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Confessions of a New Law Library Director

June 1, 2021

By Alan Kilpatrick

This talk was presented at the 2021 Canadian Association of Law Libraries Conference as a lightning talk.

Good afternoon.  Welcome to Confessions of a New Law Library Director, my lightning talk for CALL/ACBD 2021.  Six months into 2020, and a short time before becoming a first-time father, I became a new law library director. 

When I first heard about my new role, I was excited and struck with ideas of revitalizing the library while unsure where to begin or how to proceed.  I would like to share a few of the tips I have learned over the past ten months in my new role as Co-Director of the Law Society of Saskatchewan’s Legal Resources department, for those who may find themselves in a similar position or curious about the skills one might need as a library director.   

While my skills as a legal information professional prepared me well, I had a lot to master!  Many of us entering this profession have little directorial experience.  However, we are all being asked to do more with less and to step outside the box and our comfort zones, even more so since the pandemic.    

What are my top tips?  Do Your Research; Learn Continuously; Get Organized; and Expand Your Focus.      

Do Your Research.  As legal information professionals, we are expert researchers.  Use your research skills to give yourself a head start in your new role. 

Research the larger organization you call home.  In my case, the Law Society.  Where does the library fit in the structure of the organization and what matters to that organization?  Does your organization have a strategic plan?  I read the Law Society’s strategic plan several times, identified opportunities where the library could add value, and connected the library’s activities and ongoing programs to the Law Society’s strategic goals, particularly to the strategic directions regarding competence and access to justice. 

Become comfortable with the ins and out of your budget.  I had never worked with a departmental budget before, and was grateful to the Law Society’s accountant for spending time educating me about budgeting in general and our budget specifically.  What belongs in each budget line?  When are your monthly and year-end responsibilities with regards to the budget?  I created a budget cheat-sheet I keep handy at my desk.           

Commit yourself to Continuous Learning.  As information professionals, we are always learning about new resources, new areas of law, and new ways to assist our users.  Really, the learning never stops.  Use your active learning mindset to support your success in your new role. 

I see my first year in this new position as one giant learning experience.  I am committed to learning as much as I can.  Talk to your colleagues, management, and professional network for advice and feedback.  Ask for help.  What professional development opportunities can you take advantage of?  I reached out to the Law Society’s Human Resource Coordinator.  She offered to conduct an Emotional Intelligence Assessment, enabling me to learn more than I thought possible regarding workplace emotional intelligence.

Take some time to Get Organized.  Like many new directors, I had a plethora of ideas and projects for the library.  A word of caution: slow down and do not try to do everything all at once.  You will be far more effective if you set a limited number of goals based on the most important priorities, such as your organization’s strategic directions, but this is easier said than done for an energetic new director. 

I found it helpful to reach out to our library team and suggest a day-long virtual work planning session.  With the assistance and support of the Law Society’s Human Resources Coordinator, an experienced facilitator, we identified our major priorities for the year, organized by quarter, and informed by the Law Society’s strategic directions.  Our intention is to revisit the workplan quarterly, update our project progress, and hold a mid-year workplan review.  

Do not forget to Expand Your Focus.  Your focus will, inevitably, expand as a new director.  Why?  The more focused details dominated my previous position as a reference librarian: finding what the user needs.  I had less occasion to think strategically about the library and the big picture.  As a new director, I discovered is that I have had to adopt a much broader focus and a more strategic mindset, asking those big existential questions.  How does the library add value to its users, organization, and stakeholders?  Why does your library do what it does?  This new focus is liberating.  I have also discovered these are challenging questions to answer.  I am still exploring how to best adopt a more strategic mindset. 

To recap, my four tips are: Do Your Research; Learn Continuously; Get Organized; and Expand Your Focus.  Full disclaimer: I am still learning!  Let me know if you have any thoughts about these tips.  What tips do you agree or disagree with?  What did I miss?  Please reach out to me if you have any questions.  I would love to hear from you if you are a new director looking to chat or a more experienced director willing to share some advice! 

Thank you.

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