26 June 2006


Take a look at Steven Cohen's post on Library Stuff and let me know what you think. He has a new job with a firm that outsources legal libraries. Here are my comments:

I'm sure you're a nice guy and all, but how many librarians have you put out of a job because their firm outsourced the library to you? How can a non-employee, probably off-site company possibly do as good a job as an on-site employee who is there every day; who eats with the attorneys; who knows how the firm works and who knows what?

Pardon me if I consider you a traitor to librarians everywhere.

You can also post a comment to him.

URL: http://www.librarystuff.net/2006/06/my-new-job.html


Dave Hook said...

I have mixed feelings about this.

On the one hand, outsourcing library services makes sense for smaller firms that could not justify hiring a full-time librarian. I don't see a problem with that.

Where I do have a problem is with outsourcing companies that take advantage of the fact that:
a) Librarians are terrible at marketing themselves, generally speaking, and
b) Few executives appreciate the difference between the high-quality information services that an in-house librarian would provide and the mediocre-quality information services that an outsourced off-site company would provide.

I'm not sure which category Stephen's company falls into, but I can certainly tell you that the services I provide at MPOW are way beyond what he describes "any service that a library would be charged with" - I would figure that other corporate librarians would do a whole lot more than just ILLs, research and updating book filings.

Steven said...

A few comments:


1) We are not offsite. We are physically at the firms everyday and, because much reference work can be done online, we are available 24/7 for most research work. Heck., I've taken work home twice already.

2) I've "eaten" with many of the attorneys that I work for. I know exactly what their needs are.


3) Yes, some librarians are terrible at marketing themselves, but how would you you consider my company "taking advantage" of that? I don't really understand what that means.

4) I'm also not sure why you think our service is "mediocre". As far as I've seen, we do some amazing work for our clients. It could be better, but there are full time staff at firms that could do better as well. We're always growing as professionals, right? Or, was that just a general "all outsource companies are mediocre" statement?

5) Yes, corporate librarians do much more than file books, etc. They do hardcore research, build relationships with staff, and provide current awareness services, just to name a few. We do all of that. We are 100% full service.

6) I'm sorry that Judith sees me as a "traitor to the profession". That one hurt, but there it is. I told my wife about that comment. She replied, "I still see you as a hero". My point: Can't please 'em all.

Dave Hook said...


From your description, it sounds more like what you are doing is what I would call 'contracting', rather than 'outsourcing', but I don't know the full details of what your firm does. To me 'outsourcing' implies off-site operations, which doesn't sound like what you are doing.

I've come across some outsourcing firms (and I'm not suggesting here that yours is one of them) that claim to 'do everything that a corporate librarian does' but in reality they do little more than place orders and catalog books. What they consider to be 'research' consists of typing a few keywords into Dialog and then emailing an unfiltered, untailored list of abstracts off to the users. This leads to my point about librarians not marketing themselves - execs don't always see the value that corporate librarians add, and librarians are, generally speaking, not good at communicating it. So these outsourcing firms can sell their services to top management, offering what appears to be the same services at a lower cost, but in reality, they aren't providing much of the 'value add' that an in-house librarian would provide. That's what I meant by 'taking advantage'. Again I'm not suggesting that this is what your company is doing.

Also, to clarify, I never specifically said that your service was 'mediocre'. Nor did I claim that 'all outsource companies are mediocre'. I was speaking generally that there is little appreciation of the differences between good quality information services and average quality information services outside of the profession. My apologies if it didn't come across that way. My feeling is that generally speaking, an in-house librarian would be able to provide better services than a separate organization that operates off-site with little connection to the actual users. There are exceptions of course - as you pointed out, there are full-time staff at firms that probably do little of the 'value add'.

So, I'm not opposed to what you or your organization is doing. Nor am I opposed to outsourcing in general (and in my original post, I did state that there are occasions where outsourcing services makes perfect sense). My opposition is with organizations that work offsite claiming to be able to provide the same level of services as a librarian working onsite, when in most cases, they can't.