This is real law: the impact of technology on law librarians
Brought to you by the Real Law Editorial Team
It hurt a bit when Forbes ranked a master’s degree in library and information science as the “worst master’s degree for jobs.” Recent technology changes have many law librarians, too, rethinking their role from both intellectual and business perspectives. Going forward, they’ll be carving out a new niche in a changing world of law.
A Constant Threat of Information Overload
The scope of change is indeed awesome. For example, 90 percent of all data in the world was created in the last two years alone. More law is available now than ever before: each day, fresh new cases are decided and sweeping legislation is considered or signed into law. Globalization means that lawyers need to be more aware of international and foreign national laws. And the continuous growth of advanced digital repositories means that there is much greater availability of legal texts.
Still, the idea of information overload isn’t new. For thousands of years, it has made people angry, confused, and ecstatic. In the first century AD, the Roman rhetorician and writer Seneca the Elder commented, “the abundance of books is distraction.”1 The Romans loved their written law, but even for them it was seen as creating problems.
They weren’t necessarily wrong, either. As research has progressed, the costs of unmanaged information proliferation have become clearer. It can hurt our creativity, our peace of mind, and our ability to think and act quickly. It can simply make us dumber by reducing our ability to focus. These challenges may be endemic to such massive amounts of available information, but the librarian will be a key to overcoming them.
A New Role for Law Librarians
Instead of focusing exclusively on the present, law librarians can take confidence from the past and prepare themselves for the future. That means informing themselves about multiple disciplines—law, business, history, technology, politics, current events, and philosophy. Librarians are uniquely positioned to create a shared vision of legal scholarship in the face of increasing fragmentation and digitalization. They’ll be uniquely prepared to expand their area of responsibility, and they do not plan to stop thinking like librarians.
The intellectual tools that are librarians’ specialty make them ideally suited to handle this increasing amount of information. About 100 million cases are brought to U.S. courts every year. The ability to focus sharply on what’s important in context and to filter out unneeded information is a skill that will only become more valuable in the face of so much information.
Context and filters will require both the development of smart-technology-enabled tools and careful judgment based on knowledge and experience. Law librarians will continue to define this intellectual work and to spur demand for high-quality information, useful tools, and deep understanding.
The Future of Legal Scholarship
It’s true that libraries may not need books in the future. And perhaps librarians won’t need libraries. Librarians might even need a new name. Still, the guiding light for legal libraries should be the core experience of finding and transforming information into actionable knowledge. Amid the confusion existing in the darkest corners of the web and the dustiest cabinets of our legal system, the librarian will have to carry both flashlight and matches to explore and light the way for others.
- “distringit librorum multitude” Seneca – Epistulae morales ad Lucilium/Liber I–II