Library Outreach and the Italian Beef Sandwich

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Library Outreach and the Italian Beef Sandwich

By Eugene M. Giudice

A version of this article first appeared in the spring 2012 edition of the CALL Bulletin published by the Chicago Association of Law Libraries (CALL).

There is no denying the seismic changes that are occurring in the law library, especially in law firms. This is causing law librarians to take on new roles, many of which take us out of the library and away from the reference desk, both physically and metaphorically. One of these changes is the requirement that law librarians do more to market the library. Some make call it marketing, some may call it outreach, but the goal is the same: to increase the amount of work brought into the library and to demonstrate and increase the value that a law library can bring.

This article is intended to provide law librarians practical behaviors they can use to increase their visibility and, by extension, the visibility of the library. While the target audience of this article is law firm librarians, many of the ideas discussed here could be easily adapted for the law school library. The ideas outlined here come from my own personal experience.

Now, we come to the Italian beef sandwich. According to Wikipedia, an Italian beef sandwich is a sandwich of thin slices of seasoned roast beef, dripping with meat juices, on a dense, long Italian-style roll. As somebody who has eaten a good number of Italian beef sandwiches, I can tell you that the key is always the juice (not sauce) in which the meat cooks. It is what gives the beef extra spice and flavor. (For a real treat, if you’re ever in Chicago, try the Italian beef sandwiches at Jay’s Beef.) You’re probably asking yourself what law librarianship has to do with this famous Chicago delicacy. Well, I like to think of our professionalism, skill, and bibliographic knowledge as the beef in the sandwich. Without the beef, the sandwich would not exist, just as without these skills, our profession would not exist.  In a similar vein, just as the juice brings flavor to the beef, effective outreach makes the law library a robust capability in the law firm or law school.

Let’s take a look at some things you can do to “bring out the flavor” of your law librarianship.

Greet everyone.
It’s amazing how effective a simple “good morning” or “good afternoon” in a library or elevator can be. Not only is it polite, but it gives you the opportunity to ask the key follow-up question, “Is there anything I can help you with today?” You may not get many positive responses, but those you do get will help you build a relationship that can lead to future assignments.

In addition to greeting people in the elevator or hallway, if you are sitting at the reference desk, you should greet everyone who comes into the library. At Latham & Watkins LLP, we have created an additional way to get people to stop—we have a candy jar sitting on the reference desk. We have arranged for various vendors to “sponsor” the candy jar each month with either a candy or cash donation. As people pass through the library, many of them are likely to stop for a piece of candy, and in that moment, the librarian has the opportunity to greet them and see if there is some way he or she can be of assistance. Not only should people be greeted as they enter the library, but if a librarian notices somebody in the stacks, they also should greet that person and offer assistance.

You are known by the company you keep . . . on your bookshelf
There are certain books I have in my personal collection that I can loan to an attorney in a pinch. These materials include The Bluebook as well as the most recent edition of Black’s Law Dictionary and various federal and state court rules. This accomplishes a couple of things. First, in a practical sense, there will always be a copy of these materials available for loan by a librarian in case the circulating copy is out. Second, it sends a subtle message to an attorney that you are interested in investing personal resources in the tools that you need to practice your craft. As with anything you loan, you need to make sure you get it back.

Be interested and interesting. 
As you casually talk with attorneys, be sure to ask about the matters that they are currently working on and how you can help. The more interest you show in their work, the more likely they will be willing to use your services because people are more likely to want to work with somebody who shows a genuine interest in their work and their eventual success. Not only should you show an interest in an attorney’s work, but you also should give them an opportunity to be curious about what you do and who you are as a person. On my bookshelf, I have a copy of Erskine May, the manual on parliamentary procedure used in the British House of Commons. Now, I know there would be very little call for this volume, but when an attorney comes into my office, if I notice him or her scanning my bookshelves, I always point out this volume and show the attorney that I have it autographed by the current and a former speaker of the House of Commons as well as the current librarian of the House of Commons. You need to be careful when doing this type of thing because you don’t want to come across as pompous or arrogant, but it can be a way to open a conversation if an attorney demonstrates an interest in what is on your bookshelf.

Work through secretaries.
There is no question that attorneys today are hard-pressed for time, and it is often hard to get a meeting with them to discuss the library and your services. This is where a secretary can be extremely helpful. If you can demonstrate to a secretary that you want to be helpful to the attorney (or more than likely attorneys) that he or she supports and that you would like to explore ways you can help the secretary directly, that secretary may act as an advocate for you with the attorney and thus you are more likely to be able to schedule a formal meeting with the attorney.

Be involved. 
It is important that librarians get involved in firm-wide and office-wide initiatives such as pro-bono work and diversity. This will demonstrate to office management that you are not there just to work in the library from 9 to 5. Involvement in such programs will again increase your visibility and help lead to additional work for the library, be it related to the office or firm initiative or not.

Be seen.
In addition to being involved, a librarian needs to be seen. How can a librarian do this? The answer to the question lies in the famous maxim “Half of life is simply showing up.” Librarians must be present at as many practice group and department meetings as possible. This might involve some negotiation with leadership, but it is well worth the effort. A librarian’s presence at a meeting does not mean that the librarian needs to speak at each meeting. The important things to listen for at these meetings are the vocabulary of the particular department or practice group as well as the clients mentioned. This will come in handy to help better understand the nature of their work.

Another way to be seen is to attend any on-site continuing legal education that might be available. Again, a librarian’s presence will demonstrate real interest in the work of the attorney and help the librarian do better work for the attorneys because they will have a better intellectual framework to rely on when doing research.

Finally, one simple way to be visible is for the librarian to make his or her own deliveries. Personally, I try to use interoffice mail as little as possible when delivering books from our collection. In addition, I always tell attorneys to call me when they are finished with the books I have delivered, and I go in person and make pick-ups so that they do not have to use the interoffice mail to return materials to the library.

Always look for the value add. 
When having any sort of discussion with an attorney, the questions that are always in the back of my mind are: What can I do or say that will help the attorney? What do I need to do so that this won’t simply be a few minutes of idle chat but a means for me to help the attorney and demonstrate to them that I want to help create additional value to the clients they are serving? Finding the value add may not always be obvious, but the attempt always helps to sharpen my skills so that I can take maximum advantage of those value-added opportunities when they arise.

Vendors can help. 
Much has been written about the often-contentious nature of the relationship between vendors and librarian. It is important to acknowledge that this can sometimes be the case, but it also important for librarians to realize that their respective firms are paying good money for access to various products and it is a duty of all librarians to learn how to exploit these products to their maximum. Here is where developing a deeper relationship with attorneys and better understanding their clients and practice can pay off. As we deepen our knowledge in this area, we are better able to go to the vendors to find out what products will best suit the client of our respective firms as well as provide maximum value to the way attorneys practice. The more you can demonstrate to a vendor that you want to use its products to their maximum effectiveness, the more they will be apt to help you in concrete ways with your outreach, such as sponsoring an attorney lunch or helping you with an event like National Library Week.

Read, read, and read again. 
As librarians, we have a responsibility to stay well-read as to what is going on in our profession, but we have an equal responsibility to read the business news for material that affects our respective firms and their clients. One way to extend the services we can offer is to act as a sort of “human clipping service.” By being aware of the larger business context in which our clients operate, we will have additional tools to provide more value-added services to our attorneys and, by extension, their clients.

Lunch can help. 
This was one of the hardest things for me to accept. I always thought that offering attorneys lunch in conjunction with some sort of training or meeting request was tantamount to a bribe. It took a wise partner to enlighten me. She said that given time constraints of attorneys, offering lunch with a training session or meeting allows them to kill two birds with one stone. It slowly began to dawn on me that the value I received from having one-on-one time with a group of attorneys was far and away greater than what I spent on the lunch. Often, I was able to get sponsors (read: vendors) who would help me underwrite the costs of an occasional lunch.

Take care of summer associates. 
I’m reminded of what one of my professors in library school said about youth services: that a director should never skimp on youth services because when today’s youth who are making use of those services get older, they will be more willing to pay for a tax levy or bond issue because they will say that they want the same library experience for their children as they had when they were young. The same hold true for summer associates. Today’s summer associates will be tomorrow’s managing partners, and the more we demonstrate that we as librarians are in their corner and want them to succeed and encourage them to use the library, the more likely they will want the same sort of experience for future summer associates when they are in leadership. 

You Know Best
This short article in not intended to be a complete compendium of things to enhance the outreach in your library. I do hope that it acts as a catalyst for discussion within libraries. Each library staff knows its own environment best and will know what would work best in its respective firm or school . . . just like each beef stand knows what spices are best for its Italian beef based on the tastes of its customers.

Eugene Giudice (eugenegiudice@sbcglobal.net) is a reference librarian with the law firm of Latham & Watkins LLP in Chicago. All views expressed here are entirely the author’s and not those of Latham & Watkins. The author takes full responsibility for all errors. The author also wants to thank all the members of the Chicago Association of Law Libraries (CALL) for their support and encouragement. The author also wants to thank his wife, Colleen Giudice, for all her love and support.