Navigating a Career in Law Librarianship
Margaret (Meg) Butler
Law librarians benefit in many ways from their production of scholarship. Scholarship promotes the profession of librarianship. It encourages the identification and implementation of best practices, among other things. Employers may see the scholarship as an indication that the employee has interest and motivation and expect that to spill over into fulfillment of other job responsibilities. A librarian’s interest in scholarship may also be perceived as an indicator that the librarian is aware of important ideas and trends in the profession.
Librarians can start small in developing their scholarship. Basic steps include starting small, writing regularly (practice), seeking support, and learning the market. Remember that it is important to find the right balance between regular work duties, creating scholarship, and enjoying your personal life.
- The role of scholarship in hiring and promotion varies from employer to employer.
- Balancing daily job responsibilities with scholarly interests is a crucial skill for the aspiring writer.
- Develop as a published writer by starting small, volunteering, practicing, seeking, support and learning the market.
Scholarship in Hiring & Promotion
Many types of employers hire law librarians, such as law firms, government law libraries (including state, county, agency, and other government law libraries), and academic law libraries. This section describes the role of scholarship in hiring or promotion for librarians working in those environments.
Firm & Government Librarians
Remaining aware of current issues in librarianship is important for both law firm and government librarians. Although these librarians are not always expected to produce scholarship, they are expected to perform effectively and efficiently. Professional development, in the form of current awareness through reading blogs, newsletters, and journals remains important.
When looking for a first position, job candidates often look for ways to set themselves apart from the candidate pool. Including a publication or two on the resume is one way to do so, particularly if the publication is relevant to the position’s duties or in an area of interest to the employer. Publications on a resume demonstrate that the candidate is able to manage project-related tasks, such as planning and meeting deadlines as well as showing interest in the substantive material included in the piece. Those interested in pursuing work as a government librarian should, before an interview, educate themselves about conflict of interest limitations, as well as potential standards of conduct that may govern writing or other outside activities.
When working as a firm or government librarian, it is important to understand the role of publication in the promotion process. Your supervisor can easily provide guidance about whether scholarship or publication is directly rewarded by your employer. Some law firms encourage and incentivize their employees to produce scholarship, such as blogs or articles, because it promotes the profile of the law firm. Other firms may offer no official recognition of scholarship, as they may not see it as a part of the librarian’s job duties or promoting firm interests. Of course, some librarians’ writing may be published internally on a firm intranet or externally as part of their regular job duties, such as the research guides and blogs produced by the Law Library of Congress.
There is a broad librarian audience for scholarship produced by government and firm librarians. The practical perspective is valued. Academic librarians want to know more about the tools and practices that law students will be using after graduation. Other librarians in law firms and other private or industry contexts benefit especially from current awareness tools such as blogs and other programs produced by firm librarians. Note that, while law firms may not universally reward scholarship by their librarians, a number of law firm library directors actively produce scholarship, such as the blogs On Firmer Ground, Dewey B Strategic, and Three Geeks and a Law. These contributions to scholarship are credible and promote the profession, providing readers with helpful information for their own workplaces.
Academic Law Libraries
When applying for work, a newly minted law librarian may benefit from having a record of scholarly contributions. This section will describe in more detail considerations and issues unique to academic law librarianship for both hiring and promotion.
Table 1: Librarian Employee Types
|employee at will||typically no expectation of scholarship, unless explicitly listed in job description as a duty; time for writing may not be compensated|
|adjunct faculty||typically no expectation of scholarship, similar to other adjunct faculty; it may be seen as a bonus; time used for writing may not be compensated|
|non-tenure track faculty||there are a variety of non-tenure track faculty types, and the job description and promotion guidelines will typically provide guidance about whether scholarship is expected and compensated|
|tenure track faculty||since scholarship is typically expected for promotion, evidence of success as an author can be helpful in hiring; time creating scholarship is compensated, and expectations may include the opportunity to have a sabbatical to support the production of scholarship|
As with firm and government librarians, there are some advantages to having a record of scholarship at the time of application. Review the job description or posting to see whether there are signals about how scholarship would be viewed by the employer. An academic employer, particularly one whose promotion or tenure system requires scholarly contributions, will review each resume or curriculum vitae for evidence that a candidate will be able to meet requirements to produce scholarship. A librarian who fails to meet the publication requirements of their library could be terminated if scholarship is a requirement. Employers that hire at-will employees, or treat librarians as adjunct faculty, may not have any expectations of scholarship. Depending on the type of employer, an applicant may want to highlight their scholarly interests.
If you are unclear about a prospective employer’s expectations, it is worth clarifying them, particularly while considering an offer of employment. Some universities offer a sabbatical, or a period of paid leave often used for writing. To receive a sabbatical to write an article for publication in Law Library Journal or Legal Information Review, the employer must actually offer sabbaticals to librarians. If sabbaticals are not part of an employer’s benefits package, you may still be able to negotiate about writing time. Points of negotiation include whether writing time can be included as part of your regular work hours as well as whether writing may be done remotely.
Newer librarians are not expected to have produced significant research-based articles in major publications. However, librarians who are changing employers may have a record of significant publication and scholarly contribution. Those librarians need to negotiate whether their prior publications can be considered for purposes of future tenure or other promotion while negotiating their terms of employment. Scholarly contributions are typically only counted by an institution if they are published during the time the librarian works for the institution.
Academic law librarians are categorized in a variety of different employee types, depending on their schools. Expectations of contribution to scholarship vary across the employee types as well as by school within employee type. Job description responsibilities will usually reflect employer expectations. Because there is variation it is a good idea to clarify employer expectations.
Whether internal or external, scholarship can be helpful. As indicated above, an external promotion may be easier for one who has a record of scholarship, particularly when seeking work at a law school where librarians are expected to produce some form of scholarly work. As you advance in your career, you will develop your own areas of interest, knowledge, and scholarly contribution. You can call this your research or scholarly agenda. For librarians who envision their future as academic library directors, a record of scholarship is critical. Academic law library directors often hold tenure track positions; thus, they are expected to have a scholarly agenda and significant record of publication and reputation.
When producing scholarship with the intent of promotion, it is important to consider whether the work produced meets the criteria established for promotion. As with the question of whether scholarship is required for promotion, the question of what counts as scholarship in support of promotion is best answered by job descriptions, school promotion or tenure standards, and supervisors.
developing As a Writer
To become a published law librarian, there are a few steps to follow. First, identify the type of scholarly contribution you wish to make to the profession. You need to make an action plan to fulfill that goal. You have to do the work of your plan, and finally, you need to submit your contribution for publication. This section will address each of those steps in order.
Types of Scholarship
There are a wide variety of scholarly contributions available for law librarians. Considering these types of contributions is part of the first step of creating scholarship: identifying the type of contribution to be made. Scholarship can include scholarly articles, research guides, chapters in books, book reviews, and blog posts.
Traditionally, people consider the research-based article published in a (print) peer-reviewed or other highly regarded publication, such as Law Library Journal or a law review, as a significant scholarly contribution. The significance of a contribution can be calculated by the article’s placement, with some journals being rated as having a higher scholarly impact than others. Another way to evaluate the impact of scholarship is by the frequency that the scholarship has been downloaded, if this data is available from a source such as an institutional repository, or has been cited. One of the best ways to identify a place for publication of an article (or other scholarship) that you are considering is to review and evaluate the sources that would likely publish your article.
There are a variety of specialized print publications in the field of librarianship, ranging from Law Library Journal and Legal Reference Services Quarterly to journals that address specific aspects of librarianship, such as the Journal of Access Services or the Journal of Library Administration.
CONCEPT IN ACTION: FINDING OPPORTUNITIES/h2>
Student librarian Rosa Lee followed her professor’s guidance and joined professional organizations, such as the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and the Special Libraries Association (SLA), as a student member. As a member, she saw a “call for contributors” email seeking a reviewer for a webinar made freely available to the members. The topic of the webinar is of interest to Rosa, and she was already planning on attending.
Rosa took advantage of the opportunity, replying to the email. The editor offered basic writer guidelines and happily included Rosa’s review in the newsletter. Rosa, when it was time to start looking for work, was able to include the publication on her resume, demonstrating her interest in her own professional development, her commitment to our professional community, and her ability to follow through and complete projects—things an employer is happy to see.
Journals that are born digital, or exclusively available online, may provide another opportunity for publication for the librarian-scholar. Sources that are exclusively available online, such as In the Library with the Lead Pipe, may be committed to open access, allowing readers to freely engage with the contributed articles. Note, however, that exclusively online publications may be seen by non-librarian colleagues as having a lesser weight than traditional print sources.
Librarians may publish research guides, whether in print or digital form. These research guides may reflect the librarian’s understanding of an area of law, as well as the resources, tools, and strategies best used to conduct research in that area. In addition to contributing to research guides that might be maintained institutionally, as by an academic or court law library, these guides may be published by others, such as professional organizations for specialized legal practice, such as those available through the American Society of International Law.
Chapters in books—or books—offer additional opportunities for publication. A novice scholar-librarian would be better served by responding to a call for proposals for a book chapter, while a librarian with more years of service would be in a position to write or edit a book. These contributions may take the form of summaries of the law, theory about the profession, pedagogical analysis, or bibliographic contributions in an area of law.
Reviews are a valuable way for librarians to contribute to scholarship. The librarian-reviewer evaluates a database, book, program or presentation, or another item. These reviews may be found in a variety of sources ranging from law reviews to Law Library Journal to newsletters of various law library associations. Reviews benefit the law librarian community, as well as scholars generally because they provide information that we may use to improve our collection development and that authors of the underlying work may use in support of their own promotion or tenure.
Although blogs may not have the same weight as scholarly contributions in an academic field such as torts, blogs are more significant in the context of librarianship.
Blogs maintained by individual librarians and by professional associations, not to mention law library blogs, publish regularly, are read widely in the profession, and have received awards. Contributors may identify blogs as a placement for scholarship because they have a very short cycle, and they are able to include more immediate analysis of events or issues for librarians. Longer form works, such as journals, book chapters, and books, have a much longer time between submission of a final manuscript and publication.
Developing an Idea & an Action Plan
For some people, developing an idea is easy—they look around the world and they see opportunities to identify best practices, conduct case studies, and questions that need to be answered. For others, it is much easier to write in response to a prompt. If you are in the latter camp, you may want to set up alerts on Google or other resources to identify calls for contribution. Additionally, many print publications include information about themes for upcoming issues, allowing you to see if something sparks your creative juices. By reviewing current awareness sources, you may identify an area or topic of interest. For example, librarians publish articles on topics including bibliometrics (the study of the impact of scholarly contributions), job descriptions, copyright, artificial intelligence, and more.
Once you have identified an idea for a topic and a type of piece, the next step is to develop an action plan. Your plan should help you do two things: 1) identify a source that would accept your scholarly work for publication, and 2) research and write your scholarly work. Do note that a regularly recommended way to begin developing your reputation as a librarian-scholar is to contribute reviews. Many sources regularly post calls for reviewers or contributors on librarian listservs. By offering to write a review in response to a call, you will save yourself some steps in developing an action plan.
Become familiar with the resources that publish scholarship by and for law librarians. Once you have developed this familiarity, you will have a better idea of what source would be an appropriate placement for your scholarship. For example, an article evaluating interlibrary loan management systems would not likely be accepted as relevant to a library journal focused on cataloging. Additional considerations may include format (print/online access), the level of copyright protection you wish to hold in your work following publication, and the length of the publication cycle.
Review the website for the source(s) you identify. Not only do you want to do a pre-emption check, to assure that nobody else has contributed your idea, you also want to review any writer guidelines or other specifications available. Important information may include the format to use for citations, for example. If you are writing your first book review, read some prior reviews by other contributors to get a sense of the style and scope of reviews.
If you are planning a longer piece, or if you have identified several possible placements, you may wish to send a presubmission inquiry letter to the editor(s), articulating your thesis and why you think placement in the publication would be fitting. If you have identified several possible placements, you may want to consult with a colleague, mentor, or supervisor for advice about whether it would be better to prioritize your inquiry letters or to send them out simultaneously to several publications.
Having identified a place of publication and possibly with an indication of interest following an inquiry letter, the next step is to set deadlines, research, and write.
CONCEPT IN ACTION: PROPOSING AN ARTICLE
Dear Editor Chiorazzi,
I would like to inquire whether Legal Reference Services Quarterly would be interested in accepting for publication an article offering suggestions for providing reference assistance to foreign-trained lawyers in LLM programs. Although some librarians have contributed analyses about the pedagogy of legal research as pertains to this student cohort, there is a gap regarding the reference needs of these foreign students. I am experienced in this area, as I have five years of teaching foreign-trained lawyers U.S. legal research, and I have also supervised independent study work by such students as they work to fulfill their degree requirements.
I have reviewed the criteria for submission for LRSQ and believe this article would resonate with your readers. The article’s conclusions are supported by analysis and suggestions that would benefit any law librarian providing reference service or teaching foreign-trained lawyers. The lessons of this article may also benefit law firm librarians who have the opportunity to provide reference service to foreign-trained lawyers.
I look forward to hearing whether you would be interested in considering this for publication, or whether I should plan to look elsewhere. If you have any questions about this proposal, I would be happy to answer them.
I look forward to your reply.
Finishing your first draft is in some ways just the beginning. Before submitting your draft, consider asking a colleague, mentor, or supervisor for feedback, and be sure to leave time before any deadlines for them to offer meaningful feedback. In the event that you are not published in a peer-reviewed source, it is advisable to have other librarians offer you feedback before you send your scholarship off to the editor. Also, be prepared for the likely eventuality that the editor may ask you to make revisions to your contribution. Carefully consider the feedback offered on your scholarship and make the necessary revisions.
Balancing Scholarship & Other responsibilities
Most librarians do not have the opportunity to take a sabbatical to complete a significant scholarly contribution. However, if your job requires you to produce a record of scholarly activity, you likely will be able to count this effort as part of your regular job responsibilities. This is especially true if your product is something that is published or immediately used by your library, such as a blog post, a research video, or a library research guide.
To maintain balance, keep in mind that you have a cluster of job responsibilities and clarify with your supervisor about priorities. Do not be shy; instead, consult with your supervisor and mentor(s) about whether you can balance your regular job duties and meet suggested deadlines by a publisher. If you are unable to meet a deadline for your scholarship, it is much better to notify the editor as soon as you realize there is a problem, rather than waiting until the day of the deadline (or worse, later) to contact the editor. If you find that you are postponing your daily work in favor of a scholarship deadline, consult with your supervisor and identify ways to solve that problem. Remember that your performance evaluation will, in most cases, be based most heavily upon your performance of your daily work, and keep that in mind as you find the balance.
The nature of your scholarly agenda may help you find a balance between your daily responsibilities as a librarian and your call to scholarship. If your agenda is directly related to your daily work, you (and your supervisor) may see ways that your scholarship enhances your daily job performance. You may also find that, as you become more of an expert in a particular area of librarianship, you are better able to maintain balance and build connections between your scholarship and daily work. As you develop your scholarly agenda, you spend less time writing more varied and smaller pieces and more focused time writing longer pieces that may be related to each other.
You may find it helpful to participate in a community of others who are engaging in scholarship. Within the American Association of Law Libraries, both the Beer and Edit Group (a part of the Professional Engagement, Growth, and Advancement Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL)), as well as the Research Crits Caucus of AALL, provide encouragement and support for scholarship. The Boulder Conference provides another opportunity for discussion of papers in progress on any topic related to legal information. The Boulder Conference typically occurs in conjunction with the AALL Annual Meeting. If you wish, you may also establish a writing group at your own institution or in your local association. These groups may be most effective when members describe their ideas and then commit to a regular schedule and plan for completing their research and writing. Sometimes, members may serve as reviewers for others’ drafts, providing feedback or support.
As you advance in your career, consider also the types of scholarship that you produce. For example, you can volunteer to assist with reviews, telling the editor that you are happy to let a more junior librarian contribute a review in the event that one volunteers. You may be more likely to serve as an editor of a compilation, or an author or co-author of a book, rather than a contributor.
- Dragich, Martha. “Law Library Director-Scholar: Writing for Tenure.” Legal Reference Services Quarterly 191-201 27, no. 2-3 (2008): 191-201. https://doi.org/10.1080/02703190802398599
- Parker, Carol A. “The Need for Faculty Status and Uniform Tenure Requirements for Law Librarians,” Law Library Journal 103, no. 1 (2011): 7-38.
- Silvia, Paul J., How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2007.
- Smallwood, Carol. Writing and Publishing : The Librarian’s Handbook. Chicago: American Library Association, 2009. Accessed July 17, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central.
- Langley, Anne, and Jonathan Wallace, “Scholarly Work and Teaching,” in A Practical Writing Guide for Academic Librarians: Keeping It Short and Sweet, Oxford: Chandos Publishing, 2010.