Law librarians, research specialists, knowledge managers, reference librarians: we go by many titles, but the element most fundamental to our professional construct is the desire to provide excellent service. Maintaining a cost-effective yet high-quality electronic and paper collection, ready for instant access whenever our attorneys need it, takes time and a mutual understanding of respective needs and modus operandi. Librarians, especially during these economic times, must perfect the balancing act of culling without compromising access; allocating extra resources towards nonobvious investments; negotiating long-term contracts in anticipation of future usage needs; and justifying the cost of soft-value resources where value, though not directly attributed to the bottom line, adds value nonetheless. Attorneys, now more than ever, must be efficient and cost conscious with their clients’ time while providing high-quality service. They may also need to rapidly expand their subject matter expertise and juggle between vastly differing subject matters at a moment’s notice. Here are five common wishes from the librarian community that can help towards the improvement of the firm and service to our clients:

1. We want to know what you are up to.

What sets apart a great librarian from a good librarian is proactivity. For librarians to be proactive, however, we need to be aware of the activity of the firm as a whole: firm development strategies, new cases, new clients, special phases in a case, your upcoming speaking engagements. Knowledge of firm activities or events will help your librarian recognize highly relevant articles or resources before you know you need them. For the attorneys we serve, this could mean the difference between success and mediocrity or even failure. The more we are in tune with major firm movements and interests, the more proactive we can be.

2. We want feedback (the good and the bad).

Not giving feedback now might burn you later. The library must constantly make choices regarding the collection: keeping, acquiring, removing. Let us know if you love or hate a treatise or resource and what improvements you would like to see. Not only can your feedback affect the resources we decide to keep, but we can often influence vendors when it comes to product development and improvement. You are the ultimate users of the resources; let us know how a product can be improved. Feedback also helps us understand the true value of a resource and can affect how we approach pricing negotiations. If you come across a great new resource or if you have favorite resources you have used in the past, let your library know. We will benefit from discovering something new and useful or sometimes we may direct you to something even better that is already in our collection. It is especially important that we get feedback from everyone, i.e., partners, associates, paralegals and secretaries. Needs can vary vastly among groups and should be taken into account for a more complete view.

Feedback on performance is also a necessary but often neglected area. Whether it be verbal, by email or a formal annual review, the feedback we get is key to building a successful business. We need to know if certain needs or expectations are not met. We also need to know what we are doing right — the library and staff must prove their worth and value to the firm. Do not underestimate the influence you can have in advocating for and affirming the value of your library staff.

3. Sometimes a little background is helpful and saves time and money.

While librarians are well-versed in the reference interview, sometimes we get research requests that seem fairly specific only to find out later there was more to the original request. This setback may require rerunning expensive searches and can create confusion from having to double back over a long research trail, especially if the librarian remembers having seen what would have been pertinent information somewhere. In some cases that extra bit of information can make all the difference.

4. What would you like to brush up on?

The library staff and supporting vendors are eager to help you understand how to take advantage of databases and resources you have access to. Brushing up on your skills allows you to take full advantage of what paid resources have to offer and makes you more efficient with your time. Everyone’s background and capabilities are varied; you may be an expert in one arena but not in another. We can either teach you (quickly or in detail) or give you resources to help you learn. The library is your learning sanctuary; take advantage of this without fear of judgment. Let your librarian know what you would like to learn.

5. Please read our emails … you’ll be glad you did.

Librarians generally try to avoid inundating your inbox with emails, so if you see an email from the library it’s usually important. After all, one day it might be your colleague looking for that missing book, but on another day it might be you. Or maybe you expected a certain desk copy, access to a newsletter or some other service, and suddenly you don’t get it anymore — usually it goes back to that email from the library you never got around to reading or simply didn’t respond. Responding to library polling or notification emails is a great way to influence the decision-making process that pertains to you and your practice. We love to hear from you!

Communication takes a little work up front; however, the resulting benefits and excellent service is what you will get and what we librarians strive for!

Judy L. Heier is a reference assistant at Farella Braun & Martel.

Beyond the Shelves is a monthly column written for The Recorder by members of the Northern California Association of Law Libraries.