Law Librarians Rethink Their Value

Article excerpt

Law librarians flocked to Seattle for the 106th annual conference of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL; aall net.org), embracing its theme of Rethink Your Value.

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At the opening session, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, Washington State Supreme Court, explained how the Washington legislature tried--and failed--to close the state's law library. The community, from attorneys to ordinary citizens, successfully rallied behind the library. As more people choose to represent themselves, Madsen said that access to legal information is critically important. Litigants need libraries. What could better speak to the value of law librarians?

David Weinberger, senior researcher at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society and co-director of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab, then captivated conference attendees with his views on the library as a platform. Weinberger noted that although the internet is the greatest amplifier of value we've ever seen, libraries are woefully underrepresented. Curation can be a problem because information professionals pull out what they think is best for the user, but the user may not agree with the chosen criteria.

Weinberger sees the library as a portal that should create a positive feedback loop. He cited the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA; dp.la) as a prime example. He then introduced the Harvard project StackLife (stacklife.harvard.edu) as a new way to browse library collections and noted that both Harvard and DPLA are using it. Weinberger is a devotee of openness--"Locked content is aggravating"--and expressed how pleased he is with Harvard's "flowering of openness" through its commitment to open access.

Finding Value Outside the Law

A few things were apparent at the AALL conference. Law librarians are now researching many topics outside the traditional legal research; it's not just "The Law" anymore. Of course, they are still supporting individual practice areas, but they're also looking at news sources, business development, public health, knowledge management, enterprise search, competitive intelligence, international issues, and licensing. Law librarians are also expanding their job requirements by taking on writing, advocacy, content management, social media, project management, and digitization. As managers, they are looking at disruptive technologies and new business models. As teachers, they are investigating new instructional methodologies, such as the flipped classroom, and teaching cost-effective research.

As a result, the exhibit hall was more diverse. It was no longer dominated by the dueling behemoths, LexisNexis and Westlaw. …

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