As a firm librarian, one of the first things I came to understand was the importance of having primary research sources in duplicate formats.  That was in 1996.  In 2008 it was still important but the financial realities were beginning to impact the ability to keep items in duplicate formats.   Today I suspect this is a critical mission in law firm collection development for those who have not already conquered the resistance.

Those of you in the legal world understand that by duplicate formats I mean that regulations, statutes and favorite treatises may be available in print (including multiple copies), available through the WEXIS databases and maybe even available as a separate electronic subscription for just that title.  This doesn’t even include the “free” materials made available on the Internet by the government.

Those of you not familiar with the legal world may say why?  The reality is that in law firms time is money and if a researcher i.e. an attorney uses a resources regularly in a particular format they expect to continue to be able to do so no matter how developed other access may be.

Of course the struggle is that these duplicate formats impact the budget.  It’s easy to take a line-item view of the budget and see where cuts can be made.  Not taking the users into account makes it easy to save money.  When you stop to consider the users the decisions become difficult.

So, now the economy is tight and is affecting law firms with staff and associate lay-offs.  Travel money has been cut and other law firm amenties may be gone.  Yet still more money needs to be saved.  How can you balance the need to cut the budget and satisfy the user with an obvious choice like duplicate materials?

The easy answer is just make the cut.  As a library director or manager, it’s your responsibility to make collection decisions that support the firm’s work and meets budget.  However, if you wish to continue to make sure that attorneys can answer client questions you need to do more than make the cut.

Duplicate materials also come in the form of general reference sources that are bought in multiples for the heavy users.  Reducing those numbers is a good 2nd step.  Of course, to do it successfully you must communicate with the users what’s going to happen, why and how they will be able to get the material when they need it at midnight when you are long gone from the office.

A 3rd step is using training as a conversion tool.  If you can get your long-time print users comfortable with the electronic version then deleting the print from your collection will be easier.  Some attorneys who may be comfortable with searching case-law on-line may still be resistant to using the regulations in an electronic format.  (Remember time is money?)  They may say that it takes more time to use an electronic resource.  Your job is to get them so comfortable with the electronic version through training that they become even more efficient with the electronic version.

You may be thinking, Answer Maven why are you focusing on de-duplication through a concentration on electronic formats?  Print materials take time and staff to update.  Multiple print copies of materials are more difficult to manage.  If you have an electronic source you already have it licensed for multiple users, even transitionary users such as interns and summer associates.  This reduces the need to buy one more copy of the rules for that short-term person.

In essence, you will get more bang for you buck through the flexibility of electronic resources.  So when it comes time to de-dupe your collection think about communication with users and training as your keys to success.

Constance Ard April 17, 2009