by Cynthia Condit
We all know that the numbers of people flocking to the academic law library for books and other print resources is shrinking. The digital world is here to stay. As a result, academic law librarians, like firm librarians, must seriously assess how we can demonstrate our value to our institutions and to our patrons (mainly students and faculty, but also the local bar, judges, and the public). The disruption of what has been the norm for so long is understandably unsettling. For me, all it takes is Microsoft coming out with a new version of Word, and I grump and cringe at the thought of having to learn yet another new interface. But, as we know, adapting to change also carries with it an opportunity for growth and moving in new and often unexpected directions.
Law firms, faced as they are with the high cost of commercial space and hard bottom lines, have had to take the lead in adjusting to the changes wrought by digital resources. Many firms have eliminated libraries altogether, and others have consolidated and relocated libraries to a single research center used by multiple offices across the country. One large law firm, Morrison & Foerster, has gone so far as to rethink and redesign their library making it into what they call a “loungebrary“—a combination library and cafe where lawyers can work and librarians can check in to see how they can help.
It’s unlikely, of course, that academic law libraries will disappear in the same way many law firm libraries have, at least any time soon. However, it’s not unthinkable that in the future academic law libraries might redesign their facilities and create something along the lines of a “loungebrary.” Certainly, we can envision a day when law schools will look at all the space used by libraries and consider other options for its use.
OUR SMALL STEP TOWARD A “LOUNGEBRARY”
Although it will be some time before we create a full-fledged “loungebrary” like Morrison & Foerster, we here at the Daniel F. Cracchiolo Law Library at the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law took a cue from the idea of combining food with conversation to facilitate engagement. Our (very) small step in this direction is to offer coffee and munchkins weekly on Wednesday mornings (roughly 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.) in the law library lobby. We catch a lot of incoming traffic since it’s a main entrance for the school. The idea is to build relationships that aren’t solely library related and to put our faces out there where they can be seen easily. We have a tip sheet or an event flyer on hand, but the main goal is to engage in some general conversation.
Mostly students stop by on the way to classes, but it’s been nice to see a growing number of staff and faculty beginning to pause at the table as well. As relationships have developed, we find people stay a bit to visit and (who’d have thought it possible?!) will ask library-related questions. And to achieve this, the library makes only minimal expenditures: ten dollars for a box of munchkins and around three dollars for coffee.
It makes sense that demonstrating our value includes building relationships with our patrons. Certainly this is not a new concept for law firms, which expend considerable energy on developing client relationships. When searching for a relationship-building solution, we often focus only on the next big idea. But sometimes, the next smaller idea works just as well. Weekly morning coffee with a few munchkins and pleasant conversation is one of those smaller ideas.