has posted an interesting article from The National Law Journal by Elizabeth D. Kenney, the director of libraries at Dechert in New York. In her article, Revolution or Evolution for Law Libraries, the author offers a useful discussion of the trade-off between the “digital” or “virtual” library versus traditional print products.

A key point is to understand what lawyers need: “A potentially money-saving move away from print resources to online services seems particularly attractive these days. The difficulty comes when a firm focuses on one type of format or the other, without doing sufficient library due diligence.” I second this idea.

Some years ago I was very impressed with the approach of my colleague Jean O’Grady, the Director of Information Services at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering. She wanted to get a better sense of how often certain print volumes were being used so that she could make an informed decision about whether to continue updating them. She placed a paper band around some of the volumes. On the band, printed clearly, was a statement to the effect that the library was conducting a useage survey and if anyone needed the book, they should simply tear the band. Measures like this, combined with more traditional circulation control systems, helped provide a solid analytic basis for deciding what print to keep.

I also second the point in the article that training is essential. Online searching is not always intuitive. I have met lawyers who do not understand the basics of Boolean searching (that is, combining key words with connectors such as AND, OR, and NOT and using parentheses), even though they should have learned this in law school. Just yesterday, I spoke to a contact at a large law firm who told me – with some mortification – that one lawyer had no idea of what using quotes around a search term would do in Google or other search engines. Unfortunately, this incident is not an isolated event.

In my experience, the themes of collecting data (whether formally or informally) to make informed decisions and training users are consistent across both basic and advanced uses of legal technology.