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The library is the heart of the law firm. Once upon a time, that phrase was uttered often and enthusiastically by attorneys, recruiters, and librarians alike. In some firms, the space was quite grand, with carrels lining the windows, Oriental carpets on the floor, and book stacks as far as the eye could see. Today, the talk is of virtual libraries, and firms are more likely to advertise their computing power than their volume count. Despite this talk, physical libraries continue to exist — and with good reason. After careful analysis, most researchers and librarians have concluded that some print materials are simply better than their electronic counterparts. And there will always be at least a few titles that are not available in any other format. Moreover, physical space is required to house the computers and printers necessary to make use of electronic resources, and space is required for the staff members who have responsibility for selecting, storing, organizing, and retrieving the firm’s information resources. But the look of the library has changed over time and, although some may bemoan the loss of prime office space with picture windows, most admit that the showplaces of yesteryear no longer meet today’s information needs. If form is to follow function, then the first step for any library design project is to determine how the library is operating now and how it will most likely operate in the future. This article examines some of the major changes taking place in private law libraries as the result of technology and discusses the implications for library design. THE COLLECTION The paperless library may not be here, but our libraries certainly contain a lot less paper than they used to. Electronic choices range from online services to CD-ROM databases to Internet sites; a growing number of products are not even available in print. Fewer books mean fewer book stacks, and this change alone has allowed for dramatic decreases in the overall size of the library. The use of compact (movable aisle) shelving instead of traditional stationary shelves yields even greater space savings. However, the quest to reduce square footage can be taken too far, too fast. More than one organization has eliminated book stacks without providing the hardware, software, and staff necessary to support a wide variety of electronic products. This infrastructure should be firmly in place before canceling subscriptions or reducing the stack count. Another mistake is to purchase a large compact unit with only a single aisle, forcing researchers to wait in line to retrieve needed materials. In one area, electronic resources have actually added to the square footage requirement. The legal publishing market is being flooded with new products, new versions of existing products, and tools for using those products, such as search-and-retrieval software, push technology, and current awareness monitoring services. Constant training to ensure efficient use is essential, and this has led to putting training rooms within the library itself. This is not just for convenience; the firm’s multipurpose training room may not be available as often as required. It is a good idea to hardwire some of the computers in the training room, rather than having them all go through the firm’s network, to serve as a backup system in case of network problems. THE PATRONS Yesterday, patrons had to come to the library for service. Today, electronic resources are accessible from anywhere as long as you have the right equipment and power source. Requests for assistance are sent via telephone, fax, or e-mail to staff members who may be located anywhere in the world, and responses are delivered the same way. And no longer are potential recruits and new clients routinely paraded through the library to admire the size of the collection. As a direct result, the private law library is more likely to be designed as a workplace, like other support departments, rather than as a showplace. Gracious entryways and reading lounges are being eliminated, wood is being replaced with plastic laminate, and custom-designed millwork is being replaced with off-the-shelf or systems furniture. Not everyone is pleased with the change. For some, the showplace library served as a pleasant place to escape from ringing phones and office visitors, or just for a change of scenery. In some firms, it also served as a place for attorneys from various practice groups to meet and share information about work and social life. This interaction helped to foster a unique culture and the loyalty that comes with it. The workplace library, often located in interior space, on a distant floor, and lacking an area designed to foster communication, cannot serve the same purpose. Some organizations opt for a compromise between these two extremes. They design space that is comfortable to work in and also serves as a refuge, even though the floor is covered with carpet tiles rather than an Oriental rug. A lack of patrons leads to other changes. The number of carrels and tables can be drastically reduced. A large reference desk, centrally located to greet and direct those who enter the library, is no longer needed. In its stead, some firms are designing smaller, more practical service stations. The service station may house an automated check-out system, and also serves as a central area to display items of interest such as seminar announcements, library guides, and newspaper articles about the firm. If the reference desk is eliminated, it is essential to place at least one office or workstation near the main entrance, so that those who do use the library are not left wandering about in search of assistance. THE STAFF Decades ago, when electronic resources were first introduced, attorneys and librarians had to be convinced the new format was a good idea. One advantage, the vendors said, is that staff could be reduced since no one would be needed to file loose-leaf services or shelve books. The vendors were not entirely wrong. The number of hours spent on these low-level tasks is certainly less than it used to be. Instead, professional-level staff are evaluating CD-ROM and online databases, creating content for Web sites, using intranet-development tools, devising taxonomies, negotiating site licenses, customizing library application software, and training attorneys and legal assistants to use the ever-growing number of electronic resources. This upgrading of the staff has a number of design implications for the amount of space as well as the type of space required to house library personnel. It is not surprising that the total number of square feet necessary to house the staff has increased rather than decreased with time. It is no longer efficient to create a large workroom to house the clerical-level staff because there are few, if any, clerical employees; instead, offices or workstations are required for higher-level staff, in addition to needing a workroom for sorting mail, storing boxes of books, and other paper-intensive tasks. Technology has also changed the customary organization of library staff. Traditionally, staff members were assigned to either public services or technical services. The first category includes research, reference, training, and other activities that bring the staff and patrons into contact. Technical services are the library’s back-office functions (cataloging, circulation control, filing, etc.) that are necessary to acquire and arrange resources so they are usable. It used to be common to put the technical staff together and the public services staff together, making it easy for them to share information and files. Today, technology has blurred the line between these two groups. Many tasks (the creation of an intranet or an online catalog) cannot be labeled as one or the other, nor can the people who perform those tasks. The need for interaction among the entire staff argues against trying to organize staff members by an antiquated classification system. THE EQUIPMENT In addition to the book stacks, the offices, circulation control station and other features of the modern library, designers must also deal with the requirements of the equipment itself. Work areas must be larger to allow room for the computer equipment without using up all the available work surface. Space must be allocated for patrons, staff, and repair technicians to stand and service the equipment, load paper, change toner, pick up printouts, fix paper jams, and the like. Grommets, cable trays, and other cable-management devices must be specified to avoid the spaghetti that results when CPUs, monitors, printers, and other equipment are located in close proximity. There are also special environmental requirements. Locations and lighting must be selected carefully to avoid glare on computer screens. Because computers and printers generate a lot of heat, they must be placed where the air can circulate freely around them, and the air supply must be adequate. The noise generated by the equipment and the people using it should be contained so that others are not disturbed. Supplying power is easier if the equipment is located near a wall or column; it’s harder when the power is located in the middle of the space. One advantage of wireless transmission is that location options will no longer be as restricted. THE ERGONOMIC FACTOR Computers have highlighted the need for ergonomically designed equipment and furniture. This is especially challenging in libraries where the design must accommodate a number of variations. Each staff member will use his or her workstation to perform a variety of tasks. Patrons will use the carrels to read, to draft, and to search laptop and desktop computers. Chairs should be adjustable for height, and each part of the chair (back, armrest, and seat) should also adjust easily. The leading edge of the seat should be designed to avoid decreasing circulation in the lower leg. Work surfaces present a special challenge. A standard height for work surfaces is about 29 inches, but, for most of us, this is too high for a keyboard and too low for a monitor. A desk and separate computer workstation or a workstation with surfaces that can be independently adjusted helps solve this problem. Monitors can be made more comfortable by providing a caddie that can be adjusted for height, distance from the eyes, and tilt. Task lighting is recommended where two or more different activities take place in the same location, or when the needs of different individuals have to be met. BUILD IN FLEXIBILITY Technology has changed, and is continuing to change, the way our libraries operate. To be efficient, the physical space that houses the remaining print collection, equipment, staff, and service areas must also change. Because no one can predict the future, it is best to build in flexibility, so that the space can be reconfigured as needed. For example, some of the interior spaces can be divided with systems furniture and book stacks rather than built-ins and full-height walls. The library itself should be located in an area that is easy to contract or expand. The goal is to create functional space that will serve the information needs of today and yet is flexible enough to respond to the information needs of tomorrow. Joan L. Axelroth is president of Axelroth & Associates, an information and library management consulting firm serving law firms and businesses throughout the United States. She can be reached at [email protected]

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