Buried in the Stacks: Uncovering and Conveying the Value of Your Law Library

Kris Martin | January 26, 2015

Law firm libraries provide essential business services that are often overlooked by leaders of their organizations. While it may be tempting to assume that firm leadership is to blame for the oversight, the issue often lies in communication gaps that exist between law libraries and firm stakeholders. Historically, senior administrative leaders were partners that directly experienced the value of the library. However, over the past decade, there has been a shift to non-lawyer leadership and as a result the library’s value is no longer apparent to firm leaders.

These new discussions between librarians and stakeholders can be challenging, but if ignored, libraries are left in an undesirable place, as the true value of the department will be lost. Since even the best services may go unrewarded if not recognized, it is critical that libraries develop methods for reporting their true value to key stakeholders.

With an extensive history of working with both librarian and administrator clients, we recommend a 3-step process for bridging the communication gap to ensure law library directors are uncovering and successfully conveying the value of their departments.

1. Gather Quantitative Information for Analysis

Determining the metrics that matter the most within an organization is a crucial step in developing both best practices and an overall communication plan. While recovery and chargeability is often the singular measurement of value, there are additional metrics that can be employed to measure the library’s value, such as cost benefit analysis or traditional return on investment analytics. For example, a review of electronic usage data may lead to changes in subscription renewals or service option decisions, which ultimately helps establish best practices in supplier governance. Similarly, evaluating research-request statistics, along with comparative data and qualitative feedback, creates opportunities to improve service levels and increase library utilization.

2. Utilize Qualitative Information for Illustrations

Although quantitative data is an essential component of the communication process, it does not effectively demonstrate the complete value story. Qualitative information should be utilized to illustrate the application of library services. Qualitative mediums, such as testimonials, are critical components used to demonstrate the impact of library services on an overall business. It is important to communicate qualitative information regularly—whether formally or informally—to relevant stakeholders to ensure that leadership sees how the quantitative data leads to active decision-making. Even if presentations contain exceptional data, they should include the “so what?” factor, which can be demonstrated effectively through qualitative information. It is very critical to show leadership how your information is actionable.

3. Implement a Comprehensive Strategy

Finally, once the appropriate metrics and qualitative information are identified, the most challenging part of the process lies in effectively communicating the metrics to business stakeholders. Relying upon a single method is insufficient as the messaging must appeal to a variety of stakeholder communication preferences. For example, numbers may be more important to CFOs while the COO may prefer qualitative stories that demonstrate the impact of service.

To address the ever-present challenge of quantifying and communicating a law library’s value, HBR’s Research + Information Solutions Team (RIS) collaborated with the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) to produce a comprehensive report on “The Economic Value of Law Libraries.” The report was designed to provide research and best practices for each library manager to use to determine the value standards held by their own organization, as well as how those values are measured and reported. With this report in your hands, you will be better equipped to implement an effective communication strategy to ensure that the value of your library doesn’t remain buried in the stacks.

To learn more about HBR’s Research + Information Solutions Team (RIS), and how we can partner with your organization, visit our web page.