When we describe to decision makers what law librarians do, it hopefully involves metrics. The measurements can show activity but, on their own, they invite comparisons that may not be accurate. In particular, I tend to think that measuring reference activity often lacks the context of capacity.
I think out loud a lot about library value but a second topic dear to my heart is service friction: what can we do to make access to services and information as frictionless as possible. Library card renewal is one of those things that you think we’d have mastered, but a recent experience contrasted two public libraries’ renewal process. One was great. And one wasn’t. Continue reading “A Tale of Two Library Cards”
A quick web search will retrieve stories about how spending on luxury services and product continued despite the recent recession. We talk a lot about naming ourselves and our places in law libraries. This isn’t really a post about naming, although that comes into it. More broadly, I wonder how a law library can become a prestige brand to act as a keel against funding crises and other foul weather. Continue reading “Find the Prestige of a Law Library”
One of the kids has been assigned an essay that discusses nemesis. I, of course, showed him Bricktop’s discourse on pig farmers and the meaning of nemesis. Then we were playing an online game and, mistaking stubborn for stalwart, I was awarded a Nemesis badge.
It got me thinking about nemeses and, the more I thought about it, I realized what a negative productivity impact the telephone has. The phone has become my business communications nemesis.
When we talk about libraries adapting and changing, there seem to be two threads. One is to do the same things – like information delivery or reference – differently. Books are complemented with online resources, chat or bots are an alternative to in-person questions. The other is to do things that are new or considered not typically library roles. What happens when better situated organizations also move into those roles?
Starbucks’ recent policy changes were the inspiration for this post. It has recently decided to allow two changes in how it operates its stores:
- anyone can come in and use the toilets
- anyone can come in and sit
Neither activity requires a commercial transaction. As many people know, Starbucks also offers:
- wireless internet access
- coffee and food
- seating to enable people to interact with other members in their network or community
- locations throughout many communities
A coffee shop isn’t a library. But if you drew a Venn diagram of the services that public law libraries offer and that 2018 Starbucks offer, there’s definitely an overlap.
Starbucks has a couple of things that law libraries don’t. They tend to be conveniently located and in multiples, making access easier. They have a prestige reputation that makes people want to be seen using their products. And, of course, they have products that no-one else offers; even a Starbucks coffee in a hotel room isn’t quite like one in the actual shop.
And the opposite is true as well. Law libraries offer a variety of information resources and services. Some have broadened their scope into other areas, although not as far as public libraries. But a law library that is attempting to broaden its appeal by offering what a coffee shop does may not be making the best use of its resources.
What does your law library do that no-one else can – including nearby law libraries, in the same city or adjacent county – do?
Same Old, Same Old
I’ve touched on the challenge facing public libraries before, where they’re increasingly seen as a community hub and are shifting from information lender to being a lender: of information still, but also of tools, musical instruments, seeds, broadband internet access, and so on.
Law libraries can immediately eliminate most information tools as differentiators:
- Core book collections will have a high degree of overlap locally and regionally, if not nationally, because cost-cutting has focused collections on the local jurisdictions
- Free-to-use legal research databases can be accessed anywhere
- Library catalogs
- Commercial databases are common in any law library
- Remote access, per database or through an extranet or portal to a desktop of databases
I’d even argue that expertise isn’t necessarily a differentiator. Unless the reference staff’s expertise is both the reason people use the library and they primarily handle complicated reference using that expertise, I think the expertise is latent. A law library may consider itself to offer the Cadillac of reference service but who cares if the car is up on blocks?
Reference is also fungible, as are most back-office law library functions. For the most part we’re all handling a wide variety of challenges. Some law libraries may do more case pulls than legislative histories but the service availability isn’t a differentiator.
When we take a look at what we’re doing with the resources we have, it’s imperative to really look at what we do because everyone else does it, and what we do because it strengthens our local user base.
It can be hard, because we’re all trying to reach beyond the perception that we’re defined by our physical locations and our formats. How do we reach the people that don’t want to or can’t make it to our location? How do we balance showing the value of the book format, while it wreaks havoc on our budget, and leverage online formats, which disintermediate us and cloud the value the staff bring to service delivery?
I think the answer is going to be found in the little things. Not necessarily cheap things. But things that are laser focused on your user base in a way that no-one else does.
I know that looks like a typo but the Bar of Ireland is known as the Law Library. And it has a law library. So …
I like how Irish barristers can use the Law Library’s law library’s self serve kiosks for after hours borrowing. Or how Volusia County (FL) has five locations, but includes a mixture of staffed and unstaffed, collections and computers. Maybe there’s a court-law library partnership, like Crawford County (PA)’s placing a victim’s rights advocate in the library. Maybe it’s capturing legal information that isn’t available anywhere else. Or like the Anoka County (MN) Law Library, scheduling regular reference and Q&A times at the local public library branches, outside the normal law library hours.
It’s all about alignment, of course. It’s about identifying the things that our local audience values, and that we can show differentiate us from other service providers, whether it’s another law library, a public library, or a coffee shop.
And there is a perimeter out there, like a dog’s invisible fence, that, once crossed, places the law library in a space where others are providing the same service. And they may be better or more appropriate, or more preferred providers of that service than the law library. Thinking about that scope can help law libraries avoid wasting resources chasing trends.