“Are you just filling in for the regular librarian?” I was stunned, and on that particular day, frustrated almost to tears. Had the question come from a law student, it would have been understandable and more palatable. I was, after all, only 2 months into a new job. Instead, it had come from a “public patron” whose inability to articulate his needs paled next to my inadequacy to walk him through a reference interview.
Like many reference librarians, I’ve spun my share of straw into gold and was proud of it. A previous director frequently bragged that books flung themselves off the shelves into my arms, opened to the correct page and that a halo would highlight the significant passage. Those days were gone. I felt like a failure and wondered if I would ever be competent again.
This anecdote, now legend among the staff, serves as a reminder that every job holds its own challenges, even for veteran librarians. After seventeen years as a research librarian in private law libraries, I had returned to academic law libraries.
I had learned much as a private law librarian, including the business side of practice. It had been rewarding, but I missed the interaction with students, the chance to support scholarship and the stimulation I had found in teaching. I wanted new challenges, but wasn’t quite ready to let go of the familiar.
And so, armed with my desire to return to academic law libraries, a yearning to be nearer to family and a leap of faith, I crossed the Mason-Dixon Line, changed time zones and moved to North Carolina. I began work as a reference librarian at the Charlotte School of Law.
While I had been away, law schools had been realigning their missions and a new model of legal education had emerged. Charlotte School of Law epitomizes that model. Charlottelaw is a member of a consortium of independent, community-based law schools. It’s strategically located in North Carolina’s largest city, at the center of the banking industry. The school’s mission advocates student-centered outcomes, serving the underserved and preparing practice-ready graduates. The school set a pro bono requirement for students and incorporates experiential learning into many of its courses.
I had expected that my greatest challenge would be advances in technology and their incorporation into the classroom. Integration had moved beyond PowerPoint presentations. Fortunately for me, not only has Charlottelaw encouraged faculty to incorporate emerging technologies into instruction, it has provided professional development opportunities regarding training on video conferencing software, course management systems and the creation of distance education modules. Librarians continue to go into the classroom, but now we do it both live and virtually. I am in the process of creating an online legal research component for the first year research and writing course. Adapting to technologies is a continual process for me. I hope to stay at least one step ahead of the students.
I had departed law school libraries before the release of the 1992 MacCrate report on law schools and the legal profession. In the aftermath, there has been a concentrated attention to rubrics, mapping, outcomes, and applications of Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy. Most recently, this interest has been propelled by the proposed revision to the American Bar Association Standards for Approval of Law Schools.
The A.B.A. Standards Review Committee, after assessing the condition of legal education in the wake of the MacCrate report and the subsequent findings compiled by William Sullivan and others in Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law (also known as the “Carnegie Foundation Report”) and Roy Stuckey and others in Best Practices for Legal Education, proposed a revision to the standards that would address learning outcomes. The proposed revision shifts the focus from teaching to learning and from curriculum to outcomes.
Charlottelaw, as a young school has been an early advocate. In May, Charlotte Law hosted the “Assessment and Student Outcomes Conference – Implications of the Proposed ABA Standard on Student Learning Outcomes.” Conference speakers included consortium faculty, education professors and legal scholars, including President of the New York Law School, Richard Matasar, and Steven Bahls, principle draftsman of the proposed revision. I feel as if I’ve come in on the ground floor of something monumental.
I’m pleased with the transition I’ve made and am enjoying my new position. I’m not only grateful for the opportunity to stretch my own skills and knowledge, but I am beginning to feel competent again. I also better understand the adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same. When spring arrived, I found that I missed the fragrance of lilacs. They don’t do as well here as they did in the Midwest, because they need sustained periods of cold. I have, however, discovered Crepe Myrtles. Their blossoms are gorgeous and resemble those of lilacs. They lack the fragrance of lilacs, but they last for months and remind me of both homes.
This article was originally published in the November-December 2010 issue of the online West publication, Law Librarians in the New Millennium.