May 16, 2006
Spotlight on Law Librarians: David Whelan
Director, Cincinnati Law Library Association
I might be considered a second career law librarian, although I never really had a first career. I was in law school at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and found that there were a number of other things I'd rather do than practice law. SMU's Underwood Law Library gave me a place to start, where the dean referred to me as the "electric" law librarian. While the name was slightly off, the new opportunity gave me a real charge. It was the confluence of the electronic services and technology that lit up some new career paths. I was fortunate to come under the guidance of two fabulous managers, Gail Daly and Gregory Ivy, who gave me a lot of latitude to try new things as well as plenty of advice and support. It's amazing what a difference an excellent manager can be.
I left Dallas for the American Bar Association soon after getting my MLS at the University of North Texas. Anyone in law school had heard of the ABA and the Legal Technology Resource Center sounded like an unusual information center. It became clear quite quickly that "technology reference" wasn't as strange a concept as I'd originally thought. It also highlighted how many information sharing jobs there are that are well off the beaten library track. Here the CFO gave me some more sound guidance: stay in the mix. It doesn't matter if you're not invited to the party, get out there and stay out there meeting decision-makers and other peers. I had never really considered how much work an information center director had to do just to keep the library's profile high in other people's minds. After 5 years at the ABA, I had been acting CIO, manager of the ABA's Web team, and director of the Legal Technology Resource Center.
I contemplated a return to a more traditional library and moved to the Cincinnati Law Library Association. What an amalgam of things! A law library with over 150 years of history. A court library that has survived 4 court houses. A membership library with hundreds of lawyers seeking legal research help and services. In a time when state support of county law libraries is diminishing, where electronic research causes lawyers to skip using print materials, it is an interesting time to be a librarian. My children cheer when we see a car pulled over by a state trooper for a traffic violation in Ohio because, like Clarence and his wings, some good county law librarian is going to get a bit more money.
In a way, I'm back where I started. From the UALR School of Law Library, a.k.a. the Pulaski County Law Library, I'm in a county law library with a mixed audience. It's a niche library, a truly special library. It's the latest opportunity to explore the varied roles a law librarian can have. I have adopted a much looser definition of what it is to be a librarian and what a library should be. Take advantage of, and give others the benefit of, wide latitude and see what can happen. Stay in the mix, and make sure that the library remains an important, viable resource for your organization and patrons. Who needs a first career when you can start a second one instead?
Editor's Note: The Spotlight on Law Librarians feature is edited by Lee Peoples, Law Librarian Blog Contributing Editor and Associate Director for Faculty, Research and Instructional Services, Oklahoma City University Law Library. Please feel free to recommend a colleague for this feature to Lee at email@example.com
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