January 20, 2011
Law Librarian Leaders Who Set an Example: Bill Murphy
In another stimulating 3 Geeks Elephant Post, Who Is Your Professional Hero? Tell Us Why, the question asked and answered by contributors was
Who are the heroes in your profession that have changed how you look at your profession? Perhaps it isn't even a person, but maybe some event or act from a group of people that makes you proud to call your self a professional.
Ah, sorry Greg. While several said "you," you may know who mine is. In the context of why it is damn important to find a way to re-engage and re-energize private sector law librarian involvement in official AALL business because many have just given up on AALL, I mentioned someone you are too young to know but who set an example for this newbie BigLaw firm librarian some 30 years ago. That would be Bill Murphy, director of the law library at Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago. Who?
Back in the dark ages of circa-1980 in the Chicago law firm library community, K&E's library set the standard, the example, by what other BigLaw firm libraries and the services provided therein used as a measure. Sure there were other firms in other cities, most notably in NYC and DC that were also doing what K&E did, so this is a geographic-specific reference point. That being said, K&E was an law library environment and law firm culture that perceived the value of professional law librarianship as one beyond making sure books were shelved properly. Here was a firm that expected excellence regardless of the time and $$ it took. Here was a firm that provided print and online resources and use of outside information brokers to do the assignment at hand. As a long-serving law firm director Murphy did not ignore the transformation that was taking place and the response needed. He had taken care of all the internal wrangling to create an institutional expectation that the law library and its staff would be on top of its game.
I think it is fair to say the Chicago law firm librarian community looked up to Bill as our example, particularly we newbie professional law librarians, with respect to what was the then "new normal" for practicing our profession in BigLaw. By the time I entered the practice of BigLaw librarianship right out of library school in 1980, it had been some 13 years since Bill's leadership had been recognized by being elected president of AALL.
Bill is no longer on the scene but his contributions ought not be forgotten. In fact, it is long past due to remember them. There's no official AALL award given in his honor and most law firm librarians don't even know who the hell he is. No matter. I doubt Bill would care if an AALL award was named in his honor. Law firm librarians tend to focus on the proposition that what matters is "results." excellence produced in a timely matter, not officially sanctioned AALL pats on the back.
Bill was only the second law firm librarian elected to the office of AALL President for the 1967-1968 term, preceded by Elizabeth Finley, Covington and Burling, Washington, D.C., (1961-1962). Part of that is certainly because he stood on the soulders of others who led to the professionalization of law librarianship generally. But over the last 50 years, meaning since the professionalization of law librarianship in Big Law was well established, Bill is only one of six law firm librarians to serve as AALL president.
I bring this up because the driving forces in play in the provision of legal information commercially and in-house developments and innovations at least as long as I have been a professional law librarian, are and continue to be private sector law libraries. This has not been represented by the metric of AALL past presidents as long as I have been practicing this profession. It is not that I have an institutional bias to other sectors of our professional community -- hell my so-call career extended to all major sectors. Cetainly many non-private sector law librarians deserve this recognition, too.
As the below institutional demographics show (dates indicate start of term; in days long past, AALL served two-year terms, perhaps not a bad idea to reconsider), the trend is to recogniize by way of election to the post of AALL president past members who have had the time to commit to AALL activities regardless if this serves the entire membership well. That tends to be members of the academic library community despite the fact that their number based on membership in special interest sections is about the same as private law librarians. During the past 50 years, 64% of AALL presidents were academic law librarians while only 12% were from the private sector. Do note, the last firm librarian to serve as an AALL president ended her term of office in 1994. (Kay M. Todd, Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walter) I think it is a time to change this.
I also know that law firm librarians do not have the time to commit to moving up the food chain of AALL's officialdom by years and years of association contributions at the national level but that does not mean they do not make professional contributions. We expect valuable contribution from the academic community. Being elected AALL president is not a reward for such involvement; professional service is part of their job description! It is not, however, an essential requirement to lead AALL. I do not minimize the contributions made by academic law librarians over the long-term but their institutional experience is not as relevant as it was decades past. The era of the academic law librarian-scholar-bibliographer is over. Once cutting edge, the bleeding edge for contemporary developments that will spill over into the academic and public sectors is the private sector. This is the base from which our profession's leadership should come from in increasing numbers. We need more leaders like Bill Murphy. I believe they are "out there." I just hope they are not too discouraged by the dynamics of AALL politics to think they would be wasting their time.
BTW, would someone remind someone in AALL to update the list of AALL Past Presidents. It's only been six months. Time for another Boomer-gen reference point, Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall. [JH]
I think all of your points are good. One of the most satisfying parts of being a law librarian is working with other librarians. I have been working on a combined catalog project for at least 3 years and have gotten very little support. Law firms don't want to participate. I think that the association has to encourage people to work together on the local level before anyone can do anything on the national level. Perhaps all of the online courses with no face to face meetings during library school is not fostering cameraderie?
Posted by: Anon | Jan 24, 2011 11:18:16 AM
I have a couple of professional heroes. I still remember my first AALL convention in 1995. I met Kay Todd there and was thrilled that she was gracious and welcoming to a newbie like me. My second professional hero is the first law firm reference librarian I worked with - Martha Ros. She taught me what it meant to do a complete and professional job. I have tried to model myself on her.
Posted by: Rita Kaiser | Jan 20, 2011 7:10:40 AM