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Some Thoughts on the Visibility of Law Librarians

July 15, 2015

By Alan Kilpatrick

Shaunna Mireau, the Director of Knowledge Management and Process Improvement at Field Law in Edmonton and a prominent member of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL), recently wrote a blog post about Librarian Visibility on Slaw that resonated with me.

In the post, Mireau notes that recent events have inspired her to think more about the visibility and value of law librarians.  Some of these include her upcoming attendance at the Canadian Bar Association Conference (CBA) on behalf of CALL and the upcoming Edmonton Law Libraries Association HeadStart program, a successful legal research program pioneered by law librarians.

Mireau explains the core reason behind these events is to make law librarians more visible and to highlight the value law librarians bring to the table.  Reflecting on my experiences in this profession, I realize many activities I am involved in are intrinsically connected to raising the visibility and advocating the value of law librarians as well.

Our chief intention behind Legal Sourcery, the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s popular blog, was to make the library more visible among the Saskatchewan legal community and to encourage our members to reconceptualise the library as more than bricks and mortar.  Our increasingly frequent forays into legal research instruction, the half-day Legal Research Bootcampwebinar series, and ongoing CPLED presentations, were intended to promote our expertise and to let members know the library is here to help whenever they require it.  Finally, the library’s decision to host a library booth at the CBA Saskatchewan’s Mid-Winter Meeting for the first time in several years was made to raise the profile of the library.

Mireau continues by questioning why she takes the perception others have of law librarians so personally.  I must admit that I also take the perception others hold of law librarians personally.  The draconian cuts to federal libraries over the past few years are certainly reason enough to give any law librarian pause – I was privileged to work as a Reference Librarian (co-op) with the Transport Canada Library shortly before it was shut down.

Should we connect this to the status anxiety that many librarians are said to have about whether librarianship is a true profession like law or medicine?  Andrew Abbot describes this common sentiment in his article, Professionalism and the Future of Librarianship:

“Even today, every time people use the word “professionalization,” the image they have in mind is an escalator steadily bearing themselves and their occupations toward a higher status. When they arrive, the would-be professionals think people will respect them and their judgment. But the escalator on which librarians are perched has somehow never arrived. After a century, librarianship seems no nearer to its goal than in the Dewey days.”

However, many have thrown out this long held status fixation suggesting that a preoccupation with status actually has the potential to hinder what librarians do best – helping connect clients with the information they need.  Why do we take the perception others hold of us and our profession so personally?  Is it because many of us entered the library profession with a strong desire to help people?   

 

References

Abbott, Andrew. “Professionalism and the Future of Librarianship.” Library Trends 46.3 (1998): 430-444. Web. 24 June 2015.

Birdsall, William F. “Librarians and Professionalism: Status Measured by Outmoded Models.”      Canadian Library Journal 37 (1980): 145-148. Print

(Reposted from Legal Sourcery)

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