What’s a Librarian Without a Library?


An interior shot of Munich’s municipal law library, one of the most beautiful library buildings in the world. Juristische Bibliothek, Munich. Photo from knstrct.com.

As many of us continue working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been exploring what it means to be a librarian without full access to a physical library building. Can we really provide the same depth and scope of services remotely for an extended period of time, without losing value or disappointing our patrons?

There’s been a disruption to critical in-person library services such as reference desks, makerspaces, and interlibrary loans. Some libraries have softened the blow by expanding electronic options or offering curbside pickup.

In an ideal virtual environment, we should be able to serve more patrons with greater convenience. The reality is that the switch to all-digital services has been swift and merciless and mandatory. Many librarians and patrons alike have had to quickly adapt however they can. Some patrons, including many self-represented litigants, may lack access to computers or laptops, or they may live in rural areas with inadequate broadband connections.

This is a new frontier, and not because of the technology. I know many academic law librarians are finding new ways to connect with patrons and provide them with accurate and helpful legal information. Whether it’s through fun videosscience-backed instructional strategiessocial media campaigns, or stress-relief LibGuides, law librarians are proving that our value extends beyond the doors of our library buildings.

As the world changes, I believe this type of engagement helps prove that the worth of a library is not found solely within the scope of its collections. A library’s worth is also found in the intellectual capital of its librarians, with our varied backgrounds, perspectives, hidden talents, and more.

Will librarianship ever look the same? Maybe not – we may have to adapt in unique and unforeseen ways. But we’ll continue to take active roles in legal education and maintain solid and resourceful connections with our patrons despite physical location.

Our methods may change, but our roles – the true essence of our roles, at least – will always stay the same.

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.
This entry was posted in Access to Justice, Current Events, Customer Service, Issues in Law Librarianship, Issues in Librarianship (generally), Library Collections, Outreach, Patron Services, Reference Services, student engagement, student services, Technology, Work/Life Balance and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What’s a Librarian Without a Library?

  1. mkoulikov says:

    “I know many academic law librarians are finding new ways to connect with patrons and provide them with accurate and helpful legal information.”

    But we cannot forget all the situations when what the patron needs is not information, but the object – the book or the microfilm. And I fear that especially after these last couple of months, it will be too tempting to start treating those aspects of librarianship as completely irrelevant.

  2. Michele LaRose says:

    Thank you for wonderful and inspiring column.

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