As with most major cost centers, law firm libraries have been under intense pressure to reduce both research and staff resources. But a trend is emerging that is shifting the perception of libraries from book repositories to proactive, sophisticated resource centers for navigating in the increasingly data-intensive legal environment.

How well prepared is your firm for the library of the future? Here are five goals to help you assess how your library stacks up:

1. Maximum digital content, minimal paper. First, print should be reduced to only those titles that cannot be found electronically. The only exceptions should be print resources legitimately determined to be superior during the research process. Second, individual practices require varying research sources tailored to meet their needs. Low-cost, or even free, resources such as Justia can be useful legal tools, but introduction of these resources should be planned and not allowed to happen organically. The challenge for librarians as niche electronic resources continue to proliferate is to have effective processes for fast evaluation and deployment of new sources.

2. Technically advanced search tools. Advanced search tools are now critical for both legal and nonlegal research. Historical research should be easily searchable using knowledge management best practices and tools. Some firms are finding value in a new class of tools that are aimed at quickly and efficiently assisting lawyers with culling potential data from a relevant set. Ravel Law, for example, creates an easy-to-use visualization of case law that is relevant to a search and then allows a user to focus in on specific cases.

In addition, while many are still in their infancy, predictive analytic tools are taking hold in the legal industry. Such products as Lex Machina, for example, are challenging manual research that was traditionally done via Thomson Reuter’s Westlaw and LexisNexis in the intellectual property arena.

3. Mobility. Tools and processes that help libraries deploy products and respond to requests in real time are critical for success. News resources should be provided to users in a highly curated form for fast, remote access. However, other resources have mobility limitations. Remote access requires users to be online and research sites can be slow and ineffective. Supplier-designed apps often provide insufficient depth and raise security concerns. E-books are often financially prohibitive and are not a true means to achieve mobile access to the print collection.

4. Few inefficient users. Historically, the library model focused on responding to patron requests. Now, new practices incorporate both proactive and reactive assistance. Search-monitoring tools increasingly are being used to identify training opportunities, enhance productivity and increase research quality. Top library professionals are skilled in monitoring users and implementing customized training based on their observations and assessments. For example, a user who is running multiple searches to obtain a single result may benefit from training to improve his/her search requests.

5. Forward-thinking librarians. Progressive law firms are turning to librarians to ensure their libraries are ready for this rapidly changing, data-driven future. Having the right leadership in place to drive these more strategic research initiatives is critical to future success.

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