A bit of a brouhaha was created today when The ABA Journal released its most recent installment of its The New Normal series.  In it, Valorem Law Group’s Patrick Lamb asks and sort of answers a stark question – Does it pay to hire a law librarian?  His response and rationale are provocative.  Reaction to his opinions has ranged from indignant to snide in many cases.  Now that we at iBraryGuy have had a chance to digest Patrick’s words, we have our own suggestion.  Take them for what they are, one man’s opinion, but do not disregard them.  In other words, swallow them with a grain of salt and a teaspoon of sugar.

The Grain of Salt

Lamb is not a librarian.  A lot of what he says seems to be rooted in his own perceptions of what we do and a rather revealing survey in which some of our colleagues describe our value.  The iBraryGuy team certainly disagrees with his assertion that everything is on the internet these days.  As professioanl researchers, we simply know better.  But he is not alone in this misperception.  It is common among attorneys and law firm administrators.  It is a fallacy that we librarians confront every day.  That the belief of an all-inclusive internet still persists is a warning that we have a lot yet to do in our struggle to “educate” the masses. 

In speaking from his own notions of what libraries are and how they function, Patrick sounds every bit like so many of the attorneys and others we encounter daily.  Whether we librarians actually agree with these ideas is a different story.  We have to acknowledge the ways in which people view us – especially if they are off-base or even flat out incorrect.

The Teaspoon of Sugar

Criticism, warranted or not, is a bitter medicine to take.  Yet take it, we must.  If we cannot learn from our weaknesses, then we cannot build our strengths.  How people perceive us and how we tell the stories of our own value are our achilles heels.  We acknowledge  as much when we gather at librarian conferences.  The survey results Patrick mentions are quite telling.  As professionals at a crossroads, we know that we can and must do better.

I must also point out that some of what Lamb has to say is actually quite telling of the true state of the greater information industry and should give us pause to hope for tomorrow. Prognosticating the outlook, he writes, “Indeed, if they play their cards right, the future may be brighter for them than most.”.  Later, “When you live in a value-fee world, someone who finds the right information efficiently is really valuable.”  Finally, Lamb says, “The library itself may be passé, but the role of the librarian, viewed in this light, is becoming more critical as the volume of information in the world grows.”  You do not have to agree with him on anything else to know that he is really onto something here.  The challenge is to take his earlier criticisms and use them as fodder to fuel his vision of a future in which librarians are integral to the insitutions in which they work.

The Real Conversation Begins

In the end, Lamb admits that his piece was a head-fake – a challenge to everyone to figure out how to add value to their institutions.  This is the real meat of his writing.  Regardless of how you feel about his opinions on libraries, the internet, and librarians in general – be angry, be enlightened – you have to be able to walk away with his salient and important conclusion.  It is at the end of Patrick Lamb’s piece that the real conversation for us info pros needs to begin.

Patrick Lamb and the Valorem Law Group are slated to speak at the 2011 SLA Annual Meeting & Conference in Philadelphia.  Join the Legal Division for what should be a lively and interesting discussion!

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One Response to A Grain of Salt & A Teaspoon of Sugar: Reading Patrick Lamb’s Thoughts on Law Librarians.

  1. Patrick Lamb says:

    Thanks, iBraryGuy, for this terrific post. As you say, I am not a librarian, and like anyone who is not a professional in a given area, I am not able to speak in detail about the nuances of your world. I do, however, deal regularly with clients, the ones who pay the bills that allow the firms to hire lawyers who consume the services of law firm librarians. Those clients are the ultimate arbiters of value, not me and not the providers of service, whether the provider be lawyer or libararian.

    I have been amazed that people are seem to ignore the gist of my post–that Information Professionals have an opportunity to expand their roles and become even more critical to the enterprise in offering value to their clients. That is a position I think most people would like to find themselves.

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