The Special Libraries Association

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Digitally Embedding the Law Library

 Ellyssa Kroski | Manager of Information Systems |The New York Law Institute

The impetus behind an embedded librarianship program involves establishing partnerships between the library and its users by placing a librarian “on-site” to collaboratively work with faculty or other departments.   In this way, the librarian can effortlessly provide valuable services by being in the right place at the right time.  The New York Law Institute (NYLI) is a membership library that serves law firms and it was exactly these types of partnerships that we hoped to initiate by developing a new add-on ILS module, which would digitally embed our library’s collection within our members’ online catalogs.   Through this ILS extension, we can offer our members that same type of added value by delivering exactly what they’re looking for where and when they’re looking for it.

 Embedding a library within a library

Embd Lib

In the spring of 2011, we partnered with our integrated library system (ILS) vendor EOS International and one of our member libraries, Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP to develop the NYLI Seamless Catalog Module.  This new module enables our member libraries that use EOS to directly integrate our entire collection, seamlessly within their own catalog.  In essence, it transforms a members’ OPAC into a one-way union catalog in which a library can view all of our holdings while keeping their own holdings private.    We thought this would be an innovative way of offering “just in case, just in time” library services by integrating the use of existing technologies to fulfill the information needs of attorneys and information professionals.   Many firm libraries today are moving from an ownership to an access model due to space and cost considerations, and have been steadily downsizing their print collections in favor of only purchasing and housing essential materials.  One of the goals of our Seamless Catalog Module initiative was that member libraries would be able to eliminate marginally used print volumes such as treatises and other serials while still offering their attorneys seamless access to what they need.

Once a member library has installed this free module, their attorneys and library staff can search their catalog and return a real time availability stream for all item records in both their own and NYLI’s catalogs.  NYLI appears as a branch location within their system.  Once they’ve found and selected an item they’re interested in, an automated interlibrary loan request is immediately submitted to us for fulfillment.  Since we initiated this project we’ve also launched a very successful eBooks program, recently making 56,000 eBooks available to our members through our OPAC.  With the Seamless Catalog Module, our members not only have access to our robust print collection, but to our thousands of eBooks as well.  Our new eBooks program has really changed the dimensions of this project and enhanced the Seamless Catalog’s value by changing the focus from strictly an ILL delivery component to desktop access to a sizeable eBook collection.

Partners in Development

In order to ensure that the technology would best reflect our members’ requirements, we partnered with one of our member libraries at Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP from the outset of this initiative.  We began planning the project, designing technical specifications, setting project goals, and outlining success criteria in the spring of 2011.  We successfully launched the Seamless Catalog Module in October 2012 at Debevoise & Plimpton, where it is now, being used by their librarians and attorneys alike.  In between planning and implementation we conducted usability testing with our beta site at Debevoise & Plimpton, which involved both library staff and attorneys.  We organized and collected bug reports, conducted interviews with our users, and gathered feedback.  We made adjustments to the interface and added functionality in response to this testing.  One of the best improvements was the transformation of the small basket to a shopping cart, which users felt was not easily noticeable, compared to the larger version, more prominently featured, and which displays the number of titles already selected for loan.  Also, based on Debevoise’s feedback, improvements were made to track client matter charges, which improved cost recovery.

Connecting with Users Through Technology

The NYLI Seamless Catalog Module is a bridge between NYLI’s sizeable print and digital collection and our users including attorneys, librarians, and information professionals.  It embeds NYLI’s collection into the member library rather than necessitating that members come to our OPAC directly.   From the member librarian’s perspective, this module offers the potential for substantial savings in the area of collection development while fluidly offering their attorneys access to very much needed print and electronic resources.  Aside from benefitting our members, we hope that this project will encourage others in the field to develop similar functionality for other ILS programs, and eventually offer platform-independent functionality.  This could be the first step to a new generation of collaborative efforts to share holdings while respecting the level of privacy of participants.

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