The American Lawyer, in Law Librarians: ‘No More Sacred Cows’ (3 Sep 2009), reports on its annual survey of AmLaw 200 law libraries. The results, while not pretty, are perhaps not so surprising given wide-spread BigLaw lay-offs.. 

Here are the findings I found most interesting:

  • About 1/2 of the 86 responding librarians reported cutting budgets and almost 60% cutting staff.
  • Digital and print resources cutbacks are widespread.
  • Almost one-third intend to use just one of Lexis or Westlaw. Comment: That’s a big change from past practice.
  • Though two-thirds report that the library is the main source for marketing research, librarians report that they receive little recognition for this work. Query whether, given increasing demand for business research, firms are under-investing in business research or need a new strategy to fulfill demand.
  • New software products now allow librarians to track online data usage, which arms them for tougher vendor negotiations. “The metrics can be compelling: A firm paying for 200 user licenses for a product may discover that only 50 lawyers are actually using it … Suddenly that resource may not be indispensable. And suddenly the vendors may budge.” This gives new meaning to “information is power”.
  • Lexis and Westlaw spending fell slightly year over year but outlays for other databases were up. (I have previously noted that other Incisive surveys compare data from different respondent sets in each of two years and that therefore annual comparisons may not be reliable.)
  • Librarians continue to report “wacky licensing and bundling schemes”. My librarian friends have complained about this since the days of CD-ROMs in the early 90s.
  • Several respondents had favorable comments about SharePoint as a sharing and distribution platform.
  • Year over year comparisons suggest firms recover less Westlaw and Lexis spending from clients. As noted, I am skeptical about Incisive year-over-year comparisons but suspect this is nonetheless true given current market forces.
  • Only about 20% of librarians report having knowledge management (KM) reporting to them. Almost double that percent having records or conflicts reporting to them.

What I could not tell from the survey is whether law firms and librarians have fundamentally re-thought how the library operates and delivers services. My sense is that change has been significant over the years but nonetheless incremental. That is, other than the shift from print to digital and shrinkage in the physical space libraries occupies, firms have not stepped back to re-envision library services. Comments from readers on this?

Update (16 Sep 2009). For good follow-up discussion of whether the change has been incremental or transformative, see
Reevaluating BigLaw Library Services – Two Views at 3 Geeks and a Law Blog
BigLaw Firm Libraries: Looking Back From a 20-Year Old Perspective at Law Librarian Blog