Magazine article Information Today

How to Become a Law Librarian in Four Easy Lessons

Magazine article Information Today

How to Become a Law Librarian in Four Easy Lessons

Article excerpt

Occasionally--say, every other time Halley's Comet appears--someone will say to me, "Man, being a law librarian looks pretty sweet! How can I get in on that action? Do you need a law degree? What other training is helpful? What are some books and blogs on law librarianship? And just what do employers want in a law librarian?" These are good questions. Let's discuss them one by one.

Do You Need a Law Degree?

Well, I don't have one. Nor do a lot of law librarians. Some aren't even professional librarians. In the corporate world especially, the library might be under the reluctant stewardship of a paralegal, junior associate, or secretary. At one law firm where I worked, my predecessor was an accounting technician.

Let's assume, though, that you have an M.L.S. There are some benefits to also having a J.D. It confers cachet, and it can help you with intricate reference questions. In law schools--American Bar Association (ABA)-approved ones, at least--the J.D. is mandatory for advancement in the library. ABA Standard 603(c) states, "A director of a law library should have a law degree and a degree in library or information science and shall have a sound knowledge of and experience in library administration." Although the standard says "should" and not "must," and you could argue that management, unlike reference work, requires little expertise in the law, the chances of being a law school library director, or even a department head, are slim without the J.D. There are two reasons for this: All the deans and faculty members have a J.D. and want the library managers to have it as well; and library managers almost always have tenure-track faculty appointments, for which a law degree is essential.

The J.D. is rarer among law firm librarians. Why? Managing partners seem to recognize that legal acumen is just one element of being a good librarian. It is your total package of skills, not merely your education, that will earn you a promotion. Still, I can't see a candidate who doesn't have a J.D. beating out someone who does, everything else being equal. Similarly, few public law librarians have a J.D., which is probably a good thing. Public patrons already ask for a lot of help. If they knew the librarians had legal training, they would want all kinds of things: documents drafted, statutes interpreted, and strategies decided, etc.--in a word, victory. Public libraries are simply not set up to provide such service.

Some universities have combined J.D. and M.L.S. programs. I recommend this if you are thinking of going to library school and know you want to be a law librarian. For those already working in law libraries, there are two options: quit your job to go to law school full-time or keep working and get the degree part time. Understand, however, that many law schools do not have part-time programs. For those that do, the degree takes 4 or 5 years to complete.

Bottom line: You can be a bang-up law librarian without a J.D., but when it comes to advancement, those little letters have quite the influence.

What Training Is Helpful?

The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL; is the premier professional association for law librarians. Members are smart and helpful, annual meetings are fun and educational, and the website is chock-full of information. Some of its best resources are:

* AALL2go (aall.sclivelearning site features webinars, recordings, and handouts on a variety of topics, most of them practical, such as Motivating Staff: What Works and What Doesn't. The content comes from AALL annual meetings, and there is a cost for some of it. Webinars, for instance, start at $15, and package deals are available. Fortunately, handouts from the sessions are free as PDFs.

* "AALL Biennial Salary Survey" ( salary-survey)--Comparative salary information for law librarians is broken out by position, region, education, years in current position, and years of library experience. …

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