Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Future of Law Librarians

Every so often, I feel somewhat discouraged about the employment prospects of law librarians. My husband, also a librarian, predicts that Google Print will inevitably put most librarians out of work, and that we will join the ranks of extinct professions in the dustbin of history--future generations will have no idea what librarians did.

As a useful corrective to that doomsday scenario, check out the following. In "Deconstructing the Law Library: The Wisdom of Meredith Willson," 89 Minn. L. Rev. 1381 (2005), Bob Berring says that "law libraries can no longer be defined as buildings, and can no longer be viewed as synonymous with the collections of information that they contain." Id. at 1402. He goes on to say that libraries "are no longer the institutions that define legitimate information." Id. If libraries are not buildings or collections, then what are they? Berring supplies an answer. According to him, the "soul of law libraries consists of law librarians." Id. Berring discusses the role librarians play in helping people find information and interpreting it once they have it in hand. Librarians will be crucial in managing the flood of information released from the Internet, and helping people understand issues of authority. What I found most heartening was Berring's reminder that librarians have been evolving for centuries and embracing new technology all the while, and will continue to do so in the future. Equally heartening was his assertion that of all the players in the information scene today, only librarians "have invested themselves in the quality of the information and its equitable distribution." Id. at 1403. If you ever forget why you chose to become a law librarian, read Berring's article and you will be reenergized.

Another publication worth your consideration is the Libraries section of the Chronicle of Higher Education, September 30, 2005. Particularly inspiring is Steven J. Bell's article entitled "Electronic Libraries Can't Be Academic" on page B14. Bell discusses Questia, a commercial vendor of electronic books and journal articles, which claims to provide "the world's largest online academic library and research resource." Id. After disputing this claim, Bell goes on to discuss what librarians bring to their institutions. "[L]ibrarians' involvement in the life of their institution is the catalyst that brings the groups together." Id. Without librarians, Questia cannot claim to be a library. This article is another good reminder of what we have to offer our institutions.

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