Going “Off-Label” to Prove Library Value

The author is CRIV member Carol Ottolenghi, Director of Research & Library Services, Ohio Attorney General’s Office

            Going “Off-Label” – using products in new or unexpected ways – can provide needed resources, save your organization money, and demonstrate your Library’s value. This post describes recent off-labeling at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office (OAGO). If your Library uses an information product in an innovative way, please share it in an email to the CRIV Blog Coordinator, Christy Smith  (christy.smith@shu.edu). Your responses may appear in future blog posts or CRIV Sheet articles.

            Legal organizations use scores of electronic products. Many of them have little direct Library application. However, our Library staff stays aware of 1) the tools the OAGO has, and; 2) the activities and needs of the various agency sections.

            This awareness is key to “off-label” success because the OAGO is so large that many sections do not know what the others are doing, except in a general sense. By making it a point to regularly query sections about their needs, Library staff can promote information-product sharing. We can help develop procedures that use existing tools in new ways. For example, in 2021, we tested and demonstrated how two of our litigation-support tools could also help our Law Enforcement agents organize cold case files. This:

  • Increased OAGO efficiency
  • Spread the product costs across additional sections
  • Showed the OAGO as an effective steward of public money, which made Administration happy
  • Demonstrated Library value to Administration, the new users, and Finance.

            I emphasize this last point because it is no longer enough for Libraries to do good work. If Libraries are to thrive within our organizations, we must be seen doing good work.

            Our most recent off-labeling adventure involves that quintessential Library product: the catalog. This project is currently underway and will be fully operational early in 2023. It began because the OAGO is moving to a new case management system. Unlike our previous system, the new system doesn’t play nicely with several existing programs. In addition, the new system “silos” information so that each section can see only its own documents.

            While this system may work beautifully for case management, it severely limited access to the Office’s section-based collections of institutional knowledge. It also prohibited the sections from searching our “PDF Library” – our 100,216 digital documents version of the old-school “vertical file.” It created, in short, a knowledge management (KM) problem.

            Great angst ensued when this was recognized.

            Necessity is the mother of innovation, as well as invention. After Librarian-worthy cursing and gnashing of teeth, we realized that a catalog upgrade might resolve some of the agency’s information-access problems. Obviously, catalogs are KM products. But they are not marketed as such. To convince our agency’s powers-that-be that this was a viable answer that deserved funding, we worked with our current catalog vendor to explore product aspects that fit specific OAGO KM needs. Vendors are (very) eager to help you develop new uses for their products, so it’s vital to keep them on task. The grid below is a simplified version of the one we used to keep our discussions focused on the OAGO’s needs, rather than vendor selling points.

NeedWhat would a Successful Solution Look Like?What Product Feature Could Fit the Need & How?
Cost-neutral solutionCost of the solution would be no more than the cost of the now-useless KM productsCost of the catalog upgrade was less than the cost of the KM products
Agency-accessible way to store Library collection recordsA Library catalog open to all members of the OAGOThe catalog could sit on a separate server and be open to all members of the OAGO
Agency-accessible way to store PDF Library records linked to PDFsA Library catalog open to all members of the OAGO that links to documents stored by the LibraryThe upgraded catalog allows linking to documents in the Library’s storage system
Agency-accessible way to store section-specific knowledge linked to section documentsA Library catalog open to all members of the OAGO that links to documents stored by the LibraryThe upgraded catalog allows linking to documents in the Library’s storage system
Way to load existing collection records with minimal Library staff inputExisting catalog entries transferred with minimal Library staff inputExisting catalog entries transferred with minimal Library staff input
Way to load existing PDF Library documents as searchable documents with minimal Library staff inputExisting PDF Library documents transferred as searchable documents with minimal Library staff inputExisting documents are loaded with minimal Library staff input. If the documents have been saved with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) features, then they are searchable.
Way to load existing section-specific documents with minimal Library staff inputExisting section-specific documents transferred with minimal Library staff inputExisting documents are loaded with minimal Library staff input. If the documents have been saved with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) features, then they are searchable.
Way to collect section documents in the futureAutomated process to collect documents curated by the subject matter experts (SMEs)in each sectionA Library query system that allowsOAGO staff to send us documents approved by SMEs. Still requires Library staff to enter materials into the catalog and storage system.
Support for the Library and OAGO IT section during and after implementationScheduled meetings, upload assistance, and check-ins, as well as a “help hotline.”Scheduled meetings, upload assistance, and check-ins, as well as a post-implementation “help hotline.”

            Our Library has two full-time, and one part-time, Librarians. That made vendor assistance in this project’s implementation the key to its success. We emphasized that from the beginning, and the company has proved a worthy partner. Library staff still has a lot of work ahead. But, it’s traditional Librarian work – collecting, organizing, disseminating – work that demonstrates the Library’s value to the OAGO.

This sort of Library-vendor collaboration isn’t unique, or even unusual. Please send your experiences to the CRIV Blog Coordinator, Christy Smith (christy.smith@shu.edu).

Carol Ottolenghi is Director of Research & Library Services at the OAGO, and the author of Intentional Marketing: A Practical Guide for Librarians, published by Rowman & Littlefield.

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