Tasks for Modern Info Pros: Link Your Work to Risk Mitigation

In November 2013, SLA published The Evolving Value of Information Management, a report summarizing the results of research commissioned by SLA and the Financial Times. The report, which was based on surveys of, and interviews with, information professionals and senior information users, identified 5 essential attributes of modern information professionals and set forth 12 key tasks they must perform.

Several SLA members have agreed to share their thoughts about the 12 tasks. In this post, Tina Reynolds explains why information professionals should be concerned about organizational exposure to risk and discusses steps they can take to reduce it.


Risk management is a buzzword for most professional services firms. No matter what your organization’s focus, be it consultancy, accountancy or law, the level of risk to which your firm is exposed is certain to be a key concern for senior decision makers.

Some people may think that risk is not a concern of special librarians. If it is not, it should be. Understanding the level of risk with which your organization is comfortable and helping, where possible, to mitigate exposure to risk are essential to many aspects of a special librarian’s work.

The teams focusing on risk and compliance in your organization will have information needs that should be met. These needs are likely to include (1) access to databases that can provide them with news, company information and legal developments, (2) training to enable them to make the best use of these databases, and (3) advice about, or assistance with, setting up alerts or search strings.

In any business sphere, relying on incorrect or out-of-date information is risky. In many special libraries in the legal, consultancy or health fields, the risks are incredibly serious. Training is critical to ensuring that end users understand when using free sources is a risk worth taking and are aware of copyright and other restrictions that apply to sources taken from the Internet. You do not want people in your organization to fall into the trap of assuming that just because an image or piece of text is visible on the Internet, they can do anything they wish with it.

Additionally, there is risk involved in using books and journals. This is obviously less of a risk than using free sources, but there are still risks to be addressed. If the work being relied upon is a hard copy, it is important to know whether is it up to date. If it is a book, is it the most recent edition? Has the law changed, or more research been completed since the publication date? If it is a loose-leaf volume, have any updates been filed?

A different type of risk involves access to content. This risk is often created by users who do not know how various licenses, particularly those for databases and other electronic services, work and how they differ from each other. There are a number of ways to mitigate this risk. It is generally best to check the vendor’s standard terms and see if they accommodate the way in which a user intends to use the content. If it does not, ask if some amendments can be made so that the terms reflect the intended use.

The other main approach to mitigating risk is to specifically point out the access terms and conditions to users. This can be accomplished by e-mail, by intranet page, or in person. If this route is taken, it may be worthwhile to emphasize any usual or onerous clauses, such as not being able to print a copy of an article.

The final risk is ignorance. If the users you support are unaware of the subscriptions you hold or aren’t able to use them to their full advantage, they will likely waste a lot of time trying to find the information they need. Raising awareness of useful resources—based on an understanding of the business and users’ information needs—should mitigate the risk of time being wasted and information not being found.

Action Steps

To practice risk mitigation in your organization, do the following:

  • Be sure to send copies of the terms and conditions of use to your users when they request access to a new database.
  • Undertake regular information literacy training with users at all levels.
  • Promote your subscriptions and emphasize that using validated resources helps to protect the organization.

—Tina Reynolds is the senior information officer at Clifford Chance LLP in London.

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