ARCHIVED: Future of Law Libraries in the Digital Age Scenario #15: Private - Solo Librarian Consortium

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(November, 2001)


As the need for librarian expertise continues to grow within the private law firm environment, the number of qualified professional law librarians is shrinking. In addition, a large number of solo librarians find themselves facing burnout for several reasons:

  • Managing today's law firm library requires many skill sets (technical services, reference, long range planning, problem solving, technological innovation, teaching and training) that are unlikely to be found within one individual, leaving the librarian frustrated and overworked.
  • Challenges confronting solo librarians include inability to provide coverage beyond set hours, lack of resources, lack of time; lack of opportunity to brainstorm with colleagues on difficult reference requests;
  • No chance for advancement in career, and few new intellectual challenges;

A consortium of solo librarians answers a number of these problems. Subject specializations and skill sets can be developed and shared with colleagues; resources can be shared more effectively; additional reference coverage can be offered, and a reduction of the sense of isolation will increase job satisfaction and effectiveness. This consortium, national in scope to maximize its size and strength, is also organized into regional subgroups, which allow firms to share resources more easily.


The library is the hub of the firm's information wheel. Smaller firms, by choosing to participate in the Solo Consortium, are now able to compete more effectively with larger firms by maximizing their investment in information. The total is greater than the sum of its parts.

  • With a greater reliance on electronic resources, librarians can more easily share materials, even long distances, which reduces the need to duplicate materials.
  • Librarians are able to work collaboratively - asking their colleagues for reference assistance, coverage when the librarian is unavailable.


  • Facilities

    • With a greater reliance on electronic resources, the physical space can be reduced, allowing the firm to allocate the space toward attorney offices.


  • Collections / Content

    • Each firm maintains their own specialized collections. Access to online catalogs will be shared among librarians.
    • Organized as a consortium, the participating firms would have additional leverage when it comes to negotiating contracts or purchasing material than they might if they remained as solos.


  • Staffing

    • Individual librarians would develop subject expertise.
    • The consortium would give additional staffing resources to smaller firms who could only afford a solo librarian prior to this endeavor.


  • Services

    • Participation in the consortium would allow greater coverage. Librarian hours could be staggered.
    • Reference questions could be answered remotely.
    • Subject expertise can be shared.
    • Training resources can be shared.
    • Technological expertise and resources can be shared.


  • Training

    • Librarians will need training in collaboration, marketing, leadership, communication, technology, licensing, training techniques, and other relevant topics. The advantage to this consortium is that some members can be identified as experts in these areas so that all members need not participate in all training.


  • Budget
    • Firms would pay a fee to participate in the consortium. The money would then go towards shared administrative costs, which might include access to technological expertise, a contract negotiator, and consultants.
    • The firms maintain their own budgets

SWOT Analysis


  • Smaller firms might be more willing to hire a librarian if it meant they would gain participation in the consortium
  • Significant advantages to participating: access to resources, subject expertise, additional reference service hours,
  • Provides additional support for solo librarians who are often isolated
  • Allowing smaller firms to compete with larger firms in terms of resources
  • Cost savings if consortium was negotiating purchasing of materials.


  • Concerns about confidentiality
  • Administrative costs are unknown
  • A way to resolve disagreements would need to be built into the system.
  • Licensing issues - sharing resources across firms-must be dealt with.


  • It would highlight the important role that librarians play in meeting firm's information needs.
  • This consortium allows the solo librarian the opportunity to increase the level of service that he/she is responsible for, as well as increasing the level of sophistication by allowing for subject specialization and expertise.


  • Firms may rely on the consortium rather than expanding their own staffs, even when it is warranted.
  • Firms may also hire unqualified or under-qualified individuals to serve as librarians, knowing that they will have colleagues in the consortium to support them.