Note: This is the seventh in what is hoped will be a series of columns about the experiences of those in the academic law librarianship profession - ed.
I honestly thought that my career as an academic law librarian wouldn’t be stressful. I know. Don’t chuckle too much at my naiveté. I can’t recall exactly what I thought my chosen profession would be like. Perhaps I envisioned leaving work with a warm glow about me after hours of assisting law students in their academic pursuit of the truth and law. Regardless of what skewed vision I had upon entering the profession, I’ve since accepted that there will be moments of hair pulling. And I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy those moments a little. There is a sense of pride that comes with encountering an obstacle and overcoming it. We all can use an adrenaline rush now and then. And since you’ll never see me jumping out of an airplane, I might as well get my adrenaline rush from overcoming obstacles while I’m at work.
But, is it just me, or does the obstacle usually involve a faculty member? After having worked at several academic law libraries now, I believe this is the status quo (assuming, of course, that the problem isn’t me and I just bring this with me wherever I go). My gut instinct tells me that 90% of stress-related incidents in an academic law library have a direct relationship with law faculty. I figure the remaining 10% is divided among computer malfunctions, interoffice conflict and difficult public patrons.
So here is my theory of why faculty requests tend to generate stress. In general, law faculty do not understand the job of a librarian. Due to the high level of service we provide to the faculty, they never have to think about what it is that we do. The information just magically appears for them soon after they request it. As a result, there is no need for them to understand what we do.
To be sure, there are exceptions to the rule. I currently have the pleasure of working with a faculty member who gets it. When she gives me information, she understands how I am going to use it, and it makes a world of difference in the service I am able to provide her. Because she understands research, she is able to make recommendations for databases or websites to search. In addition, she knows when she is making a request that may not be possible. So she is able to set her own reasonable expectations for my service. But there is another faculty member who also understands what I can do. And, trust me, he uses my abilities to their fullest. Sometimes I wish he didn’t really grasp my full potential. As you see, it cuts both ways.
Ultimately, despite the exceptions, a disconnect between librarian and faculty member is the nature of the beast. While I would love to send all faculty to the Jerry McGuire School of Law Libraries where they learn to “help me help you,” it’s not going to happen. So I’ve learned that I have to look for teachable moments. I wait for the right time to educate the faculty member on the cost of an interlibrary loan request or the merits of a pdf document. However, I don’t tell them everything. After all, there is something to be said for job security. Instead, I use discretion in deciding what information will be useful for them to know. I keep in mind that, more often than not, they really don’t want the information about how I found the answer. They just want the answer itself. In all honesty, the disconnect between librarian and faculty works for me. The stress I may encounter as a result of this disconnect is worth the freedom it provides me in doing my job. If someone doesn’t know how to do your job, then they can’t tell you how to do it. Well, at least in theory, they can’t!