Time Management for Playmakers

by Margaret Jane Ambrose

Photo by Sean MacEntee

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about time.  Mostly because I could use more of it (but then who couldn’t?), but also because I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about what I do with my time.  These questions come mostly from friends and family who think being a law librarian sounds interesting in a scholarly, erudite sort of way but don’t actually know how I spend my time.


Cropped photo by jimbethmag

Some, of course, have the image of me sitting behind an impressive desk with glass and a bun, shushing patrons and looking disapprovingly over a pair of glasses whilst stamping books. Needless to say, this is better than those who ask if there is even still a need for law librarians in the age of online legal research.

It’s not surprising then that my responses to queries about how I spend my day usually have somewhat of a defensive edge, and I try my best to make it sound as interesting as possible.  Sometimes I mention being asked to find Lady Gaga’s deposition or researching the Magna Carta. In reality, while these are fun examples, the majority of my time as an Access & Research Services Librarian is spent developing (1) policies and procedures to ensure fair access to library resources and (2) lesson plans, though even this explanation leaves much to be desired.


Scottsboro Train, photo by Cornell Law

In truth, how law librarians spend their time varies from week to week, librarian to librarian, and even institution to institution. If there is one constant, however, it’s that the majority of a librarian’s time is spent working on projects behind the scenes to make sure that the trains run on time and without major incident.

Recently, Susan deMaine of Indiana University McKinney School of Law came up with a rather clever sports metaphor. (Editor’s note: To give credit where credit is due, I borrowed it from Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) in the film High School Musical. My teens have been rewatching their favorite “old” movies.) A law librarian is similar to a playmaker: someone who sets up others to succeed. In sports, the criteria for what makes a good playmaker is much harder to define than what makes a top goal scorer. Whereas the criteria for what makes a top goal scorer is built into the term itself (e.g. a player who scores a lot of goals), there is no such built-in criteria for what makes a player a playmaker.  It is based on a nebulous set of attributes and abilities.

Following this analogy, the success of people that law librarians set up to succeed is easier to see than the activities of the law librarians as academic playmakers.  Faculty members are successful when they publish articles; students are successful when they ace their legal memo assignments. Distinguishing the law librarian’s daily playmaking tasks that go into these successes is more challenging, and we can end up feeling under-recognized.

The metaphor can be extended to questions of time management. What is the best use of a law librarian’s time to achieve maximum playmaking conditions for library patrons? Sometimes I have to wonder at the balance between time spent in meetings with other librarians developing policies, procedures, and initiatives, and the time spent on research support for faculty and actual face-time with library patrons through the reference desk or in-class legal instruction.

I worry about how I am spending my time because there is only so much of it, and there is a constant need to find time for both the new and innovative that will bring patrons to a whole new level, and at the same time do what needs to be done to maintain the current level of game play. All of which is why every time someone asks me what I do, I find myself pausing—not because there is nothing to say, but rather there is too much to say. I am not sure how best to convey the sheer variety of the work that fills my day and the days of my colleagues and how to best link that work to the successes of our patrons.

I would like to know how other law librarians answer questions about what they do with their time and the actual breakdown of how they spend their days. If enough people respond,  I can do a follow-up piece, or at the very least, be better prepared the next time someone asks me how I spend my days.

About margaret.jane.ambrose

I work as a Access & Research Services Librarian at Cornell Law. I am also a Board Member of ALLUNY.
This entry was posted in Career, Issues in Law Librarianship, Time Management and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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