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11/24/2013 5:46:57 PM
THE GIFT OF LAW LIBRARIANSHIP
What I have learned about law librarianship from being away 5 years
AALL Spectrum Blog and I welcome your comments. Please see the last paragraph for instructions.
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.
AALL Spectrum Blog and I would welcome your comments on this article and/or topic. Just click the Comment link below. The article will reload with a comment box at the end. Your comment will be authenticated to make sure it is not spam, and it should post by tomorrow (Monday). Thank you!
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.
Posted By 11/24/2013 5:46:57 PM
11/20/2013 6:42:53 PM
Book Review: Unfair Competition - Murder by Gunshot
Norgaard, Christopher, Unfair Competition - Murder by Gunshot ([Charleston, S.C.]: CrestView Pubs., 2013),  + 131 pp., ISBN 9781492755555 (softcover), price pending
NOTE: This review was from an uncorrected proof, dated 10/1/13.
My Goodreads friends will tell you that I’m a long-time fan of the works of hard-boiled crime novelist James Ellroy. I got hooked by a breathless read of The Black Dahlia sometime around 1997 and devoured just about everything else of his I could get my hands on. The bulk of his work takes place in a seamy, dreamy, cynical postwar Los Angeles populated by sensationalist journalists, crooked cops, and dissolute film stars awash in a sea of sex, drugs, and murder. Ellroy’s work has the ring of truth because a lot of it is based on fact, and some publications--such as Crime Wave, containing essays on the link between the Dahlia case and his own mother’s similar murder--actually delve into the “true crime” genre.
This is usually the closest I get to “true crime,” apart from lengthy feature articles and Rick Geary’s excellent Treasury of Victorian Murder series of graphic novels. The genre has a sordid history, to be sure, but it also has a certain compelling appeal to it, like the traffic accident you can’t look away from. In Cold Blood and Helter Skelter set the outlines, and police files have been providing the stories ever since. I bring up Ellroy because Christopher Norgaard’s Unfair Competition likewise occurs mostly in L.A.—specifically, Beverly Hills—and because it, too, finds its roots in a murder case. The story is fascinating, and getting a peek inside an attorney’s investigative files proves a major selling point of the book. Ultimately, however, I found Unfair Competition’s alternate solution incomplete, and the work as a whole in need of some editing to remove repetition, and whether it’s appropriate for a law library will also depend on your collection development policy.
The style is at times melodramatic, although it settles down somewhat when Norgaard relates the details of his 30-year-old case file. From then on, the rest of the book is more of a police procedural. On the afternoon of May 23, 1979, a person or persons unknown gained entry to the Beverly Hills home of Lloyd Cotsen, a cosmetics magnate and U.S. licensee of Neutrogena-brand soap. The perpetrator(s) appear to have surprised Cotsen’s wife Joanne, his youngest son Noel, and Noel’s school friend Chris Doering, taking the three of them hostage for several hours while the intruder or intruders searched the house, killing them execution-style after two additional hostages escaped, and vanishing afterward. The ensuing police investigation focused on a long-running turf war between Cotsen and Arne Tali, the general manager of Laboratoires Ed. Fromont (LEF), the Belgian company that developed Neutrogena and licensed Cotsen. After Tali’s death in October of that year the night before he was scheduled to be questioned by detectives, the Beverly Hills Police Department closed the case, concluding that he had either been the shooter, or had masterminded the break-in.
Norgaard’s involvement in this affair came about in 1982, when he was retained by Tali’s widow to defend her family and LEF against a civil unfair competition complaint filed by Cotsen and his company alleging failure to warn Cotsen of the danger to his family, and “conspiracy and complicity” in the murders. Norgaard’s alternate theory of the murder, developed during the defense of the civil action, involves drug-running, some Aguila ammunition, a mysterious bottle of chloroform—manufactured for exclusive sale in Belgium--found at the scene, and a grisly double-murder at L.A.’s landmark Bonaventure Hotel by two members of the Israeli Mafia some five months later. There is certainly evidence supporting Norgaard, including two secondhand confessions to the Cotsen murders by one of the Bonaventure suspects. The Beverly Hills Police Department, however, declined to reopen the Cotsen case even in the face of the new evidence. Still, even taking the confessions at face value, the reader is left to wonder: was this really a bungled burglary, or were the shooters hired assassins?
One issue an editor could probably address is the somewhat uneven presentation of facts throughout the book. For instance, repeated, virtually-identical references are made to the same portions of an interview with an ex-LEF employee when one fuller discussion followed by short references back to it would probably have read better—in fact, transcript excerpts might have been particularly effective here. An entire chapter is spent on the apparent flight path of the shooter(s), although the eventual connection is that the path is close to some local hotels, and the shooters might have been staying there, which seems like it’s posed solely to segue into the chapter on the Bonaventure killings. The fact that certain aspects of the investigation are presented out of chronological order also makes the narrative unnecessarily difficult to follow. Some reorganization would help Norgaard’s narrative a great deal.
Now that I’ve gone over the book’s flaws, I want to talk about its strengths, and they are substantial. One thing about “true crime” books is that the story tends to be fascinating, and this one is no exception. The tale spun—one of corporate intrigue, personal animosity, Mafiosi, and unanswered questions—does draw you in. Ultimately, however, the question I’m called upon to answer in these reviews is whether the book belongs in a law library, and my conclusion is uncertain. This is not a reflection on the work’s quality, but on the fact that law firm libraries and academic law libraries tend to treat material like this as entertainment reading, and your conclusion should therefore depend on how expansive your collection development policy is on this point. I can’t recommend it without reservation, but it is what it is—an attempt to introduce some clarity to a 30-year-old cold case.
The goateed version of David E. Matchen, Jr., is the Circulation/Reference Librarian at the University of Baltimore School of Law, and looks remarkably like Frank Lapidus.
 Ellroy’s work tends to straddle the line between “crime novel” and “true crime.” The latter is distinguished primarily by its complete lack of fictional elements.
 Norgaard, supra, at 128.
Posted By 11/20/2013 6:42:53 PM
11/13/2013 9:15:06 PM
Recent SIS Newsletters
The most recent issue of JURISDOCS includes GD-SIS's annual report, a summary of programs from the annual meeting, and an overview of GPO's Interagency Depository Seminar.
The State, Court and County SIS newsletter, SCCLL, has details about the closure of a West Virginia county law library, an explanation of a partnership between Alameda County Law Library and the county's public library to provide materials for self-represented litigants, and other section news.
The Foreign, Comparative, and International Law (FCIL) SIS newsletter includes an article on the digitization of customary law cases from south western Nigeria and reports on Italian library visits, the International Federation of Library Associations meeting, the Association of Caribbean University, Research and Institutional Libraries conference, and section committee reports.
The Technical Services Law Librarian's latest issue is a thorough review of all things technical service related at the AALL annual meeting.
Posted By 11/13/2013 9:15:06 PM