THE ACADEMIC LAW LIBRARIAN’S LIFE - ONE DAY AT A TIME!

 

 

Professor Penny A. Hazelton, Law Librarian, is the director of the Gallagher Law Library at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, WA.  Professor Hazelton has been a librarian since getting her JD and Masters in Law Librarianship in 1976.  She can be reached at pennyh@u.washington.edu.

 

 

DAY 1:  I am in Napa, California for the meeting of the editorial board of Perspectives:  Teaching Legal Research and Writing.  Despite temperatures over 100° and the distraction of vineyards virtually everywhere, the advisory board is always able to set the agenda for what to publish in the coming year.  Besides brainstorming about articles that will be of use to those of us who teach legal research and writing, we discussed access to the articles on the publisher’s webpage and learned that this journal is in the queue be loaded full text on a major legal database.  Even with electronic access, we think there is a need for a print compilation of the best articles to be easily at teachers’ fingertips, especially given the high turnover in legal research and writing teachers.

 

On the flight home, I am thinking about the legal research class I will teach to five of my new law library staff.  A mix of librarians and support staff (5) will take the class.  What do they need to know and understand about the legal system and the law to do their jobs better?  They work in circulation, cataloging, interlibrary loan, and serials - in completely different jobs!   I have decided that whatever I have to cover must be done in no more than 6 class periods of 75 minutes each.  I need to prepare some library exercises and some in-class activities so this is not just a lecture class.  Think I will do sessions on the legal system and sources of law, a class on the judicial system using the U.S. Supreme Court case of DeFunis v. Odegaard (showing how the case goes through the state and federal court system, how subsequent cases on reverse discrimination affect admissions policies in law schools, and how an anti-affirmative action initiative passed in Washington state affects the caselaw), as well as classes on citation form and abbreviations, court reports, statutes, and secondary materials. 

 

DAY 2:  Out of the office for two days and  I am inundated with email messages!  I spend the morning trying to respond to the ones I can quickly answer.  This often seems to mean that I don’t necessarily prioritize work by its importance, but rather by the speed with which I can deal with it.  Questions that require reference to other material or time to really think about a response rarely get answered quickly and sometimes not in a timely fashion. 

 

Communication and efficiency have improved greatly because of email, but I wonder, if in our zeal to do more, we overwhelm others with things they don’t really need to know.  I used to receive most of my ‘work’ in person and by letter and telephone.  Easy access to email for many people has made me more accessible, and I have to remember to ‘integrate’ my paper, phone, in-person, and virtual workload.  I have noticed with some faculty, once reliable users of email, that email is not an effective way to reach them anymore.  Maybe their inbox is just too full.  The effectiveness of email as a communication device will disappear if the people we need to contact stop using it.

 

Salary raises for July 1 are due in a week.  The legislature appropriated only 4% for merit distribution.  Given widely varying state policies over the years, salaries which are generally greatly below our peers, and a booming economy (read, high cost of living in Seattle), pressure to compete with entry-level salaries has created serious compression in the mid-range and some inequities at the top end.  A 4% pool is simply not enough money to right these wrongs even if some got no increase at all.  Distribution across the board only continues the inequities.  I continue to worry about this.

 

Students who graduate with their Masters of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree are in heavy demand.  The lure of interesting and fast-paced work as well as the salary and benefits in the high tech industry will continue to make it hard for libraries to compete for the best graduates.

 

I have an appointment with one of the new law librarianship students who will start the program in the University of Washington School of Library and Information Science in the fall.  He is currently a law student (a JD is required for the program though anyone enrolled in the school can take the law librarianship courses) and is trying to plan his course of study for the coming year.  He only needs three more quarters of law classes to graduate, but wants to start the law librarianship classes in the fall. 

 

The law librarianship program is a 45-quarter credit program and has so many sequenced classes that we decide he should take all of the courses for the MLIS degree beginning fall 2000.  He will take law school courses in the summer and sprinkled throughout the academic year, finish his law librarianship coursework in the summer of 2001 and complete the rest of his law credits in the fall of 2001.  He’ll be very busy!  It was easier to advise students coming into the program when each student took exactly the same courses as the other law librarianship students!  But, with a completely new MLIS course of study this fall, planning his curriculum ahead of time is important.  We tried to have this conversation on email - turns out, face to face was the only way to come to a sensible course of action.

 

He wants to know why he has to take two more legal research classes, as required by the course of study for the law librarianship program.  After all, he had a first year legal research and writing class and clerked for a law firm. I explain that as a librarian, he will be doing research and teaching research to law students and lawyers.  He needs to know more than his future students; and he needs to be extremely familiar with all print and electronic legal research tools.

 

The market for law librarians continues to be strong.  Both of the law librarianship students this year were hired by April, even though they won’t graduate until late August.  In the 15 years I have been at the UW, this is a first!

 

DAY 3:  Today Nancy and I meet with our new LEXIS-NEXIS representative.  Nancy, one of my Reference Librarians, is the liaison with our vendors, handling the many administrative and policy questions that arise under our educational contracts (passwords and who is eligible, training for students, faculty and librarians, space, printing, documentation) with WESTLAW and LEXIS-NEXIS. 

 

Though I do not deal with our reps on a day-to-day basis, Nancy and I want to be sure they understand that we are an educational institution with an educational mission.  We know the vendors give law schools a deeply discounted rate in order to sell their products to the next generation of law students.  But we ask the vendors reps to leave salesmanship at the door and concentrate on training for educational purposes. 

 

It used to be that only law firms had trouble getting new associates to turn up for training – new associates felt that they were really good at WESTLAW and LEXIS-NEXIS and did not need further supervised time.  Most law firm librarians I talk to would dispute this claim.  Now we are facing this same phenomenon in law schools.  Students are more and more computer experienced by the time they come to law school.  Many are semi-Internet literate – how hard can WESTLAW and LEXIS be, anyway?

 

I get a call from my great reference department.  They are trying to find a copy of the first question posed by the petitioner in a 1970’s in forma pauperis petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court granted cert for the second question only.  The crackerjack reference team here had looked at a variety of print and electronic sources for this information.  We concluded that the only place left to look would be the original petition filed with the Court.  A reminder that not everything is yet in print!

 

DAY 4:  I meet regularly with the 5 librarians in my library who make decisions about what print and electronic tools to add to the library’s collection.  A reference librarian and a librarian from technical services also join this bi-weekly group.  We only discuss the hard questions.  Most of these questions involve electronic resources. 

 

Today we discuss the new website that contains the reference books, Legal Looseleafs In Print and Legal Newsletter in Print.  Apparently, basic searches are free on the web product, but some types of information are not.  We love these books in print; they are heavily used.  Do we need to subscribe to the website?   Is there a flat-rate contract so we have a dependable annual cost?  Can we cancel the print copy if we subscribe to the website?  Does the electronic version have some functionality that the print does not have?  And vice versa? 

 

If we subscribe to the website, how do we let our users know we have it?  Catalog it separately or just put the uniform resource locator (url) in the record for the print copy?  We are reluctant to cancel the print in favor of a website we have no experience with.  We sometimes use the old editions of these works (they are published every year).  Will the website archive older information?

 

This type of question always brings us to a major dilemma.  Inflation in law library materials has been over12% for many years.  Increases to most academic law library budgets fall far short of this inflationary rate.  So where is the money coming from to pay for something in both print and electronic form?  The short answer is, there is no extra money; so academic law libraries tend to be pretty conservative in their conversion of print resources to electronic ones.

 

In recent years, most academic law libraries have reviewed duplicate subscriptions and cancelled those that cannot be justified based on use and the shelf space they take.  Updating of treatises and Shepard’s Citators in print have also been subject to the axe.  We have no clients to bill and increasingly face buildings that are too small and/or have no technology infrastructure. 

 

The pressures to contain the growth of the print collection are strong.  And, yet, we have many constituencies.  Though members of the law school community are our first priority, our law library is used by over 125 outside patrons a day.  The undergraduate student, a member of the graduate faculty, a lawyer or judge, a firm messenger or law librarian, a person representing themselves – all need access to legal information. 

 

We have public Internet terminals that get heavy use.  But these patrons cannot use WESTLAW or LEXIS or any other fee-based electronic database we subscribe to under an educational rate.  Do we cancel the West Dicennial Digest because it is on WESTLAW, even though our public patrons cannot access WESTLAW under our academic contract?  Do we pay a flat rate for Loislaw to give electronic access to primary legal information to our public patrons?  Where does the money come from for this umpteenth version of state and federal court opinions?

 

One step we have been able to take on this front.  WESTLAW has a public access subscription for KeyCite.   For a low monthly fee, we are able to provide a free, state-of-the-art citation service for our public patrons.  In this case, we did eliminate some print citators as a result of this license agreement.

 

DAY 5:  Our CLE department can no longer provide us with copies of all their CLE materials for free.  They have tight budgets, too.  We need 3 copies – one to go immediately to the collection, one to be microfilmed for archival purposes (the print copy disappears at an alarming rate from our library), and one to be sent to the State Law Library in exchange for work they do in our cooperative project to microfilm the briefs of the Washington Supreme Court and Washington Court of Appeals.  Can we afford to pay for three copies of these materials, especially since they are used most heavily by our outside patrons?  No easy answers here.

 

The reference department reports that an outside patron wanted to know where to locate the full text of a law review article.  We tried to refer them to the collection of law reviews we have on the 7th floor of our library.  The patron wanted the article in electronic form, but cannot use WESTLAW or LEXIS due to the educational contract.  Though we were certain this article was not on the Internet in full text, the patron sat down to surf the web instead of taking the elevator to the 7th floor!  Go figure!

 

Production of our weekly Current Index to Legal Periodicals is getting more and more time consuming because there are so many more academic legal periodicals published - over 500 at last count!  At this time, we do not index any of the electronic-only academic journals either.  Will we have to add more staff to index and produce it, thereby driving prices up?

 

I finish up my sections of the report for the ABA site evaluation visit to the University of Iowa Law School.  My factual reports on information resources and facilities will be added to the reports of the other team members and eventually submitted to the Accreditation Committee of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.  I like to participate in these visits (at Iowa I learned why I don’t think libraries should be in round buildings), but always forget how much time it takes after our 4-day visit to write up the report!

 

The faculty library has been closed to remodel it for office space.  What shall we do with the physical books and subscriptions for these sets?  Like Scarlett O’Hara, I will think about that tomorrow!

 

Edited version published in 22 National Law Journal at C3, 5 (July 17, 2000) as “The Law School Library:  It’s More Than Just Books”.  Copyright 2000 Penny A. Hazelton.