Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Law Librarians: Double Degrees Again!

Law librarians are debating that eternal, painful issue again: do we need to require double degrees? The issue has come up, not in the more usual venue of hiring reference librarians, but in the Director's suite. The ABA is undertaking a Comprehensive Review of its Accreditation Standards. ABA law school accreditation Standard 603(c) used to require the director of a law school library to hold both a law school and library degree.

In fact, there have always been law school library directors who lacked one or the other degree. These things happen, and some of them have worked out well. Sometimes, a school is in a difficult geographic area, or sometimes there has been a well-qualified person already in the library with experience. Occasionally, as with the current director of the Harvard Law School Library, there is a remarkable person in a related field with one degree, who is greatly desired for the position because of research background or other qualities he or she brings. In the best situations, the individual works closely with the librarians in place and gets in touch with the librarian community, becomes networked and at least to some extent, picks up some of the linkages that are important to staying current and cooperative in the librarian world.

But there are other situations where a substantive faculty member holds the title "Director of the Law Library" without ever truly becoming part of the either the library at the school or the library community. This damages the school and it seems to me to be criminally unfair to the individual who is left to run the library in every real sense. This individual seems to inevitably be a woman. And is always underpaid, as well as being untitled, and non-faculty, and un-tenured. One would have thought this sort of employment parasitism would have disappeared after the 1950's. But it is alive and well in law schools in the 21st century.

Alert SALT! Just in case they might care about librarians.

I am sorry but that sort of injustice makes me so angry it is very difficult to be politic.

But this sort of injustice is exactly why it is important for AALL and individuals not to shrink from comments to the ABA about Standard 603(c). We might want to suggest that they consider a flexible Standard that would allow:

"Directors of law libraries should have both a law and a library or information science degree except in unusual circumstances, but in all circumstances, should have a sound knowledge of and experience in library administration."

I certainly do not want to attack individuals. Over the years, I have had friends who have had one of the two degrees. I have often found that these were people who, when they had experience in law libraries, were the people who I turned to for advice. I hope the discussion does not turn into personal attacks regarding degrees. I would prefer that we look, instead, at what would be the long-term good of our profession and our schools. We are called Law Librarians. We are called that for a reason. There are two parts to the title.

Law schools need and deserve directors who are truly integrated into the library community, who are keeping current with changes in this fast-moving field. They require directors who are connected into the collaborative network of library leaders, and participate in the ongoing discussion of issues. And they require directors who are really and truly the leader of the library, not a Potemkin head.

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