by Dean Duane Strojny
The shift has been going on for years, but it seems to finally be here. We have moved the majority of research to an online format and with that comes significant changes for the management of law libraries. After years of developing a more traditional setup, I find myself faced with a number of decisions for an academic law library that are certainly not taught in any type of higher education. The new dynamic after the law school enrollment crash of the past few years makes for a very interesting workplace. We also know that over the years, law firms have made significant changes to their organizational structures during periods of financial insecurity. This time, however, it does not seem like the firms are bouncing back to post-recession ways. Instead there are many firms taking on a completely new look and structure. Academics are generally a little slower to change, but since undergraduate institutions are changing fairly rapidly, graduate programs such as law are moving in a new direction as well. This post covers some of the biggest changes that we’ve seen in law library management.
- Library staffing has changed dramatically. Most academic institutions just don’t replace vacant positions. Those with the luxury of doing so generally revamp the positions reflecting the needs of a digital library. Technical services staff might be seeing the most significant changes. Gone are the days of needing staff that can file updates and label books. We are faced with redefining what these people do and making sure they have the proper training to work with metadata and institutional repositories, for example.
- We can’t avoid the bottom line. Budgets have taken such a hit over the past few years that even healthy ones are subject to line-item scrutiny. The truth is libraries used to have expendable funds and were always the first place some institutions went to for budget reductions. That is no longer the case with very lean print collections, high-cost online databases, and staff that is efficient and moving into new roles within the institution. Flexibility is key when it comes to the library adapting to new teaching and learning paradigms but not so much when it comes to being able to handle additional significant budget costs.
- Research is still at the heart of what we do. Law librarians in all types of settings are still the experts when it comes to researching legal issues. They are more frequently, and correctly, stepping into the classroom in a more defined way – either through teaching substantive legal research or working alongside other faculty in required courses. There is a need for the library to be at the heart of the learning community more than ever. With accrediting bodies requiring institutional learning outcomes and analyzed assessment, the library can play a pivotal role in providing research and support. Research has gone beyond the desk and traditional online databases. The librarians of today need to be adept in quickly moving from one service to another and easily instructing students and faculty on where and how to find the best information. Their value is in the versatility and ability to take on new challenges in support of the mission of the educational institution.
- Law Libraries must provide students with individual attention to ensure success in the classroom, with the bar exam, and ultimately in their careers. This does not mean that students should be spoon fed. Rather, they should learn to be professionals. With that comes the ability to be polite, well spoken, and represent their clients in a way that is appropriate and proper. The skills that librarians can help with are essential to career success. Many times we have heard how our students come to the office ready to work on the very first day. That’s because they already have the skills and knowledge to be participating members of the firm or company. They know when to ask questions. They know how to research and synthesize information in a way that is useful and correct. Overall, each student admitted into a law school deserves an opportunity to learn and ultimately have a rewarding legal career.
Change is not easy. However, in the library field, over and over again, we have seen librarians lead the charge when change becomes necessary or when it can benefit the greater whole. We must continue to work with the notion that nothing is a given and tomorrow will bring with it new changes in both legal education and careers. With this perspective, and the acknowledgement that we are living in a new management environment, success is just around the corner.
For more information on topic, please see the following resources:
Arthur M. McAnally & Robert B. Downs, The Changing Role of Directors of University Libraries, College & Research Libraries (Mar. 1973).
About a decade ago, changes began to move at a quicker pace:
Geoffrey T. Freeman, The Library as Place: Changes in Learning Patterns, Collections, Technology, and Use, Council on Library and Information Resources (Feb. 2005).
And it is bound to be a topic for years to come:
Carl Straumsheim, Clash in the Stacks, InsideHigherEd (Dec. 2014).