Just three years after receiving her Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree, alum Jennifer Allison already has her dream job.
Allison is one of three Foreign, Comparative and International Law (FCIL) Librarians at the Harvard Law School Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She started the job in December 2012, and specializes in legal research for German-language jurisdictions.
“I feel like I’ve kind of reached the pinnacle,” she said of the job at Harvard. “I’m really happy here, and I want to be here for the long haul.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in German and English, the southern California native attended Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu. She worked in the Pepperdine Law Library while attending law school, and found she liked working with students, teaching research skills and working at the reference desk. By the time she graduated with her J.D. in 2007, Allison knew she’d rather work in a law library than practice law.
To continue as a reference librarian at Pepperdine, Allison said, she was contractually required to be working toward an MLIS degree. A couple of co-workers had earned their graduate degrees at SJSU SLIS, and she knew the fully online MLIS program would allow her to keep working at Pepperdine while earning her degree. She completed her MLIS in 2010.
“I’m at Harvard now, and I would not have been able to get this job, obviously, without a library degree,” she said. “It would have been impossible. I wouldn’t have even been qualified.”
After working for five years in the Pepperdine Law Library, Allison wasn’t really looking for another job. But then Harvard posted a job ad for an FCIL Librarian, and their preference was for someone who reads German.
Shocked to see a job opening that seemed tailor-made for her, Allison applied, and when she was offered the job, she said, “It was too good to turn down.” So she and her husband relocated to the Boston area, which has been a great move for them.
“It worked out on so many levels,” Allison said. “I love working at Harvard. It has one of the best collections in the country. It has a lot of foreign students. I’m doing foreign research pretty much every day. For my interests and my abilities, it is really a good fit, and I’m very, very happy here.
Allison’s responsibilities at Harvard include reference services and collection development. She remains focused on academic librarianship, and looks forward to learning more about how to best provide research services and support for foreign law scholarship.
“There were so many great classes that I took in library school. The one that probably helps me most in my job now was LIBR 210 Reference and Information Services. We reference librarians MUST know how to write clear, readable and useful research guides and bibliographies, and I learned a lot about those skills from Lecturer Todd Gilman in that class. Another course I took, because of my interest in correctional law, was Lecturer Bill Mongelli’s LIBR 282 Correctional Libraries course, and that was an amazing class. You learn about a completely different patron demographic and different needs. It really showed me how to view librarianship in a whole different way. Bill is a librarian at a prison here in Massachusetts, and I was able to go visit him in the prison library after I moved here. That was such a cool experience. I got to talk to the inmates and understand how and why they value the library. If it hadn’t been for San José State, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity.”
“Do whatever you can to get work experience, do whatever you can to get internships. Then you really know what you’re getting into, and it’s going to give you a leg up. Also, if you have any foreign language skills, develop them. Even if you’re not totally proficient, if you can at least put on your resume that you can read and speak basic Spanish or French, that’s going to be really helpful to a reference department, especially as the world gets smaller.”
“Knowing basic Web development skills is really a must these days. I am really glad that I took LIBR 240 Information Technology Tools and Applications in library school, and I use the skills I learned in that class almost every day. In addition, if you’re ever working in an academic library or public library, really understand the library catalog and how to search it.”
“Life Skills” Tip
“Keep doing what you love outside of work, even if you think you don’t have time. I have been playing ice hockey for many years, and one of the first things I did when I moved to New England was to find a women’s league to play in. I have made some great non-work friends through that, and it is wonderful for stress relief and exercise.”
American Association of Law Libraries Annual Meeting