Convergence, or a Tale of Two Conferences

Recently I had the great opportunity to attend two seemingly opposite conferences addressing the duality my professional life has taken on. Going directly from one to the other, I became aware immediately that lessons learned from one could be applied to the other: the similarities and differences very illuminating to problems both sets of professionals are experiencing.

One of the great things about my position as the Executive Director of the Toronto Lawyers Association is that I’ve been introduced to a whole new galaxy of professionals … the people that make up the Canadian Society of Association Executives. They are exactly as that sounds, individuals who run member organizations so that other professions, not-for-profits, or groups can unite to accomplish common goals and provide collegiality where none would otherwise exist. Libraries and Associations both exist to provide support to a larger population and thanks to today’s technology, both entities are in danger of disappearing if they do not prove their value and relevancy to that same population. What I learned from the CSAE has direct application to issues that have been plaguing librarians for years, and conversely, AALL does have some applicability beyond librarian borders also. But I’m going to leave lessons learned at AALL to my next column.

First I attended the Canadian Society of Association Executive’s Trillium chapter summer summit entitled “Stand Out, Be Extraordinary”, which can I say as an aside is a great title. No one in CSAE ever hides their light under a bushel. Keynote speaker Paul Bridle spoke about extraordinary organizations. Much of what he said resonated, not just as an association executive, but as a library manager. In libraries we often see our roles as passively serving the lawyers, articling students and administration. Paul reminded us that we are partners. By embracing that idea – partnership – everything changes. He had three important tips:

  1. Add value.
  2. Go to where your where your organization wants to be in the future and help them get there.
  3. Become the partner of choice.

1. Add Value

Asking your customer base what new service is needed never works. Have you ever done a survey and asked what else the library could do and got no response? Steve Jobs did not do a customer satisfaction survey and discover an iPod was needed – he invented it. He looked at the market, saw what was popular, figured out how he could improve upon it and Voila. How can libraries add value? Is there anything left after Knowledge Management, Competitive Intelligence, Business Intelligence, and Information Management? We know in most cases different names are applied to old concepts, and all of a sudden subject headings become TAXONOMIES and CONTROLLED VOCABULARIES. Library catalogues are DISCOVERY TOOLS. The basic underpinnings of what we do and have done forever, are everywhere as our society is becoming an information society. Systems and procedures that we invented and perfected have been made shiny new and au courrant by rebranding and renaming. Surely intelligent, thoughtful, observant people (librarians) can figure out what more their organization needs and add the value required.

2. Go to where your organization wants to be in the future and help them get there.

Librarians are aware of the technology that can improve work processes, and even the quality of work. We also, through our interdisciplinary associations, have access to learning about changes and innovations occurring in different professions and fields. Many firms’ intranets started in the library, library staff played with chat and IM. Put yourself in the forefront to be the guinea pig. Test, innovate and let the good word spread that you are the expert. You can teach, assist in development, provide innovative ideas and, most importantly, the trained staff that can do it.

3. Become the partner of choice

Do you want your lawyers going outside the firm to get what you can do in-house? Do you want Marketing or Business Development to be the key source of information in your firm or taking credit for the information you’ve provided to them? I have always maintained that we were asleep at the wheel when computer people started calling themselves IT and we let them do it. They maybe technology, but they are not information. We cannot let those kinds of misconceptions crop up and flourish again. Our profession possesses a unique quality that allows us to understand how people work, what they need and how they can be more efficient. We have to take a page from the association executives, and learn to boast about and lay claim to our skills and abilities and point out the value we bring within our own organizations. We must claim possession of our creative ideas and show ourselves to be forward looking.

No one knows what changes lie ahead for any organization, large or small, be they law firms, libraries or associations. We only know that if we are to justify and thereby maintain our place at the table it will require hard work, stamina, good ideas, and leadership. We need to show leadership, it has to be intentional, not accidental. Librarians need to “Stand Out, Be Extraordinary.”


  1. Our profession possesses a unique quality that allows us to understand how people work, what they need and how they can be more efficient.

    Business process analysis is one area where our skills, as a service can be leveraged much more widely within an organization. The biggest difference between the librarians and IT, is often IT gets overly ground down, lost in process flow charting because they need this for programming. On the other hand a librarian can much more swiftly identify key information that needs to be captured or added to provide usable access points for searchability and information re-use across several disciplines. This is true, if an experienced librarian has front end heavy client service and training for information “discovery” or searching across multiple subject disciplines.

    My job for past few years is now focused on business process analyses.

    Even better is to offer a business process analyses where a client’s process if information was structured different and easily for financial performance metrics and revenue generation that never existed before, you will win spades.

    It has happened… I am now also helping to manage data and report performance metrics via SharePoint dashboard for one of technical geospatial services.

    For librarians this is our experience we take for granted: strategic statistical collection and analyses for planning and stakeholder communication.