| From Glen Gustafson:
Pillsbury Outsourcing: An After the Fact Observation
Having just left one law firm for a new position at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, I was recently reminded that my position with the firm is “at will”. As disappointed as the library community is about the choice that Pillsbury made, the Pillsbury Library Partners, Managing Partners, Executive Directors, Human Resources personnel, and Library Manager have chosen a clean sweep path to January 2000. At will employment allows our employers to do that. We come back to the essence of librarianship. It may have only taken three or four semesters of graduate work to be awarded a Masters in Library Science, but, it takes a lifetime of continuing education and profession development to keep on top of the game. Regular communication with your firm’s administrative chain of command is also a good idea. Remind that command and control system that you are a valuable asset to the knowledge management that the firm relies upon to keep your attorneys furnished with the information that they need to keep their competitive edge.
As I reviewed Janice Hammond’s apologia, there are several points with which I take exception. I note that in the 1980s there were as many as 22 people on the library staff. If that is the number on staff at the San Francisco office, and if the staff then was allowed to dwindle to six, there is either a problem with staff retention, or, the reduction was a calculated effort to cut costs and increase productivity. Having just come from a shop with a staffing ratio greater than one library staff member for each fifty attorneys (1:50), I understand how library maintenance and reference staffing can begin to resemble a sausage stuffing production. After the first 400 sausages, you really don’t focus on how to make the sausages better, you just focus on grinding out the next 400 followed by the next 400.
Technology projects are time intensive, and are partly based on the good fortune of having a new generation of software appear on the scene just as you need to make the next technological leap. Gathering information about the new systems and planning whole office integration is not something that you do after the sausages are shipped. If there is a perceived end of the timeline of January 2000, there is precious little time to maintain the routine systems and services, and to complete the technological transition. It seems to me that the library staffing question should have been addressed sooner. But then, I am reminded of search notices I have seen in the past. You have probably seen one that read something like this: Seeking Senior Librarian, must speak three modern European languages, plus Greek or Latin. Will catalog according to AACR2 and must have intimate knowledge of the Library of Congress reading room. Will conduct reference for 100 tenured faculty, and must be a NASCAR certified driver. Salary = $30,000. When the search team can’t locate such a stellar individual, they opt for Fred, the guy who does such a great job in the copy center. Fred then struggles through cataloging the EU collection with great finesse. How likely is that scenario.
So, given the fact that library staff recruiting had not achieved the desired result, what were the options reviewed by Pillsbury in planning for the new library structure and systems. The four options were; 1) To handle the transition in-house, 2) To use a partial outsourcing, 3) Project outsourcing and 4) Total outsourcing. Let’s eliminate two of the options quickly. 1) In House: This would require the Human Resources personnel to recruit a project team to quickly implement the transition. For one reason or another, this option was not chosen. If I had to guess, one of the reasons would be cost. To effectively complete this kind of a project the firm would have to recruit a Librarian/Technical Services hybrid team, not something that you can pick up at the local basketball court.
The other option that I would have rejected right away, is the Total Outsourcing option. The first thing that this option does is to hamper the Outsourcing company with having to bring in talented staff to keep the day to day functions in full operation, plus find the technical team to select the systems and implement the changes. That is not a 40 hour per week effort, given the drop dead deadline.
By now you may have guessed that I would have preferred a mix of Partial Outsourcing and Project Outsourcing. Here is a suggestion off the top of my head. Six staff members to keep the workflow going. One staff member to coordinate with the firm’s architectural team. Three staff members to select and implement the new technology. As with the building trades, the firm must select the general contractor well. The general contractor is then responsible for the work done by each of the sub-contractors. I see no problem with mixing outsourced subs and in-house staff throughout the chain of command. Worrying about who has rank and what benefits they have would have been a moot question once the chain of command was established. Substituting players in as needed is something that the general contractor should be able to handle.
If the library management software system is selected from an off-the-shelf provider, implementation is merely a question of hours applied to the project. Worrying about the loss of knowledge when the Outsource Service left is also moot because the system provider would provide the backup and training and maintenance for the system. Look at how IS departments across the country set up a video conferencing system. I doubt that many rely on in-house IS staff. Look at Law Firm Marketing departments for an example of bringing in a Project Outsource Service to set up a firm’s Internet Website. Firms are used to handling those kind of projects. It would be rare that the entire IS department or entire Marketing Department would be outsourced just to meet a project deadline.
One final comment. Since the 1980s, private law firm Library Managers are far less frequently encouraged to participate in continuing educational opportunities. Library Mangers are discouraged from attending Annual Meetings of their professional organizations. This may be good fiscal management, but, it is not the way to keep Library Managers on the cutting edge of technology. Private law firm library managers should be encouraged to take on the responsibility of making a better sausage, not just required to grind out more sausage. The first two steps to bring this about are to establish reasonable library staffing ratios and to encourage professional growth.
Chair of the Private Law Libraries Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries
Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy
Los Angeles Library
May 14, 1999