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9/29/2014 1:21:43 PM
So You're A Law Librarian...
“What do you do exactly?”
It’s a question I hear pretty regularly - every time I see a new doctor or talk to other parents at my daughter’s school functions. Many of you probably do too. In all fairness, it’s probably not a profession non-lawyers think much about, and I certainly don’t mind being asked. The trouble comes when I try to formulate an answer.
“Well, this month I taught a lot of legal research classes…” I begin.
“Oh, so you’re a teacher?”
Oops. “Um, no, not exactly...sometimes…”
But yes, I suppose we are - maybe not always in the traditional sense, unless we teach as faculty members. Still, many law librarians are teachers, every day, both in law schools and in private libraries. We help our patrons gain knowledge of legal materials, in print and online. We teach them how to be better researchers - how to ask the questions that get them to the answers they want and need.
We are also therapists, who listen sympathetically as students and young associates confess their confusion and bemoan the wasted hours, and reassure them that they aren’t alone in their struggles. We are researchers, delving into the farthest reaches of the Internet or the dustiest shelves, looking for everything from historical codes to non-binding decisions of immigration court judges. We are inventors, using new technologies to develop tools to guide and enhance the legal research process. We are critics, using our knowledge and experience to build collections of materials that anticipate the needs of our patrons without wasting dwindling budgets.
That’s just what I do as an academic reference librarian, without even touching on the many other roles librarians play within the wide variety of institutions and positions we hold. Sometimes it’s just easier to say, “Oh, it’s just a little of this and a little of that.”
Georgetown University Law Center Library
Posted By 9/29/2014 1:21:43 PM
9/26/2014 10:39:26 AM
Learning Curve of Being a New Law Library Director
For many law librarians their career goal is be the director of their own library. To be able to lead their librarians and staff in providing resources and services to their users. There are many lessons that librarians pick up along their career paths that prepare them for being a director. While in law and library school they learn the building blocks for the foundations of their careers; most of their leadership skills and knowledge they acquire along the way in the school of hard knocks as they pick up more and more responsibilities in their front line and middle manager roles. Supervisors and mentors provide direction, as well. But the reality is that we are never truly, fully prepared for the many unknowns when we take our first director position, or even second and third directorships. One has to be flexible and ready to jump when new opportunities present themselves.
While my career had plenty of opportunities for learning how to teach faculty and students, as well as lawyers and pro se researchers, how to use new resources or explain library polices and services to these users, I never really had to justify a new resource or policy or service to a non-librarian. Working with my directors and colleagues, when selecting resources or establishing policies and services, we shared vocabulary, understanding, and goals. Fundamentals not necessarily understood by those outside libraries.
For most of 2013-14 academic year, I was the lone law librarian at UNT Dallas College of Law planning for the resources, policies and services, we would implement when the school opened in August 2014. My dean is supportive and encouraging, trusting his assistant deans’ professionalism to get the jobs done (with an eye on the budget). Still questions from administrators and faculty about my plans, would stop me in my tracks. To answer their questions, I had to take a step back and explain in building blocks what often librarians would easily understand. One example, was explaining the administrative support needed for spending the library’s acquisitions budget of several hundred thousand dollars. Paying library invoices require data entry into our LMS (to avoid double entry of invoices, inventory control, and data capture) and having a role in the parent institution’s management system to oversee the transfer of payment information. This accounts payable role usually has enough volume of work to be the primary assignment for a library paraprofessional and/or acquisitions librarian or one that bridges across several people in the library and the law school’s business office. It is not an assignment that can be knocked out in some fraction of an employee’s time on top of other assignments.
My experiences this past year helped me grow and become a better director. I appreciated the chance to rethink the personnel structure for my library and its connections outside the library. I also took from this specific episode the lesson that new law school administrators coming out of the academic ranks have their own learning curves.
Edward T. Hart
Assistant Dean for Law Library
UNT Dallas College of Law
Posted By 9/26/2014 10:39:26 AM
9/24/2014 2:51:37 PM
Never Underestimate the Power of a Librarian!
I recently returned from a trip to Ireland for family research; a cousin and I spent time looking for the graves and records of distant ancestors in the Ballymena (County Antrim) area before most of the family immigrated to America. Like any good librarian, I did genealogy research before the trip; checking several genealogy databases, the Irish and Northern Ireland government websites and reading the appropriate “find your family” books. Even though I prepared for the research portion of the trip, it was spending time in the library and talking with the local librarians that found relevant family information I didn’t even know existed!
I visited two libraries on my trip; the first was located at Trinity College in Dublin. Yes, that Trinity College, otherwise known as the home of the Book of Kells (http://www.tcd.ie/Library/bookofkells).
I emailed the subject librarian for the law collection about visiting the library and she kindly allowed me a tour of the law collection on the first floor of Berkeley Library.
Several interesting facts: Dewey decimal classification organizes the law collection,
the architect who designed the library continues to visit the building,
like many law libraries the use of legal databases by students is high whereas the books are still used by faculty,
and the lighting in the reading area is grand.
The Berkeley Library, as a legal deposit library, is one of several in Ireland that receives a copy of all books published in the Republic of Ireland. The legal collection includes Irish, British (UK), European Union (EU) and some American (US) law material. I appreciate the time and opportunity to visit the law collection and recommend reaching out to fellow librarians when traveling abroad.
The second library I visited was in Northern Ireland, the Ballymena Central Library (http://www.librariesni.org.uk/Libraries/Pages/Ballymena-Central-Library.aspx) a branch library in the Libraries NI system. The Local Studies section of the library is available to visitors who are conducting research on family history in the area. We struck a pot of gold with this reference collection! The Griffith’s Valuation from 1862 listed the area where my ancestors lived and the survey maps showed the exact location that was mentioned in family correspondence from the 1980’s. The Local Studies librarian knew the library collection, the Ballymena area and history – all the necessary information that I couldn’t get
from a database or website. Never underestimate the power of talking to a librarian!
Marcia L. Dority Baker is the Access Services Librarian at the University of Nebraska College of Law, Schmid Law Library in Lincoln, Nebraska. She can be reached via email; firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted By 9/24/2014 2:51:37 PM