THE GIFT OF LAW LIBRARIANSHIP
What I have learned about law librarianship from being away 5 years
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Background: After 5 years doing a good job at a good job (Reference Librarian at Florida A&M Law Library), I was out of a job for 5 years due to the severe recession. At times I didn’t know if I really wanted to be a law librarian more than anything else. Finally I realized, and I say this with humility, that I have been given the gift of law librarianship. And one does tend to appreciate what has been lost. I am now grateful for my comeback and can embrace the profession like never before. Especially during this season of thanksgiving and gift-giving.
Come to think of it, shouldn’t the holidays have gift-giving and then thanksgiving?! Anyway, I carefully chose this date – Sunday, November 24 – to publish my article. Monday and Tuesday are workdays, so people can have a little time to read it. Then come Hanukkah and Thanksgiving. Christmas Eve is exactly one month from tonight.
“The gift of law librarianship” can refer to the gift of law librarians to their communities. I won’t address that here.
And I am not talking about those few “gifted” law librarians.
I will discuss having a gift for law librarianship, and having a gift from it.
I believe that most successful law librarians have “a gift” for the profession.
They have a gift for it if they the ability to do this job well and to help other people.
An example of having a gift for law librarianship is the reference librarian who can often find an item in a huge academic library within 5 minutes, pleasing the patron and satisfying themselves.
They also have a gift from law librarianship if they make a sufficient living from it.
As far as making a living, the gift of law librarianship may not be the most lucrative, given the credentials. It is up to the individual to decide whether to accept the compensation of this profession or of a certain job. I know I look at this a lot differently than I did five years ago. I imagine that many librarians, even those at libraries where no jobs were lost, look at this differently, because there were other libraries where people did lose jobs.
Note this article is not entitled “The promise of law librarianship.” Because of what has been called the “crisis in legal education” (“Academic Law Libraries and the Crisis in Legal Education,” by Genevieve Blake Tung, Law Library Journal Vol. 105:3 [2013-14]), I believe the profession may have a dim future for entrants. And it is possible that more experienced librarians will lose their jobs than in the Great Recession, because when a law school shuts down, all of the librarians lose their jobs there. But I certainly hope those events do not occur.
However, economic realities do make having a job as a law librarian even more of a gift.
So these are the gifts of law librarianship. As far as the competency-based gifts for the profession, I propose that one has the gift for any profession, including law librarianship, based especially on three factors: talent, education, and experience. (Personality traits are vital, but I think these largely innate qualities are related to talent.) The highly talented individual, the genius, also has to develop the gift (education and experience). The difference is the result, often spectacular.
Looking at the ones I best know about, reference librarians, who deal most directly with the law, I look at the core talent that makes success possible. They may not have demonstrated legal or law-related talent in high school or college (debate team, moot court team, etc.), perhaps due to personality traits. Often the core talent is manifested by academic ability, as was the case with me.
The second competency factor is education. That was library school for most of us. For those who went to law school, many of us were not that interested. Again, this was possibly because of personality traits. But we were probably already developing as law librarians, especially if we already had a library degree. And it actually took more legal drive for many of us to keep up with our studies and even stay in school, if we did not know whether we wanted to practice law. We may have asked, “What am I doing here?” But we persevered and got that law degree.
Obviously one needs experience to get from school to professional competency and then giftedness. Let me just share a little of my own story. After library school, I could have gone into general academic librarianship, but that’s probably no longer possible. I have over 5 years law librarian experience, but no general academic in the last 12, and before that only an internship. So the third prong of experience has sealed my identity as a law librarian.
Starting in law school over 25 years ago, I have thrown law back several times, but it keeps coming back. My situation may be a little different, going to a “top” law school; that was a trap in some ways. Plus an unusual set of circumstances. But I try to see things positively, that my talent, education and experience have combined to give me the gift of law librarianship.
By the way, if you thought that “the gift of law librarianship” has a nice ring to it, neither this phrase nor “the gift for law librarianship” can be found (0 Google results), so they are basically original phrases.
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Gary Yessin is currently regaining the gift of law librarianship at the Florida A&M University Law Library in Orlando, where he focuses on providing reference services.