Can you be a law librarian without a physical library? Absolutely!
In an age dominated by digital information and the rapid growth of technology, the role of a law librarian has undergone a significant transformation. Traditionally, the image of a librarian was synonymous with rows of shelves full of materials around them. However, I as a law librarian have adapted to a new reality, one without a physical library.
Currently, at the law firm at which I work, not every office has a library. There may be a room called the library, some offices have a shared bookshelf for the practice group or even an individual bookshelf for each office. Regardless of the available space, there are endless opportunities for law librarians and professionals in this digital age who play a vital role in the legal community.
The lack of a physical library does not mean a shortage of resources for law librarians and other information professionals. They have access to an ever-expanding wealth of digital materials. Law librarians curate, manage digital collections, ensure that legal professionals have access to a vast array of primary and secondary sources at their fingertips-and many other tasks! This shift has allowed for broader and more efficient research. By having the state code online, it has the opportunity to get updated automatically. If that state code was printed and there was a correction, it would take weeks by the time the order is processed, shipped, and delivered to the correct address. At times, the electronic version of the material is cheaper than the printed version plus the shipping cost!
The COVID-19 pandemic and working from home push the adoption of virtual reference services, making ourselves readily available through email, chat, or video conferencing platforms. Many of these practices are still in place as people are still working from home or the fact that the workplace is expanding to new parts of the United States. This accessibility not only enhances efficiency but also accommodates the needs of those who may not have physical access to a traditional library.
In the absence of a physical library, law librarians have evolved into educators, providing training and guidance to legal professionals and students in the use of digital resources. They develop workshops and tutorials to help users maximize their research capabilities, teaching them how to employ advanced search techniques, understand database functionalities, and critically evaluate online sources. By fostering digital literacy within the legal community, law librarians empower users to harness the full potential of the digital landscape.
Being a law librarian without a physical library presents its challenges as well. There is a constant need to adapt to ever-changing technology and digital platforms. Law librarians must stay updated on the latest developments in legal research tools, database functionalities, and search algorithms to continue serving their users effectively. The management of remote resources comes up at least a few times a week. We must continue to ensure secure access, maintain licenses, and negotiate contracts with database providers are essential tasks.
In a world where the legal landscape is rapidly digitizing, law librarians have not become obsolete; instead, they have evolved into indispensable digital stewards of legal information. They continue to provide essential support, education, and expertise to legal professionals in navigating the vast and ever-expanding digital realm of legal information. We should bring awareness to society that there may be an absence of a physical library, but the role of the law librarian remains to turn the wheels of justice and legal scholarship forward in the digital age.
Victoria Swindle, MLIS, Library Technology Specialist at Steptoe & Johnson PLLC