A big manila envelope from the New York Times was in my mailbox today. Hmm, I didn’t request anything from them lately. It was from none other than Robert Pear, NYT Washington Bureau reporter, whom I “met” a while back via his response to something I posted on WisBlawg. He was thoughtful enough to send me an article entitled “Law Librarians” which appeared recently in The Green Bag. What a good guy.
The article offers a historical perspective on the role of the law librarian, particularly in academia. It was written by University of Virginia School of Law Professor G. Edward White. Here is the citation:
G. Edward White. Law Librarians. 11 Green Bag 81 (Autumn 2007)
The article is quite thought-provoking, although I don’t know if it was in the way that the author intended. In the last few pages, White offers an assessment of today’s academic law librarians.
As the scholarly dimensions of occupying a law faculty position have proliferated, as law students themselves engage in more ambitious scholarship, and as digital research has dramatically expanded, the need for a cadre of sophisticated persons providing research services to members of a law school community has increased. Increasingly such persons enter the market as staff members of law libraries. It may not be much of an overstatement to suggest that such persons as the ganglia in a law school’s scholarly networks.
But is was the next paragraph that struck me the most:
Interestingly, the law librarians who provide that help tend to labor under, and perhaps even relish, a posture of anonymity…. The position of research librarian seems to attract people who enjoy its anonymity. Marian the Librarian’s selflessness has not wholly been lost in an area of relentless self-promotion.
Is that true? And if so, is it necessarily a good thing? It would seem that in the context of this article, it was a complement. It certainly helps to foster the sentiment that libraries, and by extension librarians, are one of the few “unambiguously good” institutions in society, as mentioned by the author.
But what of this selflessness? Sure it’s good for our image – and for our hearts – but is it good for our survival? I don’t know. While it’s clear that Professor White values and appreciates the law library staff, can we safely assume that others will do the same? Can we afford to labor in relative anonymity waiting to be discovered like Lana Turner in a drug store? What about when library funding is on the line?
What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments.
Julie Jones over at Law Librarian Blog has posted her thoughts on the Green Bag article. She was also taken aback by the anonymity bit. She writes:
While White is clearly supportive of the work and value of law librarians, I wasn’t aware that we relished anonymity. In fact, I thought the profession has been trying for many years to raise our visibility and perceived value.