Tuesday 19 June 2012

Law Library Landscape

My experience for nearly the last 10 years, has mostly been in corporate environments. I have gained my working portfolio in law libraries, both mid tier and top tier more recently. Even though I have continued to work as a Reference librarian in different law firms, I have found that the thinking, management and culture are distinct and diverse in each organisation’s library. This kind of experience is invaluable to building an understanding of how law libraries operate and create value for the organisation they provide information services to.

What adds a further dimension to gaining an overview of the law library landscape is my direct involvement with the Australian Law Librarian Association in NSW. The beauty of being embedded in a committee is the unique opportunity to develop professional relationships that can often become endearing friendships. What’s more, is your conversations are often a mash of life and aspirations for the direction of your library that you dare to discuss and ponder the possibilities of.

That aside, the position of President I have found myself dedicated to, has really propelled my understanding of the much larger context that law libraries are in. From interacting with the industry at large, my attention has been focused on becoming aware of driving issues influencing the operating activity and future plans in law libraries.

Some current issues experienced in this sector are

  • Redesigning delivery of information services such as reducing hardcopy materials and facilitating a change in user research behaviour in a highly online environment, as well as tailoring current awareness services to reduce information overload and making more efficient use of automated delivery tools.
  • Reworking the roles of a library team to accommodate changing duties as a result of more automated processes in delivering information services to future proof libraries.
  • Technology developments including e-books and social media. Law libraries are testing how their organisations are using e-books and social media and look for ways to implement these tools to assist users to access information and build knowledge more readily. Uniquely e-books are challenging traditional models of loaning requiring law librarians to work with publishers to provide solutions in this kind of environment.
  • Staffing. This factor is probably universal. Law libraries are unique in their specialist knowledge, filling vacancies particularly at higher level positions as retiring librarians are moving out of law libraries is calling for communication skills, leadership and the ability to deal with more political internal environments. There are also gaps as existing law librarians move into higher level positions. Follow on positions for new staff to fill existing reference roles are requiring a focus on training, particularly where roles are filled by librarians without law backgrounds. There is also a focus on succession planning in some law libraries, requiring creative position developments to ensure new librarians are equipped with good legal working knowledge to respond to dealing with law research queries.
  • Redundancies. Sadly in the last few years there have been a number of management positions as well as sole librarian roles removed from law firms and university law faculties.
  • Mergers taking place in law firm environments. With the change in the international economic landscape, a number of law firms have merged with international firms. An interesting effect on libraries is negotiation with publishers regarding extending licensed content to meet information needs of lawyers in new offshore offices.
  • Outsourcing of library services is a real factor impacting libraries in the US and UK as a solution to meeting increasing demands of clients of law firms to put down pressure on the cost of legal services. This trend is slowly being documented in literary sources and presented on at conferences. Australian law libraries are following this closely.

Law libraries are certainly a dynamic environment to work in and we are trying to make sense of our landscape and develop solutions to ensure we remain relevant and provide value in our organisations.

Cindy Martin
ALLA NSW Division President

Reference Librarian

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