Reorganization in the Midst of Change

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The goal of Trends Interactive is to generate freewheeling discussion of a variety of subjects of interest to law librarians. This article on reorganization in the midst of major change has been written by Billie Jo Kauffman, Associate Dean for Library & Information Resources, American University Washington College of Law.


The last 18 months have been a whirlwind of good change—necessary, real change.

The Pence Law Library is about to move to its new WCL Campus. The new 8-1/2 acre campus is about a block from the Red Line on the DC Metro.

The campus contains two amazing buildings that are on the DC Historic Register as well as two brand-new buildings, all of which will house student organizations, dining facilities, faculty offices, clinic and LLM programs, classrooms, and the new Pence Law Library. The renovated Capital Hall will house mostly administrative offices, programs and the trial court program. Perhaps the most amazing feature is the Stephen S Weinstein Court Room renovated from the Immaculata Girls’ School chapel.

Classes begin on 1/1/16, with Justice Ginsburg doing the honors of the ribbon cutting in February.

The building has been in planning and programming since 2010/11, so it’s wonderful to see everyone’s hard work come to fruition and spaces for 21st century legal education ready to open.

The Law School Plans for Change

As we were planning, legal education hit a bump (some might say boulder) in the road—major media challenged the legal education model; student debt rose; law firms merged / restructured / closed. Law school applications dropped nation-wide, and we were all forced to rethink short- and long-terms models for our schools. The Washington College of Law did too, using faculty retreats, library retreats, working groups, and task forces to look long and hard at what was important, long term, and true to the school’s meaningful mission and goals—diversity, commitment to teaching and scholarship, and a local, regional, national interconnectedness that supported the JD program, its 5 LLM and SJD programs, and its commitment to DC and the international summer programs.

Every program was asked to retool and create an organizational model that could continue to sustain the missions and goals listed above, but at a cost that could allow for reallocation of monies to students through scholarships and greater emphasis on jobs and bar passage. The faculty created 11 faculty practice groups to work with students in a substantive manner.

The Pence Law Library Plans for Change

Somehow, Pence was already in a reorganization mode. Adeen Postar had accepted the directorship at University of Baltimore, and one could say the rest is history. The Pence Law Library faculty decided we would reorganize and put all essential job functions and services on the table. We looked at what was needed and how the design of the “new” law library was going to impact workflows and services.

In addition, I was asked to cut $750,000 from the collections budget and eliminate five staff positions.

We were already rebalancing the collection to eliminate duplicates by getting rid of print when electronic was available, and we were utilizing our access to the university library’s materials too. Along the way, we struck a deal with George Washington and Penn law libraries to share law review collections and another cooperative relationship with Georgetown and George Washington for state statutes.

We are in DC, and the locale means that almost any resource is obtainable via courier and our consortia arrangements with WRLC (Washington Research Library Consortium). We are also a charter member of the NELLCO PalmPrint project, which allowed for easy access to primary materials.

Resulting Staffing Changes

We decided each librarian would take a small piece of some of the deputy director’s prior responsibilities. All professional positions now report to the library director. This makes administration and management easier because we are one of few law library faculties that operate on a true tenure/tenure-track basis. We also created an emerging technologies position, new faculty services and student services, and continued with the two foreign and international slots.

The technical services department was reorganized into Collections & Bibliographic Services. We upgraded the traditional serials /acquisitions to a Director of Collection Operations Manager and did away with the access services librarian position.

The huge reduction in print law reviews, looseleaf services, and pocket parts allowed us to cut two processing positions in the Serial/Acquisitions units. Because we bind so few pieces of the collection, the binding position could be eliminated. Microforms have suffered the same surgical knife as the print collection, so we no longer have a government documents/microform staff member.

Interlibrary loan requests have dropped precipitously because so many requests can be found in databases, google scholar and other avenues, so we could reassign that work and eliminate that position. The last position to go was a senior circulation manager. We have highly experienced circulation managers and with two adjustments in student and part-time staff, all is well.

For reference services, we have moved to a three-person model and figured out how to staff the hours differently.


So five staff and one professional staff member later, what’s the verdict?

We have maintained a level of excellence in all operations. We have added a new dimension of social media to our marketing and public relations. We are offering more sections of advanced legal research (online and on-site) and more workshops for our 17 student publications, and we continue to offer research seminars in the areas of copyright and international/foreign law. We are still overseeing digital commons and SSRN, and recently held our 10th annual student author reception. All library faculty are serving on library, law school and/or university committees.

Most importantly, folks are energized, and frankly I’ve left them alone. We touch base; we evaluate; we plan; we assess—and it works. We had a recent retirement and could fill the slot by promoting a long-time excellent staff member to the library faculty position and then were able to move an amazing part-time JD/MLS to the full-time position.

I think we are lean—an illness or sabbatical could catch us off guard, but I have part-time funds and in DC finding amazing, excellent, part-time law librarians is usually an abundance of riches. We also learn a lot from that group of law school or law firm librarians wanting a few extra hours or something to do during retirement. There are things we either let go of or take three months to complete instead of one, but the overall services are appreciated by faculty, staff, students, and administrators.

Even the move—ah yes, back to the move—it is going well. We have contracted with Hallett Library Movers, so we are in good hands. Each library faculty member and staff position has coordinating responsibilities and it will happen.

I suspect when my staff read this they will say that after the move “we will finally get our library director back.” For more than four years I’ve served as the faculty chair for the new law school campus, and it’s taken a ton of meetings. There will be a punch list (I’ve done buildings before), but even that process has benefited from technology. Our contractor uses Bluebeam punch list software, which is truly amazing. As I put the final touches on this short piece, we have approved the move details, and furniture is arriving and being installed.

I could have only done this with accomplished, experienced, and amazingly well-qualified staff and faculty.

Come, visit and see how we did.

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