“It’s not about the library. It’s about the relationship the librarian has with those who do or could benefit from the library.”
This quote from Robert Oaks, Chief Library and Records Officer for Latham & Watkins LLP, encapsulates his panel presentation on the economic value of law libraries at the 2015 annual meeting of AALL (American Association of Law Libraries) held July 18-21 in Philadelphia.
Qualitative value of the law library
First, in terms of the qualitative, Oaks discussed the following:
View the law library as a service, not a location
This supports our Library as a Service® approach and virtual offering for legal research and other intelligence. It’s a flexible offering that offers access to professional law librarians and researchers working remotely via secure cloud technology, delivering information support as needed.
Shift the librarian role to be more proactive
Latham requires all of his client-facing librarians to present a “Personal Outreach Plan” in order to force more interaction with attorneys and other users like business development teams and firm management. For too long, law librarians (probably other librarians as well) have been allowed to operate under one metric: User Feedback. No complaints meant they must be doing a good job. Today, no complaints could mean something altogether different, like “Out of sight, out of mind,” which could end up being “Out of mind, out of sight.”
Quantitative value of the law library
Some of Oaks’ changes in this regard would have been viewed as highly radical and not very popular just a short decade ago:
Set parameters for writing off client research
Oaks’ firm advocates a rule that associates or even partners cannot write-off client research above a certain threshold that is relatively low. Anything above that threshold should require finance committee approval.
Today’s legal billing environment, in which clients scrutinize all time-based charges, has made this approach a necessity. And according to Oaks, it has allowed Latham to recover more research costs than they would have otherwise.
Change research hours to meet needs of a 24×7 environment
Oaks set up weekend staff availability by rotating shifts of librarians, so that each one gives up 4 or 5 weekend days per year to work on a Saturday or Sunday. Rather than being compensated as over-time hours, the librarian is “paid” by getting comp time during the week. Another option, of course, is Library as a Service to fill coverage gaps with a flexible support.
Implement metrics to measure library service value
If you can’t measure it, you can’t know the economic value. According to Oaks, Latham measured $2 million in savings as a result of his changes.
It’s important for law librarians to be increasingly strategic and forward-thinking. With that mindset, they can play a crucial role in our information-driven economy. Without greater visibility, more innovative thinking and tracking of metrics, it will become increasingly difficult for them to justify their value to the firm.