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Law Librarians Should Just Be Glad Anyone Knows Their Names

I’ll start by saying I don’t know what was up with the comments yesterday or why they weren’t working properly. It was probably my fault, but I’ll blame Chip because that’s the sort of thing he’s around for.

I was just reading about the Thomson-West promotional email in LJ (the best gol-darned library journal in the whole world!!®). That’s the one where they told their customers that if they were on a first name basis with their librarians, then they were spending too much time in the library. West wants people to go straight to their products. As I understand it, librarians in law schools are pretty much slaves, and the law professors would much rather have the slave fetch information than waste their valuable time doing it. Is it the same in law firms? Would going directly to West products all the time be like automatic checkouts and having to scan our own credit cards at stores? Something that’s supposedly for our convenience, but generally reduces us all to the level of sales clerks?

Anyway, for some reason, law librarians were very annoyed, prompting someone from West to apologize profusely and say that “It’s important that you understand that this does not reflect in any way how West feels about and values librarians." Or, at least, that’s what they want you to believe!

I wonder if public or academic librarians would be so appalled. I’m on a first name basis with a lot of professors, but I don’t know how many college students know any librarians. Pretty few, I’d bet. Academic librarians tend to know professors, but not necessarily as clients. And the instruction librarians are always desperate to get into classrooms and meet everyone, but most professors and students don’t let them in. Instruction librarians really want to be loved and be on a first name basis with all the students, but too many of them over the years have bored enough professors that the professors want them nowhere near the students. For most students, the advertisement would probably say, "if you’re on a first name basis with you’re librarian, you probably have a part-time job in the library!"

And public librarians, are they much different? Sure, there’s always the regular freaks and the old people who show up at the desk every day to ask the same questions and a few others, but most people use libraries without even knowing there are librarians. A friend of mine said she was at a circulation desk once helping out, and someone asked if she was a volunteer! Surely the majority of public library patrons have no idea of the name of the person signing them up to use a computer or telling them where the cookbooks are.

Maybe the law librarians are lucky that people actually do know their first names, or even that they have names, or that they’re librarians. At least in law schools, the librarians’ servitude have insured that they’re wanted. Plenty of librarians in public and academic libraries are struggling to find ways to make themselves more desirable through subservience, but so far have failed, no matter how many times they give big-eyed puppy dog looks and fetch slippers. They could learn a thing or two from some law librarians. Instead of being annoyed at West, the law librarians should be happy their patrons even know who they are.

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Comments

  1. Tracey says:

    FYI: The ad was directed at attorneys in law firms, and was telling them that the librarian, a high-level member of their staff, was not important. In most firms, librarians are very high-level staff members. Every attorney in my firm (115) knows me by name, and they come to me whenever they are having difficulty with a research problem, sometimes to perform research for them, sometimes to discuss the issues with them or make suggestions. This is not an unusual relationship for law librarians, who usually have law degrees and are qualfied to do the work that the lawyers do. Yeah, it’s insulting to say the very least. And in this economy, telling attorneys that they don’t need librarians (so why pay those high salaries) is practically a declaration of war.

  2. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    As a public librarian I would say they dont know my name but they do know who I am. This is good for day to day business but sucks on my time off. Nothing like trying to relax at a local watering whole and have people spend an hour talking about their late fees. I once had a gal actually say “They let you drink?” Charming yes!. I am still have an award out for the perfect pickup line in reply to “Oh your a librarian I love books”

  3. 5neh7 says:

    West is in a panic because they are losing subscriptions at an alarming rate for them.

    They priced themselves out of the small markets and now are faced with the fact that many law firms are just using one subscription for their library instead of desktop delivery to each lawyer.

    I say ha-ha West.

  4. meh says:

    “Is it the same in law firms?”
    Yes.

    Hilariously on-point about the instruction librarians (as one myself).

  5. Dru says:

    “… librarians in public and academic libraries are struggling to find ways to make themselves more desirable through subservience, but so far have failed, no matter how many times they give big-eyed puppy dog looks and fetch slippers” And as long as they continue to take that approach to making themselves relevant, they will remain, for the most part, irrelevant. Librarians have only themselves to blame for making the profession a mostly diminished one.

  6. Kelly says:

    To equate the public library environment with usual law library environments (firm, corporate, academic, government) is a mistake. In a public library, the patrons are not colleagues or the daily co-workers of the librarians. I would grant you that in a public law library, many don’t know the librarian’s name. But many local attorneys and courthouse personnel certainly do. In firms and corporations, attorneys and librarians work side-by-side. In academic libraries, the students might not know the librarian’s name, but the professors who use the library regularly certainly do. Similarly, there are government libraries which are more like corporate libraries where they serve a select community.
    Think of it this way. A doctor has admitting privileges to a hospital. That doctor doesn’t necessarily know the name of every other medical professional in that hospital though s/he may learn some through experience. However, the doctor DOES know the name of every medical professional in the office as the doctor works beside that person regularly. Wouldn’t it be odd and inefficient for the doctor not to know the name of the office nurse practioner? phlebotomist? medical assistant?
    Law librarians hold similar, supporting roles as directors, managers, and technicians. The attorneys who work with them should absolutely know their names.

  7. firm lib says:

    Who do you think orders all the materials from Thomson West – not the attorneys ! I am a law firm librarian. Not only do my attorneys know my name, they’ve got my cell phone and home phone numbers too!

  8. Suzy Pitbull says:

    All the lawyers who use our court library know our names, and they are glad to PAY for our services. All the crazy people, clerks, and judges know us, too.

  9. Tracey says:

    @meh: And you base this on your long experience at the law firm of… ? Oh, I see, you’re not actually a law firm librarian, so you don’t know what you’re talking about. Thanks for clearing that up.

    In answer to your question, Annoyed: No, it’s not normally like that in law firm I know. If you’re treated like that, no wonder you’re so annoyed. Maybe it’s time to consider a less demeaning profession.

  10. bchfc says:

    Ninety-five percent of all librarians could never handle being a law librarian.

  11. I Like Books says:

    Dru,

    What should librarians be doing to make themselves relevant?

  12. pas de deux ex machina says:

    I Like Books,
    I don’t think there’s anything we can do at this point to make librarians relevant, speaking as a librarian who does see that we are increasingly irrelevant. Oh wait! Public internet computers and after-school babysitting. I knew there was something…

  13. dp2hn says:

    Librarians are well liked here. Our circ. is higher than ever (been going up for 5 years) library is always busy and we are not badly paid. And we are doubling the size of our building. I just can’t feel the proper angst for flogging myself right now.

  14. meh says:

    Tracey: I worked in a law firm for years, as a paralegal.

  15. Sasa says:

    What is next step? advertisment stating that if they were on a first name basis with your medical doctor, then they were spending too much time in the hospital? Go home and log in to the Medline and have all your questions answered and all your problems solved! “With us you can have brain surgery in your kitchen!” Just subscribe to BrainAndknife.com

  16. juann chen says:

    The words following is to the game Metin2 palyers. Maybe you don’t play it, but in the wow world dreaming and fighting. Then why no try a new taste? It is a new game for me, and whats more, it is a totally free game. That means, while you are paying for WoW, you can play this game for free whenever you have time. When you want to create metin battle rocks/stones, first you have to break the metin and depending on its level the stone will be better or worse, but beware, you have to break a lot because stones don’t always socket to armor. Subsequently a large map will open up, in which you will be able to view the metin2 yang area and recognise different paths in detail. You can fade the map in and out as you please with the key ‘M’. Now you have to go to the guard of the village square (in the middle of the settlement) and carry out a mission for him. Go to the guard of the village square and click on him. Your mission is: to buy potions for him! You can find out where to buy it on this on the map, as well as on the mini map. Additionally you will receive an assignment scroll, which you can click on to find out more about your mission.

    metin2s.com

  17. snoopylibrarian says:

    Not only do the patrons at my library know my name they know my kids and grandkids. They value my opinion on what’s good to read for themselves and their children. They like to discuss what they’ve read and what they want to read. Am I relevant. Yeah I am. Oh by the way our circulation has risen 40% in the last six months while our computer usage has only risen 5%.

  18. Elisa says:

    Cheers…where everybody knows your name.

  19. I Like Books says:

    If librarians are becoming less relevant, I really think it’s due to a shift in the culture rather than technology. The internet is a replacement for simple reference questions like statistics, when did So-and-So die, encyclopedia articles, popular culture, etc., although the quality isn’t always high. (I’m also assuming that most public libraries haven’t lost a lot of users of academic journals to on-line databases.)

    When you’re looking for comprehensive or in-depth information (or a novel), you need BOOKS. You won’t find that on a web page unless the web page is 400 pages long, i.e. a book in electronic format. And despite some books being offered on-line and in formats like the Kindle, it’s not many of them, and not the non-fiction that I’ve been reading, and it’s mostly the committed geeks who’ve been reading them. If you’re really interested in something, you can a five page Wikipedia article (and that same basic information might be repeated again and again on two thousand other web pages), or get thousands of pages at the library.

    If libraries are becoming less relevant it’s because, for whatever reason, people don’t have as much book-length interest or attention span.

  20. Needs a ''nym says:

    I Like Books: Your comment makes a good point, but it’s based around a common mistake that I think needs to be addressed: You’re conflating the need for reference librarians with the need for libraries.

    As more people become comfortable with searching OPAC-like things, it’s likely that they’ll have less need for the intercession of a reference librarian in order to find a book. Regardless of the relevance of the library, the reference librarian will become less relevant to the patron’s experience.

  21. Picard says:

    Needs a Nym makes a good point. Reference librarians are becoming less relevant to the patrons experience. Note his use of “less relevant” instead of “not relevant. Two many Directors and Administrators can’t tell the difference. Moderation and wise judgement is not a prerequisite for library leaders. One doesn’t get to be a celebrated mover and shaker preaching moderation. Thus change fostering morons are in charge.

  22. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    Unless they’re veterans or my contemporaries none of my students use my first name. A full professor (with whom I’m on a first name basis) counseled me years ago to insist that students give me the respect/deference due my position (hahaha) and age. And lots come to see me because they know Ms. NotMariantheLibrarian can help them figure stuff out. When I hear libraries/librarians and relevance in the same sentence I want to ask “where the hell do you work?” As faculty raise the bar on student work, our numbers continue to rise – reference questions, e-mails, chat, library instruction, etc.

    Faculty do appreciate the librarians here and many students do as well. It’s far preferable to the snake pit that was Corporate Library work. Talk about fetching slippers! That and more where I worked.

  23. I Like Books says:

    I’ve seen in one or two places professors complaining that since students have been relying more on internet sources for their research, the quality of their work has dropped. No explanation was given, but I thought it was interesting.

  24. a says:

    Legal professionals write too much. They will always need librarians.

  25. OK says:

    bchfc commented:

    “Ninety-five percent of all librarians could never handle being a law librarian.”

    Just like 95% of all law librarians couldn’t handle being an actual attorney.