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Law librarians are "information and research professionals in an era when finding essential information is more important than ever," according to a recent ABAJournal.com article written by Patrick Lamb, '82, founder of the Valorem Law Group in Chicago. "Associates, who do most of the research in law firms, are not research or information professionals. … When you live in a value-fee world, someone who finds the right information efficiently is really valuable."
The article prompted a spirited debate about the value of law-firm librarians in an age when much information is available online. "I'd hire a law librarian … if I could afford one," said one commenter. "My sixteen-year-old daughter maintains my library," wrote another.
Joyce Manna Janto, president of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and deputy director of the University of Richmond School of Law Library, points out that the value of lawfirm librarians shouldn't be in doubt.
"I think in firms especially, the lawyers forget that the librarians are just as well educated as they are," Janto notes. "They have no idea that we are able to go beyond the stereotypical 'reference question' and that the librarians are a good source for client development and client retention.
"It may have to do with the fact that our user base is so well educated. They seem to assume that if they can't find it, it can't be found," she contends. "Then they're amazed that we find that piece of information for them. They sometimes become embarrassed, 'Oh I should have found that for myself.'
"Librarians are, or should be viewed as, the information professionals in any organization. It is our job, our responsibility, to find, categorize, analyze, and teach others how to find the information they need to do their jobs."
As a young associate at Harness, Dickey & Pierce, Jennifer Selby leveraged her understanding of the value of the firm's librarian to get ahead in her job.
"At HDP, which was a medium-sized patent firm then, there was one librarian and no support staff," recalls Selby, now a senior associate librarian at Michigan Law. "What some of the summer associates quickly learned (and I also took advantage of as a young associate) was that the librarian was a treasure trove of helpful information. Many times, she helped me craft effective searches for expensive online databases—like Lexis or Westlaw—saving me from looking bad by racking up too much in online searching costs."
The firm's librarian also helped Selby navigate the paper collection and "pointed me in the direction of a more obscure treatise, journal series, or looseleaf service that helped me find the answer to an obscure legal question."
Selby knows, though, that not all associates, or even partners, at firms are willing to go to the firm librarian for assistance. "I knew that others in my same position were not availing themselves of her expertise, either out of ignorance or really arrogance."
The cost of such arrogance, Janto argues, is a loss of valuable time and money. At worst, it can lead to an attorney using incomplete or inaccurate information.
"There is so much information available, and it takes a trained researcher to sift through the dross to find the gold," notes Janto. "As I tell my students, it only takes a few bucks and a little determination to become a content provider on the Internet. Many users, even well-educated lawyers, don't always think to check the information they find on the Internet for currency, accuracy, and authenticity."—FS
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