Why did you become a law librarian?

Why did you become a law librarian?
The following responses are available on AALLNET only. For the responses published in the February 2011 issue of AALL Spectrum, please
see the issue in its entirety.
“I became a law librarian because of natural
inclination, great role models, and a nudge at just
the right time. Fresh out of college with no idea what
to do, I brushed off skills from high school public
library work and became a library assistant at the
University of Oklahoma Law School. Encouraged
there by Lolly Gasaway, Marilyn Nicely, and others,
I started library school but wasn’t yet committed to
law libraries. Then Lolly provided an opportunity for
me to go to a Southeastern Chapter of the American
Association of Law Libraries/Southwestern Assocation
of Law Libraries conference. I knew I’d found where I
“Out of necessity. I wanted to be a teacher and was
working on my subject Masters degree. While I was
in school, I needed a job and got one as a part-time
library clerk in a large New York law firm. After
graduation, there were no jobs due to the New York
City fiscal crisis. I had amassed enough knowledge to
be offered a full-time job in the firm’s law library.
--Ann Fessenden, circuit librarian at the U.S.
Court of Appeals 8th Circuit Library in St. Louis
“I had worked in libraries from the time I was 10
years old but never considered becoming a librarian.
It started when I was in elementary school and a
librarian approached me and asked me if I would like
to work in the library. Mostly I shelved books, but
sometimes other kids would ask me to recommend
“I became a librarian by accident. A friend of the
family called and proposed I submit a resume to work
part time at a law firm library while I attended law
school. I was able to learn many vital skills in the
profession while I was mentored by a wonderful law
school librarian and eventually hired by her. I gained
a career that had been unforeseen. I love my surprise
career and look forward to many years of learning.”
--Tara M. Crabtree, law librarian at the California
Court of Appeal - 5th District in Fresno
“Dumb luck. While in library school, I worked parttime for two state of Minnesota agency libraries. I was
going from one job to the other and ran into Nina
Platt in the skyway. She had resigned from her job at
the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and asked,
“You’re going to apply, aren’t you?” I did, and here I
am, 13 years later.
--Karla Gedell, research librarian at the Minnesota
Office of Attorney General in St. Paul
“Thirty years and five firms later, I am still in the
profession and don’t regret it for a minute.”
--Michael B. Hoffman, librarian at Torys LLP in New
“I wanted to be an attorney because I was close to
my grandfather who was an attorney. I went to law
school and got admitted to the bar. I spoke with a
law librarian at the University of Akron Law Library
who suggested I could get an MLS degree and become
a law librarian. I applied to a couple of schools and
got a full scholarship to get my MLS from Kent State
--Janet Reinke, head of research services at the Florida
International University College of Law Library Modesto
Maidique Campus in Miami
“When I was a law student eons ago, the law
librarians were the smartest and nicest people. And as
I continue to be in the profession, many of them are
still the smartest and nicest people.”
--Julie Lim, director of the law library and
professor of law at the CUNY School of Law in Flushing,
New York
member to member
“Service to others. In law school I took a job in the
law library and found that I really enjoyed helping
patrons with research and reference questions. After
graduation I earned an MLS and started my first
position as a law librarian. More than three decades
later I still view patron services as one of the most
critical functions we perform. Positive feedback from
users shows that we are still on the right track by
focusing on providing excellent service.”
“I admired friends who were attorneys. They made
me want to work in law, but I didn’t see myself as a
JD. After working in public and special libraries, I
switched careers and became a paralegal. The time
I spent in law libraries on class assignments while
studying for a certificate made me realize how much I
missed the library environment. It dawned on me that
I didn’t have to choose between my two interests if I
became a law librarian.”
--John Edwards, associate dean for information
resources and technology and professor of law at Drake
University Law School in Des Moines, Iowa
--Paula Lichtenberg, librarian at Keker & Van Nest
LLP in San Francisco
“Actually, the question should be ‘what (and/or who)
inspired me to become a law librarian?’
“Back in the day as a newbie law student at the
University of Houston who often studied in the law
library, I had the chance to observe, converse, discuss,
and listen to the many legal reference librarians on
their tours of duty. I was fascinated or impressed by
each person’s various specialty areas such as the Texas
session laws; topical areas like labor law; skill with the
Lexis console; overall knowledge of the collection; as
well as with their civility and enthusiasm. I made a
silent vow to investigate law librarianship as a career
(but being careful not to voice it out loud until after
graduation day). Imagine my spouse’s surprise when I
announced I wanted to continue my studies!
“(Incidentally, one of the reference librarians was
Roberta Schaffer who is now the law librarian of
--MaryAnn Keeling, law librarian at the Department
of Homeland Security Customs & Border Protection in
Washington, D.C.
“I was in a joint degree program—intended to
become a lawyer, but knew the employment prospects
were dicey and wanted a fallback. Got mediocre
grades in law school and hated it. Made Beta Phi Mu
in library school and liked it.”
“A very wise woman encouraged me to become a law
librarian: my mother.
“She found a profession in which I combine my
dreams, skills, loves, and support myself. After
graduating from law school I was dismayed with
the legal profession. I love reading, learning, and
finding things—information, lost items. She
suggested I return to school for a library science
degree to combine my skills and interests. To this day
I am forever grateful that I listened to her.”
--Lynn Hartke, reference/educational services librarian
and assistant professor of legal research at Saint Louis
University Law Library in Missouri
“I am a law librarian because of Roberta Shaffer. I
started library school to become an archivist and then
went to work in an archive and discovered it wasn’t
for me. Roberta was dean of the University of Texas
library school at the time and she gave a talk during
an orientation session about why she was a librarian.
I was so fascinated by what she had to say about her
work in law libraries that I knew I had to change
course immediately. Once I did I knew I had found
my calling and have been happy in my career choice
ever since.”
--Sarah Mauldin, head librarian at Smith, Gambrell
& Russell, LLP om Atlanta
member to member
“I decided to be a librarian when I was 12—never
changed my mind, just veered slightly.
“By the time I got to library school I had a degree in
English, religion, and philosophy. I was interested in
special librarianship but most of the emphasis was on
scientific and technical libraries.
“Law librarianship was the answer to my prayers! It
has been my dream job for 31 years. I’ve been able to
apply everything I learned in library school and then
some. I’ve been a solo and managed a large staff and
everything in between.
“I selected it because I expected it to be intellectually
challenging (it is), professionally satisfying (it has
been), and to give me lots of ways to grow (boy,
howdy!). It has never disappointed me.”
--Lynn Connor Merring, library manager at Stradling
Yocca Carlson & Rauth in Newport Beach, California
“My first position as a cataloger and bibliographer
was not in law libraries. Although I had not planned
on specializing in cataloging when I entered library
school, I enjoyed it very much on the job as it was like
doing puzzles all day long. I especially liked cataloging
serials—figuring out how to catalog title changes
and how to describe the relations between them. The
weirder, the better.
“When it was time to move on I saw the job posting
for my present position and asked a friend about it.
She said if I wanted to really learn serials cataloging I
should work in a law library because legal serials and
continuations were unlike anything I’d ever seen. This
intrigued me and I decided to apply for the position.
The rest is history—I have been happily cataloging
legal materials for more than 23 years and just when I
think I’ve seen every possible type of supplementation,
the publishers come up with something else. It’s
constantly new and requires a lot of analysis.”
“Practicing law was not for me. As a friend said,
“You’re miserable—try something different!” I love
research, I’m good at it, and had taken library school
classes while in law school. Becoming a librarian just
felt right. So, library school, and now this, my favorite
job evar. Library users don’t get legal advice from me,
just my help and mad skills. They have information
needs. They need—and usually get—solutions. And...
all my users say thank you!”
--Patricia Sayre McCoy, head of law cataloging and
serials at the University of Chicago D’Angelo Law
--Mitchell L. Silverman, emerging technologies,
reference, and instructional services librarian at the Nova
Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law Center Law
Library and Technology Center in Fort Lauderdale
“The second major influence was the 1988 AALL
Annual Meeting in Atlanta. I fell in love with the
Association, the people I met, and was awed by
Westlaw’s ‘LA Law’ party and the Lexis event at the
Fox Theatre, where Gone with the Wind had premiered
almost 50 years before.
“I realized after 12 years of legal practice that I was
writing off most of the time I spent doing the things I
still enjoyed most about my practice—teaching people
how to learn about the laws that affect them, helping
colleagues with their research, and collaborative
problem solving in general—and realized that those
activities are at the core of life as a law librarian. I’m
still pinching myself that I get paid now to do this.”
“Two major factors steered me towards law
librarianship. The first was Lolly Gasaway, who was
my instructor at the University of North Carolina.
She gave a lecture on copyright in the first semester
orientation course at Chapel Hill, and I was hooked.
“I had a 20-minute interview at that conference and
two weeks later was offered a job at Santa Clara,
where I have stayed these 22 years.”
--Prano Amjadi, director of public services at the Santa
Clara University Heafey Law Library in California
--Nolan L. Wright, reference librarian and assistant
professor at Southern Illinois University School of Law in
member to member
“I was a newly licensed attorney but couldn’t find a
job practicing law.
“There was much talk at the time of a ‘lawyer glut.’
I had worked six years as a part-time law library
assistant while I was in college and law school, so
when a reference librarian position opened at my
alma mater, I applied. I was hired and became ‘an
accidental law librarian.’ I soon became an adjunct
professor in the legal writing program and then an
assistant director.”
--Michael B. Reddy, director of research services at
Lewis and Roca LLP inPhoenix
“Reading from age three; haunted the local library as
a child.
“Became a lawyer by accident, and really enjoyed legal
research and analysis.
“Always enjoyed explaining stuff to people and
“Returned to the law after active military service (not
directly related to law), realized that the aspect of law
I loved was research and explaining stuff to people—
what law librarians do.
“Could afford to attend library school and had a
supportive employer.”
--Ted McClure, faculty services law librarian at the
Phoenix School of Law
“It was the ‘circle of life’ for my profession. While I
was studying in law school, I was a library associate
at a health science library. Then I practiced law for 10
years and decided my life was missing something.
“I enjoy providing service to others and the ability to
research and learn about all facets of the law. Thus I
had a ‘calling’ and decided it was time to become a
professional librarian and realized a law library would
be a great fit for me. I have not looked back or had a
single regret yet!”
--Brian Huffman, county law librarian at the
Washington County Law Library in Stillwater,
“While pursuing my MSLIS, I was fairly certain I
would end up an academic librarian. However, this
quickly changed thanks to several internships in legal
libraries. The challenges of working with the law
are stimulating and rewarding, but more than that
is the law librarian community. Before landing my
first position, I met AALL members from around
the country and found tremendous support and
camaraderie. In short, a network of amazing law
librarians lead me to this field.”
--Philippe Cloutier, librarian atLane Powell PC in
“I wasn’t looking for a job when I had seven job offers
and this happened to be one of them. It was the only
one that was part-time and since I had been a stay-athome mom and professional volunteer for the last 15
years, I thought I might try it. One of my volunteer
gigs was at the school library and I was a regular at the
local public library. As it happened, I always played
librarian when I was younger, sorting and shelving our
books at home. My mom’s love of reading rubbed off
onto me.
“Within six months I had made the job mine and
they wanted me full-time. Now 11 years later, I love
my job and have found my niche as a solo librarian in
a small county library.”
--Monica Overly, law librarian at the Union County
Library in Marysville, Ohio
“I was happily starving in New York City doing odd
jobs when my 44th birthday suddenly arrived and
I began to want something with more indoor and
sit-down responsibilities. I was offered a lucrative
classroom gig and I took it. The children were
wonderful, but I was not. I felt like I was under a
hot spotlight. I wanted just the opposite. I dreamed
of being in a library, so off I went to Columbia
University’s School of Library Service. They gave me
a broom, a mop, tuition exemption, and the keys to
many doors.
“Centrifugal force threw me out of the city and
into southern New England. There, on an offhand
tip from a friend of a friend of a friend, I wandered
member to member
into a storefront law school. The friend of a friend
lent me Morris Cohen’s How to Find the Law. I was
interviewed by the librarian and then, at a table for
five in a restaurant around the corner, I met the
entire faculty. It was an evening law school. All classes
started at 6:30 p.m. As that time approached, my
interview was abruptly terminated. The following
evening, I was shocked by a job offer over the
“The Southern New England School of Law Library
was located in the cellar of a department store that
had been vacant for several decades. The surplus autoparts shelving that had recently collapsed had been
put back together. The books were shelved nearest to
where they had fallen. They were the castoffs of several
lawyers’ basements. In a pile of obsolete statutes
that were being dumped, I found a 19th century
edition of Cooley’s Blackstone. We also had a nearly
complete run of the Harvard Law Review. One of my
first reference interviews was with a local judge. He
wrinkled his nose at me and said, ‘Howard, I have the
Harvard Law Review in my home, what else have you
got?’ On the other hand, the faculty was really smart
and the restaurant around the corner was excellent.
“At the end of my first year, we put the books in
Library of Congress order and started a card catalog,
perhaps the last card catalog begun in America. When
there were glitches, we called local law libraries to see
if they still had someone on staff who could remember
how it used to be done. We had two Cardex cabinets
that tracked updates with moving colored tabs. We
filed looseleafs. Some of our reporters had ‘annotation
pasters’ published by Frank Shepard glued on to
the end papers. We taught Shepard’s by showing its
history. We also had two futuristic Walt II Westlaw
terminals. They were amazing. Even law review
articles could be easily located and then, if you typed
‘pr’ (the print command) in the left hand corner, the
next morning when you came to work, the dot-matrix
tractor-feed printer, having chugged all night long,
would have the article finished—unless it was really
“Gradually, The Southern New England School of
Law entered the 20th century. In a few short years
I was able to work through all the technological
changes of the legal literature. I came to appreciate it
as perhaps the most elaborate, most expensive, and
most powerful structure ever created for scholarship.
No literature had ever been so obsessively annotated,
updated, cross-referenced, digested, cited, and
citated. At which point the internet arrived, making
all the magical things available to lawyers seem quite
ordinary. And then my gnarled and anachronistic
employer had, against all odds, got on its feet and rose
to be kissed by the commonwealth of saints. How did
I become a law librarian?”
--Howard Senzel, public services coordinator at the
University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth School of Law in
North Dartmouth
“Back in 1978, I graduated with an MLS from the
University of Missouri-Columbia. Back then it was
simply called library science. A young, inexperienced
bookend at 26 years old, I was preparing for a new life
in the world of libraries—libraries because I wanted to
be a librarian. Before my masters work, I was working
in a brickyard. That kind of job taught me that I’d be
much better off if I could muster a bit more education
past my bachelor’s degree. Only a year and half, I
said to myself, and libraries were places where people
studied and read books. A librarian was an honorable
and relatively safe occupation. At least I wouldn’t be
selling encyclopedias door-to-door to people who
couldn’t afford them.
“The grandeur of libraries was what I wanted to
embrace. Students and scholars did research there
in the massive building made of grey sandstone
blocks and tiny windows. Card catalogs five feet high
occupying three first-floor rooms! Such knowledge!
Such robust, lofty pursuits of new invention and new
thought. History preserved for the ages! It was your
classic ARL land grant university academic library.
Huge it was. Yes, I was smitten by the academic
library career track. My story unfolds.
“Actually, the whole thing is more a question of ‘how
I became a law librarian’ rather than ‘why I became a
law librarian.’
member to member
“A couple of months before graduating from Missouri,
I started looking at the job postings that were on slips
of paper pinned to the large corkboard panel that was
outside the dean’s offices in the hallway in Tate Hall.
One day I noticed a job opening for an entry-level
cataloger at the Creighton University Klutznick Law
“Knowing nothing about law and having only
coursework on cataloging, I initially dismissed the
idea of applying—they’d never consider me; I was
so green a greenhorn that people wanted to recycle
me. But my strong desire to be back in Nebraska
or somewhere in a 200-mile radius of Omaha and
Lincoln kept haunting me. I talked to my wife, Linda,
who also was going to graduate with her MLS with
me, about the Creighton opening. Before I knew it
I was at the Corona ‘electric’ typewriter tapping out
wording in the cover letter that would accompany my
resume and transcripts.
“I typed the cover letter and, in the end, decided
it was okay that it be fairly short, having a mild,
personable, innocent, naive tentativeness in its tone.
The strongest language in the letter was how much
I wanted to move to eastern Nebraska or western
Iowa, to be closer to family and get some career roots
established. The rest was just fluff to make it sound
like I was a diamond in the rough.
“Typed the address on a nice clean white envelope,
creased the tri-folded letter, resume, and transcript
very tightly, licked on a stamp, and dropped it in the
mailbox in the student union.
“Meanwhile, I kept looking at the job board in the
hallway. Nothing piqued my interest. Linda and I
figured that with her having a teaching certificate and
lots of teaching experience in elementary schools, that
she should follow me wherever I was able to land a job
as she could easily be a media specialist or elementary
school librarian in the area where we would move.
“Two weeks later, I received a letter from Creighton
University, and yes, they actually did want to have me
drive up for an interview. I remember only one part of
their letter now: “We were favorably impressed with
your application,” or something very similar to that
“We made the appointment time for the interview.
I got there and got the tour of the building and
where my desk would be, and got to see the backlog
of work to catalog, and aaaand could see the new
OCLC beehive terminal model 100 sitting on a long
table behind what would be my desk, with its little
rectangle green cursor blinking on the very small
screen—just waiting for a newbie to learn to use. Oh
“We ate lunch together with the rest of the Klutzick
staff at Mr. C’s restaurant in south Omaha and
returned back for a couple of quickie interviews. One
with the dean of the law school and interviews with a
couple of faculty. I was done around 4 p.m. and got
in our little yellow Toyota Corolla and drove back to
Columbia to tell Linda all my adventures. I liked the
place and the people I met, but was pretty sure that
there would be someone else who would land the
job and be flush with money—the starting salary of
$11,000 a year with all kinds of benefits!
“It wasn’t but a few days later and I got the offer to
hire letter. I sent back my commitment letter, and
started a month after I graduated.
“As the years went by, I fell in love with cataloging
legal literature with all its rules and rule
interpretations; with all its MARC fields and little
delimiter things; plus all those ISBD rules with their
little semi-colons, slashes, and dashes. And now—
today—I am now in the dragon’s liar of dealing with
the transitions from tangible format to digital...what
we all know of as electronic resources. I need an RDA
air-conditioned suit, a larger shield, and a longer
FRBR lance please!”
--Brian Striman, professor of law library/head of tech
services at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Schmid
Law Library
member to member
“While I was in library school, the accounting firm
Peat, Marwick, Mitchell contacted the school looking
for someone to straighten out their collection. My
brother worked for them in another office, and I
was the only one who knew what the firm did. I
learned tax law well. When I moved to a new city to
get married, I contacted law firms who didn’t have
librarians and talked my way into a job with my tax
skills. I was aiming for a public library job but found
my niche in law and have never looked back. You can
plan your life but it always takes some turns.”
--Carol Bannen, director of information resources at
Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren s.c. in Milwaukee