If you summarize, however briefly, the results of a research request (yes, even highlighting the pages to review), you are doing this.   As Lamb notes, with more and more data out there, the art of honing in on what is important will be a highly desirable skill.

I was a little surprised to see how “a small group” of librarians allegedly characterized their value to an organization, based on the results of a “recent survey.” Not that the characteristic noted are not important.  I like loyalty as much as the next person! And my cataloging skills are so nonexistent, that I am grateful for anyone who has that ability.  But I am not the audience to impress.  What the comments lack is a tie back to business values and an adequate description of what unique skills librarians have to support those business values.  Those are the sorts of characterizations that make decision makers pay attention.