Overheard at the Hicks Award: You Had to Be There (And Close to the Podium)

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by Frank G. Houdek

Law Library Director and Professor of Law

Southern Illinois University School of Law

Author's Note: Despite a fair amount of experience with public speaking, I found myself more than a bit nervous on Tuesday evening, July 17, 2001, as the time approached at the Academic Law Libraries SIS Reception for Chair Ruth Hill to present me with the section's 2001 Hicks Award. Explaining case law research to first-year law students or discussing publisher-librarian relations at an AALL program are not difficult for me, but speaking about myself in the context of this award took on a life of its own. So when I managed not only to walk to the podium without stumbling, but also to express my feelings about receiving the award in what at least I thought was a fairly articulate way, I was actually pleased--and relieved. You can imagine my dismay afterwards when so many people offering their congratulations told me how much they wished they could have heard what I was saying! It seems that the acoustics in the University of Minnesota's Andersen Library, combined with the number of people present, made it virtually impossible for anyone other than the thirty or so people standing near the podium to hear me.

Given these circumstances, when the Academic SIS asked to print my "speech" in its newsletter, I readily agreed. "But," I said, "there is no formal text, just a small sheet of paper ripped from a DoubleTree Suites notepad with a few scribbled notes on it." They still wanted it, but I must apologize in advance to anyone in that "select group" of thirty at the reception if the following does not resemble what they heard. The spirit and sentiment are the same, if not the words

I have been fretting ever since I heard from Merle Slyhoff, chair of the Awards Committee, that I had been selected to receive the 2001 Frederick Charles Hicks Award for Outstanding Contributions to Academic Law Librarianship. Fretting because the first thing that came to my mind when Merle called was: "Who, me?" This reaction stemmed not from false modesty--I know the length of my resume and how long I've been around--but rather because despite my nearly twenty years as an academic law librarian, I tend to think of myself as a law librarian, without reference to type of library. This stems from having spent the first third of my career in public and firm libraries, and because much of what I have done--chapter president, chairing committees, serving as AALL president and editor of Law Library Journal--has been for the profession as a whole, not just the academic world. Do not misunderstand, I could not be more pleased to be part of that world--it fits my temperament, my inclinations, and my lifestyle perfectly--it's just that I don't see myself fitting exactly into the scholarly mold so perfectly exemplified by the individual for whom this award is named, Fred Hicks, or by last year's inaugural recipient, Penny Hazelton. But before the committee decides to reconsider, let me assure you that I already have a prime spot staked out on my office walls (no mean achievement given the jazz, baseball, and western art already fighting for space) for this beautiful plaque. I'm not giving it back!

Another cause for anxiety was the fear that in accepting this award, I would somehow forget to recognize some of the individuals who had made it possible. It is so clear to me that anything I have done to be worthy of receiving the Hicks Award was only possible because of the inspiration and guidance of mentors and colleagues early in my career and the hard work and support of the many individuals who worked with me over the years in a wide variety of contexts. (I finally understood why Academy Award winners often clutch a scribbled list in their fist and have to be dragged away from the podium in the middle of their thank-yous.) Knowing it will probably happen anyway, here goes.

Earl Borgeson, in between his long stints as law library director at Harvard and Southern Methodist universities, served as associate director of the Los Angeles County Law Library at the time I began my professional career. Without his inspiration, vision, and commitment to a very young librarian who had no clue about the larger professional community of law librarianship, I would not be standing here before you today. He was and is my professional mentor and I thank him from the bottom of my heart.

Others who helped me early in my career included the entire staff of the L.A. County Law Library who treated me from the very first as a professional equal (which was certainly not the case) and a friend. As an aside, thinking back to the spirited table tennis matches we held during breaks, I can assure you that Melody Lembke's victory in this year's Hein tournament was no accident. I also have to acknowledge the wonderful staff at the University of Southern California Law Library--several of whom, like Leonette Williams and John Hasko, I see here this evening-and its director, Albert Brecht, one of our profession's outstanding leaders. This group introduced me to academic law librarianship (not to mention "Texas Punch" which is a story for some other time), and taught me that having fun and being a good librarian were not necessarily incompatible (I especially think of Tory Trotta who I see smiling over there). Then, nearly seventeen years ago, I moved from southern California to southern Illinois, and joined up with a group of people who, just by doing their jobs with excellence and reliability, provided the type of support that allowed me to make the professional contributions for which you honor me this evening. There can be no question that without my colleagues at Southern Illinois University School of Law, represented here tonight by newly-elected AALL Executive Board member James Duggan, the only thing the names Hicks and Houdek would have in common is the fact that they both start with the letter "H."

I now come to a group that is both so large and yet so important to me that it would be foolish to attempt to identify them individually. For I would certainly leave out one of those special individuals who started out as a professional colleague and then became a dear friend and that is something I simply will not risk. Besides, they know who they are and how much they mean to me so there is no need to name names. Suffice to say, and better people than me have said it more eloquently, it is these friendships that make being a member of this profession so rewarding. Thank you all.

I have left the most important thanks to the end. I begin with my parents who never uttered a questioning word (at least not out loud to me!) when, after spending seven years at UCLA earning B.A. and J.D. degrees, I announced that I was signing on for two more to get a--gasp--M.L.S. degree in order to become a librarian. Of course, anyone who has seen their home in the California desert, piled high with literally 1000's of books, would probably not find this surprising. And I have to tell you that it is not just their love and unflinching support that I am acknowledging here. They have taken a personal interest in our profession. As a still-active legal secretary and paralegal even as she approaches her eightieth birthday, my mother Julia has occasionally discussed the finer points of legal forms with me. And those of you with unread issues of Law Library Journal on your desks should know that at least one person (other than me) has read them cover to cover--my eighty-six year old father Cliff!

I am very happy and not a little bit proud that one of my children, Katy, is here in Minneapolis--as a vendorette, no less, representing a document delivery service at Virginia Tech where she is a junior--to help me celebrate this evening. She and her siblings, Patrick, Jason, and Lizzie, have borne the brunt of a father who too often heeded the call of work before play, of committee before family. So I turn now to Katy, representing her brothers and her sister as well, and tell her that all their sacrifice did not go for naught--Dad has another plaque on the wall and she gets a whole bunch of neat appetizers! And of course to tell them all how much I love them, even if not a single one wants to follow in their father's librarian footsteps.

Last, but certainly not least, my wife, Susan Tulis. As usual, she's right here in the front row, providing not just moral but substantive support as well, helping me make decisions, get my work done, and just generally keeping me on my toes. And anyone who knows her will tell you that she is very good at all three, but especially that last one. Since Susan matches me committee for committee and commitment for commitment in her work as a government information librarian, she at least cannot complain about my professional activity. Nevertheless, the best way I can express my appreciation for Susan's love and support is to give the same back to her, which is something I try to do every day. (And over drinks later she'll be happy to tell you how I'm doing.)

Given the heat and poor acoustics, not to mention the open bar, I have tried your patience long enough. Let me close by repeating how honored I am that the Academic SIS chose me to receive the 2001 Hicks Award. It will remain a very high highpoint in my career.