Tim Kearley


*Teresa Stanton, Reference/Foreign and International Law Librarian, University of North Carolina, conducted the oral history.

I’m Tim Kearley, currently the director of the law library at the University of Wyoming. I graduated from law school from the University of Illinois, where I took several – maybe four– classes in foreign or comparative law, which is what got me interested in those particular topics. And then I went on and got a law library masters from the University of Washington program. I worked for a year at the Cook County Law Library, and then they needed a foreign, comparative and international law librarian at the University of Illinois, and they knew that I had taken those courses–and they knew who I was, so I got my foot in the door that way. So that’s how I really got into the field.

Unfortunately, I can’t honestly say I remember as much as I’d like to. I know that certainly when I started working at the University of Illinois as the foreign, comparative and international law librarian, which I believe was 1978, there was–it was all–the way one sort of prepared to do that was pretty haphazard. There was no system for doing that.

A lot of the people who were in the field at the time were older people – many of whom were refugees–World War II refugees. They were gradually starting to retire. And so I know that a major concern was where the next generation of comparative international and foreign librarians would come from.

I was lucky to have Dolph Sprudzs, who was at the University of Chicago, who became my mentor. He wasn’t far away, of course, not that the distance really made that big a difference. But he had also been at the University of Illinois substantially before I was; and so he knew the collection, he knew the situation. So from time to time if I had problems I’d call him up and he was always very generous with his time. But it was clear that we needed a more systematic way for people to be trained in these positions.

So that was more or less what the impetus was for creating the SIS. I don’t really remember who had the idea–I’m pretty sure it wasn’t my idea. I know Dan Wade was involved. I do recall being involved. To tell you the truth, I’m not even sure who the first chair was. I know I was an early chair. But I know Lyonette Louis-Jacques, at the University of Chicago was involved early on–Jon Pratter from Texas; I’m sure there were others.

I remember our major concern was devising some sort of systematic instruction for people who were interested in the field. So one of our major concerns–probably our major concern–was putting together programs to have at AALL that would just start out at a real basic level–with information about foreign, comparative, international law–about bibliography, and research in the field. And I know that we spent a good deal of time trying to put together a curriculum and to make sure that we would have sessions at a series of AALL meetings. I think that was probably our main focus. And I think we did a pretty good job of that. It was more difficult to put things like that together then, because we didn’t have the web.

It would be interesting to know what the statistics are, but I suspect maybe there are more foreign, comparative, and international law library specialists now than there were before because of the increased importance of those fields. Everyone’s talking about the internationalization of the curriculum and all that. So I suspect it’s probably more important now than it was then. And there are more people–even if they’re not specifically designated foreign, comparative and international law librarians, I suspect there would be more people now who have that area of interest or have those specialties. So I think certainly you need continuing education, although as I said, I think it would be a lot easier to self-educate now with the materials that are available on the web than it was back in the “olden days.”

I remember when the Martindale-Hubbell International Law Digests were a prime source of information. Well, I suppose they’re still somewhat useful, but there’s just so much more information these days. Although I guess that creates difficulties, but it’s great to be able to have various websites with links to all these different sources; you can get treaty texts, and all sorts of other documents that would’ve been pretty obscure and difficult to get outside of major research libraries.

Also, listservs and emails now make the whole process so much easier. Because at that point, I would just have to decide: “Is this worth the price of a long-distance phone call?” So I was really hesitant about calling people. Plus, maybe it makes it easier if you’re on a listserv and you see other people’s names on the listserv, it makes it easier then to give them a call. But to cold-call somebody, especially somebody who’s maybe better-known in the field than you are–some of the old gray heads in the field, you’d be sort of hesitant to give them a call. And of course then if you were just going to correspond, it took forever. So, communication was really limited.

I guess that’s probably another reason we decided to put the SIS together–as a mechanism for people who had that interest to get together at AALL. (I sure wish now I knew what year it was founded.)

I guess every once in a while there was a program now and then, on some kind of foreign- comparative- or international-related topic, but that was just because of someone’s particular interest, not because of any kind of organized thing. I haven’t kept really in touch with it in the last few years, since I’m off doing other things, but I suspect it would be the kind of thing where you might be able to do online workshops. So that would be another possibility, though it’s always more fun to get together with people in person, in particular in a specialty like that. It’s a good way to have that interaction.

One thing I could say would be true whichever hat I was wearing, would be to see if we could possibly get to people in law school, before they’re out, before they’re in the field, and put it before them as a really fascinating career kind of option. I’m the advisor for our student international law society here at the law school, and I have students talk to me about what possibilities there are in international law, and so I always try to let them know about that. Then I think if people actually had it in mind when they were still in law school, that they might consider it more seriously. They might see that you could retain an academic interest, maybe do some teaching, and not have to go into a competitive world of practicing law that they might not be terribly interested in.

So yeah, I think it would be nice if we could get at those kinds of people early on, maybe even put together a brochure or something like that to send out to career services offices in law school—put that on people’s radar screen.

Yeah and I think another thing that—I’m not sure to what extent the SIS could do something about this, although there probably are some things, would be to foster foreign language skills, because certainly that’s–even though a lot of information is available in English, it’s still extremely helpful to know a foreign language or two. If the SIS could do something in the way of information-gathering about intensive training programs, ways you could finance them, that kind of thing.

I just remember that it was a lot of fun when we first started it up, because there were several of us who were interested in the field. Certainly for a number of years, I was just perfectly happy doing that, I had no interest at all in being a director; it was something that kept me interested for a quite a long time. And so there were several of us who really were interested in figuring out how to educate ourselves in a more systematic way. And I also mentioned that we were really helped by some of the older eminences in the field, like Dolph and Igor Kvass who was at Vanderbilt, and they were certainly generous with their time. They were eager to help us out, and weren’t really protective of their turf or anything. So we always appreciated that.