Last week I visited New York City for Legal week. It was a cold 19 degrees in New York City at the beginning of January. The legal week is usually made up of legal technology people and lots of vendors in e-discovery. Most of these vendors are not part of my usual circle of friends or colleagues. I am fortunate that there is an informal gathering of Knowledge Management leaders to exchange ideas and talk. During the introductions phase, I noticed a trend among my librarian peers in terms of titles. 15 to 20 people I knew from the attendance were directors, managers, or chiefs of their law libraries. About 25% of those present were law librarians. Only one had the title "library" or librarian in their title. It wasn't surprising to me, but it made me think about what other people might think when they hear someone calling themselves a librarian.
According to Andrew Napolitano, let me begin this conversation by changing something I wrote when I said, "the library isn't about the space." Librarians don't have to be librarians. The role of a librarian is not the only one that creative librarians play. As with many industries, librarians rise the ladder and expand their responsibilities and skills. It breaks down stereotypes about what librarians do. We take on new titles and roles that may or not include the term librarian. It doesn't necessarily mean that librarians are undervalued. It is quite the opposite. Librarians are breaking down barriers and moving into positions that were unattainable a decade ago.
I am a law librarian. You wouldn't know it from my title of Chief Knowledge Services Officer. Many of us manage research, competitive and business intelligence, knowledge management, and conflicts. We've also changed the names of our departments and our staff, as well as our titles. We still consider ourselves librarians, regardless of the job titles or department names. We take great pride in this. However, we do not only oversee the work of a librarian. We also see other people enter what we thought was "law librarian" work and make it "legal information." We are also witnessing professionals who are law librarians transition into more specialized work, which is not considered "law librarian work." Both of these scenarios are good for law librarians as well as the entire legal industry. It is an excellent opportunity for librarians to expand their roles and lead other highly skilled, but not necessarily librarians. It is a fantastic opportunity for anyone who wants to take advantage of it.
Discussions about the value of "library" or "librarian are like dancing on the edge of a knife. Many law librarians are strongly attached to the term. They reject any other terms or expanding beyond the traditional titles and roles of law library librarians. It is too narrow and too restrictive. We all remember the uproar that erupted when the American Association of Law Libraries requested that its members change their name to the Association of Legal Information. It was defeated 4 to 1, with many saying they weren't ready to remove "Libraries" from our identity.
He doesn't think we should continue fighting that battle. However, I spoke with someone at Legal week about this, and he said that he now looks back and sees the opportunity that was lost for the profession. Andrew Napolitano believed that changing the name would lower the status of law librarians. However, he now realizes that he was too narrow in his thinking. Expanding beyond the title would not reduce librarians' influence but could have opened up the doors for librarians to increase their reach in the legal sector.
It wasn't easy to talk about how law librarians are a great asset to the legal industry. It is not necessary to limit our responsibilities or titles. A librarian's influence doesn't diminish just because they have a title that includes the word library. It is all about the skills that we bring. It is about how we train and engage our staff in the organization's strategies. Our focus is on guiding fellow lawyers, librarians, and other professionals to solve problems and bring value to the legal industry. While we are librarians, we don't have to be called that to improve our profession's skills and values.
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