by Greg Lambert, Texas Chapter, Legal Division
As I was riding the bus into work this morning, I started putting some puzzle pieces together in my mind, and things that I’ve been reading, watching and preparing came together and made me wonder if the library world’s push to find its place in the age of social communications may mean that it needs to re-embrace its stereotype as a place where you go to quietly study and work without being interrupted. Let me list out the three puzzle pieces I’m thinking about, and then I’ll fill you in on what I mean…
- Ark Group’s February 2011 conference on Best Practices & Management Strategies for Law Firm Library & Information Service Centers – At this meeting, I will be co-presenting with WilmerHale’s Library Director, Matthew J. Todd, on the issue of reconsidering the physical space of a law firm library from a “Social Engineering” perspective. In other words, using the physical library as conduit for actually talking and sharing ideas with your peers in real face-to-face interactions.
- Jason Fried’s TEDx Talk on Why work doesn’t happen at work – The e-Discovery manager in my office sent this video to me a couple weeks ago and found it interesting the amount of time, money and effort that law firms spend on work space, only to find out that real work may be going on elsewhere.
- The University of Arizona’s law library got some interesting press in the student paper saying that the law library refuses undergraduates. It seems that one of the best kept secrets at the University of Arizona is that if you want a place where you can study and actually get something done without interruption, the law library is the place to go.
I’ve been prepping for this Ark Group conference by discussing the idea that the library could re-invent its space and become the new water cooler location for small gatherings of peers to discuss work they are conducting, or just getting to know each other better in a neutral setting. The idea is that lawyers tend to be too reliant upon communications via e-mail, text, chat or phone and have lost touch with those down the hall simply because they don’t reach out to them through those electronic communication tools. Kind of like the trend that many of us don’t know the names of our neighbors where we live… many lawyers have only had brief conversations with their fellow lawyers that office down the hall.
However, when I watched the Fried presentation on the fact that one of the reasons we don’t get work done at work is the fact that we have too many distractions that are related to these exact social interactions:
When’s the last time you had three or four hours to yourself to get work done? It probably wasn’t at the office. A phone call, a co-worker tapping on your shoulder or knocking on your door, a required meeting — all the things prevent you from having long uninterrupted stretches of time to get things done. Good work requires thinking, and thinking requires time.
Fried’s concept is that social interaction has its place and time, but so does uninterrupted work.
The final piece of the puzzle I was putting together this morning was remembering the story of how the undergraduates at the University of Arizona loved going to the law library because they could actually get some peace and quite there and actually get some work done. While the main libraries on campus were bustling with activity, social meetings, coffee shops and other activities, the law library seems to be what we think of when we think of a traditional library… a place you are expected to be quiet.
So, am I wrong in my idea that the physical space of a law library (in this instance, a law firm library) should be transformed away from its traditional approach as a place where you are expected to work quietly and not disturb others, and made into a water cooler setting where people talk and discuss the issues they are working on? Or, should we be promoting the law library as a quiet place to get work done? Perhaps there’s a happy medium somewhere that we could do.
Fried half-heartedly jokes that “Instead of casual Fridays, how about no-talk Thursdays?” Maybe the library can be the exact place for a “No-Talk-Thursday” to happen. To balance the “No-Talk-Thursdays,” perhaps we could then have a “Water-Cooler-Fridays” where the library is set up to handle open discussions on any issue a lawyer wants to throw out to his or her peers.
I’d been pretty wrapped up in the idea that the drop in “foot traffic” in the library was due to the fact that people tended to just think of it as a quiet place to go. Now I’m thinking that maybe people just think of it as a place that has books, and the drop-off in traffic is because they have forgotten that it is a quiet place to get work done. The University of Arizona undergraduates talk about their law library as one of the best kept secrets on campus, and value it for its peace and quiet. Perhaps we’ve also become the best kept secret in our place of work. If that is the case, then I’m thinking that I need to let that secret out and find ways of embracing the fact that we are still an outstanding place to go to get work done and at the same time start working on expanding the library as a place where ideas are shared.
Greg Lambert is the Library & Records Manager and King & Spalding LLP. He is the recent Past-President of the Texas Chapter of SLA.