AALL Vice President/President-Elect candidates
Janis L. Johnston and Kathie J. Sullivan present some of their views about the
profession in the following interview. We thank them for their participation.
1. A Managing Partner, Faculty Member, Board Member or Chief Information
Officer is standing at the doorway of your library and makes the following observation.
"Now that everything is available on the Internet, we don't really need
all this space for books any more, do we?" How would you respond?
Kathie Sullivan: The web can be our best friend or our worst enemy.
Much information is on the Internet but we can't always trust its accuracy,
authority, or comprehensiveness. Each search engine works differently, sites
disappear daily, agencies change their names and design of web pages: we can't
put all of our trust in a media that is still developing and evolving. We have
relied on the printed word and books for centuries; we don't need to discard
them because they are no longer "new." I'd hate to rely completely
on a media that is dependent on external power, the vagaries of progress, or
obtuse web design when assisting our user groups. After all, we still use flashlights
despite the invention of the light bulb!
However, some information, as we all know, is
best found on the web, but ALL information may not be there at any one time
or ever. It's a situation similar to the educational principle of "least
restrictive environment;" in this case, the web may be the best place to
put some documents and not the best for others. We have to think of the economics,
the ease of access, the reliability, and the users when we talk about books
vs. the Internet. The Internet is one of the tools we use to manage and navigate
through information but it won't be the only tool we use.
Janis Johnston: You know, that's true, there is a lot of great
information on the Internet, but not everything the legal researcher needs is
there. There are some very good sites available but much needed information
is still not in digital form. Many other sites aren't always accurate, current
or permanent. As yet no one has figured out how to archive digital information
for the long term.
The virtual law library may be coming, but it
hasn't arrived just yet. Law librarians are working on creating standards for
digital libraries to insure necessary information, whatever its format, is never
lost or made inaccessible by limitations or changes in technology. But as information
experts, we struggle with the basic question of whether access to information
controlled by others is a viable substitute for permanently owning information.
You just never know if an important database or file will simply disappear from
Even with the advantages of electronic sources,
many users still prefer books for many types of research. There are real advantages
to seeing the hierarchy and organization of information that books are better
able to provide. Have you ever done extensive code research online? I'll take
books for that task anytime!
2. Others have been sounding the death knell of our profession for several
years, and yet, with the advance of information technology, most of us see a
need for librarians now more than ever.
a. How do we redefine ourselves?
b. How do we continue to inspire and bring new people into the profession?
c. How do we create diversity?
JJ: Librarians will always be around because ours is a necessary
profession that adapts well to change. But occasionally we do need to redefine
ourselves, and in my mind that is a process with two dimensions. First, let's
analyze thoughtfully our core functions in a way that does not connect us to
a particular information medium or a physical place. Then we can develop new
terms and concepts to describe our expertise - not jargon or trendy phrases
- but terminology that ties us more firmly to the future and reduces perceptions
that we are pertinent only to the past. We know that whatever descriptors we
use, our fundamental skills of gathering, organizing and accessing information
will still be in demand. But a new way of talking about what we do might change
attitudes as well as energize us for the future.
Secondly, it is time to examine further our training.
We have skills of continuing importance, but we need additional skills that
will heighten our public profile. We can and should teach users more about the
research process and the complexity of information sources. Our communication
skills could improve to insure our voice is heard when decisions concerning
libraries and legal information are made. Individually and collectively we need
to better understand the economics of legal information and build our influence
in the marketplace. Expanding skills is critical to claiming our place in the
On a practical level, three things are needed
to attract others to our profession: we have to make better salaries, we have
to promote law librarianship at every opportunity, and we have to increase scholarship
dollars. But inspiring others to join us takes additional tactics. I believe
the most inspiring aspect of our profession is our commitment to service and
to affordable legal information. We didn't become law librarians for the big
bucks, the high status or the glamour! We're here because of our dedication.
To inspire let's expose others to our core values and to the importance of our
profession to society.
We must seek diversity through aggressive activity.
Our nation's demographic makeup is changing and we want law librarianship to
reflect the society we serve. Let's begin working with career counselors in
high schools, colleges, library schools and law schools. Increased scholarship
funds, grants and awards will encourage diversity, but additionally, law librarianship
should be presented as a great career option when young men and women first
think about their futures. And for those of us already in the profession, we
need to insure that our community is a welcoming environment for all.
KS: Information is a commodity and a business needs information
to sell itself. If we're visible, supporting the business goals of our employer,
marketing, communicating, and creating connections between library users, we
become an integral part of the parent organization. It's no accident our job
titles have started migrating to "Knowledge Manager," "Chief
Information Officer," and "Vice-president" or "Executive
Director." Librarians who have these job titles lead our profession by
example and pass along their insights and best practices. Mentoring is synonymous
with diversity; networking, mentoring, and seeking out people with specific
skills helps strengthen our roles in our jobs but also strengthens our profession
in general. Mentoring a diverse population of librarians and information workers
and encouraging the sharing of skill sets ensures our profession will continue
to flourish and produce leaders in the business of information.
The health of our profession and our association
is part of a huge cycle: we learn a skill, we share it, we pass it on, we learn
from others, we share it, etc. We need to give back to our profession to help
it grow and stay healthy. We do this by encouraging a wide population of people
with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and interests. I'm not sure we can CREATE
diversity but we can encourage the INVOLVEMENT of a diverse population, achieving
the same end results.
3. Librarians have been called gatekeepers of information, but many of our
library users are receiving information directly from publishers and service
providers. How can we demonstrate our value to our employers? How do we convince
them that we are the information experts?
KS: Being an information gatekeeper can have a negative connotation
of "withholding information," but I rather think we are "information
consolidators" who package and synthesize information from a wide variety
of sources and media to help our decision makers be more effective. Moreover,
by anticipating the information needs of our users and being proactive, we demonstrate
our value as the "keeper" of the institutional history. We provide
the continuity in the information stream.
We, as the inside information professionals, know
the value and limitations of attorney time. As gatekeepers, we make informed
decisions to filter information to save key business people time and money.
Of course, it's difficult to quantify the synergistic relationship between the
information professional and user, but knowing the needs of users before the
questions are asked creates our value and sets us apart from the outside entities
that don't know the business.
JJ: No one knows better than we how to find and evaluate legal
information - no one. Waiting for our users to come to us seeking assistance
is part of a bygone era. We must create opportunities to demonstrate our expertise.
For users who want to be direct consumers, offer training and techniques that
show mastery of electronic resources. Develop high quality web pages as portals
to the best sites. Impress users with your ability to wade quickly through the
mass of available information. Anyone can find abundant information these days,
but it is law librarians who have the expertise to order the chaos. I think
the term "gatekeeping" is far too passive to describe all we do. We're
more; we're the experts!