Being a retired law librarian of a certain age, I am now often asked to reflect upon my 50 years serving in various capacities as a law librarian. I have noticed that most questions asked can be grouped into discrete categories. For example, people want to know what lessons I have learned along the way as a law librarian, what I found most rewarding being a law librarian, what changes in law librarianship I have observed since I started approximately 50 years ago, and who have been my mentors or people who have greatly influenced me along the way. In this posting, I offer responses to these questions based on my current views.
What are some of the lessons you have learned as a professional in your field and in life?
I have come to appreciate the importance of understanding that change as it relates to all aspects of work and life is constant. And in order to be truly successful and to avoid stagnation, we must learn to become highly adaptable and flexible. Of utmost importance is the need to maintain enduring and useful connections with others.
What have you found to be the most rewarding aspect of your profession?
Having always been granted opportunities and latitude to work collaboratively with others to innovate and bring about constructive change along the lines noted in my answer to the next question.
What changes have you observed in your field since you first started? And how do you see these changes affecting the future of law librarianship?
The world of libraries and librarianship has been almost completely transformed during the 50 plus years I worked as a professional librarian. In the beginning virtually all materials used in libraries were paper based and stored as hard copy. We had no access to technology other than typewriters, mimeograph machines and telephones. By the end of my career, computer and networking technology had been integrated into virtually all occupations in our society, including libraries. Most, though not all, library materials were stored digitally and accessed through various networking arrangements.
There was also the introduction of the world wide web, which was almost like a new paradigm, and transformed many law library operations, especially those related to searching and legal research. These changes have also resulted in the perception of information as a commodity with its own inherent value. This growing perception has provided librarians special opportunities to innovate and to be viewed as information specialists in their own right.
As for the future since my retirement, I have retained my memberships in the American Association of Law Libraries and the American Bar Association. Both of these memberships have proved to be invaluable to my keeping abreast of new developments and trends in our profession.
Within the last three months, I have been exploring generative AI, largely through Chat GPT and Bard, and have been providing feedback to both Open AI and Google, as appropriate. This experience has convinced me that the public introduction of generative AI, with its wide adoption by so many so quickly, shows indications of being the beginning of a new paradigm shift which cannot be ignored and needs to be embraced by the law library and legal professions in a careful way, and as soon as acceptable ethics and safety standards for its adoption and use can be worked out, taking into consideration the vagaries of human nature.
Otherwise, situations may arise where failure to adapt to this technology in a timely manner could result in this technology embracing us before we embrace it, thereby setting the stage for a very unstable future. To that end, I believe that it is urgent that organizations such as the American Association of Law Libraries and the American Bar Association appoint committees or commissions at the highest level to develop and implement acceptable ethics and safety standards and guidelines for the introduction and use of generative AI, if they have not already done so.
I am glad to see that others in our profession are writing about generative AI and Chat GPT. See the Jason Eisman and Nor Oritz’ article, Generative AI & Machine Learning in Law Libraries, AALL Spectrum May June 2023, pages 15-17. Also in this issue of Spectrum is an article by Ryan Metheny et.al. Keeping Up With AI and Other New Tech Advancements, pages 46-48, and an Editorial Note by George Taoultsides’ Editorial Note, page1 and a column by Greg Lambert which addresses the question, How is Your Library Harnessing the Power of Artificial Intelligence to Improve Services?
Who have been your mentors or people who have greatly influenced you? Why?
During my long career, I have been helped and influenced by too many people to mention separately, although I am grateful to them all. I need, however, to give special mention to the following:
William Brace, a professor of library science at Rosary College, directed me toward my first professional library position at the University of Chicago Law School.
Leon Liddell, then Professor of Law and Director of the law library at the University of Chicago, served as my primary professional mentor and guide during those early years.
Morris Cohen, then professor of law and Library Director at Harvard Law School, provided valuable advice and guidance, especially during the beginning years of my career.
Peter Nycum, a law librarian and later professor of law, provided invaluable guidance in introducing me to the world of technology as it relates to law and especially law libraries.
William Murphy, a law firm librarian, introduced me to the world of law firm libraries and was influential in enabling me to secure my first law firm library position.
Pat Keho, then director of the law library and professor of law at American University in Washington, DC, played a significant role when I first arrived in Washington, DC, acquainting me with the culture of Washington and making me feel comfortable as I assumed the position of Executive Librarian at Georgetown University Law Center.
David Barnes, then Executive Assistant to the Chief Administrative Judge of the New York State Unified Court System, for being one of the first to welcome me to the New York state courts. We collaborated on a memorandum recommending that computer assisted legal research systems be introduced in both appellate and trial courts in the New York State court system.
John Boyle, a fellow law librarian in the New York State courts, helped me learn about the State of New York Unified Court System when I first became a Principal Law Librarian in the New York State courts.
Julie Gick, Principal Law Librarian New York State Supreme Court Civil New York County, for her support, always willing to share her ideas and knowledge for the benefit of others.
Deborah Melnick, Principal Law Librarian Civil Court Libraries of the City of New York, for being helpful professionally in so many ways, and for being such a great collaborator on various library related projects.
Philip Yow, Website Systems Director, Unified Court System of the State of New York, for his crucial support in implementing web based library services at the New York State Supreme Court Library New York County.
Jonathan Stock, then Supervising Law Librarian in the Judicial Branch of the State of Connecticut, whose friendship I value, was instrumental in keeping me abreast of ongoing development in the world of law librarianship.
The Honorable Joan B. Carey (Ret.), then Deputy Chief Judge of the State of New York, was invaluable for her support and encouragement of court libraries throughout her dedicated leadership during her tenure.
The Honorable Peter Mcquillan, then Administrative Judge of the New York Supreme Court Criminal Term, First Judicial District, was exceptionally helpful in supporting my efforts to innovate and add library services useful to the courts.
Last but certainly not least, Tamar (Tammy) Raum, Senior Reference Librarian at the Law Department, City of New York, until her death last year, was a great friend and colleague. She kept in touch with me throughout the years and was unstinting in sharing her professional knowledge and wisdom with me and others.