As a research and instructional librarian at an academic library, my role is pretty clear: teach the students to competently research the law, help faculty with any research tasks they need help with, and, of course, other duties as assigned. The day to day tasks that take up my time usually, and exclusively, include something within these realms, especially now that the semester has begun. About 75% of my time today will include preparing for my research class, while the remainder will be spent fulfilling other tasks tartgeted toward the student and faculty body of the law school.
While my insitution is an academic library, it is also a public library, which is something I often forget. My focus is substantially aimed at the students and law school, that I often lose sight of my obligation to the public. Point in fact, I will often visit my local public library and think: “the services and programs here are so different than at my library,” only later to realize “wait: we’re both public libraries!” This is not by design: we have a substantial public patron collection of self-help materials, and the reference staff will always help public patrons who visit. But the day to day operations are so heavily focused toward the academic focus, that I often forget about the public component.
This mindset is counterproductive and, I believe is harmful to the library’s mission to the public. I am never rude, nor dismissive of public patrons, but I’m so used to speaking to law students with some understanding of the law, that I often feel condescending to public patrons, and worry how that makes them feel. Likewise, when explaining the intracacies of statutory and case laws I find it very difficult to do so in a manner different than how I speak to students or faculty, which I worry may not be clear to the patrons. This is almost certainly anxiety, as my explanations are usually met with thanks, but my apparent discomfort when working with public patrons cannot go by completely unnoticed by them.
I am uncertain whether I can completely ameliorate these concerns, whether real or imagined, but to attack the problem head on I am finally giving public patrons active attention, rather than reactive attention. I am working on library guides and other promotional materials which will help public patrons navigate the legal resources. I am always on the lookout for new, free legal resources which I can add to our database library specifically for public patrons. These efforts have the dual benefit of assisting public patrons and presenting information to incoming 1L students, who are only slightly more sophisiticated than public patrons at understanding legal research. It is my goal that through these efforts, the public will find value, and also that I will become far more open to the public patrons that seek help in our library.