Law Librarianship

Law librarians work in many different settings. They can be found in academic law libraries, in state- and county-level public law libraries, in court houses, government agencies, private law firms, and other environments. Their patrons range from the general public, to law students, to attorneys, and possibly judges. Some law librarians have a J.D., or law degree, but it is certainly not necessary to work in the field. According to the 2008 American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) survey, fewer than 30% of law librarians hold a law degree. Some positions, especially reference positions, list it as a desired, but not required, qualification.

Within the profession there are a number of sub-specialties. Law librarians are government information librarians, legal catalogers, technical services specialists, web design experts, information resources managers, research specialists, competitive intelligence analysts, and many other job titles and areas of specialization exist within law librarianship.

Law librarianship is similar to other library career paths in a number of ways, but there are some significant differences. Similar to other reference librarian positions, law librarians search for and organize information. One difference might be the types of sources they consult while trying to locate relevant legal cases, statutes, and treatises. Once the law librarian has found the necessary legal information, it is necessary to ensure it is up to date and has not been overturned. The law is constantly changing — and sometimes surprisingly difficult to locate — therefore, law librarians must work to ensure they have the most current information. This applies outside of reference work, ensuring currency and relevance is part of collection development, cataloging, and more.

To learn about the field and begin to identify if a career in law librarianship is right for you, start the process of talking to people in the field. Join professional associations like AALL and one of its 31 local chapters (such as NOCALL-Northern California Association of Law Libraries and SCALL- Southern California Law Libraries Association) and the Special Libraries Association (SLA), and its 56 subject interest divisions (such as the SLA Legal Division and the Solo Librarians Group). As a student, rates are lower, and these associations provide great opportunities for you to network, conduct informational interviews, intern and/or volunteer.

Core Theory and Knowledge

  1. Understand the structure of the United States Legal System, and the publications associated with it.
  2. Understand how to organize information and how to make it findable. Understand legal cross-referencing systems.
  3. Understand user perspectives, the search process, and how various files and technologies impact search strategy.
  4. Understand free and paid legal online databases, search strategies, and resources.
  5. Enjoy teaching patrons how to use these resources, and helping them find needed information.

Coursework

Although the SJSU iSchool program does not have an official "law library track" or specialized degree focusing on law librarianship, there are specific classes that are especially helpful to prepare you to become a law librarian.

Note: These are courses you should consider. If you do not take all of these courses, it does not mean that you will not become a law librarian.

Required Courses:

Foundation Courses:

The elective courses listed below have been helpful to other law librarians who have completed the iSchool program in the past. They are included because they help prepare students for job duties in a law library environment. The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) has prepared a list of competencies for success as a law librarian. You might want to look at those competencies to help you select appropriate coursework. The competencies can be found at: http://www.aallnet.org/mm/Leadership-Governance/policies/PublicPolicies/competencies.html.

Additional Resources

Professional Associations:

AALL – American Association of Law Librarians

NOCALL – Northern California Law Libraries Association

SANDALL – San Diego Area Law Libraries

SCALL – Southern California Association of Law Libraries

SLA – Special Libraries Association

SLA Legal Division

Further Readings:

Update to Choosing Law Librarianship: Thoughts for People Contemplating a Career Move by Mary Whisner, published April 4, 2008

AALL– Law Library Careers

Marianne Sterna Wins Scholarship and Sets Her Sights on Law Librarianship.

American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) George A. Strait Minority Scholarship

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