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Career Story: Librarian At A Small Independent Law School

Librarian At A Small Independent Law School

Job Title: Librarian

Type of Company: I am a librarian at a small independent law school.

Education: BA, Economics, Cornell University •• graduate research, Institute for Policy Studies, Washington, DC •• MLS, Library Service, Columbia University

Previous Experience: I was a reference librarian at the Rhode Island Historical Society and a clerk in the District Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York.

Job Tasks: My primary work responsibility is helping law students find the sources -- the book or database -- that will help them to do their assignments. First year law students are rarely even familiar with the kind of book or database they need. They often don't understand some of the words in the questions they've been given. The legal terms they're expected to know (but don't) refer to concepts which are complicated and not immediately comprehensible from the definition you find in a dictionary. Most books in a law library were made to be referred to, not read. The databases are made for information purposes, but in law, it is rarely that simple. In real life, the law is sometimes clear. In law school, problems are usually chosen because they fall between understandings. Just finding the legal issue in the problem is difficult.

As a law librarian, I try to help the students through the research process.

In addition, I do housekeeping (like re-shelving books), schedule the students who work in the library and seek out new things for the library to get. I also do inter-library loans, borrowing books from other libraries that our students and faculty need and loaning books to other libraries that are part of our holdings. I also help the faculty with their research. Faculty research problems are more difficult. They tend to know exactly what they want, but I am the one who has to find it.

I also try to keep up by reading about new developments in the law, in legal education, and in law libraries.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part is being able to help people who are genuinely confused about something that can be explained. Sometimes it is difficult to find just the right thing, other times it's easy, but it always feels good when you can take as much time as you need to unravel the riddle and come up with an answer.

The worst part of the job is having to oversee student employees who are not always responsible and who do not always get along with each other.

Job Tips: Rather than deciding on what work you would like to do, decide on what kind of people you like hanging around with and look for the work that they do.

All work becomes easier as time goes by. When you are starting out, be as patient as you can.

Unfortunately, librarians are disappearing in the computer age. If you really want to work around books, you will have to be very shrewd.

Additional Thoughts: My wish was to keep my life and my job separate. I wanted a job not a career. I took a career and made it into a job. This was not easy. I have not made enough money. But I have been able to live closer to the way I wanted than most. Life happens to people. It has much more to do with how you respond than with what you decide to pursue.

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