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 JD (juris doctor), or law degree, but it is certainly not necessary to work in the field. According to the 2008 American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), fewer than 20% of law library jobs require both an MLIS and a JD. Some positions, especially reference positions, list it as a desired, but not required, qualification.
We invite you to watch a webcast about the law librarianship career path presented by career law librarian Jean L. Willis.
Within the profession there are a number of sub-specialties. Law librarians may be government information librarians, legal catalogers, technical services specialists, web design experts, information resources managers, research specialists, competitive intelligence analysts, business development market researchers, or and many other job titles and areas of specialization within law librarianship.
Law librarianship is similar to other library career paths in a number of ways, but there are some significant differences. For example, depending on the job responsibilities, law librarians search for and organize information, as do librarians in other settings. A difference, however, is the types of sources they consult while trying to locate relevant legal cases, statutes, and treatises. Once a law librarian has found the necessary legal information, it’s further necessary to ensure it is up to date, i.e., that it hasn’t been overturned. Sometimes surprisingly difficult to locate, the law is also constantly changing. Therefore, law librarians must work to ensure they have the most current, relevant information whether performing reference work, doing collection development, cataloging, or performing other job responsibilities.
To learn about the field and begin to determine whether a career in law librarianship is right for you, start the process by talking to people in the field. Join professional associations like AALL (link is external) and one of its 30 local chapters (such as NOCALL (link is external) [Northern California Association of Law Libraries] and SCALL (link is external) [Southern California Law Libraries Association] and/or SLA (Special Libraries Association), and its more than 50 special interest groups (such as the SLA Legal Division and the Solo Librarians group). Membership rates for students are often substantially discounted, and these associations provide great opportunities for you to network, conduct informational interviews, intern and/or volunteer.
Core Theory and Knowledge
- Understand the structure of the United States legal system, as well as those of relevant state and municipal systems, and the documents associated with them.
- Based on your employer’s focus, understand the relevant regulatory environment.
- Understand how to organize information and how to make it findable. Understand legal cross-referencing systems, legal taxonomies, and legal terminology.
- Understand user perspectives, the search process, and how various files and technologies impact search strategy.
- Understand relevant free and fee-based online legal databases, search strategies, and resources.
- Be able to effectively teach students, colleagues, and others how to use these resources, and help them find needed information.
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. Also, if you are a minority student interested in pursuing a career in law librarianship, be sure to check out the AALL George A. Strait Minority Scholarship webpage.
Note: These are courses you should consider. If you do not take all of these courses, it does not mean that you will not be able to pursue a career in law librarianship.
- INFO 200 Information and Society
- INFO 202 Information Retrieval
- INFO 203 Online Social Networking: Technology and Tools
- INFO 204 Information Organizations and Management
- INFO 285 Research Methods in Library and Information Science
- INFO 289 or INFO 299 Culminating Experience
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: https://www.aallnet.org/about-us/what-we-do/policies/public-policies/competencies-of-law-librarianship/
- INFO 210. Reference and Information Services - Law librarians answer a variety of questions and this class gives a good overview of general reference sources. The information on the reference process is useful for all librarians who will be interacting with people.
- INFO 220. Resources and Information Services in Professions and Disciplines - This is a seminar course with rotating topics focusing on different librarianship specialties. The legal resources class is especially useful if you do not have legal experience; if you have a law degree, it may not be as helpful.
- INFO 221. Government Information Sources – Law librarians often have to find obscure government documents and statistics. Some law librarians maintain collections of government documents. This class gives you tools for both.
- INFO 230 – 232. Issues in Academic Libraries/Special Libraries and Information Centers/Public Libraries – If you’re interested in working as a law librarian in a specific setting, monitor these courses for topics of interest.
- INFO 240. Information Technology Tools and Applications – Law libraries use many electronic and online resources for all areas of library operations.
- INFO 244. Online Searching – Law librarians work with an enormous amount of databases, so having solid searching skills is essential to most reference positions.
- INFO 246. Information Technology Tools and Applications (Advanced). Focus on Web 2.0 – This is a seminar course with rotating topics. Technology and especially Web 2.0 skills are very useful for Law and other Special Librarians.
- INFO 250. Design and Implementation of Instructional Strategies for Information Professionals – Law librarians train patrons on how to use different library resources and some teach classes in academic settings.
- INFO 251. Web Usability – Law librarians are often involved in creating web interfaces for the delivery of electronic resources and knowledge of user-centric design principles is critical to serving the time-sensitive needs of legal professionals.
- INFO 281. Seminar in Contemporary Issues – This class changes focus, but past topics of interest include Competitive Intelligence, Information Policy and Cultural Perspectives, and Digital Copyright.
Choosing Law Librarianship (Update): Thoughts for People Contemplating a Career Move (link is external) by Mary Whisner, published April 4, 2008
iSchool Student Marianne Sterna Wins Scholarship and Sets Her Sights on Law Librarianship.