Librarians and Knowledge Management

All is well at the Faculty of Information Studies at the University of Toronto. I was a guest lecturer at the FIS 2133 Law Librarianship and Legal Literature course taught by colleague John Papadopoulos.

I was very impressed at the class’s willingness to discuss and debate issues surrounding knowledge management and the role that librarians can play, particular in a law firm environment.

We discussed such things as: (i) document management, information management, records management and knowledge management and whether and how they were different; (iii) the role – good and bad – that technology plays in knowledge-sharing and social technology, and (iii) whether law “librarians” risk being “bottle-necked” into traditional library services or under-valued in knowledge management roles.

Some students had noted a sometimes “cosmetic” move by some traditional special libraries to rebrand themselves as “knowledge centers” when in fact there was no substantive change in role after the name change. I tried to justify the position that knowledge services was more than a label and that FIS-trained graduates brought skills of organization, classification, evaluation, training and synthesis to transform data repositories into value-added information sources that constituted “knowledge” and knowledge services. They were a very bright group and I felt encouraged by the session (and hope they did as well).

I also had fun showing clips of the study group and law library scenes from the 1973 movie The Paper Chase. There are a number of KM lessons to learn from the movie: the value of sharing law-related information, the danger of information hoarders (i.e., the character called Bell who ultimately refused to share his Property Law outline), the role of technology (in the use of “Xerox” machines [!] to copy their outlines, etc.). It was also interesting that when Hart could not find a particular volume of the Pacific Reporter the librarian said he was basically out-of-luck. This would have been in the very early days of Westlaw and Lexis and perhaps historically accurate for the librarian to note that Hart was out-of-luck. I have also not be able to independently confirm what I have heard and believe to be true: that the law library scene in the movie was filmed at Gerstein’s library at the University of Toronto.

Lesson learned / note to self: entirely skip the PowerPoint next time – discussions are much, much better.


  1. Keep crusading Ted! Librarians in are better position today because discussions like this take place.

    You made my morning. :)

  2. Re: the Gerstein library. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the library in the scene. They did film interiors at U of T. One of my friends who was an undergraduate at the time was an extra and shows up in one of the classroom scenes. Surprisingly enough, Kingsfield must not have intimidated him, as he went on to become a lawyer.