Trials and Tribulations of a New Law Librarian

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by Jennifer S. Murray, Research Librarian

Gabriel and Matilda Barnett Information Technology Center

and the Asa V. Call Law Library

University of Southern California

Note:  This is the first in what is hoped will be a series of columns about the experiences of those new to the academic law librarianship profession-ed.

This is my inaugural column, and I am unknown to most of you. So, you are likely wondering what this newcomer will have to say. I am not afraid of being honest. While studying during the week before the bar exam with two good friends in a remote cabin, one of my friends mentioned it would be nice to come back to the cabin at a later date when we weren't so stressed. I blurted out that I never wanted to spend any time in any cabin alone with the two of them ever again. It just came out. We all were stunned. But it opened up a frank discussion between the three of us, and our relationship improved. In a similar vein, I hope to achieve that kind of frankness with this new column. I will offer my honest opinion about law librarianship and hope that my candor will inspire others to think critically about and perhaps improve our profession. With this preface, I begin.

One of the most difficult aspects of my transition from law student to law librarian has been learning how to deal with law school faculty. I remember law professors as the individuals who broke me down and rebuilt me into the fine-tuned legal thinking machine I am now. They were the legally omniscient beings who could whip my mind into a Socratic frenzy. And as a law student, the social order of the law school was clear. I resided among the lower orders of the law school ecosystem. As the bacteria in the food chain, I functioned quite well. I knew I was the foundation for the entire ecosystem.

Now, as a law librarian, my position in the social order of the law school has changed, moving me up a few links in that proverbial chain. These new links bring entitlement to witness the foibles of the law school professors. Law professors actually ask me for assistance in using Lexis and Westlaw. I deal with them as a peer and provide any assistance or instruction necessary. It is surreal that these same demi-gods who once struck fear in my heart rely on my research skills to find the authority for important statements in their scholarly articles. Many have even asked me to call them by their first name.

This new social status still requires me to tread carefully within the law school ecosystem. I have to seek cues from the professors as to how they want me to interact with them. There are those who prefer the omniscient being status- and I am happy to comply. But the majority actually want to know me. They recognize that I know more about most areas of legal research than they do. So when they ask for assistance with research, I need to combine their knowledge of the law with my knowledge of legal research to find what they seek. It may take a while for me to find comfort with my new social status, but I look forward to a new perspective on the law school food chain.