How to Become: Law Librarian; School Librarian
December 10, 2017 12:45 PM   Subscribe

Tell me about the steps involved (after obtaining an MLIS, which I already have) in becoming a law librarian, and/or a public school OR university librarian. Bonus points if it relates specifically to those jobs in Virginia, but this is not a requirement!

I have an MLIS (graduated a couple years ago) but long story short, haven't been employed yet as a librarian- still working full time in another, unrelated field. Yep. I have some volunteer and internship experience at a few places, but none of it occurred at a public school or law library. *Just to address this now: I'm not looking to explain or get advice on my personal career transition issues, or talk about what I have been doing or not doing and why. I've been working on it, alone and with a therapist, and my renewed efforts are part of the reason why I'm here asking this question today.*

I'm just looking for information about what prospective employers are looking for in law librarians and public school librarians, respectively, as well as certificates or skills I may need to acquire. I'd also greatly appreciate any first-hand, anecdotal information on what it's like working in those jobs.

If you have first hand experience with how this all works in Virginia (if this matters) let me know.

Just in case it matters:
- I'm open to taking additional classes / obtaining certificates to boost my skills and elevate my resume.
- I enjoy the law- if I hadn't gone to library school, I was going to go to law school. I enjoy listening to law/policy wonk podcasts and find it challenging and stimulating, not boring.
- I really, really enjoy library reference work. Anything that involves research and helping others find information is, truly, my happy place.

Thank you in advance for your help!
posted by nightrecordings to Work & Money (12 answers total)
Law librarians often have law degrees. (Totally not worth it)
posted by kerf at 12:53 PM on December 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I hate threadsitting but just wanted to add: when I was getting my MLIS, I met a law librarian who said the vast majority of the law librarians he was meeting at conferences were folks who did not have law degrees- often just the MLIS. This was a few years ago but hearing him say that is what encouraged me to take a second look at it. If I'm flat wrong and there's no way to do this without a law degree or just dumb luck, please debunk this myth for me once and for all.
posted by nightrecordings at 12:57 PM on December 10, 2017

I am a law librarian. I do not have a JD. if you wanted to work at a university law library you would most likely need a JD. FWIW I work at a law firm. I was a paralegal for many years - decided not to go to law school and got the MLS with an open mind. Wasn’t sure I’d end up in legal but - here I am. In my market - which is NYC - the way to get your foot in the door with no experience is to network and honestly to take the job with the shitty hours. In my market at the top firms that means the 1-9 shift or the shift that includes a Saturday or Sunday. Then you transition out of that eventually. In the big markets, eg DC or NYC, it can help to develop a specialty like corporate or tax or bankruptcy.

I enjoy the law, I even like lawyers for the most part and the work can be especially intellectually stimulating imo without having to practice or spend your life on conference calls. Feel free to PM me with any particular questions.

Good luck!
posted by rdnnyc at 1:06 PM on December 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

You should be aware that technology is taking its toll on the private-sector law-librarian market. In my time at private firms, I barely even spoke to the librarian, and I think that was true of many of my colleagues. Remember that the major legal-research services offer their own support, so people won't be calling you just to craft a Westlaw search. In the long term, more important than a J.D., I would think, would be utter comfort with the changing digital tools and ideally adeptness with data analysis--I could see in-house private-sector librarians contributing in that role.
posted by praemunire at 1:43 PM on December 10, 2017

Anecdotal, and not super helpful, but I go to a public university's college of law, and all of the law librarians there have their JDs and most have practiced. Not in Virginia.
posted by katypickle at 2:08 PM on December 10, 2017

I am a public school librarian. You will need to become a certified teacher in the state in which you wish to practice. You will likely have to take some classes in education to get your certification. Some states require that you teach in the classroom for a certain number of years before you can get a job as a librarian. Other states do not require this, but many principals will look for classroom experience nevertheless.

Library jobs are scarce in education because, while it has its own challenges, it's generally not as difficult as being a classroom teacher. Many teachers go into the library and stay there until retirement. With only one library job per building (and even that number is declining) and many teachers eyeing that job, competition is fierce.
posted by Barnifer at 2:15 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

You didn't mention professional associations so I'll suggest that you check out AALL and VAASL. Many professional associations have mailing lists (sometimes publicly available) or online discussions where people discuss things relevant to their jobs and it's a great way to both get your name out there as someone who is curious and also get your questions answered by people in your geographic and professional areas. Librarians are very into professional organizations, has been my experience. If you have the time or money, consider going to a local event and meeting some people. Librarians, also in my experience, are truly kind people who are geared towards mentoring so the idea of "networking" is a lot more enjoyable than it is in other professions.
posted by jessamyn at 4:01 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Recently and happily retired from law library world, with the last 11 years spent with the federal courts. That niche depends on the Circuit, but mine was trying to close almost all of its district (branch) libraries to centralize control in the home city. Others may be more productive and collegial, but I would not characterize law librarians as particularly kind to each other. Definitely try to attend an AALL or SEALL (southeast ass’n etc) meeting and chat people up. The listserv lawlib, out of UC Davis, is worth examining.
posted by mmiddle at 5:57 PM on December 10, 2017

Are public law libraries on your radar? I barely knew about them until I started working at another state agency library. There’s a bit more of a Helping People angle than in academic law libraries, even, because they are for the general public and host clinics for legal advice and stuff. The public law librarians I know are super cool and in some cases libraries are their second career after starting out in law, but definitely not all of them have JDs.

List of Virginia public law libraries, plus they have a state one.
posted by clavicle at 5:58 PM on December 10, 2017

I'm a law librarian in a mid-size law firm. I love my job and the profession, but I'm so wary of cheerleading people into it at this point. The legal industry suffered a lot in the recession of 2008, and it's been a struggle since then for firms to snatch pieces of an ever-shrinking pie of client dollars for themselves. Law librarians in firms are constantly required to justify our existence, which is very stressful. I also see further contraction in the industry coming at us, and as mentioned above, technology vendors are actively working to displace librarians and even lawyers themselves. All that said, it's incredibly interesting, and for me, very rewarding. It's partially about having the skills to get the job done efficiently and well, and partially about building relationships. I have people coming to me to craft their Westlaw searches, because they know and trust that I can do that better than they can and better than the Westlaw hotline. I also do deep-dive research, case research, current awareness alerting, information organization, and training.

I have an MLS but not a JD, I know plenty of law firm librarians who don't have JDs, so it's not necessary on this side of the profession. When we hire, we look for people who are able to articulate their ability to learn fast on the job, multitask, and be flexible enough to meet the needs that come at us quickly. If you see job openings you're interested in, I say go for it, don't wait to craft the perfect resume. If you want someone in the field to take a look at your resume, I'd be happy to do so, drop me a MeMail. Also happy to answer any specific questions you might have about law firm libraries, to the best of my ability. Oh, and in interviews and cover letters, I don't recommend playing up too much an interest in the law, it's assumed that if you want a job you're not going to think it's boring, and it's kind of like how people always say to librarians "oh you must love to read." Play up the research and helping people aspects, because it's a very people-y kind of job.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 5:36 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am a law librarian. I got my JD first, noodled around in various fields before getting a part-time library job at a university (in a science library). Realized how much I enjoyed it, was encouraged by my coworkers and got my MLIS while also working part-time at a law firm.

Since I came at the field as a lawyer first, librarian second, I've found having a legal background is really helpful in my day-to-day work. This is particularly true working in the law school setting but also in the firm. But as with all things, YMMV. Echoing the others that I'm happy to answer any specific questions you might have.

(Who knew there were so many law librarians on Metafilter? We should have a meetup or something!)
posted by orrnyereg at 7:19 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you decide to go back for a JD, William & Mary has some kind of fellowship for students with a library science background:
posted by toastedcheese at 4:09 PM on December 13, 2017

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