Interning at the International Monetary Fund Law Library:
Worth its Weight in Gold
by Alison A. Shea*
J.D./M.L.S. candidate (2007)
Catholic University of America
One of the greatest experiences in my career thus far was the opportunity to be an assistant at the International Monetary Fund law library this past summer. Having only a brief introduction to the IMF in my international economic regulation class, I was both excited and scared silly to work in this storied organization. Many Americans aren't especially aware of what the IMF does, let alone what it's like to work in their law library, so it was very exciting to be able to have this opportunity to both expose myself to the field of FCIL librarianship and gain a better understanding of how the IMF and its sister institutions functioned.
To be honest, going into the internship, I still wasn't sure what the IMF really did, aside from close a number of streets around their offices every April for its annual meeting. I'm still not sure I fully understand the minute mechanics of the organization, but I definitely have a much greater respect for the organization and its employees, and it is my hope that this article will provide a bit of insight into what the IMF Legal department does. In addition, as both a student and aspiring FCIL librarian, I thought it would be interesting to detail the challenges and observations of an FCIL newbie in her first "real" FCIL reference position.
My hope is that this article will introduce you to a very unique FCIL library and will explore what kind of questions and resources the library deals with on a daily basis. I must disclose that I only worked there for three months in 2006, so this by no means makes me an official source; however, with the blessing of the real librarian, Mr. Eric Robert, I hope this article will provide you with an interesting and informative peek into a very special FCIL library.
The International Monetary Fund Law Library ("IMFLL") was established in 1946 as part of the IMF's Legal Department. The IMFLL is one of 10 other libraries that comprise The Library Network (http://external.worldbankimflib.org/external.htm). The Library Network is a group of libraries and resource centers supporting the work of the World Bank Group and IMF staff. The primary function of the IMFLL is to give reference and research services to the members of the Legal Department. In addition, the IMFLL provides general legal reference service (such as answering ready-reference questions, bibliographical information, and referral services) to the rest of the staff of the Fund to the extent that this service does not interfere with its main responsibilities to the Fund lawyers.
The collection has approximately 38,000 bound volumes, including law journals. The IMFLL subscribes to 362 American and foreign journals, reports and newspapers. About 14,000 articles of its legal periodicals have been indexed and have been made searchable through the online catalog. The IMFLL publishes electronically a monthly current awareness review "Legal Digest," (http://jolis.worldbankimflib.org/libraries/ld_latest.pdf) which lists all new books received during the previous month, and a selected bibliography of articles from periodicals currently received by the Library.
The purpose of the Legal department is varied. There are five main groups: the Country Unit, the Administration Unit, the Financial Integrity Unit, the Front Office, and the Technical Assistance Unit. The Country Unit focuses on the transactions of the Fund with the member countries, while the Technical Assistance Unit aids countries and other regional organizations with drafting legislation and ensuring compliance. The Financial Integrity Unit deals with anti-money laundering and the financing of terrorism. The Administration Unit deals with both the internal and external affairs of the Fund (e.g., employment relations, contracts, immunities). The IMFLL's collection consists of legal reference materials, monographs, series and serials that reflect each of these specific subject areas. Historically, international law, monetary law, central banking and banking law, and taxation law were among the main topics covered by the collection. However, with the increasing responsibilities of the Fund, the scope of the collection has been extended to domestic law materials of member countries in areas such as commercial law, insolvency, financial services, and anti-money laundering.
MY EXPERIENCE AT THE IMFLL
During my time at the IMFLL, I was exposed to a number of different aspects of librarianship. The position was created for a library science student to fill in for Mr. Robert while he was gone on holiday for five weeks. The position lasted two months; the first dedicated to working alongside Mr. Robert and his assistant on various projects, and the next to being the somewhat de facto librarian once he left on holiday. The IMFLL is a very small library, with only Mr. Robert and his assistant (who does not have an MLS) working there full time. Further, Mr. Robert is often involved in various projects and meetings within the legal department, and his assistant splits her time between various library duties and the legal publishing office. This position not only provides coverage while Mr. Robert is away, but also allows the library to catch up on such things as sending journals to the bindery and updating looseleafs.
Because Mr. Robert was often so busy, I was on the front line almost every day from the beginning. This was my first true reference position, and in addition, my first real experience of the more technical aspects of running a library. Adopting the motto of Catholic University, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to "do it all." I happily prepared 122 journals for the bindery and took great joy in updating the pocket parts of the various U.S. legal publications to which the IMFLL subscribed. Mr. Robert had been worried that I might find these tasks menial, but I found them to be a great hands-on learning experience that familiarized me with both the physical library and the material in it.
One of the unique things about the IMFLL is that it has no classification system. Monographs are arranged by author, and there are separate sections for reference materials, periodicals, and topical areas of relevance such as central bank laws, taxation, and pensions. This took some getting used to, but I began to see its usefulness for such a small, closed library. Attorneys often were familiar with what they were looking for and were often able to retrieve it themselves. I did, however, have the opportunity to do some in-depth catalog searches for them, as well as perform some interlibrary loan work within the Library Network.
In addition to the impressive print collection, the IMFLL had a plethora of wonderful electronic resources available to it through the Library Network, as well as subscriptions to all the major electronic legal databases. One thing that became very obvious to me when I arrived was that the attorneys in the department were either not aware of these electronic resources or didn't know how to use them. In an attempt to raise awareness about the resources and provide some instruction on good search techniques, Mr. Robert and I hosted a legal research brownbag for fifteen of the department's attorneys shortly before he left. It was extremely successful, not only in educating the attorneys on how to use these wonderful resources, but also in introducing me as someone who was competent to help them once Mr. Robert had left!! I was also able to use my experience as the LexisNexis representative at Catholic to help the attorneys create relevant alerts for various types of cases.
Something that did not entirely register with me at first was how little the department relied on U.S. law and legal resources. Only the Administrative Unit really utilized LexisNexis and Westlaw, while any other attorneys who ventured into LexisNexis did so for foreign law research. However, some requests did eventually come in for U.S. law, including one attorney who wanted to check on the status of a number of cases involving foreign parties in U.S. courts. I introduced him to PACER, which he found to be incredibly helpful. There were also a few requests for the legislative history and U.S. Code provisions relating to the creation of the IMF.
Not surprisingly, most of the reference requests that came through were for foreign legal research. During my time in the IMFLL, I researched everything from anti-corruption cases in Kenya to membership rules of the Asian Development Bank. Other particularly fun searches involved Norwegian Corporation laws, terrorism financing cases from Italy, labor and employment laws for Caribbean countries, finding an English translation of the Civil Code of Mongolia, and a number of more in-depth research requests.
In addition to the reference questions I answered for the department attorneys, I found that, during slow times, this position provided me with an excellent opportunity to engage myself in the various listservs that I subscribed to. Through my membership in FCIL and IALL, I greatly enjoyed trying out my newly-learned skills on various members' requests. I wasn't especially successful most of the time, but when I was I found it incredibly rewarding to pass along the answer to the librarian, whether he was down the street or in a different hemisphere.
THE BABEL GAP
As the summer drew on and I grew more comfortable with the subject matter and the patrons, I knew that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The success and love of the job did not come without problems, however. One of my biggest issues througout the summer, and one that I'm sure is a huge issue for all FCIL librarians, was my lack of foreign language skills. Although I had taken seven years of Spanish, this did not prove to be very helpful in the international law setting, as I had been previously unaware that French used to be its official language. Luckily for me, Mr. Robert was originally a professor of international law in Belgium, so he spoke perfect French. I spent quite a bit of time "cheating" at my job by passing on the questions that involved francophone jurisdictions to him. Although I eventually used this embarassment as an impetus to begin French lessons, my only crowning achievement in the realm of French law was coming up with a joke about the French legal publisher, Dalloz, who literally published their name--get it? Da Laws? (My sincere apologies to all French speakers).
The language barrier became increasingly frustrating when trying to locate cases from such jurisdictions as Turkey and Pakistan. No knowledge of any Romance language would help me there, and although I became quite good at "translating by association" -that is, by finding translations of a few keywords, perhaps "court" or "code," I could then go to the foreign jurisdiction's website and infer from these keywords where my cited case might be found.
Although Google and what it means for the information profession tends to frighten me ever since we were shown the Googlezon video (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Googlezon) in one of my library school classes, I became quite good friends with Google Translate during my time at the IMF. I found that the attorneys were almost always pleased with Google's very loose translations of various laws and codes, especially since they weren't especially inclined to learn a language like Danish for one case. More than anything, however, the international make-up of the department's attorneys provided me with the biggest help. Having to file looseleafs in German would have been almost impossible for me were it not for the help of one attorney who not only translated the instructions but went on to explain a number of interesting things about the German legal publishing industry. This was one of the greatest parts about working in the IMFLL, as many of the attorneys were from a jurisdiction whose legal system I wasn't entirely familiar with. If they had the time, the attorneys would stop by and share stories about their country or their views on the world with me, and this informal education was absolutely more valuable than anything I have learned in my joint degree education.
I have never been a believer in inflicting the English language on non-native speakers, and while it is always tempting for people in our line of work to become exceptionally frustrated by the lack of English translations, I found that it was a fantastic way to motivate me to learn not just French, but many other languages as well. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to use my Spanish, nor the very little Polish or Irish I previously knew, but I learned first hand that FCIL librarians were spot-on when they recommended a mastery of foreign languages!
As this was my first experience as both an "official" reference librarian and an FCIL specialist, my learning curve was slightly longer than most FCIL librarians. The most helpful resources for me at first were the legal pathfinders from LLRX, ASIL and GlobaLex. As I mentioned earlier, a majority of the reference questions I received were for information and laws from a variety of foreign jurisdictions. These pathfinders allowed me to gain a sense of each jurisdiction's legal structure, as well as helpful links to primary sources online.
However, one resource that I didn't discover until late in my time at the IMFLL was the "Doing Business" database maintained by the World Bank. This public resource (http://www.doingbusiness.org/LawLibrary/) is the largest free online information source for business laws and regulation. Users can choose to search for laws in a specific country, or laws from a particular sector of the economy. Although not all laws are in English, there are usually a few English translations of foreign laws, depending on the country and type of law. This proved to be an excellent resource for the type of questions I received, and continues to be one of my favorites.
Without doubt, the resources that were used most by the department attorneys were official IMF publications (http://www.imf.org/external/pubind.htm). The IMF Legal department puts out a number of publications that I believe would be very helpful to librarians specializing in international finance or international organizations. For instance, every two years the department hosts a conference on Current Developments in Monetary and Finance Law (http://www.imf.org/external/np/seminars/eng/2006/mfl/index.htm). There are currently four volumes available and include a number of insightful articles related to various aspects of the field, written by both IMF employees and outside academics and bank officials.
Another publication very heavily relied on by the department's attorneys is the Selected Decisions (http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/sd/index.asp), which includes "decisions, interpretations, and resolutions of the Executive Board and the Board of Governors of the International Monetary Fund, as well as selected documents, to which frequent reference is made in the current activities of the Fund. In addition, it includes certain documents relating to the Fund, the United Nations, and other international organizations." Although the Fund does not produce any significant decisions that have much relevance outside the IMF, the material included in Selected Decisions is the closest thing to precedent that the attorneys have to rely on.
As I hope this article has shown, working at the IMFLL is probably quite similar to the type of work that other FCIL librarians do. We get many of the same questions, and we undoubtedly face many of the same challenges. The opportunity to work at the IMF was in and of itself amazing, but the opportunity to really gain practical experience in the field was priceless. More than anything, the fact that every day I would wake up and actually be excited to go to work speaks volumes about the organization and its people. Whatever feelings you might have had about the IMF before, I hope you might take some time to explore their website and their publications to see what goes on "behind" the headlines.
*The author would like to dedicate this article to Eric Robert for being a most wonderful role model, and to the greatest mentor ever, Steve Young, for being so supernaturally awesome. If anyone should have further questions about what the IMFLL does, how it works, or how amazing the cafeteria was, please feel free to contact the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org.