In February of 2011, AALL asked the Member to Member Question,“why did you become a law librarian?” One respondent said, “I decided to be a librarian when I was 12….”
This type of response seems to be more of the exception than the rule. Many of the other members’ answers to the Member to Member Question included the words “by accident.” The “accidental law librarian” has become something of a running theme in our profession.
Last year, there was even a book published called The Accidental Law Librarian by Anthony Aycock. The author recognized that many people ‘fall’ into the profession. The book offers an introduction to law librarianship for those who are new to the profession, including sources of authority, the basics of legal research, answering legal reference questions, looseleafs, WEXIS, and library administration.
The often accidental nature of our profession means that there are potential law librarians all around us. And the anecdotal evidence shows this to be true as more law students are approaching the reference desk asking about law librarianship. Because law librarians are in a good position to stumble upon those who are interested in the profession, it means that we can advocate for law librarianship and mentor, mentor, mentor!
At Cooley, the law librarians started a formal research assistant position to aid those interested in advanced legal research techniques. As a prerequisite, the reference assistant must have taken Research & Writing and have an understanding of basic legal research.
During the law student’s tenure as a reference assistant, he or she has the opportunity to work closely with the reference librarians and gain hands-on experience in a wide variety of areas, including the following:
- Performing a reference interview
- Learning advanced research techniques like state-specific legislative history
- Additional experience with a proper research strategy and terms and connectors searching
- Organizing research for faculty liaisons
- Collection development techniques
- Other skills necessary to fulfill research requests (PACER, SEC filings, etc…)
This position is in a controlled setting, and the research assistant works under the watchful eye of the librarians who are not only open to questions but also offer suggestions for improvement. As a former research assistant, I can attest to the invaluable experience of working with a librarian with 40+ years in the profession.
It has been Cooley’s experience that law students who are interested in law librarianship gravitate toward the position. And at least three of our former research assistants have found employment as law librarians.
The research assistant program is a great success, and it is a wonderful way to provide additional one-on-one research instruction to students.
For more information see:
Serena Brooks, Educating Aspiring Law Librarians: A Student’s Perspective, 97(3) Law Library Journal 517 (2005).