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: Tammy Hinderman

By Phoebe Ayers, MLIS Day
Note: this interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Tammy Hinderman, a first year student in the Law Librarian program, agreed to answer some questions for the Silverfish via email. I asked her about her background, and she said that she went to law school in Portland to study environmental law, but didn’t like private practice. After clerking in Portland for a federal trial court judge, she started thinking of alternative careers. She also talked to me about working reference in Gallagher, the program in general, and the job she’ll take after graduation.

Silverfish: Tell me a little bit about why you decided to become a law librarian.

TH: …I tried to think of the perfect job, and it hit me. Back in college, I had applied for a job with our school’s Factline. Factline was a telephone answer service for the campus. Initially, it was designed to provide campus information, e.g., where classes were being held, what time the basketball game starts, etc. It evolved into a real ready reference service. After numerous interviews, exams, psychological tests, etc., I made it into the top 8 finalists, but didn’t get the job. Later, when my roommate got a work study job at the reference desk in the main campus library, I learned Factline’s dirty secret: if they didn’t know the answer, they would put you on hold and call the reference desk! The reference staff would find the answer and call Factline’s secret back line to deliver the goods. The Factline staff member then would retrieve you from hold and give you the answer. Very slick. I always thought it would have been fun to be the secret person in the background with all the answers….

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

TH: The program is a lot more difficult than I expected. I thought since I had made it through law school, graduate school should be a piece of cake. (ok, not a piece of cake, but I thought I could handle it!). It has been very tough. The schedule is grueling—45 credit hours in a calendar year. We always take more classes than our classmates (last quarter, we had four classes for 13 credit hours, including a class for which we are writing a major research paper—rough draft due next week!) and have to complete all of the requirements for our portfolio in half the time. …

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

Wow—it’s a constant challenge, which is what makes it fun and exciting, in my opinion. At Gallagher, we serve a wide range of patrons: law faculty and staff, law students, UW faculty and students, members of the bar, and public patrons with little or no legal background. Each group provides their own challenges.

Faculty often ask very detailed, difficult questions and expect in-depth memoranda in response. Faculty also often ask questions that do not involve legal research, per se (e.g., questions regarding psychology, sociology, historical events, and statistics are common). Faculty requests can take long periods of time and require the work of multiple reference librarians. They give us the opportunity to work our writing muscles.

Public patrons can be difficult to handle because 1) they often do not understand the structure or “lingo” of the law, which can be very overwhelming and complicated to newcomers (there is a reason that law school is 3 years long!), 2) they want answers and we can’t give them legal advice—we can only provide suggested resources for them, we cannot interpret the law or even tell them which law applies to their situation (a very thin line, fuzzy line, by the way, between providing helpful legal reference services and unauthorized practice of law), 3) their problems are extremely personal and raw—people generally don’t need legal advice when things are going well in their lives, only when things have gone horribly wrong in some way (this is not always the case, but tends to be true of public patrons, in my experience). These traits combine to make almost every encounter with a public patron a challenging and, often, very rewarding teaching experience. …

Attorneys are really fun to work with—they often come up with really unique arguments and then want to find an English case from 1620 that might support it. They usually have difficult research questions (otherwise, they would have used an online database like Lexis or Westlaw and not bothered to drive to UW).

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

TH: Pros: Working in the reference office at the law library. It’s a lot of fun, I learn something new almost every time, and it gives me hope that I will actually enjoy my future job….

Cons: The law librarianship students sometimes seem to be lost in the iSchool shuffle. People seem to forget we exist and that we have different requirements than the other MLIS students. I would like to have more time to participate in student groups (really interested in archives, intellectual freedom, etc.), but we are just too busy.

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

TH: I’m really interested in the issues surrounding equal access to legal information and how that is an integral part of supporting an equal access to justice movement. I’m very concerned about the commercialization of legal information and what consequences that has for a patron who cannot afford an attorney or who cannot convince an attorney to take a chance on his case.

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

TH: I have accepted a job as the reference librarian at the Montana State Law Library (a division of the Montana Supreme Court, but open to the public; in fact, more than half the patrons have no legal training at all). I’ll be providing reference services in person, by telephone, and by mail and electronic mail to judges, clerks, attorneys, and members of the public at large. I’ll also be teaching continuing legal education classes on legal research and workshops on how to use the law library, and providing various forms of community outreach.

SF: One last question: What is the story behind the drawing you're holding [in your picture]?

TH: [It’s Flat Stanley]… Flat Stanley is a book about a little boy whose parents flatten him (by various means – in my version he was flattened by a steamroller), and fold him up and send him to relatives and friends so that he can see the world. It's a common project for elementary school kids to draw and/or color a copy of Flat Stanley and to mail him to someone they know. The relative/friend takes Flat Stanley on a tour, takes some pictures, and writes a letter to the student explaining Flat Stanley's adventures. Flat Stanley went to Red Square, the Space Needle, the flying fish joint at Pike's Place, and visited my beagle on our couch, among other adventures, here in Seattle. It was a nice break from studying!


"Attorneys are really fun to work with—they often come up with really unique arguments and then want to find an English case from 1620 that might support it."








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