Lessons from Law Librarians

I recently had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion with Law Librarians from around the D.C. area.  The event was held at The Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law.  The panelist included: Robin Foltz, Kate Martin, Ellen Santos, Todd Weaver, and Kate Wilko.  After hearing some of their advice, and thoughts, I wanted to share them with you, my friends. As a side not for reading this: anything in quotes is a note that I took and not an exact quote from a panelist. Though I can’t remember who exactly said what, I’ll synthesize all of my notes into as a coherent post as possible.

One of the speakers talked about certain themes that she thought made a good Law Librarian.  I would extend that further into making a good Librarian in general, or, more universally, into a good employee, co-worker, boss, manager, colleague, student, and any other relationship structure where community is built. The five themes she talked about are: 1.) Value Self; 2.) Value Profession; 3.) You have a lot to give; 4.) Everyone has something to teach you; and 5.) Everything you learn will be used.

It was also discussed about staying in a job, or leaving it if you are positive that this is not for you.  What was said, and well received by the audience, was that “if you are in the wrong place, leave after four months. It’s ok. Keep applying the skills you learn and figure out new things to do.”

“Don’t forget all of the other things you know how to do. Don’t forget to develop your other skills. The other things that you do are very important.” Everything you know can, and should when appropriate, be incorporated into your job.  One of the speakers was familiar with website design and photoshop. This added value to her employment because she was able to contribute something to the team outside of the scope she was hired for.

Part of what we do as Librarians is teach people.  As information specialists, we can assist others in learning good research skills. “It is important to teach people how to use tools, whether they be Lexis Nexis, West-Law, Google, or a book.” By teaching our patrons how to do research, we can spend more time on complicated research questions.

“The more you ask questions, the more you understand, the more you are able to help them, and a relationship is established. ” This gets back to the research interview.  During the interview, it is best to keep digging to pinpoint the exact question the patron is asking.  When you can repeat it back to them, and they agree to it, you will have a much clearer understanding of what it is they need help finding.

“Find a mentor.” It is always good have someone that you look up to in your business. This helps you to learn how to function in the community of the firm you are in.  Another thing for building up your career is being involved in a community of fellow Librarians with similar specialties. “It is very important to be professionally active. It helps to gain skills and build confidence.” As was stated in the five themes: “Everything you learn will be used.”

“People want enhanced information and not just a list of articles.  They want to know why what you are giving them is important.” Many of the librarians talked about added value and enhanced information.  There is a common theme in the business aspect of law, Time is money. Every moment spent working on a case is billed to the client, so the less time that can be spent on tangential research, and the more time that can be spent on focused research, is beneficial to the client because it will help their court case as well as save them from unnecessary expenses.

“Manage Up- Make things quantifiable.” Employers want to know that they are getting real tangible value for their money.  We cannot assume that they will inherently see the value in what we are doing; instead we must show them.  It is important to “protect your turf by learning how to do statistics and making them understandable and meaningful to your employer.”

If you have any thoughts in regards to Law Librarianship, or Librarianship in general, please leave a comment below.  Also, if you have any general advice on being a librarian, I would enjoy learning from you as well.


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