If you ask many practicing attorneys, faculty members, or students about the librarians that worked in the law library of their law school, you may find many fascinating stories about librarians assisting them in their respective legal information searches. Even though the service they provide is invaluable, law librarians are often unsung heroes in the legal arena. In fact, they are key partners to their “clients”—all of those who need assistance with legal information. I have been a law librarian for over 13 years, and like most careers it has had its highs and lows, but I have found it extremely rewarding. I am sure many others also may find it an extremely rewarding career, and a viable alternative career option to pursue with a law degree.
My career as a librarian seemed to be my destiny before I really knew it. As an undergraduate, I spent the majority of my time studying or working in the university library, so I have a great appreciation for libraries in general. As a student worker, I learned so much about libraries that I realized a functioning university library goes beyond just the shelving of books. Although I really liked libraries and one of the librarians suggested library school, I decided that working in a library as a career was not my vocation. I had always wanted to be an attorney. However, when I went to law school, I learned that the practice of law was not for everyone, including me. By the end of my second semester, I knew I did not want to enter the traditional practice of law. My classmates were very passionate about the idea of practicing and I realized I did not have the same passion. I found that my passion gravitated more toward my legal research and writing classes. I liked legal research, and most of all I really loved helping others find the information they needed to accomplish their respective goals. I soon realized I did not want to practice, and through the advice of staff from the Southern University Law Center library, I decided to go to library school after I graduated law school. This was the best decision I made. This idea gave me the perfect way to use both my law degree and love of libraries.
Academic law librarians have an array of duties. Among those duties may be teaching, reference work with faculty, students and the general public, and collection building, just to name a few. Most reference and research librarian positions require both a law degree and an masters in library science from an American Libraries Association accredited school. While in library school, I was given the opportunity to be a graduate assistant at Louisiana State University Law Center (Paul M. Hebert Law Center), where I learned through actual experience what it was like to work in an academic law library. I also had a field experience in a different type of law library—a law firm library. I learned much from the librarian there, but I realized at the end of my field experience that I would prefer to work in an academic law library. It is important to note that law librarians can be found in many local courts, county law libraries, and other organizations.
My first job as a law librarian was, ironically, working for Southern University Law Center, my alma mater. After a little over four years there, I applied and was given the opportunity to be an assistant law librarian for public services at Florida A&M University Law School, which eventually led to my becoming the director of the law library there. From there, I moved on to become the founding associate dean for library affairs at Indiana Tech Law School. To get the most out of a career, it is important to be flexible and willing to step out of one’s comfort zone.
My experience as an academic law librarian has taught me much. I have a great respect for my colleagues who readily give advice and collaborate on ideas which will not only improve their institution but other institutions as well. If, by chance, you are an individual who is extremely inquisitive, likes collaboration, loves legal research and helping others, a career in law librarianship may be just right for you. For further information regarding this career please see the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) website, www.aallnet.org.
About the Author
Phebe Poydras is the associate dean for library affairs at Indiana Tech Law School. She can be reached at 260.422.5561 or PEpoydras@indianatech.edu.