An insider’s perspective on outsourcing

By Elisabeth Schubert posted 03-10-2017 10:19


Last year, I attended AALL’s annual meeting in Chicago. While there, I signed up for a conference-sponsored dinner. Halfway through dinner, one of the people seated with me turned my way and asked, “So, Beth, how’s the outsourcing going at your firm?” 

Another person at our table, a man from California, added, “Yeah, some of the California State schools outsourced their libraries. They let everyone go and hired new people at way lower salaries.” 

Outsourcing law libraries isn’t a new topic; it’s been written about plenty. But the prevailing thought about outsourcing – or a library as a service – is that once it happens you’ll be let go. The work will be done by people who have no library experience or it will get shipped overseas. You’re fired. 

I’m not Pollyannaish about outsourcing. I don’t know the score in every situation a law firm has outsourced its library. If people feel threatened by outsourcing, then there has to be truth behind it. But I do know my experience with outsourcing. It’s different from what I heard around the dinner table. 

Here’s what I can share: 

The law firm I work for (which is among the Am Law 100) hired a consulting firm more than a year ago to take a look at our law library operations, spending and skills. We each explained to the consultants what we were doing. And we each asked ourselves and one another whether our law firm was thinking of getting rid of our jobs. I knew we were overstaffed. We had too many people taking on bits of tasks that could be done by one person. It was certainly true with regard to what I was doing each day. 

I’ll pause here to give my background. I was a latecomer to law librarianship. I left a job in advertising sales to earn my MLIS, which included coursework in law library management. I also have a master’s in education and taught at the corporate level for a number of years. Immediately after completing the MLIS, I took a position as a librarian in the field of higher education. A professional connection then recruited me to take a job at the law firm described above. My role was a mix of cost recovery and working as back-up to the reference librarians. 

After the consultants completed their review of our law library, our firm considered the input and decided there was more to be gained than lost by outsourcing the library. The consultants asked me to consider joining their company in a role as technical services manager in my former employer’s newly organized library; the consultants had looked at my skills and interests and said I was a fit. The role was a step in a different direction, since I was being groomed to be a reference librarian. I was pleased to see a pay increase in addition to having more responsibility and the chance to start making changes that I (and others) had wanted implemented for quite some time. 

Others were retained, too. The library services firm told some of my coworkers that they couldn’t keep them, but they had opportunities with the company’s other clients. And some of my former colleagues were told there was no role for them. Upon hearing that, some said bad things about being outsourced. I understand being upset; I was worried I might not have a job. But many more of us were kept and given a better career path for more pay. 

Does that mean law libraries have to outsource to use people to their best ability? No. But, in my situation and my firm’s, it worked out well. The next time you hear about outsourcing, perhaps consider the positive outcome you’ve heard here.