Best Practices for Implementing a Successful Digital Law Library

June 3, 2016

An increasing number of law libraries are embracing eBooks and moving to digital library platforms. Primary factors driving this change are cost pressures associated with maintaining a physical library, and the growing adoption of mobile devices and eBooks by lawyers in their personal and professional lives.

Data gathered by Bess Reynolds, the former Electronic Resources Manager at Debevoise & Plimpton, provides some insight into the prevalence of this trend: According to her findings gathered over the past three years, more than half of all law firms surveyed purchased eBooks within the previous year. Specifically, 72% of firms employing 500-900 attorneys purchased eBooks, and 67% of firms with more than 1,000 attorneys went digital.

As firms and legal departments steadily migrate to digital solutions, what are the best ways to implement legal eBooks and a digital law library? Below are a set of guiding principles and tips to help law libraries meet their business and user expectations.

Take a Strategic Approach

The transition to a digital library can play an important part in helping law firms and legal departments address budget challenges, space constraints, and demand for mobile options –

all while improving their overall return on investment (ROI). A succinct strategy is the first step towards a successful migration:

Each law library’s situation is different. As such, approaches vary, but often fall into one of two typical scenarios:

  • Incremental approach: an ongoing preference for printed volumes while offering eBooks for a select portion of titles.
  • Accelerated approach: an emphasis on mobility or concerns about the administrative overhead of a physical library drive the replacement of a large percentage of print volumes with eBooks.

 

The adoption of a digital library solution should be considered as part of an organization’s broader investment in technology. Alignment and integration with existing systems and platforms will help maximize the benefits. For example, a firm or department that has invested in a legal information service such as Lexis Advance for its research needs may want to consider adopting LexisNexis eBooks and Digital Library technology to get the most out of these interconnected resources, and skip the costly process of integrating separate systems to fit legacy infrastructure.

Regardless which scenario you are planning for, know that not all providers of eBooks and digital library technology for law libraries are the same. For example, some offer a technology agnostic approach. This will allow law libraries to buy, store, lend and track use of electronic publications on one platform regardless of the publisher or eBook format, while simultaneously enabling lawyers to read eBook volumes no matter what mobile device they are using. Others are more restrictive with proprietary eBook or digital library platforms that limit use to titles from certain publishers, and with support limited to certain devices or specific formats. Choose what works best for the firm or group needs.

Build a Foundation for Success

After devising the strategy, the next step is listening to what each stakeholder wants to accomplish. Taking inventory of stakeholders’ objectives and expectations will tailor the implementation more directly to the organization’s need, and allow you to address concerns and share ideas.

Instill close communication between digital library provider, law librarians, IT and technology experts, and firm or legal group leadership

Ideally, identify a champion who is engaged and has a vision of what needs to be accomplished, and encourage that individual to promote the program’s success by:

  • Identifying what motivates stakeholders in their organization.
  • Making sure that communication conveys what each stakeholder group needs.

 

Additionally, the institution of a centralized contact such as a program manager will connect the provider and customer contacts on a day-to-day basis for an optimal implementation.

Plan Your Timeline

A standard library implementation requires four to six weeks; implementations involving integration of multiple systems may require 12 to 14 weeks. Plan implementation around these five key phases:

  1. Roll-out to Stakeholders: Introduce the transition team, communicate the timeline and site requirements, and determine what connections to other technologies are needed.
  2. Technical Requirements: Integrate library management systems, review support procedures, project sign off.
  3. Site Development: Initiate building of the library site, design and implement authentication, load eBook content.
  4. Administrator Training: Train the program manager and set up authentication method.
  5. Launch: Announce the new library and conduct awareness activities.

Train, Promote, Communicate

A successful implementation includes manager and user onboarding activities. Experience shows that organizations that implement proactive awareness and training programs see increased usage more quickly during the first two years.

Importantly, all staff who will manage the library technology and eBook collection should be trained in time. When using a technology-agnostic or single-technology solution, this can include how to manage the library efficiently via one central electronic platform, purchase titles centrally, arrange for lending and sharing of titles for multiple users at the same time, and add titles from any publisher or format to the collection.

Use activities such as a launch event, a broad email message, and articles on intranet or employee portals to announce the new library solution. Communicate the benefits and where to learn more, but also give users a reason to check out the new library. For example, offer popular eBook titles such as John Grisham novels or business titles to give users a personal reason to go to the new library.

Train users on how to access, check out, read, share and return titles. Typical tactics include in-person sessions, posters, best practices emails, or online instructions on the firm or company internal portal. To drive steady adoption over time, enact an ongoing communication program delivered through multiple channels, which could include announcing new titles, repeating core benefits for using the library, or announcing new features. Additionally, put links to the digital library in obvious and multiple locations such as department portals and websites.

Set, Measure, Report Results

To demonstrate value and track usage, it’s important to set measurable objectives. Organizations seeking to phase out portions of a physical library will find tracking and improving adoption rates is especially important.

Set adoption targets for the number of users over time, but don’t feel you need to be too specific about how you expect attorneys to use eBooks. Allowing attorneys to guide adoption minimizes resistance and promotes stronger adoption. If your initial plan is not generating the desired results, gather feedback and explore ways to adjust your approach.

Another way to demonstrate value to the organization is to report ROI. The factors in the ROI vary by organization based on unique characteristics. However, here is a basic way to do it:

  • Calculate expected annual savings. Determine the total annual cost for the status quo library minus total annual cost for new digital library. Factors in determining annual costs can include expenses for print volumes and eBooks, the total lifecycle costs of traditional vs. digital materials, as well as costs for space, shipping and subscriptions. Costs can include salaries and wages, materials expenditures and operating expenses.
  • Calculate percentage savings. To provide a clearer metric, divide the expected annual savings you’ve determined will occur with the digital library divided by the total annual cost for maintaining the traditional status quo library.

 

By taking a strategic approach, building a foundation for success, planning time in phases, diligently training users and promoting the implementation, and keeping an eye on key metrics for success, firms and organizations can ensure a smooth and effective implementation of new digital options – or even completely replace their physical collections with eBooks and a digital library platform.

BY SCOTT MEISER

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