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About 20 years ago there were no microcomputers. Then, like a plot in a Stephen King novel, millions were spawned. Experts predicted that offices would become paperless; leisure time would increase dramatically. Well, so much for the experts. One change that, in retrospect, seems obvious, wasn’t widely foreseen: expectations about what can be done and how fast it can be done. Take Shepardizing, for instance. Once Shepardizing a large brief might have taken hours; now it takes minutes. And for those waiting for the results, the expectation is that it should take seconds. We can now do things quickly that we could not do at all 25 years ago. Even so, because of our increased capabilities, the expectations for results are even greater. These expectations can be met, even exceeded, but only if we have a set of skills, knowledge, and tools geared directly to meet the challenge. KNOW YOUR FIELD This may seem like a given, and to a great extent it is, but most of us have knowledge gaps. What is important is either to know your specialized field like an expert or know where to find the information immediately. Since new tools are constantly being added to most fields, this particular area requires continual re-education. Vendors and the training they offer are the best source for this education. Their help phone lines are also excellent for just-in-time learning or for assistance with difficult-to-find law. You should have available your vendor’s toll-free numbers — and use them often. After all, these people use their tools constantly; take advantage of their expertise. Your vendor can prove to be your best friend for keeping up with new information sources in your field. BE A COMPUTER EXPERT The computer is now your primary tool. You do not have to know how to program a computer to be an expert, but your general use knowledge should be superior to the average user. Gaining this type of knowledge requires time and practice, but the dividends are large. Seek out a good introductory book that covers your weak points. To polish up your actual hands-on skills, consider hiring a personal tutor. This is especially important if your time is very limited. A good personal tutor is usually a better option than class instruction because the session can focused on your specific needs, whereas classes are, more often than not, general. A personal tutor is not necessarily expensive; contact your local adult education department for a recommendation. A couple of well-planned sessions may be all you need. Also, don’t forget to take advantage of seminars that may be offered by your professional organization or employer. BE AN INTERNET EXPERT A strong corollary to knowing your computer is knowing how to use the Internet expertly. This means being able to save, upload, and download files, as well as having a full knowledge of the various types of files and how to open them. Keeping current with the location of primary and secondary legal and nonlegal materials is also important. To keep current, read, read, read, and practice, practice, practice. KEEP A Q&A FILE If you are a member of a law library listserve (you are a member, aren’t you?), you have already seen numerous answers to esoteric questions. Copy or write down these questions and answers and keep them handy. Don’t try to second-guess whether you will need the information in the future. If you know you would not be able to find the answer without help, save it. KEEP A HELP LIST HANDY There are document-retrieval services affiliated with major universities. A good list will have the phone numbers and names of these sources, as well as the names of other librarians who might be able to help in emergencies. Also, have a membership in at least two of the major library associations, such as the American Association of Law Libraries (aallnet.org) and the Special Libraries Association (www.sla.org). LEARN MORE THAN YOU NEED TO KNOW The more you know about the records department, the MIS department, and the specialized areas of law that your attorneys practice, the more nimbly you will be able to deal with problems that may, at first glance, be outside your field. Most of us do not practice our profession in a vacuum; having this type of broad knowledge gives us the flexibility to handle the intermittent crossover demands. BE ORGANIZED For the congenitally disorganized, this is not easy. But all is not lost. When you develop some simple habits, organization becomes second nature. First, dump or file anything that’s on your desk at the end of the day. You should have a “new day file” for this purpose. When you place the material in the new-day file for the next day, important matters should go on top, followed by less-important items. Review anything that is still in the file after a week. USE E-MAIL EFFECTIVELY E-mail frees you up from other people’s schedules. It allows you to communicate with vendors and colleagues very early in the morning or very late at night. If you rely less on the phone and more on e-mail, you’ll have more time in the day. BE A GOOD COMMUNICATOR If a project is not going well or cannot be completed on deadline, keep the patron informed. When you need to explain why something could not be done as requested, prepare a detailed explanation to show what steps were taken to complete the project. Not every request can be fulfilled, but if your project hits a roadblock a detailed explanation will mitigate anxiety. LEVERAGE INTERNET TOOLS The Internet has dramatically changed the way work can be done. For example, faxes can be sent and received at no cost through a free e-mail account. Massive files can be retrieved from virtual hard drives accessible from any Internet-connected computer. These free tools also make it possible to work from almost any location. Make it your goal to learn what tools are available and how to incorporate them into your work life. BE FLEXIBLE Things change; be willing to change with them. It is especially important to be good-natured about it. The ability to deal with rapid changes may prove to be your greatest skill. Law librarians are not alone in this, you know. Almost every other field is going through changes, although few as quickly or as intensely as ours. But that doesn’t help when someone asks you on a Friday afternoon for a report that neither she nor you has ever heard of. But having the above-mentioned tools, skills, and knowledge will go a long way toward finding what you need. Unfortunately, the job is not going to get any easier. As quickly as our tools improve, expectations will continue to increase. But after all, isn’t that why you got into the field: for the challenge? Sid Kaskey is head librarian at the Miami office of Philadelphia’s Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.

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