Law Librarians as Educators and Role Models

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  • AALL Spectrum July 200420

    Law librarians have expressed agrowing concern in recent yearsabout the need to recruit new lawlibrarians into the profession. Statisticiansand trend watchers foresee the continuedgraying of the profession, as large numbersof baby boomer librarians retire during the next 10 years. And with the legalinformation environment becoming evermore complex, many predict that the needfor law librarians will grow. Where willthose skilled professionals come from? It sometimes seems as though, toparaphrase Mark Twain, everybody talksabout recruiting, but nobody does anythingabout it.

    Fortunately, the situation is not quitethat dire. The Web site of the Conferenceof Law Library Educators (COLLE)( lists 36 ALA-accredited library programsoffering at least one course in lawlibrarianship; several offer two, three, ormore. A number of these library programsare at universities that also have lawschools, but only eight law schools offerjoint JD/MLS programs; three are inpartnership with library programs at otherinstitutions (see Law Schools that OfferJD/MLS Programs on page 21).

    The University at Buffalo has long had both a law school and a libraryprogram, but it was not until 2001 that itbegan to develop a formal collaborative, ordual-degree, program in law librarianship.Not long after I had settled in as law library director, I began to have informaldiscussions with some of the law librarians

    Law Librarians as Educators

    and Role ModelsThe University at Buffalos

    JD/MLS Program in Law Librarianship

    by James Milles

    2004 James Milles

    Reference Librarian Joseph Gerkenbacks up practicum student KathleenWilko at the University at BuffaloLaw Librarys reference desk.

    to gauge interest in supporting a lawlibrarianship program. After determiningthat there was interestor at least noserious objection to the new directorsproceeding with his newfound hobbyI discussed my ideas with the dean of the law school and the chair of theDepartment of Library and InformationStudies (DLIS) in spring 2001. Bothwelcomed the plan and worked with me to determine program requirements andclarify the logistics of cross-listing courses,accepting course credits from one programinto the other, and so on. Within a fewshort months, we were ready to go.

    In the BeginningThe program already had a firm basis onwhich to build. James R. Sahlem, principallaw librarian at the New York StateSupreme Court (8th Judicial District)Library in downtown Buffalo, was alreadyteaching a library school course on legalbibliography. Sahlem has since expandedthat course into two classes: Primary LawResources and Materials of Legal Practice.Other UB law librarians, including SusanDow and Terrence McCormack, have also taught in the library school from timeto time.

    I spent part of the first year preparing a new course, Law Library Administration,which is now offered each spring andcross-listed in both law and DLIS. LawLibrary Administration introduces studentsto management issues in law libraries, as well as to broader topics facing lawlibrarianship as a profession. The coursemakes extensive use of role-playing andsimulations to immerse the students in the life of the law library professional.

    A major component of the course is a group strategic planning project. Thestudents form the staff of a hypotheticallaw library, and each individual is assigneda specific role or job description. Thestudents hold a series of planning meetingsthroughout the semester and finallyproduce a complete strategic plan for themodel library. In addition, each studentwrites a research paper on a contemporaryissue in law librarianship and presents thepaper in class; UB law librarians areinvited to attend the presentations.

    Law Library Administration wasoffered for the first time in spring 2003; it attracted 11 students. The second time,in spring 2004, eight students enrolleda mix of contemporaneous dual-degreestudents, students with a JD pursuing theMLS (or vice versa), and MLS students

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  • AALL Spectrum July 2004 21

    planning to apply to law school. (Thesyllabus for the course is available at, in the folder LawLibAdmin.)

    A Surprise HitI originally estimated that the programwould be a success if it grew to five or sixstudents. Currently there are 12 to 14students at various stages in the program.Students have come to the program indifferent ways. Several of them, looking for an alternative to the traditional practiceof law, chose to pursue the MLS duringtheir second semester of law school. Othershave come back to library school aftercompleting their law degrees or evenpracticing for a few years. A few are startingto apply to UB Law School specifically topursue the law librarianship program.

    Once students come to realize that lawlibrarianship is a career option, many ofthem find it a very attractive one. AnnDavey, a second-year law student and first-year library student, heard about theprogram toward the end of her first year in law school. Before that, it hadnt evenoccurred to me that one could have a career as a law librarian, Davey said. I was so relieved to hear that my majors(modern languages and creative writing), incombination with my technology experience,could actually make me quite marketable for something. And of course its nice tothink that I would be able to use the skills I developed as an undergrad. By that time I was already dreading 80-hour workweeks,no vacation, no time for family, having tobeg for unpaid internships, dealing with theconstant life-or-death situations of clients,billable hours, and stiff competition everystep of the way. In short, law librarianshipwas a revelationit came to me at exactlythe right time in exactly the right way.

    Jennifer Behrens, a first-year lawstudent who finished her MLS at UB lastyear, was interested in law librarianshipbefore she even started library school. I had worked in a public library since the age of 16, so I felt comfortable in thelibrary world and always felt like it wassomething that I would enjoy doing, shesaid. But law school had always been anoption that intrigued me, too. During myjunior year of college, after researching a bit on librarianship as a career, it finallydawned on me that I could just combinethe two fields. So Im happy to have afuture in the library field, and moms happythat she can brag about having a daughterin law school.

    The law school has been verysupportive of the program. Dean NilsOlsen, when presenting the proposal forthe program at a spring 2001 law schoolfaculty meeting, noted that one of theappealing aspects of the program was theopportunity to attract more students who would be seriously interested in theacademic study of law.

    The JD/MLS program, like other dual-degree programs at the school, is alsopromoted by the Admissions Office. Iregularly participate in law student openhouses and career days to talk with studentswho might be interested in a career in law librarianship. We are also working tointegrate the program more closely into thecurriculum of the Department of Libraryand Information Studies.

    A Challenging ProgramOne of our goals is to do more than trainlaw librarianship students in the skills oflegal research; we also challenge them bygiving them the intellectual foundation tohandle changes in legal information andprepare our graduates for whatever rolesinto which law libraries of the future mightevolve. This is why the interdisciplinarytradition of UB Law School is animportant part of our program.

    We encourage students to pursue awide variety of course work, includingcurrent trends in empirical legalscholarship, and think of law as notlimited to what is found in the books oronline. I love the challenge, Behrenssaid. I love the intricacies of legalresearch. I love that there are no rightanswers in law. Sure, theres precedent, but it still changes constantly. Its sounpredictable, it drives me insane; butthats why I love it.

    Davey is interested in emerging trends.Most of the other students I know haveset their sights squarely on reference, but so far I am very intrigued by thetechnology that fuels libraries and digitalinformation systems, she said.

    Another crucial component of the UB law librarianship program is providingpractical experience. DLIS students arerequired to complete a practicum, andmany have done their practicums in the law library. In 2003 the law schoolapproved a law library internshipprogram, which allows law students in theJD/MLS program to earn three hours oflaw school credit for practical work in alaw libraryeither at UB or at a court orlaw firm library.

    Law Schools that Offer JD/MLSPrograms

    Brooklyn Law School and PrattInstitute School of Informationand Library

    Indiana University

    North Carolina CentralUniversity

    Syracuse University

    University at Buffalo, The StateUniversity of New York

    University of ConnecticutSchool of Law and SouthernConnecticut State UniversityDepartment of Library andInformation

    University of Iowa

    Widener University School ofLaw and Clarion University Doctor

    In the past two years, two students havedone law school internships, and two othershave done library school practicums. Thepracticums and internships not only givethe students solid, practical experience; theyalso allow the students to work closely withthe excellent law librarians in each of thehost institutions.

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  • Kathleen Wilko is a JD graduate ofWilliam and Mary currently finishing apracticum at the UB Law Library. As agroup, the law librarians at the University atBuffalos Law Library have welcomed meinto the profession with open arms, she said.Their commitment to, and enthusiasm for,the law librarianship profession is infectious,and it is here that my desire to become a lawlibrarian was solidified.

    Our latest development in the area ofpractical experience is the hiring of Daveyas our first half-time graduate assistant inreference, beginning in fall 2004.

    Yet another practical component of the law librarianship program isencouragement of professionaldevelopment. Donor support has enabledus to offer several travel grants to attendthe 2004 AALL Annual Meeting inBoston. In March we initiated our firstmock interview. One of our graduatingstudents, with the participation of the UB Law Library staff, submitted to a day-long mock interview for an academiclaw library position, including a formalpresentation on research instruction.

    Cooperation is KeyBridging the cultures between the lawschool and DLIS does present difficulties,especially for the students. Here thededicated involvement of the lawlibrarians is invaluable. Having a foot intwo different programs can be confusingand frustrating without the properadministrative support, Davey said. The best aspect of the program at UB is without a doubt the network of lawlibrarians. They are all interested in thestudents and the program. They attendstudent presentations and are alwayswilling to give students their insightsabout the profession. Their supportmakes this program remarkable.

    Wilko agrees. The greatest strengthof the program at UB is the peopleinvolved in it, she said. The willingnessof the law librarians to share theirexperiences and knowledge with students,in both formal and informal settings,creates an atmosphere ripe for learning.

    Some of the students have also begunto discuss forming a student caucuswithin AALL. They hope to schedule a meeting of interested parties, bothstudents and experienced librarians,during the Annual Meeting in Boston.

    As the program continues to grow, wewould like to do more to develop a habitof scholarship in our students. Thelibrarians at the University at Buffalo areall tenured or tenure-track faculty, so

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    research and scholarship are part of theirresponsibilities. We hope to build on thisby identifying research needs within thefield of law librarianship, such as thosedescribed in the AALL Research Agenda(, and generating originalempirical scholarship in conjunction with the law librarianship program. Werequire the completion of a publishable-quality research paper as a component ofthe new graduate assistant in referenceposition. A further step in this directionis a new course, Research Methods inLegal Informatics, which I will offer nextyear. This course gives a selected studentthe opportunity to work closely with one of the law librarians as a researchassistant on an empirical research projectconducted by the librarian. Studentswishing to pursue their own scholarlyprojects also have the option ofindividual directed research courses.

    There remain significant areasneeding improvement, particularly forthe student experience within theprogram. Within the law school, itseems like the traditional law studentsperceive librarianship as sort of a weirdreason to pursue a JD, Behrens said.Theres not a big support system inplace for people who are interested inalternative legal careers, which is totallyunderstandable, but it can still befrustrating at times.

    Wilko experienced similar attitudesfrom the library school. At the moment,there does not seem to be much supportof the program from the DLIS side, she said. There are no full-time facultyin the department to advise students orto garner interest in the field. In myapplication to the program I stated myfield of interest was law librarianship, andI was never told about the existence ofthe program or referred to those involvedwith the program.

    Program Benefits Veterans, TooOn the other hand, the benefits of thelaw librarianship program have been even

    greater than we expected. Teaching LawLibrary Administration each year forcesme to review and reexamine my ownpractices. And for those of us in the UBLaw Library, the exposure to bright,young student librarians is invigorating.Ive found on more than one occasionthat discussing issues with JD/MLSstudents yields a way of looking at theissue that I had not considered, saidJoseph Gerken, reference librarian at UBLaw Library. Students can look at theissue in a very objective, non-partisanandyesidealistic fashion, andsometimes that is a good perspective forolder, more jaded individuals like myself.Having JD/MLS students at the referencedesk also benefits the reference staff, asthe students often ask wh...


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