The Tao of Law Librarianship: If the Books Go, Will They Still Want Us?

Have you felt the groundswell, the backlash against libraries lately? If you have been following LISNews or listening to the library industry podcast Uncontrolled Vocabulary, you might have noticed news reports and blog posts showing a disconcertingly negative trend towards libraries and their staff:

The jobs of librarians are getting easier what with all these electronic resources, they say, so we should reduce their pay. Then again, who are still using libraries in this internet age - maybe we don’t really need them? It is easy for those of us “in the know” to pick apart these sentiments. But still, those ideas are out there and gaining popularity.

Every time a library is done a disservice in the public forum, these thoughts have a cumulative effect. We are not academic libraries, courthouse libraries, private libraries, and public libraries. In the public’s mind we are all one in the same--we are libraries and librarians.

And we need some positive voices to balance these out.

If we do not speak up and become advocates for our profession showing others why we are necessary, we will see libraries picked apart and gradually brought down. And let’s not kid ourselves: the first to go will be the supposed “cost centers” in the private libraries - in the law firms. There will be those administrators who gleefully say “I told you so” as they see us out the door.

Take, for example, these stories:

These discussions are meant to be looking at what happens with the physical col-lections and do not intend for the librarians to disappear. My concern, however, is that by not talking about the services of the libraries, and the role that librarians, library tech-nicians, and library clerks play when the physical entity of the library is reduced or dis-appears, we are in danger of endangering ourselves. Law firm administrators (our managing partners, CEOs and general managers) reading these types of articles and blog posts quickly will start to think the firms can do without the library staff, too.

Whoa! Why am I being so uncharacteristically negative - law firm libraries aren’t REALLY going to disappear, are they? I don’t know. I really hope they don’t, because the legal profession desperately needs us whether they realize it or not. They have increasingly complex issues dealing with information: records management, knowledge management, electronic discovery and competitive intelligence all spring easily to mind. But if we are not careful we will see our responsibilities become eroded, our pay gradually slip, and we will soon be back in the day where keen legal assistants will be recruited to fill our roles because the lawyers think we are not needed.

It is not enough for us to grumble amongst ourselves. We need to start standing together, supporting each other more, and making an impact in the media. Yeah, yeah - librarians have been saying that for years. But we now finally have the tools at hand--that is what all the YouTube and blogs are all about. We have to start using them for not just our own discourse but to engage others in the discussion.

Enough with the videos of librarians performing sketches at conferences and thinking we are clever. We need to get real messages out there. We need to talk to people other than each other to make them realize just what our role is and what we can do. We need to hear from those that make good use of our services and allow their voices to be heard. We also need to start supporting all types of libraries, not sticking our heads in the sand and paying attention only to issues in law libraries.

If the books go, will they still need us? I believe they will, but the danger is they may not realize it. Let us not allow that to happen. et us show our lawyers, judges, professors and public why they need the support of their library staff.

cover of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without OrganizationsHere Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations
Author: Clay Shirky
Binding: Hardcover
List price: $25.95 USD
Amazon price: $22.84 USD