Newsletter of the Association of Library and Information Science Students (ALISS)




 title of the newsletter: The Silverfish


April/May 2004

Vol VIII Issue IV

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Law MLIS Student Profile: Helane Davis

By Phoebe Ayers, MLIS Day
I conducted an e-mail interview with Helane Davis, who is in the law librarian program. She had some interesting comments about working reference in law libraries and the program in general, and told us about her personal background.

SF: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background and why you decided to become a law librarian.

HD: I hail from the Midwest, originally. I Decided I wanted to be a lawyer at the tender age of 12. A few twists along the way led me to Minnesota, where I worked for a legal publisher for 11 years, doing everything from customer service, to writing documentation, to legal editing.

As the landscape of legal publishing began to undergo enormous change, I started exploring other ways to use my law degree and after a cross-country move, I started working in libraries. I've worked in public, academic, and legal academic libraries, and that variety has been a great foundation for dealing with patrons, colleagues, and unexpected challenges. After you've spent 7-8 hours a day for months on end in OCLC and RLIN, or helped a child find everything you've got in your collection on the constellation Orion, or talked a library patron through searching LC subject headings, you know you can handle just about anything.

Becoming a law librarian was both a merging of where I'd been and where I was headed, as well as a way of coming full circle back to the world of information I was so fond of before the words 'juris doctor' ever crossed my mind. My first job in law librarianship was not your typical 'first job' and I was thrust into everything from reference to management to collection development to preparations for moving into a new facility. Talk about immersion!

SF: Is the program here what you expected? Are there any unexpected topics that you’re studying?

HD: I've been a bit surprised by the 'information' focus, although I suspect that's simply because I always thought of this program from the perspective of the law librarianship track.

SF: What is working in reference in a law library like? What kinds of questions and patrons do you get?

HD: This can vary greatly depending upon the type of law library you're working in. Academic versus law firm versus government: all have different dynamics. In an academic library open to the public, you might have questions from local practitioners, faculty, law students, undergraduate students, non-law graduate students, people fighting with their landlords, or people actually looking for legal representation or referrals – all in one day. You might take a phone call that asks for an official citation format for a particular state, or one that involves 3 hours of hunting through several online databases. You might also walk a law student through a Westlaw or Lexis search, or just nod when they ask if a certain treatise is shelved in the Reserve section of the library. There is a lot of variety. Academic reference law librarians may also encounter research needs tied to the cycles of legal writing assignments, support law review fact checking, author research guides and bibliographies, and explain how to use a print resource or an online catalog.

Then there are the guides, printer jams, photocopy location questions, policy updates, professional development activities, projects, and current awareness tasks...<g> Well, it's never boring.

SF: What parts have you enjoyed most about the program so far, and do you wish anything were different? What’s your biggest complaint?

HD: I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know others in the program, and the intellectual exchanges in class. Having worked in libraries for over six years, it's been very satisfying to explore and enhance concepts, ideas, and practices that I've been exposed to for so long. If I have a complaint, it's my frustration that there's more to explore than I have time for, but this is tempered by the realization that nothing is stopping me from taking a lifetime to explore this field.

SF: What in the field interests you the most so far?

HD: The myriad issues related to meeting information needs in a more traditional reference setting, for one. I expect that I'll always be intrigued by what is at heart a very basic information exchange, and the satisfaction that comes when someone walks away happy with an answer they can use. There are also collection development-related issues specific to legal materials that have long fascinated me, stemming, I'm sure, from my work for a legal publisher. Additionally, the intersection of information and technology seems to be in the forefront of all of our lives.

SF: What do you hope to do after you graduate?

HD: I'm currently working in a great legal academic setting at a unique job. I have responsibilities as a librarian, and I work on publications. In many ways it calls on not only all my past experience, but things I'm learning as I pursue an MLIS. It's a great place to put my new degree to work, so my plans are to do just that.


"I expect that I'll always be intrigued by what is at heart a very basic information exchange, and the satisfaction that comes when someone walks away happy with an answer they can use. "








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