Questions with Puron: Featured RIPS Member – Clare Gaynor Willis

Compiled by: Shari Berkowitz Duff

Questions with Puron is a social media series launched by the RIPS PR & Recruitment Committee to highlight the diverse views and professional strategies of the constituents of Research Instruction and Patron Services Special Interest Section (RIPS-SIS). Twice per month, our beloved penguin mascot poses a series of questions to one of the many librarians who make up RIPS. Puron talked with Clare Gaynor Willis, Research & Instructional Services Librarian, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in Chicago, IL

Puron: Share your favorite new (or new-to-you) resource for 2020! [could be a website, database, secondary source, anything]

Clare: I don’t think I discovered much that was new except for a lot of COVID-tracking websites. has a calculator that lets you enter your possible activity, your location, how close people are, what mask everyone is wearing, and it will calculate your COVID risk.  It pretty much always tells me what I already thought, but it’s nice to have some science behind it! 

Puron: What brought you to law libraries?

Clare: What brought me to law libraries was finding the intersection between a love of the law and a love of research.  I’ve always loved learning new things.  I was pre-law in undergrad at the University of Illinois when I met a law librarian in a law elective course, Paul Healey.  He was kind enough to let me interview him.  It seemed like an incredible job and I debated applying to grad school after undergrad, but there was a lot of momentum behind going to law school first, so I did that instead.  So law libraries were always plan A, it just took me a while to get back to that.

Puron: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I love to bake and cook.  It challenges me, nourishes my family, and allows me to experience new things in a time when every day can feel the same!

Puron: Favorite #AALL2020 session? Or a cool recent webinar?

Clare: Last year, I attended a webinar on trauma-informed pedagogy that made a huge difference in my teaching.  It was much more transformational than everything that I learned about educational technology, although that was important as well.  The most important takeaways were that people in trauma have less mental bandwidth, so you need to cut down on things that take mental energy, and that people in trauma can develop resilience if you show them how they are building on their strengths rather than fixing something that is wrong with them.  Those principles guided how I taught ALR in fall 2020 and I think it was one of my best semesters, pandemic or not.

Puron: What’s a professional achievement you’re proud of?

Clare: I’m very proud of my service as president of the Chicago Association of Law Libraries.  CALL is an amazing, vibrant group of smart librarians who are always willing to help each other and learn from each other.  Even getting their vote felt like a huge accomplishment.  I helped guide the organization towards offering more continuing education, including webinars.  I also loosened up the rule on in-person Executive Board meetings to allow for occasional conference calls.  I think our embrace of those changes allowed the organization to pivot to online meetings more easily.  Not that I don’t miss the quarterly lunch meetings!

Puron: What does reference look like for you?

Clare: Reference also looks like me at the window with a cat!  More than that, I think it looks like a lot of listening.  People rarely ask for the thing they actually want. 

Puron: How does reference or instruction assist with access to justice for you?

Clare: Instruction lets me teach the attorneys who will serve the public.  I’m always conscious that some of my students will go on to clerkships and public interest jobs.  I believe that Advanced Legal Research will make them more effective advocates for the public interest.  But I don’t limit access to justice discussions to those students.  I usually have a discussion about whether PACER should be free and I bring in public interest and big law firm lawyers and librarians to talk about cost-effective research.  These discussions may be one of the first times that law students have to confront the fact that some clients can afford more research than others.  Once they see that it is not fair, I think that allows them an opportunity to examine other unfairness in the justice system. 

What’s something interesting about your work [in a government library or firm library, etc.] that most people outside the field wouldn’t know?

I don’t think people know how much we get to learn about how many things. I just spent two days learning about models of Senate voting behavior in political science literature.  About a month ago, I researched statistics about how schools desegregated and re-segregated over the past 60 years.  I learned about different historical definitions of “cemetery” and “churchyard” last year.  Serving many faculty members and students and their many research agendas allows me a peek into a variety of fields of inquiry.  If I was an attorney or a law professor, I’d have to specialize.  Being a librarian lets you research a little bit of everything.   

Puron: What is your dream vacation destination for when it is safe to travel again?

Clare: I go back and forth on this.  Part of me just wants to go back to somewhere that I’ve loved before like Maine.  Part of me wants to take my annual trip to Wisconsin Dells with good friends from high school and college because I missed them last year.  And part of me would like to take the trip to Poland that was cancelled very early in the pandemic.  But that was supposed to be a trip with students taking a course with me and studying Polish law and politics.  I can never get that back again.  And that hurts quite a bit, so maybe I should focus on Wisconsin Dells for now.

Puron: What is your favorite podcast?

Clare: I listen to dozens of podcasts, even now that I’m not commuting, so this is a tough one.  There is only one that I listen to right away when I see a new one in my feed:  Reply All.  It’s always fascinating, often hilarious, and pretty much required listening if you’re unable to follow the minutia of what’s going on in internet culture and subcultures.  They were covering QAnon long before I heard the conspiracy discussed anywhere else. 

Puron: What is your favorite movie?

Clare: The Royal Tenenbaums.  I love Wes Anderson’s movies.  They get a lot of attention for being stylish (see the Accidentally Wes Anderson Instagram feed), but his movies pack an incredible, albeit incredibly understated, emotional punch.  They are poignant and can be extremely sad while also being extremely funny and silly.  Someday, he will get a lifetime achievement Oscar and everyone will wonder why he didn’t ever win Best Director.

Puron: What is your favorite app (or what app can’t you live without)?

Clare: The app I can’t live without is probably the Outlook app, but that’s not a very fun answer.  The other answer would be Les Mills On-Demand Apple TV app.  Exercise has kept me sane during quarantine. 

We hope you enjoyed getting to know Clare. If you would like to hear from more members, join the conversation on our Twitter RIPS-SIS (@RIPS_SIS) or connect with us on Facebook The PR & Recruitment Committee will also be reaching out to select members for participation in this series. If you would like to be featured, or want to recommend someone, please email Emma Wood at

About malikahhalllibrarian

Malikah Hall is a Reference Librarian and Instructional Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University. She was previously the Diversity Fellow, Research Services Librarian, and Lecturer in Law at Cornell University. Malikah is very active in AALL where she is the current RIPS Law Librarian Blog editor, Immediate Past Chair of PEGA-SIS, a member of the AALL Diversity & Inclusion Committee, and a member of the AALL Legal Research Competencies Review Special Committee. Malikah graduated from North Carolina Central University with a J.D./M.L.S. joint degree. In her spare time, she enjoys playing with her sweet dog and anything true crime related.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s