Legal librarianship is constantly in a state of flux, with continual changes in job titles, habitual shifting of responsibilities and the explosion of legal artificial intelligence all playing a part. In January of this year, LAC Group surveyed their internal personnel about the future of law librarianship, based in part by the responses collected from the 2018 American Association of Law Librarians conference. The resulting blog post, Legal librarianship in 2019-2020, showcased three major takeaways:
1. Law librarians must demand recognition for their contributions.
By shining a light on their embedded value (made possible by a widely varying range of skillsets) librarians declare their worthiness to the firm. In a climate that outsources more tasks than ever before, it is imperative that librarians declare what they can do, and remind their colleagues of the tasks and projects they did do, showcasing the return on investment. While the scope of law firm libraries usually depends on the practice areas and size of the institution, they typically have several information professionals to assist attorneys with tasks such as research and analyzation of requests and documents, training partners on new and existing technologies, and the acquisition and classification of library materials. Shining a light on their services and the value they bring to the firm is imperative for continued success.
2. The traditional job title of librarian is changing to reflect the new scope and functionality of the position.
The concept of library as place is diminishing and its purpose is expanding. Gone are the days of simple reference requests. Now, information specialists are expected to be familiar with a wide variety of special areas such as competitive intelligence and project management—often with reduced staff, diminishing budgets and name changes.
3. Cognizance of new legal technology is paramount to success.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are making their way into even the most sparsely-staffed law firms, and previously established workflows are being disrupted as a result. In a recent reader survey, 42.86% of participants stated their firm or company uses advanced technology. Applications exist that assist with legal research, contract review and management, due diligence and prediction of legal outcomes are becoming the norm, leaving law practitioners with ample time for more intricate tasks. Becoming a subject matter expert on these tools is a boon for librarians as it makes them a required part of any innovation initiatives at their firm.
What is a librarian?
Readers who worked in law firms and law firm libraries filled out the same survey, and the takeaways were just as informative. While librarians themselves know that the word speaks to a bevy of skillsets, the outside perception is that the term itself is antiquated and the justification of continuing to allocate resources and funds demands a title change. When asked “Do you see the words “library” and “librarian” going away in law firms or corporate legal departments?” one participant stated:
“I have been in multiple firms and I can definitely see the words Library and Librarian going away. I think even Librarians that are forward thinking see the benefit of changing their titles as clients are more likely to be willing to pay for services of someone with a specialized title. I think the title will vary depending on the role they play in the firm.”
According to our user survey, titles such as Information Services Manager, Manager of Competitive Intelligence and Research Analyst are becoming the norm. While the names are changing, the goal of providing the correct information in a timely fashion undoubtedly remains the same.
What is the library?
Emerging technologies make it possible for patrons to get access to what they need without setting foot in a physical location. Libraries should have information repositories that enable users to have all possible information depositories at their fingertips. It is commonplace for library catalogs to hold inventory of books and electronic resources as well as provide news, assist the user with completing various tasks and be a general one-stop shop for the needs of the community. One participant in the survey stated:
This speaks to the generational differences of their audience, as their information needs tend to vary. The link between legal research and legal analysis remains one that can be bridged with the assistance of an information professional, and the onus is on us to ensure our patrons know that we can assist them with overcoming their concerns. As such, it is important for library staff to stay “in the know” when it comes to changes that will affect what information is available to patrons and how they will be able to access it. One survey user commented:
“As vendors continually change platforms and increase pricing, librarians need to stay current with those changes so they can remain part of the firm’s ongoing long-term strategic planning. Unless we provide input, even in the ‘background’ to upper management, we will not be seen as relevant.”
What do you do, again?
Historically, legal librarians had to have not only their Masters of Library Science, but their Juris Doctorate as well. Now, there are opportunities for people without both of those degrees to be placed in a law library and take on the role of “librarian”. What does that mean for traditional information professionals? According to one survey respondent
“The opportunities are there if you are proactive and match your skills to the various new opportunities that are opening up. Ditch the books and get with the program! Make information accessible when and where it is needed, in context and just in time.”
This can be done in a number of ways: seeking certifications with assistance provided by your employer, staying abreast of trends in legal librarianship and adapting new skillsets. It’s clear that in order to stay relevant in the profession, law librarians may have to become more niche players.