In 2019, after becoming an academic law library director, I went silent to reflect and recalibrate from the systemic issues plaguing law librarianship (and society). My road to law library directorship from 2010 – 2019 left me feeling burnt out and scared for the future of our profession.
Here are the highlights:
- In 2010, I found my calling and was hired as a law librarian (staff). I was drawn to the profession by the varied, complex work. I saw it as a niche profession dedicated to building the reputable legal information structures that are so important to creating and promoting ethical law and democracy.
- By 2014, the academic environment surrounding me had deteriorated, and I took a buyout to begin a national search for my next position. I had started to live within the very real status issues of a law librarian (lower status/lower pay), among other things, that meant a barrage of microaggressions, internalized dominance and oppression, and gender stereotypes affecting nearly all aspects of my work.
- After a 6 month, very intense job search and multiple offers, I was lured by the promise of a tenure-track Law Library Faculty position. This meant leaving all of my loved ones and moving across the country for a position that would support the work of advancing reputable legal information structures and promoting ethical law and democracy. I was under the impression that this institution saw the importance of the work of a law librarian by providing security of position.
- When I arrived in early 2015, I realized that I may not have asked the right questions in my interview. It instantly felt like a bait and switch. Though, it was more due to my rose-colored perceptions of an enlightened law school that saw beyond the caste system in legal education. Unfortunately, what I generally found was more of the same – a barrage of microaggressions, internalized dominance and oppression, and gender issues affecting all aspects of my work. The promise of a tenure-track Law Library Faculty position still came with less status, less pay, more work, and the expectation that a law librarians work was to support the more important work of the faculty. That a law librarian’s work was not inherently important on its own, and I would need to find the time to advance my research, teaching, and service endeavors after ensuring that everyone around me was taken care of first. Poor, Cinderella!
- The job of a law librarian and the expectations of the tenure-track meant incredible overwork. Because this is my calling, I fell into the trap of vocational awe and decided to sacrifice myself for the good of the cause. I was developing research classes to provide simulation credits to the law students and advance ethical, competent lawyering. I was doing research and publishing in the areas of artificial intelligence in legal information, as well as focusing on issues facing the profession. And I was active in myriad service to get the word out and collaborate on advancing the profession. All while continuing to withstand the issues of lower status, lower pay, gender stereotypes, internalized dominance and oppression, and microaggressions (or hell, actual aggressions).
- By 2017, I was made Associate Director of the Law Library taking over a heavy administrative burden while still being required to perform as faculty services librarian (the role I was initially hired for) and meeting tenure-track requirements. By early 2018, I was made Interim Director of the Law Library.
- In fall of 2018, I went through the tenure and promotion review process as a Law Library Faculty member. After the semester-long process of having all aspects of my work reviewed, I was granted promotion to Full Librarian of Law with tenure.
- I was then offered a choice: The school would make me an Associate Dean & Law Library Director at the status of Law Library Faculty OR the school would do a national search for the next Law Library Director. Up until that point, the Associate Dean & Law Library Director had always been a full tenured Law Faculty position with parity to all other Law Faculty members (i.e., full voting rights, etc.). Since I knew that many law library director positions were being watered down to non-tenured, non-faculty annual appointments with even lesser status, I knew I couldn’t let this position get watered down for my own personal gain. I asked that the school do the national search and keep the position the same status it had always been – full Law Faculty member with tenure – to ensure that the Law Library had a voice in the future direction of the legal academy and to provide a reputable legal information structure to promote ethical lawyering and democracy.
- In early 2019, I then interviewed and took part in the full national search for the Law Library Director position. Thankfully, in July 2019, I was offered the position of Associate Dean & Law Library Director as a tenured, full Law Faculty member.
- By July 2019, needless to say, I was burnt out. My soul was exhausted. The overwork, vocational awe, imposter syndrome (what was a graduate of Cooley Law School doing here?!), gender issues, status issues, law school politics, microaggressions, full aggressions, internalized dominance and oppression, etc. had taken its toll. I decided to use Fall 2019 to recalibrate. I could focus on the normal overwork without having to also go through a promotion/tenure review and job search.
- And then we know what happened in Spring 2020. In March 2020, I was front and center leading the law school’s efforts to transition the entire curriculum fully online. While also leading the Law Library through transitioning to online services and support. And then needing to maintain the flexibility to see us through the next couple of years. 2020-2022 feel like a blur.
- So we find ourselves in early 2023. Now 13 years into this profession, I am responsible for the academic environment at my institution. My focus is still on building a reputable, stable legal information structure and connecting users to that structure to ensure ethical law and democracy. I’m mentoring several new law librarians and overseeing a space renovation before delving into a major review the print collection. We’ve made inroads in law librarian workload, status, and pay (with more work to go!). We’ve worked on projects for the NextGen Bar Exam that will include legal research as a tested subject. And we continue to bring awareness to gendered and other issues facing the profession. I’ve also been invited by AI4People at the behest of the European Union to work on a project regulating artificial intelligence in law. There are so many things to be thankful for. It feels like things are normalizing, and I finally have the capacity to continue our very important work.
Somehow I thought that with the vast misinformation during the pandemic, coupled with the greater awareness of algorithmic bias, that our work would finally be seen as inherently important. Of course we need reputable, stable legal information structures. And we need support to connect our users to those information structures to ensure the advancement of ethical law and democracy.
This is a beautiful and challenging career, and there’s much work to be done by all of us to ensure reputable legal information structures for ethical use of law and democracy. I hope we’re all given the time and support to do it.