May 7, 2011
A Question from a Concerned Parent: Law Librarianship?
In a recent email some of us in the law library community received, a concern parent wrote and asked for advice as follows:
My son is thinking about becoming a law librarian. He has been out of law school for about 10 years, and employment opportunities have become harder to find. He has always been interested in librarianship, and is thinking about getting a masters degree in library science. Can you comment (or forward this email to someone who can share some thoughts) on whether this will be a viable endeavor in the years to come? I am really concerned because he carries a significant debt already and I am not sure what the prospects for employment will be in the future. Thanks so very much!
What do you think? If interested in responding, the comments to this post will be forwarded. [JH]
I guess your views explain your career path, then? If you need a topic for your next law review article, then perhaps it could be an analysis of the trend and future viability of abandoning law librarianship for then law faculty ranks? Just a thought. Then again, maybe you'd rather not encourage a stampede?
Posted by: Rob T. | May 12, 2011 8:27:13 AM
Anon, the sky may not be falling uniformly in all places, but in some places it really is pretty bleak. I've heard similar complaints for 25 years as well, but the convergence of radical changes in the economy, the legal market, the law school market, and the nature of legal scholarship tell me that this time really is different.
Posted by: Jim Milles | May 10, 2011 1:20:40 PM
Hmm. Lots of food for thought. In my case, I started out in the 90's early 2000's as a network admin. Things happened, some time passed, and I moved to a rural county in CA. They didn't care that I didn't have a JD, just that I could keep the LL open. I like working at a public LL because I get to help the community at the same time. Outside of metropolitan areas, many residents have very limited access to justice. Sure I don't make much. But I am disabled now, and this is a job I can do with using all my previous jobskills and college education without too much pain, and flexibility when issues come up. I am used to living within a small budget. But I get to live in a resonably quiet small town in a low population county. Most small counties have solo Law Librarians, and are not as picky...HTH
Posted by: Kathleen OConnor | May 9, 2011 10:37:40 AM
I was a law firm librarian for four years and made the switch to academic law librarianship about 6 months ago. I think it's a great profession and people who have recent law firm experience are actually in demand in academic libraries as there's a push to teach students real world legal research tools, what partners are expecting associates to know when they join the firm. I graduated from law school in 2004 and did some contract work after taking the bar but ultimately, I decided I liked legal research more than legal practice itself and went back for my MLIS the following year. It depends on where you go to school but getting an MLIS isn't nearly as expensive as a law degree--I probably paid maybe 1/10 what I did for law school and the program only took 2 years (I was working while going to school which limited the number of courses I could take each semester). And I have to agree with Joe, adding an IT degree would definitely increase marketability as we deal with more and more online services and tools (I'm an electronic services librarian). I love what I do and I highly recommend it for someone interested in librarianship.
Posted by: Lori | May 9, 2011 7:09:43 AM
At the risk of opening a can of worms, I would suggest he might want to look at the Master of Science in Information and Knowledge Strategy at Columbia. It looks like it would prepare him for anything (although I wonder how in-depth his knowledge would be when trying to be all things to all people). Note that the list below does not mention library.
There program objectives:
The models of organization and management that were successful yesterday are increasingly irrelevant and impede progress and innovation in the evolving knowledge-based economy. New models are urgently needed to meet the demands of today’s global market.
Our graduates will:
Develop products and services for any organization using multiple types of knowledge.
Create strategies and implementation plans to increase use of existing institutional knowledge.
Lead information services and knowledge management initiatives that support organizations’ strategic objectives.
Demonstrate creative knowledge sharing and collaboration in support of innovation and change in the workplace.
Demonstrate an understanding of current copyright, regulatory and other legal issues relating to information and knowledge management and how they impact decision making within an organization.
Posted by: Nina Platt | May 9, 2011 5:53:50 AM
OK. I'll bite. Just because library footprints are shrinking, it doesn't mean librarians will not be needed. I think librarians roles are changing and moving to more of an educational technologist role and/or formal teaching role - or digital archiving and the like. If they can do that in an office mixed in with faculty or administrators and not in a traditional library, so what? They are still the go-to people if you are trying to figure out what to use or where to go - even if you are "going" on the internet.
If the ABA loosens its requirement regarding who gets to be a library director, I still think most deans and faculty would prefer someone trained in the profession to handle their resources. Some might call me a rose tinted glasses wearer, but I think pulling a SUNY is the exception rather than the rule. The vast majority of newerish directors have MSLIS's and JDs.
With respect to the issue of equality in the room - well, it does vary from institution to institution; however, even if the director is not part of the tenure track faculty, or not even part of the faculty, it does not mean that they are not valued. Most senior administrators worth a hoot are highly valued at their institutions. And the various administrators have proper degrees and experience related to their jobs.
Would I recommend that her child go to library school. No. Go to a trade school if you are worried about the job market. Or become a dentist or doctor.
Posted by: Vicki | May 8, 2011 9:15:34 PM
I should add that AALL's efforts on authentication of legal information are superb examples of participating in public life.
Posted by: Jacqueline Cantwell | May 8, 2011 7:40:56 PM
After reading these posts, I would not want to become an academic law librarian if it meant working with such unhappy people. To get a sense of how the rest of the legal world looks at academia, read Peter Kean's "Interloper in the Field of Academe" in 35 U. Tol. L.Rev. 119. He was SF's public defender before becoming dean of Golden Gate Law School so he had the perspective of the gritty legal world when faced with law school problems.
The complaint about lack of prestige grates upon my conscience. Many highly skilled people in socially necessary jobs get low pay and no respect. Think of the social workers who go into dangerous, drug ridden housing projects to monitor the well-being of at-risk children. In a law library, no one dies from an incorrectly answered reference question or a mistakenly weeded book.
Many things are wrong in the world. Insufficient opportunities for highly-trained and ambitious people are among them. When I talk to people -- in all fields of work and all kinds of backgrounds-- I hear the same desire for a bigger and more compassionate world. Law librarians might gain more if prestige if they expanded their world and participated in public life. The 2011 annual meeting event "Never Again, Never Forget: The Role of Libraries and Archives in Reconstructing Memory of Argentina's Dirty War" by Gloria Orrego Hoyos may be an example for us.
Posted by: Jacqueline Cantwell | May 8, 2011 7:37:21 PM
The sky is not falling.
I'm sorry, but I've been hearing many of the same concerns regarding the future of law libraries--and other libraries, for that matter--for 12 years. My mother was a librarian too (Happy Mother's Day, all!), and she heard similar concerns for decades before that.
It is true: librarianship is not as widely respected outside the profession as it is by those of us who practice it. This has been true since, at least, the burning of the library at Alexandria. Yes, institutions are always "stealing" space from libraries--that's where the space is, to paraphrase Willie Sutton. It's also true that our budgets get cut--of course, there's been a bit of a recession. The ABA is messing with the JD/MLIS requirement for directors, true, but there are an awful lot of JD/MLIS academic library jobs on aallnet right now at levels well below that of director--the ABA may not be the catalyst everyone seems to think it is.
The big, underlying deal of course, is fear about the continuing shift to online, searchable, electronic information--the disintermediation bugaboo. That's been around for awhile, too. All I know is this: Google and WestlawNext be damned, there's not one, single, solitary law student, professor, legal writing instructor, IT specialist, or administrator at the law school where I work who can search as quickly, efficiently, or effectively as I can. I can find things they can't find. I can find things faster. I can find more accurate and complete information. I can tell others how to find things with a greater degree of accuracy. I can actually teach people how to think about finding things. I can make rational value judgments about new products for finding things.
None of the professors I've worked with can do any of this--at least, not nearly as well as a good librarian. As long as that's true, I'm not worried about finding a job, whether as a librarian, an information specialist, a researcher, a knowledge manager, an information literacy instructor, or whatever the next term may be. It may be a job in a (physically) smaller library, maybe in a cubicle. But, it will be a job doing--conceptually--the same things I do now, because those things continue to create organizational value. The law schools and firms that ignore this fact will suffer a competitive disadvantage relative to those that recognize it, meaning someone will always be willing to pay for me.
Unfortunately, I also know that they will never pay me what I actually think I'm worth, but that's true for pretty much everyone.
Posted by: Anon | May 8, 2011 5:58:17 PM
Thanks, Joe, for the perspective from the non-academic side. Within the law schools, though, I'm afraid the extent to which the dual-degree requirement for library directors is the norm is decreasing, and clearly that's the direction the ABA standards are going.
To be honest, once one accepts the premise that the ABA Standards for Accreditation should be about accreditation and essentials, not recommendations or best practices, it's hard to make a good argument for the necessity of a dual-degree library director. (I'm not sure I accept the premise, but nobody is asking me.)
I'm seeing two trends in response to the idea of eliminating the dual-degree standard: on one hand, some deans and faculty agreeing that the library director should be a librarian, but because of the increasing demand for elite scholars with JD/PhD credentials, rejecting the idea that a librarian can possibly be qualified to be a tenure-track law faculty member. The other alternative is worse: taking the position that librarianship is not a real profession worthy of any respect, deference, or value, and simply treating the library director position like any other administrative position--any faculty member can fulfill the role of library director because he or she "likes books."
In either scenario, the career prospects for talented and ambitious law librarians are severely diminished. And if the library director is no longer a skilled, dual-degreed law librarian, what do the other law librarians aspire to?
"Nobody is asking me." Well I'm asking because you have a valuable perspective to offer on the issue. What do you think?
Posted by: Jim Milles | May 7, 2011 12:42:44 PM
Honestly, if you don't have the passion, there are many other things you can find to do that pay about the same as an entry-level law librarian and do not require you to incur more debt. In the end, the cost benefit analysis is only positive if you love what you do. Law librarianship esp academic, can be a thankless task, we have the work of professors and librarians and are paid only as librarians, which is generally less than a professor's salary.
Just because you have a J.D. doesn't mean you can only be a lawyer or a librarian.
Find a job, any job, work hard, get your boss's job. If your parent is the one contacting law librarians to ask advice, then likely you do not have the passion and deep interest you need to get past the lack of prestige of this service position.
Posted by: Catherine Deane | May 7, 2011 12:14:11 PM
Thanks Jim. From the outside looking in, I certainly agree. From once being inside the legal academy, I know that when law school administratives needed space to put this or that office, they looked at floor plans, saw the square footage occupied by the law library, tended to decide, "take away some of that space because relative to everything esle "it wasn't as important."
Of course, outside the legal academy, this had already starting during the hiring boom of the 1990s. "We need more space, we are not going to lease another floor in our building or lease space in some other building. So take it from the law firm footprint." IMHO, that started the widespread reliance on substituting print resources for online ones but that happening during a time when clients were still willing to accept some, if not all online expenses as chargebacks at cost or cost-plus. (Back in the 1980s, there was no problem in online cost recovery because of its novelty.)
I wasn't thinking about publishing my emailed response to the inquiry but I don't see any reason why not to since some may disagree with it and who do may provide useful inform in this context. So here it is:
I'll chime-in with my 2-cents opinion, cc-ing everyone else just in case they want to say "you are dead wrong, Joe."
There is a labor market for law librarians "out there." In the private sector, the field has expanded to include "knowledge management" which requires some IT skills a JD can acquire by attending either the more progressive library schools or obtaining an information technology degree. For the latter, in my opinion the Univ of Illinois "library school" is one of the best.
Hiring is slowly increasing at the entry level in the academic law library sector. A dual JD - Masters in library also now know as library and information science (MLIS) is typically but not always required for entry level positions (some just require a JD or MLIS). Right now, however, a dual degree remains the norm for advancement in academic law libraries, particularly to the position of Law Library Director. While American Bar Association law school accreditation standards probably will offlically loosen up that requirement in the near future, it will remain normative for some time.
At some levels of the public sector, like county law libraries, an MLIS is not required and a JD will be sufficient. But in this budgetary climate, many such jobs may not be secure.
If your son chooses to pursue this carrer path, adding a BS in IT if credit for all or most non-IT courses is provided based on your's undergrad degree, may be an option. Acquiring a MLIS at a public university once residency has been established in another lower-the-debt load option. Scholarships may be available and having a JD may be a real plus for that.
I appreciate your concern. Even back in 1977 when I received library school acceptances, the deciding factor was which school offered me the most scholarship money to attend.
Hope this helps some ... CC-ed-ers, what do you think?
Posted by: Joe Hodnicki | May 7, 2011 12:09:17 PM
I'll kick this one off.
I am seriously worried that significant numbers of law school faculty, and especially deans, no longer care about libraries, and assume they are obsolete. I suspect that we will see some law schools in the next few years reducing their library space, budget, and personnel to token levels, and in some instance perhaps even eliminating them altogether (or abandoning them to university library systems). I like to think this will prove to be a disaster, and those schools that take that route will end up having to rebuild library collections and staff at considerable expense, but I'm honestly not confident of that.
I would hesitate to encourage anyone to enter the law library profession at this point.
Posted by: Jim Milles | May 7, 2011 11:53:21 AM