Features - California Law Librarians Talk Back - A Response to Outsourcing a Private Law Library: In Defense of the Pillsbury, M

(Archived June 15, 1999)


Included are comments from:
Mark Mackler
Cindy Weller
Maureen Sirhall
Glen Gustafson
Anonymous
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For More Information

Outsourcing in Law Firm Libraries, by Rachel Pergament.

Library Associates - Outsourcing Statement

From Mark Mackler:

Janice Hammond's apologia for what happened at Pillsbury reminded me of the infamous Vietnam-era statement: We had to destroy the village in order to save it.

She asserts: There have not been qualified professionals on the Pillsbury library staff for some time who could begin work on this project (library automation), let alone have a new system up and running by year's end.

*Why* were there no qualified professionals?

She asserts: The San Francisco library has been understaffed for some time. In the 1980s there were as many as 22 people on staff, however the number has dwindled for one reason or another. There have also been periods of time when there was no Library Manager. The lack of professional staff, in particular, has had a major impact on the library's ability to move forward. Although Pillsbury reorganized its staffing requirements and has been on a concerted effort to recruit staff, particularly professional staff, the San Francisco job market is tight.

*Oh, please.* There are highly qualified professionals who could have been hired in-house as PMS employees. Yes, the job market is tight, but PMS could have hired right...if it had wanted to do so. Perhaps, in view of the recent financial reports coming from Pillsbury, money might possibly have been an issue?

I could go on to discuss "revaluing the role of the library", but I think it ought to be pretty clear how I, as a 15 year law firm library veteran, see the issue. Although I respect Ms. Hammond's point of view, I would have to be a "melon head" to accept it as credible!

Mark Mackler
Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal
San Francisco
5MM@Sonnenschein.com
415-882-5088

From Cindy Weller:

I left Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro LLP in January of 1998 after twelve years in its San Francisco library. As a former librarian of the firm, I have remained somewhat silent regarding the recent outsourcing of library services. I am surprised that Ms. Hammond believes her brief tenure as Library Manager at Pillsbury gives her the right to sit in judgment of the decisions and practices of those who came before her and Library Associates. Prior to her arrival, there was little time to contemplate virtual libraries, do the "vision-thing" or present a business plan when calls to the reference desk were approaching 1,200 per month. At this time attorneys were being moved a block away, librarians were gerryrigging WALT 486 PCs in order to gain internet access and the library manager position remained vacant for over two years.

Between August of 1996 and January of 1999, five librarians left Pillsbury's SF library. These numerous departures were very noticeable in the close-knit San Francisco law library community. Of these, only one moved to a firm located in the Silicon Valley which shortened her commute to five minutes. All others found employment within the SF Community. Perhaps this mass exodus had more to do with the recruitment problem than the lucrative Silicon Valley market.

We, the librarians at Pillsbury, worked long hours, in some cases stretching until midnight several nights per week. We fought hard for our staff and resources and did exemplary work. Ms Hammond should be sitting in amazement at what we were able to accomplish under extraordinarily difficult conditions, instead of unprofessionally criticizing us in a public forum such as LLRX.com.

Cindy Beck Weller
Library Manager
Cooper, White & Cooper
201 California Street, 16th

San Francisco, CA 94111 E-mail: cbw1@cwclaw.com

From Maureen Sirhall:

Articles by Janice and others make it clear: outsourcing the Pillsbury library was a bottom-line decision. We have all experienced the leaner '90s. One cannot argue with business decisions. They are made for the financial well-being of the organization and leave little room for compromise or appeal.

But, however well researched the decision was, it overlooked key factors. Although Pillsbury had the "best collection West of the Mississippi" and was housed in a "custom built library", this is not what gave the Library value. It was the collective experience, professionalism and team spirit that made the Pillsbury Library a respected and valuable part of the law firm. Three staff members who left at the transition had been with the firm over ten years. Others who had recently quit had similar longevity; they left only because they saw the handwriting on the wall. Teams like this, working together for so long, develop a loyalty and respect not only for their own department but for the entire law firm. It is this loyalty, respect and experience that leads to extraordinary service that cannot be replaced by librarians and staff who are on someone else's payroll.

Janice says the options were looked at by library partners, managing partners, human resource personnel, and executive directors. I wonder how many of these individuals ever used the library? I suspect that had the library users of the San Francisco office been polled, a very different decision would have been reached.

I don't think the library community needs to worry about fall-out from this decision. Attorneys and management alike in the Bay Area and elsewhere see the folly in allowing such a valuable firm resource to deteriorate. It is only the attorneys at Pillsbury who need to worry about the future - if such a valuable resource can be dismantled, what or who is next?  

From Glen Gustafson:

Pillsbury Outsourcing: An After the Fact Observation

Having just left one law firm for a new position at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, I was recently reminded that my position with the firm is "at will". As disappointed as the library community is about the choice that Pillsbury made, the Pillsbury Library Partners, Managing Partners, Executive Directors, Human Resources personnel, and Library Manager have chosen a clean sweep path to January 2000. At will employment allows our employers to do that. We come back to the essence of librarianship. It may have only taken three or four semesters of graduate work to be awarded a Masters in Library Science, but, it takes a lifetime of continuing education and profession development to keep on top of the game. Regular communication with your firm's administrative chain of command is also a good idea. Remind that command and control system that you are a valuable asset to the knowledge management that the firm relies upon to keep your attorneys furnished with the information that they need to keep their competitive edge.

As I reviewed Janice Hammond's apologia, there are several points with which I take exception. I note that in the 1980s there were as many as 22 people on the library staff. If that is the number on staff at the San Francisco office, and if the staff then was allowed to dwindle to six, there is either a problem with staff retention, or, the reduction was a calculated effort to cut costs and increase productivity. Having just come from a shop with a staffing ratio greater than one library staff member for each fifty attorneys (1:50), I understand how library maintenance and reference staffing can begin to resemble a sausage stuffing production. After the first 400 sausages, you really don't focus on how to make the sausages better, you just focus on grinding out the next 400 followed by the next 400.

Technology projects are time intensive, and are partly based on the good fortune of having a new generation of software appear on the scene just as you need to make the next technological leap. Gathering information about the new systems and planning whole office integration is not something that you do after the sausages are shipped. If there is a perceived end of the timeline of January 2000, there is precious little time to maintain the routine systems and services, and to complete the technological transition. It seems to me that the library staffing question should have been addressed sooner. But then, I am reminded of search notices I have seen in the past. You have probably seen one that read something like this: Seeking Senior Librarian, must speak three modern European languages, plus Greek or Latin. Will catalog according to AACR2 and must have intimate knowledge of the Library of Congress reading room. Will conduct reference for 100 tenured faculty, and must be a NASCAR certified driver. Salary = $30,000. When the search team can't locate such a stellar individual, they opt for Fred, the guy who does such a great job in the copy center. Fred then struggles through cataloging the EU collection with great finesse. How likely is that scenario.

So, given the fact that library staff recruiting had not achieved the desired result, what were the options reviewed by Pillsbury in planning for the new library structure and systems. The four options were; 1) To handle the transition in-house, 2) To use a partial outsourcing, 3) Project outsourcing and 4) Total outsourcing. Let's eliminate two of the options quickly. 1) In House: This would require the Human Resources personnel to recruit a project team to quickly implement the transition. For one reason or another, this option was not chosen. If I had to guess, one of the reasons would be cost. To effectively complete this kind of a project the firm would have to recruit a Librarian/Technical Services hybrid team, not something that you can pick up at the local basketball court.

The other option that I would have rejected right away, is the Total Outsourcing option. The first thing that this option does is to hamper the Outsourcing company with having to bring in talented staff to keep the day to day functions in full operation, plus find the technical team to select the systems and implement the changes. That is not a 40 hour per week effort, given the drop dead deadline.

By now you may have guessed that I would have preferred a mix of Partial Outsourcing and Project Outsourcing. Here is a suggestion off the top of my head. Six staff members to keep the workflow going. One staff member to coordinate with the firm's architectural team. Three staff members to select and implement the new technology. As with the building trades, the firm must select the general contractor well. The general contractor is then responsible for the work done by each of the sub-contractors. I see no problem with mixing outsourced subs and in-house staff throughout the chain of command. Worrying about who has rank and what benefits they have would have been a moot question once the chain of command was established. Substituting players in as needed is something that the general contractor should be able to handle.

If the library management software system is selected from an off-the-shelf provider, implementation is merely a question of hours applied to the project. Worrying about the loss of knowledge when the Outsource Service left is also moot because the system provider would provide the backup and training and maintenance for the system. Look at how IS departments across the country set up a video conferencing system. I doubt that many rely on in-house IS staff. Look at Law Firm Marketing departments for an example of bringing in a Project Outsource Service to set up a firm's Internet Website. Firms are used to handling those kind of projects. It would be rare that the entire IS department or entire Marketing Department would be outsourced just to meet a project deadline.

One final comment. Since the 1980s, private law firm Library Managers are far less frequently encouraged to participate in continuing educational opportunities. Library Mangers are discouraged from attending Annual Meetings of their professional organizations. This may be good fiscal management, but, it is not the way to keep Library Managers on the cutting edge of technology. Private law firm library managers should be encouraged to take on the responsibility of making a better sausage, not just required to grind out more sausage. The first two steps to bring this about are to establish reasonable library staffing ratios and to encourage professional growth.

Glen Gustafson
Chair of the Private Law Libraries Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries
Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy
Los Angeles Library
May 14, 1999

Anonymous

This may be the most interesting/honest article I have ever seen.

However, what I feel is missing, and what may be difficult to put a finger on, is why the library was allowed to deteriorate from one of the finest collections/services in the Bay Area to one of, if not the, worst. Why did they retrench so deeply every time a new position came up. Why would anyone in the Bay Area want to work there, knowing there was minimal support for an extremely overworked stressed out group. Library technologies dovetail so much on the technologies of the firm, that it is  difficult to place blame on the library, i.e. the Y2K rouge, when the firm is well known for its antiquated technologies. Why did they not support across the board firmwide initiatives; their administrative structure in SF  hampered the SF Librarian, at virtually every turn. The agony they had to go through, to get approval to go to conferences, and largely to have them  denied, is well known - Where have Pillsbury Librarians been the last 10 years.

Everything Janice says is true, as far as it goes...and it says more than anyone else has ever been able to say in a somewhat balanced way.