Future Ready Libraries?

Everyone’s talking about the future. From LegalTech New York, where the closing keynote was the practice of law in 2020, to IT’s role in the library of the future, and SLA’s FutureReady365 blog. It’s interesting to be reading about predictions on where our profession may be going. One document I came across a while ago was the Association of Research Libraries’ 2030 Scenarios : A User Guide for Research Libraries. I started reading it (it’s 92 pages!) to see if it had any application for a law firm library.

Can you imagine the world in 2030? I can’t, but the ARL Scenarios do. It’s not quite the future that I would like to see, but then, is the present what anyone predicted 20 years ago? The scenarios envision a world where researchers are free agents, and universities scramble for funding. (Hmm…how is that different from today, at least the second part?) There are four scenarios presented: Research Entrepreneurs, Reuse and Recycle, Disciplines in Charge, and Global Followers. Each one outlines a particular day in the life of a star researcher, Hannah Chen. The world is described slightly differently in each scenario, but varies on the theme that government funding of universities will dry up, mainly due to declining tax revenues, universities will seek more partnerships with businesses, and both students and faculty will be competing for meaningful positions.

So what are the strategic implications of these scenarios? Scenario 1: Research Entrepreneurs, resonated the most with me. Note the following strategic question that arose:

How do we begin now to develop the library professional of the future – a highly capable and credible service provider who can work directly with researchers with data preparation and curation capabilities? What skills are we currently developing in our library professionals that may not be valued in the future? (p. 39)

Replace “researcher” with “lawyer”, and we’re already at this scenario, at least regarding data preparation and curation capabilities (think compiling case law on a point of law, and determining which resources have the authority to be used to develop an argument). As to the skills we’re currently developing that may not be valued in the future – how about some of the audiovisual equipment training! All kidding aside, most of the skills I have are transferable across many occupations, and even something as library-specific as cataloguing can be useful in cross-training to write computer languages.

So how does this relate to the law firm library of the future? I’ve been thinking a lot about the physical space necessary to define the library of the near future, say in the next five years or so. My current space is fairly traditional – lots of shelving for (mostly) reporting series that are no longer collected, and a small work area. I haven’t quite figured out what is the best use of the space if I had the opportunity to renovate. Should there be more social areas, equipped with comfortable chairs and tables, to encourage use of the library as a place to meet and discuss? Or should it be a quiet area, where lawyers can review the resources they need without being disturbed? My personal preference is to see the space become more conducive to conversation – kind of like the lawyers’ lounge without the bar.

There have been a number of discussions of law library space recently. I especially enjoyed Louis Mirando’s posts, Rebuilding a Law School Library. Any ideas on what the future holds for law libraries? Will private firms outsource part or all of them? Or will it be a competitive advantage to house your own knowledge management team? What skills will we need? What does 2030 look like to you?

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