Anthony Aycock, The Accidental Law Librarian, (Medford, New Jersey: Information Today, Inc., 2013). 247 pages. ISBN: 9781573874779. $39.50 (Paperback).
Anthony Aycock’s The Accidental Law Librarian fills a tall order. In less than 250 pages, Aycock covers all the crucial aspects of law librarianship. Drawing from both his personal experiences and those that he thinks up with his creative mind, he explains key concepts such as collection development, education in law librarianship, providing services to different patron types, and, of course, legal research. Beyond that, he does this task with a wonderful sense of humor that keeps the reader hooked to his words. He writes with equal portions of ease and hilarity and gives a refreshing take on topics than can be considered dry, such as loose-leaf filing or conducting a legislative history.
The book is structured in ten chapters, starting with an introduction to legal publishing, the nature of law and a librarian’s role in finding it, and how to serve patrons (especially public patrons). Aycock then digs deep into the bread and butter of law librarianship, legal research. He provides clear and succinct descriptions of print and electronic searching and describes how to create a research plan. He also mentions the two main research giants in the league, LexisNexis and Westlaw, but not overly so. He spends an entire chapter focusing on other options which are supplemental or less costly.
Next, Aycock describes how to find public information for both individuals and companies. He also explains the ins and outs of courthouse filings and briefs. The last few chapters of the book take a different approach than most other guidebooks on law librarianship. Aycock takes the time to mention how administration works in law libraries, focusing mainly on law firms and public libraries. He also advises how to market library services by reaching out to other departments, hosting events, and providing specialized service that makes the name of the library memorable.
Finally, he closes the book with a discussion on the education and qualifications necessary for law librarianship, a list of resources for career development, and his two cents on the future of law libraries. The final word on that: innovate, innovate, innovate! In order to remain relevant, librarians must innovate the services they offer and the way they can be used. Those open to the public need to reach out and actively engage their clientele by providing new services designed specifically for them. For example, he mentions partnering with local or state bar associations to host events or provide training sessions for material use by public patrons.
Aycock maintains that the book is geared toward those who do not have law degrees and find themselves, through some walk of life, working as a law librarian; typically, someone who makes their way through a law firm, as he personally did. However, this book would be a good resource for any law librarian’s personal collection. As well researched as it is written, the book contains a plethora of resources and can serve as a go-to guide for newcomer librarians in all law library settings. It would serve as a great brush up and keep current tool for the more seasoned bunch.
The take away gems of the book are the endnotes in every chapter and Appendix A. The endnotes are packed with helpful resources in the form of books, articles, and links to online material. They are great to peruse through during free time and for reference in a pinch. In Appendix A, Aycock shares some of the many questions that he has been asked while working reference. Along with this he provides some suggested answers. His personal favorite is the time he was asked to find an episode of the soap opera Guiding Light from 1998 to use in a products liability case. Mine is the time a patron came up to his desk and asked for a revised Nevada statute. His response for how librarians should answer this question? Read it to find out. You will not be sorry you did.
Anupama Pal is the Reference and Government Documents Librarian at the Elon University School of Law Library.