Sunday, April 13, 2014

Law Librarians in the Digital Age: New Identities Beyond the Bookshelves

"The word “librarian” hardly covers the breadth of our universe.  We are strategic leaders, research analysts, taxonomists, teachers, digital pioneers, app developers, knowledge managers, information literacy evangelists and competitive intelligence gurus. In short, we are both  educators and digital cartographers who build the bridges and help researchers chart the course  between knowledge from  the past and data which will become knowledge of the future"

A version of this post  first appeared as a Foreword in the book Law Librarianship in the Digital Age, edited by Ellyssa Kroski. It highlights some of the important themes to consider as we kick off  "Library Week 2014."
 

My first reaction to Law Librarianship in the Digital Age was, “I wish there had been a book like this when I was in graduate school.”  But eBooks, iPads,  virtual reference, webinars, cloud computing, web scale discovery, apps and avatars  were the stuff of fantasy. So if there were such a book it would have been classified as “Science Fiction.”  In the 30 years since I entered the profession the externals of librarianship have been wildly transformed. But the core mission of the profession, which is matching people to knowledge, remains intact and drives a vision of the future which distinguishes our profession from all others. We are charged with preserving and optimizing access to knowledge. We wear all the hats: grinding, finding, minding and connecting. For those who still think of the “bun headed” cartoon  librarian  stereotype, this book will be a rude awakening. The editor has assembled an impressive line-up of thought leaders to provide strategic insights into the various facets of digital information preservation, presentation, access and management in a variety of contexts.

This is the proverbial best of times and worst of times. Since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 the law firm market has been thrown forward into an altered world where technology, client pricing pressures and globalization have generated a truly “ disrupted market.”  New kinds of legal practices are emerging such as virtual law firms,  coupled with  the emergence of offshored legal drafting and e-discovery centers.  As law firms have retrenched, their hiring of new associates has reduced. Law schools are faced with  falling enrollments due both to the high cost of legal education and the uncertain job prospects. We will all adapt what we do to address the changed environments and reinvent ourselves and our services as we have done before.

Graduate curriculum for legal information professionals needs to focus on cultivating the wide range of professional competencies outlined in the book. The word “librarian” hardly covers the breadth of our universe.  We are strategic leaders, research analysts, taxonomists, teachers, digital pioneers, app developers, knowledge managers, information literacy evangelists and competitive intelligence gurus. In short, we are both  educators and digital cartographers who build the bridges and help researchers chart the course  between knowledge from  the past and data which will become knowledge of the future

But this book isn't just a practical handbook for students, it contains  a wealth of “state of the art information” for practitioners and those thinking of a career change into law librarianship.
The editor has selected a range of topics which offer an exploration of both the core practice issues and the transformational initiatives in  law school, government  and law firm library environments. Each kind of library may adopt new practices ahead of each other, and then inspire and cross-fertilize new initiatives in another environment. Seeing how an academic library promotes distance learning provides inspiration for law firms that are increasingly globalized. The competitive intelligence initiatives in law firms may be adapted to customized faculty research needs.

The Intersection of Technology and Humanities. Steve Jobs attributed the success of Apple to the fact that it existed at the intersection of technology and humanities.  Jobs was referring to the kind of  multi-disciplinary thinking which our professional excels at.  We connect technology, law and the multitude of social, literary, technical and scientific issues which stream through legislation, case law and commercial activities.

I have to admit I was someone who entered the profession because I liked books.  I especially loved breathing the air in a cloistered alcove of a research library surrounded by aging volumes. And yet I entered the profession as it was about to tumble into decades of technological change and professional uncertainty. Libraries as places are shrinking  As we all know, change  leads to opportunity and we face the opportunity to radically transform both libraries and our profession. Law Librarians in the Digital Age provides a panorama of how traditional functions such as research, collection development,  technical services and administration have been and will continue to be transformed by the innovative professionals who contributed to this book.

3 comments:

  1. nice post its very helpful to me keep posting
    trevor attridge

    ReplyDelete
  2. Once upon a time the law firm library space occupied generous real estate and was elegantly appointed. Law firm librarians should never have hitched their self-worth to library space. Slowly at first but with accerating speed the library has become, perhaps always was, a service,not a space.
    The oldest living law librarian still in captivity

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  3. Thanks for posting this Jean, and thanks once again for contributing the Forward for the book!!

    ReplyDelete