Law Librarians in the New Millennium

The online revolution is sparking seismic shifts for those who work with print texts. For law librarians, who are custodians of the documents, records and resources that are intrinsic to the legal process, this has created a twofold career missive – adapt to technological change while fulfilling legal requests seamlessly and intelligently.

The modern-day legal librarian must also grapple with mounting organisational pressures and dwindling budgets – factors that can threaten their ability to do their job well. Ashurt’s Sydney library services manager, Marisa Bendeich, says these changes are forcing law librarians to adopt a more commercial focus.

“A lot of librarians say they go into the profession because they like to read, for example, but I don’t think this is relevant in terms of the actual skill set that’s required,” Ms Bendeich says. “I think that in the current environment, there’s a bigger focus on business development and that our role is increasingly about delivering competitive intelligence.”

The future is mobile

She also says that technological change has created a new focus on mobile delivery – the ability to access resources and documents on the go and via mobile platforms. This has seen law librarians venture beyond their former role as gatekeepers of legal information to serve as catalysts for resolving cases and disputes.

“I think that as librarians our job has always been to make information accessible to humans, whether it’s mobile delivery of e-books and online resources or printed materials. The online space has created more and more junk. That’s why the classification aspect of our role – where we shift through the junk to discover what is credible and authoritative – has become more important.”

“There’s no such thing as a standard day.” – Marisa Bendeich. Ashurt’s Sydney Library Services Manager

She also makes the point that classification duties are being increasingly transferred to the user in the form of hashtags.

“Librarians are known for inventing subject classifications, but now this is called ‘tagging’. I guess the focus has shifted from librarians doing the classifying to the user doing it. It’s part of our job to facilitate that and enable users to participate in that process.”

So what does it take for a modern-day law librarian to thrive? It seems the abilities to think laterally and problem solve are just as vital as staying abreast of new trends.

Budgeting challenges

As budget and profit margins are squeezed across the legal sector, law librarians are facing pressure to downsize, become more efficient and demonstrate their value.

Changing roles

While law librarians have always collaborated with IT and marketing departments, Ms Bendeich says her role is becoming increasingly diverse.

“I manage a team of four and today I was helping one of my team members with a research task. I’m currently working on a project where I’m reviewing hard copy legislation. Most of my time is dedicated to helping my team develop research skills and I also manage the collection, so quite often I’m checking renewals and things like that. I work on projects, but if a big research task comes in, I drop everything and work on that. There’s no such thing as a standard day.”

Neha Kale is a freelance writer and editor with over six years’ experience in the media and finance industries. She has held senior editorial positions at various business and technology publications and specialises in online strategy, innovation, creativity and management best practices.

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