Managing a Name Change

I just did something that I haven’t had to do in 5 years … update my title. I have taken on a new role in my organization – facilitating process improvement projects in addition to overseeing knowledge management. There is something that is missing from my title that has been there for a long time – the word Library. I have self identified as a law librarian since joining a law firm library team as a fresh graduate from a library technician program. Whether my actual title was Library Technician or some other derivation, that comforting word has underpinned my work life identity for over 20 years.

It is an odd week to release the law librarian moniker. I will soon head off to Winnipeg for the annual meeting of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries conference. Several months ago I agreed to participate in a panel session titled “Should We Still Be Called Librarians”. The session description offers a hint at the discussion:

This question has been in the air for a long time. The position of Law Librarian has evolved so much over the years that one must ask if the title truly represents the work we do. We still work with books but it has become a small part of our day-to-day reality. In any given day a “librarian”, may do training sessions, media and legislative alerts, legal research, competitive intelligence or business development. We also publish documents and manage websites and intranets.

Does the title “librarian” still reflect these realities? If not, should we call ourselves information or knowledge specialists? To discuss this matter, we have assembled a wide range of professionals both within and outside of the law library, to provide fresh viewpoints.

I did not expect to be introduced as the Director of Knowledge Management and Process Improvement for this session. I promise to blog next week about the outcome of the discussion. I am looking forward to the wisdom of the other panelists: Allan Fineblit, Sonia Poulin, Ron Greasley and Melanie Hodges Neufield.


  1. “Legal Literature Specialist” (an “LLS) is the most appropriate title for such work. For example, we often speak of knowing all of the legal literature in our area of the practice of law. An “LLS” degree and certification would involve knowing all the ways in which legal literature can be, accessed, researched, indexed, and put into databases for law firms as well as law libraries and law schools, and being able to manage and enforce the rules for such databases, and teach how best to use them. Such rules provide the necessary quality control that guarantee not only high quality, but also high usage and convenience. They include such rules as: (1) capturing all finished work-product of the firm, institution, etc.; (2) providing indexing for all such texts, or enforcing the rules of indexing if provided by the authors of such finished work-product, and, (3) purging the database of all superseded texts so that duplication in the database is minimized. Having a separate index for such a database makes searching faster, more precise, and therefore more cost-efficient and safer.
    For example, the prohibitively high cost of the “review” stage of electronic discovery proceedings would disappear if clients were taught by their lawyers and LLS’s to index all of their documents in their records management systems so as to enable the litigation lawyer to combine the searching and “review” stages into one operation, doing it with the speed of electronic searching. There would be no need to read thousands of texts to determine which are relevant, privileged, etc. The National Standard of Canada for electronic records management, “Electronic Records as Documentary Evidence CAN/CGSB-72.34-2005,” reviews in detail the need for such indexing (section 6.5 at page 23; see the website of the Canadian General Standards Board for purchasing this national standard).
    Such database management specialization makes the database the most important research tool in the office, firm, etc. The high degree of re-use of previously composed work-product maximizes cost-efficiency. And it will displace the view that a law firm is only as good as the lawyers in it. When “star” lawyers leave, they will leave behind their work-product in the office database, which will: (1) greatly lessen the cost of such losses; and, (2) speed the training of new lawyers and students.
    And, the LLS can bring and teach more effective ways of doing legal research and database management. As a result, the over-used justification (rationalization) for giving the firm’s legal research work to law students to do, i.e., “but of course we supervise the students legal research work,” can be given some long-needed validity and adequacy, which is necessary, given the fact that legal research is the foundation for all other legal services requiring legal advice. Law students don’t have the necessary skill, experience, authority, motivation, and length of residence within the firm, to be good database managers. An LLS has all five. As a result of such skills and duties, the LLS could be the most important person for maximizing the cost-efficient use of all legal materials available.
    Because the law is now too voluminous, complex, based increasingly upon technology that lawyers have to understand, and which technology produces many more records that are relevant to all legal services, legal research should be a career specialty of lawyers, instead of left to law students working in law firms and “clerking” in the courts.
    When I developed the technology of centralized legal research (CLR), 1979-1988, as the first Director of Research at LAO LAW at Legal Aid Ontario (LAO), my guiding principle was, “all power to the database,” because it was the foundation of our cost-efficiency, which was and still is much greater than that of any law firm. That is because the necessary high degree of specialization and scaling-up of the volume of production exists only at such a support service. Its foundation principle is the basic principle of engineering that says, “nothing as effectively cuts costs as scaling-up.” It provides a high degree of (1) competence; (2) cost-saving; (3) reduced response time; and, (4) minimization of the probability of making an error that hurts the client, patient, or customer.
    Now LAO LAW has a 35-year history of success, popularity with legal aid lawyers, and providing a large cost-saving to LAO due to its great cost-efficiency. And, many other support services have been developed from that initial service of providing legal opinions and legal research services.
    The benefits of that same technology, cost-efficiency, and cost-saving, should be made available to all law firms. To learn how, see my Slaw articles of: (1) Oct. 24, 2013, “CanLII as the Solution to the Unaffordable Legal Services Problem”; and, (2) April 17, 2014, “Solving the High Cost of the ‘Review’ Stage of Electronic Discovery.”
    The LLS could be an important part of such solutions.–Ken Chasse, member, LSUC & LSBC.

  2. Karen Sawatzky

    Looking forward to hearing from you Shaunna! Great timing for that title change!

  3. The matter of job titles of librarian vs. other job role titles, has been kicking around for last ..2 decades.

    Ironically, certain software vendors like to use “library” as a conceptual reference point for features of their information management product. So we abandon 1 physical concept, only to revive it in different way –whatever helps the user understand. That’s good.

    My only comment for e-discovery process: if there is a records management person who has formal training and experience as a law librarian PLUS records management formal training as well as experience, enterprise database management, this person be used …instead relying heavily on just an information technology person, in addition to the assigned lawyers and paralegals.

    Info. technology folks normally do not have as part of their skill set, daily work/service delivery on how find content –either internally or externally generated. Info technology folks do not witness on a daily basis nor teach people how to find the content and offer validated information source options. This means understanding differences in user groups, their industry language or nature of the content they need/use.