Leading the Way Up the Mountain
Presented May 31, 1999
Canadian Association of Law Libraries Annual Conference
© Penny A. Hazelton
I am honored and privileged to be asked to return to your CALL meeting in this lovely mountain retreat. I last joined you at the wonderful meeting in Ottawa in 1991 when I was President of AALL. I learned many things at that meeting – but mostly how much fun you all are!
I was asked to talk today about the future of law librarianship – a heady topic suitable for the rarified air of this glorious place! This topic is important to me personally because I am a law librarian – this is my career and future we are talking about. I am also most interested in the future of law librarianship on a professional level as I am the director of a program at the University of Washington that helps to educate and mentor new law librarians into our profession. And, this question, "Will there be law librarians in the 21st century?" is a question every one of these people asks – before they can decide whether or not to come to library school.
I would like to begin by quoting from a spiritual reader for librarians. This charming book by Michael Gorman is entitled, Our Singular Strengths: Meditations for Librarians, and was published by the American Library Association in 1997. Mr. Gorman (of Future Libraries fame) selects a quotation he thinks appropriate to librarianship, expands on the quotation’s meaning to him, and follows this with an "I will" statement. I really like this little book. I inadvertently left it on the corner of my desk one day and found that everyone who came into the office thumbed through it. Now, I leave it there on purpose.
Now I wish to read the Gorman page on "Night Thoughts":
To waste long nights in pensive discontent.
-Edmund Spenser, Complaints, Mother Hubbard’s Tale
Sometimes, late in the evening or at night, I wonder what the world would be like if all the information futurists and advocates of technology uber alles are actually right. Because the track record of technological prophecy is, to be polite, dismal, betting against such prophets is safe ninety-nine times out of a hundred. After all, not many of us read microfiche newspapers while taking our personal helicopter to work happily leaving diligent robots to clean our plastic houses. Technology generally confounds our expectations and its consequences, good and bad, are rarely foreseen. Perhaps, then, it is foolish to worry that this might be the one time in a hundred and haunt the watches of the night with the specters of the death of the book, the end of reading, the creation of a huge aliterate underclass, the reduction of higher education to television and the penciling of "Scantron" cards, and all the other joyless, gray outcomes of the vision of the wired intelligentsia. Anyway, day always comes and the nightmares recede. It is difficult to be pessimistic in the sunlight when both life and libraries look good.
I will be optimistic and remember time heals all futurist fantasies. Gorman, at 100.
Frankly, it is hard to be optimistic in the face of such radical change. Think how much our world has changed just in the last three years – not to mention the 20+ years I have been in this profession. Interesting and challenging are words used all the time – these are just euphemisms for doing more with less in a constantly changing environment. Changes in users’ expectations, changes in traditional publishing practices not to mention constantly changing technology populate our every work day.
What I would like to do now is to review some studies about the skills and competencies that will be needed by all law librarians in this new century. And then to talk about how we get from these high faluting ideals to the practical realities of our day to day work lives.
First, I want to remind you of Ranganathan’s Five Laws. He was a mathematician who invented the term library science. He believed that all empirical laws were based on the scientific method. These five laws of librarianship are:
· Books are for use
· Every book its reader
· Every reader his book
· Save the time of the reader
· The library is a growing organism
These universal laws seem to me to embody the values and goals of our profession – even as we head to the 21st century.
Michael Gorman, in Our Singular Strengths, fashioned these Five Laws into more current statements:
· Libraries save humanity
· Respect all forms by which knowledge is communicated
· Use technology intelligently to enhance service
· Protect free access to knowledge
· Honor the past and create the future Gorman, at 61.
All of the studies about competency and skills for librarianship have these three elements in common: they provide context for our professional work; they describe professional knowledge needed for our success; and they enumerate personal traits and attitudes that are required in the successful librarian of the next century. I want to review the results of the studies by the Special Libraries Association and by the American Association of Law Libraries on skills and competencies in an effort to understand what our colleagues have already said about how to move gracefully through our professional lives in this information age. Maybe this will help to dispel the pessimism that is easy to be victim to.
In their 1997 work, Competencies for Special Librarians of the 21st Century, the Special Libraries Association identified three major environmental realities for librarians at this stage of history. They recognized the move from paper to digital information and multimedia opportunities, the increasing accountability of everyone in business, and the new forms of work organization and management.
SLA described eleven professional competencies. I have listed them all, but highlight the ones I think are most important for librarians to consider. How are you responding to your organizations’ information needs? With imagination and creativity or with traditional services? When was the last time you systematically asked your users what services they used and found convenient? I have reworded these somewhat to fit my presentation.
SLA Professional Competencies
The personal competencies are very enlightening. Again, I have listed them all, but highlighted the ones I think we must pay particular attention to in order to be successful in our chosen profession.
SLA Personal Competencies
AALL took a hard look at the profession of law librarianship, specifically, and published their findings in 1997 in Toward a Renaissance in Law Librarianship. This report recognized that fundamental changes are challenging law libraries. In particular, the report noted the great changes in technology – the digital revolution – and the economic and social changes, including smaller budgets, the globalization of law, vendor mergers, and diversity. The report goes on to conclude that there will be a future for law librarians (thank goodness!).
The Renaissance Report redefines law librarianship: "The ideal law librarian is in harmony with the values at the heart of the legal profession and librarianship, is completely knowledgeable about everything relevant to legal information, and has all the necessary character traits, attitudes, and skills to be a superbly effective legal information specialist. This librarian has also integrated an appreciation of the importance of library services into the larger culture of the library’s parent organization." (emphasis added)
The AALL Report identifies professional values, professional knowledge, and personal traits, attitudes and skills needed by the successful law librarian.
AALL Essential Values
AALL Professional Knowledge
AALL Personal Traits, Attitudes, and Skills
At a NOCALL meeting a couple of years ago, participants identified these personal traits. I would add to the list:
On our long drive from Montana to Banff to attend this meeting, my friend, Judy Meadows, Montana State Law Librarian and Past President of AALL, told me a story that I think illustrates the point I would like to make here. I would like to share that story with you.
There was a frog on the riverbank. He needed to get across the river, but there were hundreds of alligators swimming in the river! The frog knew he would never make it to the other side by swimming. So he looks up and down the bank for some way across the river. Finally, in dismay, he sees an owl sitting in a tree. The frog thinks – the owl is wise – maybe he can tell me how to get across this river. So the frog says to the owl," I need to cross the river. What can I do?". The owl responds, "Fly across the river." The frog thinks about this and, then, deciding that the owl is wise and must know what he is talking about, decides to give the flying a chance. The frog backs up from the river bank to get a long, hopping start. Giving himself a great push, the frog heaves himself out over the river --- and slowly begins to drop right into the middle of the river and those hungry alligators! On his way down, the frog shouts to the owl, "Frogs can’t fly!" And the wise old owl says, "That’s a matter of implementation. I’m into process."
So, here is the challenge. How can we become the successful law librarians of the next millenium? We know what competencies and skills we must have. How do we get and keep those skills and attitudes? I think we can do several things. First, invest in staff training and development. Spend the time and money to keep your staff a peak performance. Besides sessions on using various software, don’t forget to give workshops on learning styles, effect of change on an organization, and other such seminars. All library employees, including librarians, need to be life-long learners.
Second, look for the right competencies, skills, and attitudes in the new employees we hire. We can affect the way our organizations respond to changing times by hiring employees who have the skills and attitudes that will guarantee success. Third, help train the new generation of law librarians by teaching in a library school or teaching a legal research class for paralegals or other librarians.
And fourth, preserve the human moment in your day-to-day activities. I recently read an excellent article from the Harvard Business Review. Dr. Hallowell, in "The Human Moment at Work", claims that we are in danger of losing the human moment. He defines the human moment as an "authentic psychological encounter that can happen only when two people share the same physical space." He feels that toxic worry has replaced the human moment in many of our lives.
"Indeed, strategic use of the human moment can help reduce the confusion and ambiguity of electronic communications, develop confidence and trust as only in-person meetings can, and reduce the toxic worry, mental fatigue and disconnection associated with the excessive use of electronics. Technology has created a magnificent new world, bursting with opportunity. It has opened up a global, knowledge-based economy and unchained people from their desks. We are all in its debt – and we’re never going back. But we cannot move forward successfully without preserving the human moment. The price we pay for not doing that is too high, for individuals and organizations alike. The human moment provides the zest and color in the painting of our daily lives; it restores us, strengthens us, and makes us whole. Luckily, as long as we arrange our lives properly, the human moment should be easy enough to preserve. All we have to do is take heed – and make it happen."
This is where you come in – you are the frog. It is all implementation. You can try to fly or you can think about other ways to cross that river that use your intelligence, networking, and creative skills.
"I will give library users what they want – balance between the old and new." Gorman, page 69.
"I will be optimistic and remember time heals all futurist fantasies." Gorman, page 100.
Apologies to all of you who attended the CALL Meeting and heard my speech. I cannot write out every word before my presentations. This was the best I could do to reconstruct what actually did come out of my mouth that day. This was what I meant to say! Also, this is not a written paper and does not meet the exacting standards that we come to appreciate from edited papers with lots of footnotes.
Ulla de Stricker and I each had time to comment on each other’s presentations. We also had some good questions from the audience. I don’t remember everything, but I did want to jot down a few things that Ulla and I said at some time during the session. I will give credit when I can remember who said it.
Just because we can do it, does not mean we should do it.
Computers have a quality I have always missed in men – they do what they are told.
Perception is the reality.
Chart our way past service – librarians are not servants.
Know what your organization knows and what it does not know.
Librarians are partners in building the success of our institutions.
Drop the library lingo.
You have 30 seconds – give the elevator speech.
Exercise the NO muscle.
Schmooze and ooze.
What am I doing well that I don’t need to be doing at all? (I first heard this from Don Dunn, now Dean at Western New England School of Law)(In response to a question from the audience about how to keep doing more with less – short answer – figure out what you don’t need to be doing – even if you are doing it well.)
Closed days – We close the library the Monday after each of the 4 academic quarters. Staff are not supposed to do their regular work. The first time, everyone cleaned out their desks. We restocked the staff lounge and supply room for months to come! And we weeded over 1 ton of paper from files, desktops and the like! Now, the benefits are more personal to each staff person. But overall, these days make many of us feel more in control of the paper on our desks and in our files, our email inbox and files, and our other electronic creations.
My personal favorite comment was from the audience. The librarian challenged all of us to "Take time to think." What a novel idea!
American Association of Law Libraries, Toward a Renaissance in Law Librarianship, West, 1997. www.aallnet.org Out of print, but in many law library collections.
Gorman, Michael, Our Singular Strengths: Meditations for Librarians, ALA,
Sample chapters: www.ala.org/editions/openstacks/insidethecovers/insideexcerpts3A.html
Interview with M. Gorman: http://www.ala.org/editions/openstacks/authors/word_gorman.html
Order from 1-800-545-2433, press 7
Hallowell, Edward M., "The Human Moment at Work", Harvard Business
Review (Jan/Feb 1999) Harvard Business Review, 1999
Abstract and ordering information: www.hbsp.harvard.edu/products/hbr/janfeb99/99104.html