Extras - Jumpstart: Writing an Annual Report for a Law Firm Library

(Archived February 1, 1998)

 

Cindy Chick  has been a law firm librarian for 17 years. She received her M.L.S. from UCLA with a specialization in law librarianship. Cindy is the co-editor of LLRXchange, and has developed several software programs for law libraries under the name of CINCH Library Software 

For tips on writing your Annual Report, be sure to read Marie Wallace's accompanying article, "Annual Reports: Connecting the Parts with the Whole."

Through the years, I've heard over and over again how beneficial it is to produce an library annual report, and I do believe it is true. Annual reports offers us an opportunity to tell management what we accomplished during the past year, what it is we actually do, how much it cost, and what our plans are for the next year. An annual report is a marketing tool, a communication medium, and a self-evaluation. It provides the answer to management's ongoing question, "what have you done for me lately?" 

In fact, the first 4 years I was a law firm librarian, I DID produce annual reports each year, really I did. But something happened, things got too busy, I missed a year, then another, no one ever asked me for it, and I lapsed. I knew I SHOULD do it, but I also know I should exercise more and eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. 

Last year, however, I did finally "just did it," though, mind you, not until April. I realize that doesn't qualify me as an expert on annual reports by any means. But since I finally managed to overcome inertia, I decided to see if I could help you do the same. After all, the first annual report is always the hardest. In succeeding years, you have a basis from which to work, rather than starting from scratch.

   

As is often advised by management experts, the way to get started in a big project is to break it down into pieces, and work on a little at a time so that you don't get overwhelmed. The first thing I did was start pulling together statistics and data that I thought would be good to include in an annual report. 

Sources of Information

I'll confess, I don't keep a lot of statistics, though that's definitely on my to-do list for 1998. But when I started looking around, I found that I did have important sources information available to me. For example: 

Library expenses - Even if you don't budget, and don't track this information yourself, you can bet that your accounting department does. In order for figures on book expenses, etc. to be meaningful, you will need to show trends, so ask accounting to provide you with data for the past 3 years.
Time sheet information - A review of your time sheets can remind you of the projects you've worked on over the past year. You should also check with accounting to determine the number of hours billed, and the amount actually recovered, again, for at least the past 3 years.
Computer research cost and recoveries - Again, accounting will probably have information on how much was spent on computer research, and how much was recovered. This is essential information.
Library databases & records - We have an interlibrary loan database, and can easily produce reports to show how many items we loaned and borrowed. But even if you have a handwritten log, you can easily compile the figures.
Staffing - Unless you're new to your job, you can probably piece this information from memory.
Mission statement - We had written a mission statement for a chapter on the library for an Associate Training Manual. When initially drafting it, we borrowed heavily from examples in the AALL Toolkit, as well as some posted to law-lib. See also the samples below. If you've already written one, you can incorporate it into your annual report.
Calendar - If you keep your calendar, you can peruse it for the past year to jog your memory as to projects you worked on, etc.
Journal articles and listserv messages - You can include in your annual report a general statement on what's going on in the world of libraries. And you don't have to think this stuff up all on your own. You can review pertinent articles (such as the ones run in LLRX) and even law-lib messages for ideas. For example, what role do you think CD-ROM will play in your library over the coming years? What problems have you experienced with them? How important is Internet? How does/will CD-ROM, on-line services, and Internet effect your need for library space.

For More Info

For more information on writing annual reports, see Sharon French's The Annual Report of the Private Law Library: A Checklist of Considerations, Managing the Private Law Library 1989, (PLI Patents, Copyright and Course Handbook Series, no. 278) 



 
 

For more information on Mission Statements, see samples below, and/or "Mission Statements," by Marie Wallace, in Managing the Private Law Library 1989 (PLI Patents, Copyright and Course Handbook Series, no. 278) 
 


Comments

Are you willing to share a sanitized version of your annual report to help others get started? Have I left out something incredibly important about writing an annual report? Would you like to share a positive reaction to your annual report? Please send us an e-mail, and we'll include your comments.

  

Data or Information?

So you've collected all of the data related to your library operations that you can get your hands on. But before we proceed further, let me share something with you. I once took a perfectly dreadful class on Management of Information Systems. However, there was one thing from this class that has stuck with me, that is the definition of data vs. information. 

According to the textbook, "Data consists of facts and figures that are relatively meaningless to the user." In other words, if you include in your annual report the number of ILLs you processed last year, that figure will be relatively meaningless to the reader. What you need to do is present information. "Information is processed data, or meaningful data. Information reveals something that was not previously known." You have to put the numbers in context by comparing them to previous years, or to other firm's figures. For example, I included a chart showing the decline of ILLs in our library over the past 3 years, and attributed that decline to our flat-rate plans with the online services, and the availability of law review articles online. So think about your data, offer enough for a meaningful comparison, and help interpret it for your readers. Then you are presenting information.

And if you have statistics that don't demonstrate anything important, leave them out. Don't report them just because you have them, report them because they demonstrate something about library operations that management would be interested in.

Organization

Make an outline of your annual report, then start filing in the blanks. If possible, you may want to work from home for a day or two so you can work uninterrupted. Last year I included the Mission Statement up front, then I listed each library goal from the Mission Statement and what we did to try to further that goal. The downside of this structure was that it was not easy to scan the report for the main points, or go directly to the section on a particular topic, as suggested by Marie Wallace in her accompanying article, so I may try something more traditional and straightforward next time. But however you choose to organize your annual report, you will probably want to cover the following ground: 

  

Word Processing or HTML 

If you have an Intranet, you might want to consider writing your annual report in html. The hypertext linking would enable you to organize the annual report so that readers could go directly to the sections that they want to see. For example, see Upper Arlington Ohio Public Library Annual Report or the King County Library Annual Report, which by the way, includes a section on "Quotes" from users. Not a bad idea! The Health Sciences Library at the University of Washington also incorporated anecdotes and quotes as a way of making their annual report more personal.

  • General Trends

How have things changed in the library over the past year(s)? What are the general trends? Are attorneys doing more of their research online? Are they using the library more/less? Has CD-ROM had an impact? Has the Internet had an impact?

  • Library Research

What kinds of research has the library staff been doing? I listed the following categories with specific examples: 

  • cite-checking and case pulls
  • public records research
  • business/company research
  • expert witnesses, judge, and opposing counsel profiles
  • docket searches/court retrieval
  • document retrieval
  • miscellaneous non-legal research

What training sessions were conducted by the library staff or vendors? 

  

  • Staffing

How much time has the library staff billed? Is it more or less than previous years? Why? How much money was actually recovered? How many staff members do you have? Have you increased or decreased your staff? Have their jobs changed? What professional activities did the library staff participate in? Did they write articles, attend seminars, etc.? If so, how did that benefit the firm?

  • Special Projects

What special projects were started/finished? Were you involved in the firm's intranet? Did you finish cataloging the library?

  • Library Expenses

How much did the library cost the firm last year compared to previous years? Is it more or less? Why? What was the breakdown of expenses? 

  • Computer Research

Were any special pricing plans initiated with on-line vendors? Did that affect usage? Recoveries? How did usage compare to prior years? 

  • Space Planning

Where there any changes in the library space during the year? Does the library need more/less in order to meet the needs of the firm?

  • Goals

What are your goals for next year? How can service be improved?

You're Done

When you've finished your annual report, you are inevitably going to ask the $64,000 question, will they read it? 

I'd like to tell you that everyone you send a copy of your annual report will read it cover to cover. But let's be realistic, it's not likely. However, by making sure you are presenting information rather than data, and by increasing readability by following Marie's tips on writing the Annual Report, your chances are good that SOMEONE will read it. In my case, that someone was my office administrator. He must have liked it, because he made sure to tell me that he expected to see an annual report every year from now on. Oh, geez, I'd better get to work.  

 


Appendix

Sample Mission Statement #1 

The availability of information to the firm's attorneys and their clients is a necessary requirement for the delivery of quality legal services. The mission of the Library is to meet the information needs of the firm by obtaining timely and accurate legal and non-legal information in a cost-effective manner. The Library's primary clientele is attorneys, paralegals, law clerks and staff. Other potential users include co-counsel and clients. 

In order to accomplish this mission, the Library's goals are:

  • encourage and foster participative and innovative access to local and global resources through dedication to quality, creativity and cooperation.
  • balance traditional and high-tech materials, formats and services to provide the best possible service
  • analyze the variety of available sources to determine the most cost-effective method to obtain quality information
  • cultivate resources outside the Library, including public and private libraries, information centers and document services worldwide in order to provide the broadest possible coverage 
  • maximize the benefit of the firm's investment in the Library by organizing and facilitating access to the firm's collection
  • instruct end users in efficient research using books, CD ROM and on-line resources 

Note: This mission statement "borrowed" heavily from information presented in the AALL Toolkit, Laura Olsen Dugan's Mission Statement as posted on law-lib, and probably others that I can't even remember! 


Sample Mission Statement #2

By Laura Olsen Dugan

I. Vision Statement

The LaFollette & Sinykin Library and Information Center is committed to providing an environment that delivers a balance of traditional and high-tech materials, formats, and services. Our goal is to provide library services that encourage and fosters participative, patron-focused, innovative access to local and global resources, through dedication to quality, creativity, and cooperation. 

II. Mission Statement

Our mission is to provide timely, accurate, and cost-effective information to patrons. The library's main patron group includes, but is not limited to, the attorneys, paralegals, law clerks, and administrative staff of LaFollette & Sinykin Law Firm. Other users of the library include co-counsel, clients, students, and members of the legal community. The library is staffed by a full time professional Library and Information Services Manager, a full time Information Services Assistant, and a half-time Library Assistant.