3 current challenges for legal libraries

In this article we discuss the key challenges for legal libraries

Legal libraries are an invaluable resource for thousands of legal professionals, and at present they are facing radical transformation. Legal libraries have been at the forefront of cost-cutting by law firms since the 2008 financial crisis, and with disruptive technology changing the way that firms operate, libraries are at risk unless they embrace this new era. The challenges faced by libraries are broad, but by no means unscalable. They include:

1. Technology

Technology is one of the biggest disruptors for legal libraries. Law firms want agile, global libraries which allow them to access  a breadth of resources 24/7. Digital libraries simplify the role of a traditional librarian, thereby potentially undermining the job of the human equivalent. This is both an opportunity and challenge; on the one hand it forces librarians to consider how they can demonstrate their value to law firms and on the other presents an opportunity for librarians to acquire new digital skills to reinvent their role.

The digitisation of resources theoretically reduces costs for law firms; however, subscriptions to such vast databases are not necessarily cheaper than print. Multiple product licences can prove even more expensive than a print copy, so libraries must carefully manage the expectations of firms when it comes to cost reduction.

2. Commerciality/profitability

Law firms are increasingly looking to cut costs, so are beginning to outsource their legal libraries – an obvious choice, as these departments traditionally take up a lot of office space, which comes at a premium. But those that remain in-house are under pressure to operate much like any other commercial department, which means libraries are reducing the space they occupy and their head counts to meet the firm’s financial objectives, putting additional strain on resources.

Libraries must demonstrate their return on investment to senior management teams and show how they continue to add value in the new digital era. Some libraries will sell their services back to firms to ensure they remain financially viable.

3. Skills shortages

Legal librarians are skilled in the art of research, but those skills are traditionally analogue. Today’s librarians must be able to move with technological advances so that they are able to train lawyers to use new information products effectively – this is how librarians can demonstrate their value into the future and support fee earners in achieving their potential.

Join us at the Legal Libraries conference on 10 October 2018 for in-depth discussion around these issues and more. Click here for the full agenda and to book your place.