Am I Annoying the Librarian?

In response to my post lamenting that more legal researchers don’t seek out the help of a law librarian, Jeremy Richey asks a good question on the Advanced Electronic Legal Research Blog:

What sort of questions would be appropriate to ask? For example, would it be appropriate to call them in an attempt to find information outside my Wexis plan? What if I need to research an unfamiliar area of law and want suggestions as to good overview resources? Should I only call them if I am absolutely stumped in trying to find something? Basically, what I am trying to get at here is when will I be making good use of the librarians and when will I be annoying them?

Thank you, Jeremy, for the thoughtful question. In answer to your question – it depends. It depends on the policies of the library and the resources that they have available (both in staff and materials).
If you are at a firm/corporation that employs a law librarian, count your blessings. Firm librarians are amazing at tracking down the resources you need – sometimes even before you know that you need them! They are often very tuned into the firm’s interests and can set up alerts to monitor information affecting the firm and its clients.
If there isn’t a librarian on staff, (why isn’t there a librarian on staff?), check out a local public law library. This may be a state, court, or university law library. While the librarians there can’t offer you the level of support that a firm librarian can, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised by the help that they can offer.
Here’s a sampling of what we CAN do:
– Help you track down known, but hard-to-find information or documents. Most libraries will deliver documents to you for a fee.
– Get you started in a new area of law by suggesting good overview sources
– Suggest search strategies for cost effective database searching
– Help you locate on-point journal articles, books, cases, etc. that may answer your research needs
Here’s some of what public law librarians WON’T do:
Your research for you. Don’t ask for “everything you’ve got on …” Don’t ask us to do a complex state legislative history. Public law librarians will help you get started and maybe even teach you how, but we aren’t going to do your work for you.
What we CAN’T do:
– Interpret the law for you. You’re the attorney – that’s why you get the big bucks. And it’s not our law license on the line. But what exactly does “interpreting the law” mean – that can be a bit murky. It’s often a “I’ll know it when I see it” type rule.
Hopefully this clears things up a bit. If you still aren’t sure, give us a call. If we can’t help, we will tell you. But, chances are, we can. Don’t wait until you are completely stumped. Your time is expensive – we may be able to help you save some. And, no, you aren’t annoying us.