Listening & Learning as a New(er) Law Librarian

Recently, I looked at my calendar and realized that I’ve been a law librarian for a little more than two years. This fact snuck up on me for many reasons; mainly, time flies when you’re having fun! But it also struck me because I still feel so brand new in this field.

When I first started working as a law school librarian, I was immediately grateful for the knowledge and expertise of my co-workers. We share a space in the Reference office, so we are all privy to every patron interaction and inquiry. In those early days, every question sounded random and threatening to my budding librarian ears. “How can I answer all these legal questions without first being an expert at everything?!” I wondered.

I listened in awe as my colleagues artfully guided faculty and students alike through complex, thorny requests. I began taking notes – awkwardly, at first. I would surreptitiously scribble patron questions and “answers” on index cards underneath my desk, or during meetings, or even during casual conversations. I tried to soak up as much knowledge as I could, fearful that one day I would get asked “THE” question – the one that would stump me for good and leave me grasping at straws right in front of a patron. My worst fear!

A pink clear box full of index cards with different labels like "Databases," "Admin," "Bluebooking," "LibGuides," "Secondary Sources," and more.

My handy traveling reference card collection.

Eventually, my reference card collection started to grow. I housed them in boxes and kept them near me at all times at the reference desk, like my own little librarian safety net.

My reference cards are divided into categories. They contain everything from information on lesser known legal technology tools, to popular secondary sources, to in-depth hacks and tricks for using Bloomberg, Westlaw, Lexis, and other databases.

I do a lot of listening as a newer law librarian, but I also do a lot of writing. When one of my colleagues mentions a cool new tool or database, or when they are kind enough to share how they helped someone work through a particularly difficult legal research question, I write it down on an index card and store it in my handy little collection.

The funny thing about this collection, however, is that I rarely ever whip it out in front of a patron. I’m usually way too engrossed in making sure we’re working through their inquiry together, and I don’t want to lose their interest or be distracting.

Instead, I find that the physical act of writing helps me retain the information and remember it when I get questions. I periodically cruise through my card collection just for fun, and I often add new cards based on legal information or resources I’ve read in addition to what I learn from my co-workers.

I don’t know when, if ever, I will stop feeling so “new,” but I do love getting creative about listening and learning from my colleagues along the way!

About alynnmatthews

Librarian and communications nerd with a B.A. in journalism from Hampton University, J.D. from University of Miami Law, and M.S.L.I.S. from Catholic University of America.
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1 Response to Listening & Learning as a New(er) Law Librarian

  1. Matthew Elisha says:

    Alynn, Do you also use a Wiki for your Library? We have created a Wiki for our law firm library and try to record common information that can help us with research/reference questions. It includes notes on where to find certain types of information (court dockets & documents, legislative histories, 50 state surveys, etc.) as well as tips on how to do certain types of research (criminal background checks, business intelligence, practice specific research, state-specific research, etc.).

    It has some similarities to Zimmerman’s Legal Research Guide (defunct, but kept at, but with more specifics about resources we license and have in our collection.

    The great thing is that the Wiki is available to all Library staff and updated by all librarians, so we can all benefit from the shared knowledge. It is also a great tool for bringing new librarians up to speed.

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