Friday, January 16, 2009

Welcome Back to the Real World

It occurs to me that the future is finally here. At last week's AALS meeting, there was nary a word about "the future of libraries"! All library programs, meetings and discussions were actually about managing libraries, studying legal information and striving to improve services and collections. It was inspiring. I just hope that we librarians have gotten over our infatuation with speculating about how technology will impact us (which is nonsense, because no amount of speculation will change it's impact - it's a train going forward and we simply need to adopt it, adapt it and use it, as we've always done).

It's time to get back to business and work on developing theories and practices that help us cope with shrinking resources. The expectation is that we will continue to improve collection growth and development with less money. This means we have to be clever and knowledgeable about what it is we are collecting. I think that in many ways, we've wasted a lot of time in the last twenty years trying to predict a future, instead of studying the present.

As a result we've fallen behind the curve and are not well-equipped to deal with the future that none of us predicted: Publishers who no longer consider us partners in providing legal information to lawyers, students and the public, but who see us as consumers. Legal publishers are not trying to please users of legal information by providing quality access to material, they are trying to please share-holders. That means that the only thing worth producing is what will generate the greatest profit. This has fundamentally shifted the paradigm. Books, databases, reporters, online services, etc., are now all widgets.

The encouraging thing is that no matter what legal publishers do, legal information will still exist. What we law librarians now need to focus on is to find ways to continue to provide it to our patrons - without the help of publishers, if they choose to price those materials out of our libraries.

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