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Extras - Charting New Frontiers: 1997 NOCALL (Northern California Association of Law Libraries) Institute & Trade Show

By Catherine Meller, Published on April 21, 1997

Catherine Meller is the Reference Librarian at the law firm of Latham & Watkins in Los Angeles, CA. She has been a law librarian for 10 years and holds a Master's degree from UCLA in Library and Information Science.


The 1997 NOCALL Institute provided an excellent opportunity for reflection on the current and future status of information storage and retrieval. The many roles that law librarians perform as analysts, selectors, researchers, educators, organizers and conservators were also examined in relation to all the current burgeoning sources and formats of information.
As with all new frontiers, there are always hazards of the unknown, and the vagaries of technology. Due to unexpected complications with the host hotel’s communications services, the institute was unable to connect with and receive the scheduled satellite video conference on “The Future for Librarians: Positioning yourself for Success,” sponsored by AALL, the Medical Library Association, SLA and Lexis-Nexis. Fortunately, a video copy of the teleconference was obtained later in the afternoon for viewing, and the first half of the teleconference will be reviewed later in this article.
Penny Hazelton, the Law Library Director of the University of Washington and former AALL President, graciously agreed to step in and lead a general brainstorming and discussion session with the conference attendees on positioning ourselves for the future. The skills requirements (many of which are those we have already accomplished, or are currently developing) that were brought forth during the discussion included the following: mangement of digital resources, training and educational skills, adaptability and flexibility, and collaborative techniques to improve communcations and interactions between ourselves and the technological and administrative counterparts within our particular organizations. Alongside intellectual curiousity and creativity, interpersonal skills, assertiveness and public relations skills, a sense of economics and the bottom line was also considered essential. Traditional research and organizational skills are necessary, as well as the ability to evaluate the best, most cost-efficient sources of infomation to use, and analytical skills to scrutinize the reliability of the source of the information.
Computer programming and other technical skills are becoming very important assets to our knowlege base, if not already imperative to our survival. Entrepreneurial skills, and the ability to not only understand our immediate patrons or customers, but to also consider the needs that customer’s customer, are also essential. Patience with oneself and with others, political savvy and a sense of humor and tenacity were the final qualities mentioned. In closing, Penny asked the audience for their thoughts about how the workplace of the future might appear. It was suggested that while telecommuting may increase and provide a more flexible workweek, it was considered that people generally to enjoy and need to work together at one site. There was a perhaps wishful suggestion that there might be a common, universal technology platform for the offices of the future. It was agreed that whatever the look or operation of the future workplace, that there will still be a need to provide for a wide variety of skill levels and income levels needing access to information.
The next session, “The Future of Law Librarianship,” was planned to be split between Penny Hazelton and Bob Berring. Since Penny had filled in on the prior session, she provided a brief introduction, and turned the rest of the presentation over to Bob, Professor and Law Library Director of UC Berkeley’s Law School, Boalt Hall. Bob began by voicing his concern that law librarians are in an incredible position, similar to that of the yin and yang, having both positive and negative qualities. Overall, what we do is worth saving. He traced a brief history of legal publishing and research, from print products to the advent of electronic information, which at first was essentially used as a more flexible search and indexing tool of a bibliographic format. At our present age, information systems are falling apart and being remade before our eyes. A paradigm shift has occurred within the marketplace which has lead in some circumstances to the debasing of information. The stress has been placed on the “flash” and rapidity of the front-end system, turning reading and research into “infotainment.” Referring to the March 1997 issue of Scientific American, Bob demonstrated that there is still value for what librarians do. In order to preserve the value for the profession in the future, our professional associations have to do more for us. Using the analogy of the flight safety instructions concerning the use of the oxygen masks, we need to save ourselves first before we can help others. To face the challenge of the future, many of the qualities discussed in the prior session were summarized and considered a base of respect for our knowlege and abilities that can be built upon.
A discussion of the hypothesis of what we would do if we were the president of Lexis for a day was used as an example to assess how we provide service. It suggested that if one’s organization has a web page, that it is essentially beginning to operate as an information vendor. In conclusion, Bob asked the attendees to consider, in evaluation of what we do and what our careers mean to us, what we would tell our hypothetical child if they told us they wanted to be a librarian.
“Technology Update & Trail Tips” was the third and final presentation on Thursday. The panel of speakers included Sima Dabirashtiani of Service Information Management Assoc., Jerry Kline of Innovative Interfaces, John Ober, Development Librarian for Electronic Resources - UC Monterey, Michael Phelps, Information Systems Manager, and Nancy Siegal, Executive Director, both of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, and Roy Tennant, Project Manager of Digital Library Research & Development, UC Berkeley. To open, the current best methods of supporting CD-ROM products was discussed. Phelps suggested loading CD-ROMs onto hard drives as the best way to handle multiple use of CD-ROMs. Ober noted that soon many end users will be expecting vendors to provide access to their products via the Internet, instead of using CD-ROM as a delivery device. Many technologies are in the same state of flux, and “making it up” as they go along, as Tennant presented was the case with digital libraries. As the formats change so rapidly, standards really do not get developed, much less considered. However, digital libraries do present a possibly intriguing source of meta-data, or information about information (think about how MARC records work). Inter-operability (accessing a source of information resident elsewhere, but available via the source or site you are searching) is another feature of digital libraries that look promising, but will require a great deal of collaboration among vendors, which may happen slowly, if at all. Siegal noted that firms feel the pressure from entry-level, technology-savvy associates to increase technology development. Ober noted that future partnerships between corporations and academic institutions might emulate the models of resource sharing that public and university libraries currently provide.
As new technologies continually emerge, Phelps wondered whether expectations are too high for the types of solutions they might offer. While voice recognition systems are still too rudimentary, Dabirashtiani noted that practicalities and human interface will still matter. Tennant offered that many varieties of mass storage are being developed, which will help drive down the cost of storing information. Better solutions and value in technology will continue to matter. Kline explained how common, or “thin” client technology (e.g., Netscape in combination with Java as the only multipurpose tools needed on your desktop) will help cut costs by creating a platform-independent system, analogous to the “dumb terminal” concept, while still maintaining a Windows-type environment.
Ultimately, we need to plan for continually evolving systems, to consider whether or not to be an early adopter of new technology, and prepare for all aspects of your work product and information retrieval sources being pulled together into one platform.
A video of the “Positioning Yourself for Success” satellite videoconference was shown during the hour break between the last session of the day and dinner. Due to general information overload and exhaustion, this reviewer was able to sit through only the first half of the video. A joint production of AALL, MLA (Medical Library Assoc.), and SLA (Special Libraries Assoc.), the conference was funded by Lexis/Nexis. The first two speakers reviewed here were Joanee Marshall, Professor with the Faculty of Information Studies at the University of Toronto, and Mark Estes, Director of Library Services at Holme, Roberts & Owen in Denver, CO and former AALL President. In her “Discussion on Competencies,” Joanne Marshall presented questions to consider, including what libraries and information services will look like in five years, how will professionals be functioning in the new environment, and what competencies will we need to survive and thrive in the 21st century? She answered by detailing the unique professional competencies and knowledge of information resources and technologies held by librarians, as well as the personal competencies that include skills, attitudes and values that enable us to work efficiently, communicate effectively, and focus on continuing to learn throughout our careers.
Mark Estes presented the “New Roles of the Librarian” by enumerating overarching professional and personal goals of making librarians essential and valued by reaching for future roles as information navigators, problem solvers and knowledge managers. Mark’s presentation was interspersed with capsule “success stories” from members of AALL, SLA and MLA. The detailed participant materials provided outlines of the speakers presentations, and bibliographies of suggested readings. While valuable as a first effort at this type of communication and sharing of ideas, this viewer hopes that future videoconferences will screen calls a little more judiciously, so as to avoid rehashing questions concerning the “future of the book.”
Mike Godwin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation opened the Friday morning session with his presentation on Privacy Law. Mr. Godwin outlined the case law history of the interest in privacy, and the relation of privacy to wiretapping, the closest earlier technology to correlate with the Internet and email. No one should reasonably expect privacy when using electronic mail or the Internet, and encryption does not provide complete insurance. Arguments against encryption, according to Godwin, are irrational and based on lack of knowledge. The probable cause standard will allow a warrant for wiretaps, therefore, encryption doesn’t provide a barrier. The tension between the departments of Commerce and State will most likely continue in the struggle over the privacy rights issues with the Internet. In the end, the right to privacy underscores the benefits of an open society.
The following privacy law panel discussion participants included Mike Godwin, Jeffrey Adams, attorney with Littler, Mendelson et al., and Karen Coyle of the UC office of the President, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. Adams presented recent developments in employment-related and credit application privacy. Coyle emphasized that the department of Commerce, not Education, is planning for the NII and promoting the disclosure of personal information for marketing purposes. Most libraries’ current standards of privacy are unusual in contrast to the availability of personal information from many different sources. The ALS outlines in the Intellectual Freedom Manual the importance of protecting individual privacy, and librarians have an important role to play in promoting these protections.
In the presentation of “MIS Partnerships,” Anne G. Lipow of Library Solutions Institute provided an excellent summation of the blurred line that sometimes exists between MIS and libraries. Both departments manage, store, retrieve and deliver information. Both train users in information and computer literacy. Since there are these commonalities, it make sense to become partners to share the load. Misunderstandings do occur between the two professions, but being clear about your unique role and value will help to enhance your position. Jeanne Willis first worked as a librarian, then gradually found her career path led to becoming MIS director at McCormick, Barstow et al. in Fresno. She also acknowleged the common denominators of libraries and MIS departments: both want and need to provide good user service and support. Both have large budgets that they struggle to contain. Both need to demonstrate the benefits that technology can bring to their organizations. MIS and libraries can work together to improve delivery of information services to their organizations.
The final program of the institute focused on “The Future of Law Practice.” Meryl Natchez, President and CEO of Tech Prose, assured us that the profession of law librarianship will be crucial to the future of law practice. Doug Zucker, Vice President of Gensler Architecture Design & Planning provided an interesting look at the future of office and library designs. Fundamental shifts in library design and use will conceptualize the library as virtual, as opposed to a physical space. As law firms face the same pressures of increased competition as corporate institutions, they will act to reduce operating costs, which include reducing the size and opulence of office space. Zucker believes that strength in technology will replace the prior leverage of size. Flexibility to change rapidly in response to changes in the business environment will be crucial. The new office might be arranged like a neighborhood, incorporating formal and informal meeting places, and areas for privacy and quiet study. Office space will still need to encourage the interaction of workers, and the development of ideas. The new organizational models will be flatter (less hierarchical), entrepreneurial and team-based, and will still rely on human capital.