The law library’s studious silence, hardwood furniture, and book-lined shelves appeal to most any aspiring lawyer. As you get familiar on campus, the library may become a favorite study spot, but few law students, at least few 1Ls, appreciate the hidden treasure of the law school library: the law librarian. As any 3L research assistant will tell you, befriending a law librarian can be one of the most beneficial and time-saving decisions of your law school career. Here are a few questions you might not know to ask about your law school’s law librarian.
What is a Law Librarian?
According to the American Association of Law Librarians (AALL), “Law librarians are legal information professionals. They work in a variety of library settings including law firms, law schools, courts and other government organizations, and the legal departments of businesses and associations. Law librarians perform tasks such as researching, analyzing, and evaluating the quality, accuracy, and validity of sources; teaching and training; writing; managing; and procuring and classifying library materials.”
Law librarians generally have graduate degrees in library and information science, often a masters in library sciences. The AALL estimates that one-third of all law librarians have a JD or LLB.
What is Special about a Law School Law Librarian?
Law school law librarians are especially knowledgeable about the law and the world of legal resources applicable to you as a law student. Respect your law librarian—they are not just there to reshelf your books. Along with masters in library sciences, law school law librarians are often JDs themselves. As the AALL points out, in most law schools, directors of law school libraries hold faculty status. If you work with your librarians you will quickly learn that they are truly experts at tracking down hard to find legal information. Whether you are trying to find a common-law case from nineteenth-century England, or you are having trouble with the latest online resource, your law librarian can probably save the day.
How can a Law Librarian Help you?
As the definition above explains, law librarians are legal information professionals. One huge hurdle to your law school success is effectively accessing legal sources and doing so efficiently. Whether you are doing case research for a writing assignment or you are looking for a particular treatise to support a journal proposition, research skills are certainly not optional for a law school student. Having a highly educated and experienced “legal information professional” in your corner is huge. Even if you could find the answer after hours of research and digging, law librarians can often immediately point you in the right direction (if not find the actual answer or source you are looking for).
But they only Know about Books, Right?
Wrong. Law librarians will have precise knowledge of your libraries electronic resources and can help you to navigate the wealth of information you can access through your computer. They will know the collections available on HeinOnline. They will be able to help you efficiently navigate LexisNexis and Westlaw. From my experience, even though you may think you are a computer research whiz, don’t doubt a law librarian’s ability to dig just a little deeper and search just a little more precisely than you can.
Are they too Busy for my Question?
In my experience, law librarians are eager to serve and love a good challenge. I whole-heartedly agree with Law School Toolbox contributor Ariel Salzer’s assessment of law school librarians; she writes: “I’ve never personally met a research librarian who wasn’t fantastically intelligent and helpful.” (For more on law libraries generally, read Ariel’s post What Can Your Law Library Offer You?). Do bring as much information surrounding your question as possible—help them help you. You will likely be amazed at the speed at which they can resolve your research question.
What are Research Guides?
Check your library’s website for research guides. As part of the research services your law library provides, most law libraries provide “research guides” to answer some basic research questions before you even have to ask. This can start you in the right direction. Then, if you get stuck, you can at least explain your initial research steps to the reference librarian and let them guide you from there.
How do you Track Down a Law Librarian?
Usually, a reference librarian will be available during certain hours in the library for drop-in questions. From my experience, they are always glad to help you track down the source you need. Whether you drop-in on the reference librarian or you schedule an appointment, come prepared. Respect their busy schedules and have as much information as possible about your question so they can efficiently help you. Most law libraries also let you email questions or even live chat with a law librarian during certain hours.
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