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The high-tech library. Everybody wants one — and with good reason. Lexis-Nexis, Westlaw, the Internet, and hosts of other databases allow fast and easy access to information, some of it free. With electronic resources, law firms can jettison miles of books and periodicals and reclaim some of that valuable space for offices. With fewer books to maintain, fewer assistants are needed to route journals, copy cases, shelve books, and file loose-leaf services. And with information delivered directly to the desktop, some believe there is less need for professional-level library staff to provide research and reference services. The truth is a bit different. Although the high-tech library is a more efficient way to provide information services, as in every other department technology has actually added to the cost and complexity of operating the modern information center. The low-level tasks have been replaced by dozens of high-level tasks — and the professionals qualified to perform these new activities cost a lot more to hire than the loose-leaf filer. Those who are in the process of hiring or evaluating staffing needs must understand the activities of a high-tech library, the staffing challenges, and how to find qualified people. WIDER JOB SCOPE Rather than eliminating the need for traditional library services, technology has made these services more complex to perform. In addition, 21st century librarians need new types of skills and knowledge. Responsibilities of the high-tech law librarian include: Evaluating new products and changes in existing products:Yes, librarians have always done this, but it was a lot easier when there were relatively few options to consider. Today, not only is the same information found in many different products, it is also found in multiple versions of the same title. For example, Shepard’s Citations are available in print, CD-ROM, and on the Internet, but the three products are not identical. The content varies, as do the search strategies required, which means that search results may vary. And then there’s the speed with which products change. Publishers of electronic products are constantly adding and subtracting content and changing search options and software, and these changes may or may not make the product better. Negotiating contracts and site licenses:Print products are owned; electronic products are leased. After an acquisition decision is made, the librarian must negotiate the price and other terms of the license. Negotiation and contract law are not subjects taught in library school, but a growing number of articles and continuing education programs have emerged to fill in the gap. Providing enhanced access to new resources:The explosion of information resources makes it harder than ever to learn what is available. Yesterday’s card catalog contained information about the print materials in the library. Today, librarians can provide an even more useful product: electronic catalogs with embedded links to Web sites, CD-ROM products, and electronic documents found in commercial databases and on the firm’s intranet. Serving the remote patron:In the past, patrons came to the library whenever they needed information. Desktop access and e-mail have all but eliminated these visits. As a result, librarians must work harder to find out what their patrons need and to find creative ways to deliver news about information products and services. Today, librarians are keeping in touch with patrons through practice group meetings, video conferences (and in-person visits) with users in other offices, intranet sites, lunch-time product demonstrations, and interviews with users. Offering reference and research services:Desktop access to resources has not eliminated the need for trained librarians to provide these services. How many lawyers or paralegals are familiar with hundreds of databases, search engines, and Web sites, each with its own arcane search protocols and requirements? Do they know which resource will yield the best results, for the best price, in any given circumstance? Monitoring current developments:This is one of the best examples of how a longtime service has evolved in the electronic age into something much better but also more complex. Librarians used to read newspapers, the Federal Register, and other publications, looking for information for specific patrons. Relevant articles were copied and routed to the interested parties. Today, electronic services search general, business, and legal sources using predefined search terms, on a schedule requested by the user (daily, weekly, or monthly). Results can be stored at the publisher’s Web site, on the firm’s intranet, or delivered via e-mail to the requester’s desktop. Developing the intranet as a research tool:By adding carefully selected and well-organized content and services, librarians are turning the intranet into an important research tool. Creating a first-rate research site requires a variety of technical skills, as well as an understanding of practice and research group needs, electronic resources, and intranet research tools. The time required to develop and then maintain a worthwhile site is so extensive that some firms are hiring people who devote all of their time to these tasks. Training:Electronic products have increased the need for training end users in a wide variety of complex systems to ensure efficient and cost-effective searching. The need for training arises every time a new product is acquired, the publisher changes the content or search language, or an existing product is converted to a new medium (for example, many publishers are moving their CD-ROM products to the Web). Training may also be required if the organization changes its preferred provider from one vendor to another. NEW STAFFING CHALLENGES Staffing the high-tech library involves issues that did not exist — or were easier to deal with — in the low-tech world. Competition:To operate the high-tech library, you need staff members who possess a broad range of information management knowledge and skills (some of which are described above). You also need people who possess all of the attributes you look for in any professional-level staff member: the ability to work both independently and as part of a team and to work under pressure, and excellent communication and people skills. These people do exist, but everyone else is looking for them too, and competition for the most talented individuals is fierce. Law firms and others are finding that they must be prepared to wait for the right person, and they must offer a lot to keep that person once hired. In addition to salary and benefits, that might include the opportunity to telecommute, to work from a different location, to have nontraditional hours, or other enticements. Changing needs:As technology changes, so will your staffing needs, which means that the person you hire today may not be the person you would hire six months from now. So instead of focusing solely on expertise, also look out for someone with a curious nature who is interested in learning more. For tasks that are not ongoing, consider contracting the work out or hiring someone on a temporary basis. That way, you can hire someone with exactly the skills you need today. For example, there are a number of companies that specialize in turning card catalog records into automated records or helping with the migration of data from one brand of software to another. Training and retraining:Training has always been important, but constantly changing technology has exacerbated the problem of keeping up with the latest knowledge and skills. Training takes time and may actually reduce productivity in the short run as staff members learn the intricacies of a new database or new search protocols. Training also takes money — anywhere from a few dollars for local seminars to thousands of dollars for college or graduate-level courses. The need for training will never go away, so it is best to institutionalize these expenses in the department’s budget. Working with remote staff:Multi-office firms have always had the challenge of working with remote staff. Intranets, fax machines, e-mail, video conferencing, and other technologies have made this easier than in the days when communications were restricted to telephone and express mail. But the fact that coordination is now easier has also made it more necessary. For example, in years past, a firm could justify having each of its office libraries operate independently, selecting resources and library application software, and setting policies and procedures based solely on local needs. Today, a single catalog containing all of the firm’s resources and mounted on a firmwide intranet can encourage resource sharing, but not if every office uses a different product and follows different rules. BEFORE YOU HIRE Before placing ads, take some time to consider what you need. What skills and knowledge do you need today and what will be required in the near future? What are the specific tasks that must be accomplished? Will those tasks be ongoing? If not, it may be better to use a contractor or to create a temporary position. Consider your requirements:Is a master’s in library science (or the equivalent) really necessary? Eliminating this requirement widens the pool of candidates, but also increases the amount of on-the-job training that will be required. What type of experience do you need? Law library (or any type of library) experience is desirable, but is it a necessity? As with the graduate degree, eliminating library experience widens the pool and increases on-the-job training time. How much experience do you need? Conventional wisdom says the more the better, but a recent college graduate may be better at certain tasks than someone who graduated before the invention of desktop computers. After you know what you need, document your decisions. Job descriptions should be written even if you plan to hire from inside the company. They are useful for new employees and provide in-house personnel and recruiters with an excellent tool for evaluating applicants. Some examples can be found in the job description database maintained by the Computing Services Special Interest Section of AALL at www.avemarialaw.edu/aall/. The descriptions are organized by job title and can be searched by key word. Qualified personnel are hard to find, but there are a number of sources worth trying. Place ads where they will be read by librarians who work in different types of libraries. For example, law firms can use the placement services of the Special Libraries Association ( www.sla.org) and the American Society for Information Science and Technology ( www.asis.org), as well as the American Association of Law Libraries ( www.aallnet.org). Don’t forget local chapters, which often run their own listservs and placement operations. In the Washington area, check the Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, D.C. ( www.llsdc.org). Other organizations also provide placement services. For example, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments runs an active job line ( www.mwcog.org/ic/jobline.html). Use the placement services of academic institutions with library and computer science programs. This is an especially good source for locating interns and recent graduates, but may also be used to locate more experienced alumni of the school. Consider employment agencies that specialize in the technology industry as well as those who place library staff. And don’t forget newspaper ads, both general and legal. Another source that should not be ignored is your own backyard, or the backyard of another department. Look for employees who have a facility for working with technology and are ready to move up — or are just interested in doing something new. Although this may leave another department with a vacancy to fill, it is better to make good use of the personnel you have than to risk losing that person to a competitor. Managing technology has increased the need for highly educated and experienced professionals who can not only adapt to constant changes in the methods used to collect, organize, and deliver information, but also meet the information needs of patrons in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. Joan L. Axelroth is president of Axelroth & Associates, an information and library management consulting firm serving law firms and businesses located nationwide. She may be reached at [email protected].

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