Mary Abraham’s recent blog post Librarians vs Knowledge Managers? created a bit of controversy over the role of both. At the risk of adding fuel to the fire… 

In her post, Mary reports and comments on librarian Morgan Wilson’s post reflection on KM and libraries in law firms. He suggested that it’s not good when libraries report to KM. Mary assesses this suggestion and concludes “perhaps the battles (real or perceived) between librarians and knowledge managers are really the death throes of an obsolete system”.

Nina Platt commented at length in Musings on the Librarian’s Role in Knowledge Management in Law Firms. Mary in turn wrote Catalog Content Not People, in which she gracefully synthesizes and reconciles potentially opposing perspectives on the role of KM “versus” library.

My own observation is that KM began some time ago to morph into a broader practice consulting role in many firms, which I first suggested almost five years ago in KM Morphing? (I returned to this theme in many subsequent posts). That trend continues. Today, many KM professionals focus on alternative fee arrangements, e-discovery, project management, process mapping, and business analysis.

To the extent that there is any tension between KM and library – and I’m not persuaded there is – I think it will diminish over time. So I agree with Mary’s “death throes” comment, though I mean that in a positive not negative way. My guess is that in a decade, BigLaw will have more clearly defined business process experts and analysts and a range of practice support professionals. Some of the them will do KM and library work; some will be KM professionals or librarians. But I’m with Mary in her view that we need “assign the right people to the task based on their talent, experience, temperament and inclination.”

That said, one of the themes in the referenced posts is the caste system. It is alive and well, which is truly unfortunate. My hope is that one of the silver linings of the economic challenges law firms face today is that the pressure will help break down the caste mentality. Hope springs eternal.