Law and order (of libraries)
I’ve been interning one day a week at the Lorain County Law Library. It’s a very different library environment than I am used to. The library is tucked away behind a nondescript set of huge, unmarked double doors, and the rest of the hallway consists of administrative offices for things like dog licensing and passport applications. The library is members-only, and because of this fact it serves a much smaller clientele than we do — mostly attorneys, a few members of the public and people who hold certain offices in the county (including judges). Membership consists of a fee-based subscription system for those people who don’t receive access as part of a county position. As a member, you get a PIN number that you must punch into a console on the door in order to enter the library.
This particular law library is located in a county building. Law libraries are generally also located in county centers, law firms, corporations or at academic institutions with law programs. I didn’t know until recently that many law librarians are licensed attorneys with a knack for (or love of) legal research. Other law librarians have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science, or have the MLIS and an additional paralegal certificate.
I completed a paralegal certificate course at LCCC not long ago, so I was very excited about this internship. I have found, in particular, that reference services are very different at the law library than they are at an academic library. Because of the nature of membership at the LCLL, because the people are established professionals, because it’s something people are directly paying for (not just out of tuition, but through yearly subscriptions), it’s more service-based and librarians tend to delve deeper into research questions.
At the reference desk in Oberlin, we like to “teach students how to fish,” and if someone is looking for particular information, we might show them the databases they could use, give them tools to answer the question for themselves. As an academic institution that exists to teach students, it makes sense — if all we did was hand students the information they were looking for, students wouldn’t come out of the College with any independent research skills whatsoever. It’s different at the law library where librarians do more of the research for their patrons instead of trying to teach them to do it themselves. If someone e-mails in a question such as “What liability does a landlord have for the actions of a tenant’s domestic animal in Avon?” a librarian is going to go look up the statute and e-mail the text back to the attorney — not suggest where they might want to look. In this regard, librarians in a law library focus less on teaching and serve more as a direct resource for specific information.
This is why legal training, whether it’s a paralegal certification or a J.D., is important in this field. At Oberlin, your reference questions range from “Where can I find information on transportation in the northwest corner of Ghana in the 1970s?” to “What is and isn’t performance art?” There’s no particular training besides the MLIS for the broad range of questions we get here.
I really enjoy the legal research aspect of this kind of library. The LCLL
uses WESTLAW, which is the database for legal research and it has not ceased to
amaze me. The staff consists of three incredible jack-of-all-trades librarians
who do everything from the bookkeeping to the cataloguing, shelving, reference
and computer maintenance. I feel lucky to be exposed to a new class of
librarians who are so willing to communicate some of their great expertise.