From librarian to knowledge manager

New technology has made legal librarians think strategically, says Jitendra Valera

Senior legal librarians (SLLs) are increasing in importance at their firms as the new knowledge management technologies they govern become more crucial to delivering top-quality legal services. According to recent research by Sweet & Maxwell among the top 100 UK law firms, more than 20 per cent of SLLs now either report directly to the managing partner or chief executive officer, or sit on the most senior management board of their firms.

The survey found that SLLs are now at the forefront of new IT-led knowledge management, with 90 per cent of them seeing their responsibilities grow during the past five years. Also, 64 per cent believe their status has risen in their firm during that time as new technology becomes more important to the long-term strategy and competitiveness of law firms.

Knowledge management is now at the very core of many firms, and because of this, SLLs are increasingly important. The old perception of legal librarians working away in small, dusty libraries, searching through volumes of legal texts is completely divorced from reality.
The role of the SLL has increased dramatically. They are now responsible for the management of powerful online legal information services and practice tools, teams of researchers and ensuring lawyers are fully trained to use the latest research tools and supplied with all the additional information they need to pursue their sector specialisations.

Of all SLLs, 55 per cent have seen their job titles change in the past five years. In fact, half of all those holding the old SLL role within their firm no longer even have the term ‘library’ or ‘librarian’ anywhere in their job titles. Their new managerial powers and IT knowledge are being recognised by new job titles, such as head of knowledge management and head of information services.

A director of knowledge management at the biggest firms can command a salary of £100,000, with an additional bonus of up to 30 per cent of salary on top. An average salary for a head librarian at a top 100 firm is around £45,000, up from £35,000 in 2000.

The survey also found that 88 per cent of firms surveyed said the share of internal budgets being allocated to legal libraries is rising, with 88 per cent of firms identifying the introduction of new IT technologies as the cause of this increased spend.

However, unlike in many sectors, this increased investment is seen as having produced positive results, with 97 per cent of firms saying the new IT technologies used in legal libraries have made a positive difference to the way they work.

The future for the legal library service is incredibly exciting. I expect to see more investment in this area over the coming years. The responsibilities of SLLs are expected to grow as law firms seek to further exploit their knowledge base through IT and as legal librarians use their research capabilities to assist marketing and management decision making.

Jitendra Valera is director of Sweet & Maxwell Legal Online