Thursday, July 25, 2013

What Does A (Law) Librarian Do?

Librarians sometimes find themselves in a crisis of identity. As a profession, we have been criticized for failing to promote what we do effectively. And it's important to promote what we do so that others see the value in our work.

Even as an early undergraduate student, I had no idea that librarians are required to hold a master's degree. For what? To check books in and out. Which was my public perception of librarians. Then I had a librarian instruct one of my political science classes on how to use library resources to research, and let's just say, I had an epiphany. I also have this occur each term as I instruct law students to perform legal research. I constantly get comments like, "how did you get so good at research?" Or "you make research look so easy." It feels good to get these comments because it means that I am adding value to their education, and the students may see librarians in a new light for the very first time in their graduate program.

So, what exactly does a law librarian do? It varies because a law librarian could work for a law firm where he or she is expected to perform legal research for attorneys. Or a law librarian could work for a law school where, instead of performing research for attorneys, he or she might perform research for faculty and teach law students how to do their own research. Even within a law school, there are different types of librarians. A law school will generally have a systems librarian -- meaning that the librarian takes care of the digital end of the library (online catalog, patron records, etc...).

The law school will also have reference librarians who instruct research sessions and perform reference desk duties, but the job varies from there. The librarian might also do collection development to help choose the materials that the library should own/lease/borrow or many other things. For a wide-variety of job descriptions, see the American Association of Law Libraries' (AALL) website at http://careers.aallnet.org/jobs. For most of the positions, a law degree is also required (in addition to the master's).

Just to give you an idea of a typical month for me, here is a recap of one of my monthly reports:
- 52 hours of reference
- 12 hours of office reference (emails to me, students visiting my office)
- 27 hours of liaison research (faculty research, legal publication work)
- 25 hours of outreach services (writing book reviews, giving tours, attending open houses)
- 27 hours of teaching/prep
- 11 hours of collection development
- 3 hours of professional development (webinars, reading)

The beauty of being a law librarian is that the research changes constantly, which adds new challenges, and it never gets boring (contrary to public perception). And just so you know how cool librarians are, check out 30 Things Librarians Love.

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