Admission: I know that preparing a SWOT analysis of law libraries is, generally, ambitious or presumptuous or, most likely, both. However, once I got the idea into my head it would not leave. Even though the statements are generalizations, working through a SWOT analysis is a good way to identify key points and concerns. This is, in fact, the purpose of the analysis.
What is a SWOT analysis? This is a business acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The SWOT analysis is a strategic development tool that identifies internal strengths and weaknesses as well as external opportunities and threats. The purpose is to build on strengths, reduce or eliminate weaknesses, minimize threats and take advantage of opportunities.
The analysis can be performed at many levels, from the personal — my job — to the organization’s position among competitors. It assists with creating an objective overview of how I or my organization is positioned within the specific work/business environment.
OK, now onto my presumptuously ambitious attempt to prepare a SWOT analysis for law libraries.
This is the information age, and libraries are the original information managers. Librarians are trained to understand and work with information from inception to reaching the end user.
Librarians are skilled in information literacy and use their knowledge to solve information problems. The Core Competencies of Law Librarianship define a high standard of knowledge, skills and abilities for our profession.
Law librarians are creative, flexible, adaptive and service-oriented. We may specialize in certain areas — corporate, administrative, technical, etc. — and use these skills to better satisfy information needs. Because we assist so many across many areas, librarians often see connections and have an overview perspective not available elsewhere.
Librarians are comfortable with technology and often represent one of the more innovative departments within their institution. Proficiencies vary, but librarians are skilled in the resources — print and electronic — used in their jobs and are willing to try to adopt new resources and applications.
For a general overview of law librarians and what we do, see my “Many Hats of a Law Librarian” series.
The librarian stereotype is still strong, and too many view libraries as outdated and as overhead only. Academic and firm law libraries are departments within institutions, and a management perception that the library is only a drain on resources is deadly. An institutional culture that does not value the role of the library may discourage potential users, thereby reinforcing the negative perception.
Libraries are expensive and require physical space. The cost of books and electronic subscriptions continues to rise, and there always seems to be a need for more office space. A perception that most information needs can be met from a desktop by electronics is a reason to appropriate library space, and the idea that anyone can search online databases obviates the need for a librarian.
Librarians are not always good at showing their value to the parent institution. In business speak, we don’t justify our ROI (return on investment). We keep statistics, but measuring the value of a reference interaction is more difficult. For example, directing a young attorney to a resource that answers the question quickly and efficiently saves time and money. A mark to tally the number of reference questions received does not measure this value.
Law librarians can take the lead as information managers and in knowledge management.
Law librarians can create and teach information literacy instruction for our patrons.
Law librarians can use technology to create innovative information services for their institutions.
The law library may be perceived as too great an expense for too little return. Resources and space may be taken for other institutional purposes, even if the library cannot be eliminated.
SWOT analysis complete.
Yes, the statements are short and simple. I tried to make a concise statement, as the points can be developed as necessary. You may or may not agree with my lists, but that is OK. As mentioned at the start, trying to prepare a SWOT on an entire profession can only be done in general terms. In other words, this is a quick and dirty analysis.
Now, what do we do with this? This is a strategic development tool. Prepare a SWOT for your library and plan.
Tricia Kasting is a reference/government documents librarian at Hofstra University School of Law’s Deane Law Library in Hempstead, N.Y.
Law.com’s ongoing IN FOCUS article series highlights opinion and analysis from our site’s contributors and writers across the ALM network of publications.