This short paper is a perusal of the dynamics and interrelationships of having a law degree and master’s degree in library information science in the law librarian profession. This issue has presented ongoing debates both for current lawyers interested in law librarianship, current library school students and students seeking to enter into the field of law librarianship. However, a little research will reveal that it is also fairly well known in the law librarian arena that only a third of law librarians possess these dual degrees; additionally it is also well known that having dual degrees is mostly relevant in the academic law librarian profession primarily for reference law librarians in that setting. It is also commonly required for directorship positions in law firms and some federal and state government law librarian positions. It is also commonly used by law librarians to elevate themselves within the law librarianship profession. Additionally as law librarians’ roles change in law firm it has been mentioned as preferred in the requirement for a librarian position that focus on competitive intelligence and knowledge management.
The Dual Degree and its Importance in the Academic Reference Setting
It has become a common practice that most reference law librarians in the law school setting possess a law degree (JD) and a master’s in library science (MLS). This dual degree standard seems to be logical as most reference law librarians may be required to assist members of the law school’s faculty in teaching a legal research class, and/or may be required to teach a legal research class to law school students. However, according to the American Bar Association’s (ABA) 2009-2010 Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools, Section 603(c), “A director of a law library should have a law degree and a degree in library or information science.” (Association, 2010). As a result foregoing most if not all ABA accredited law school’s library directors possess dual degrees. Further,and from a historical perspective, sometime after September 1940, (Brooks, 2005), it became a requirement for membership, according the the Association of American Law Schools(AALS), that the head librarian must have dual degrees and meet AALS certification requirements. Moreover, it is presumed that World War II and the GI Bill of Rights may have opened the door to having dual degrees because the US government paid for it. Many lawyers who entered the war having had little legal experience before entering the war returned and returned to school and became academic law librarians. (Brooks, 2005). A JD is necessary in an academic setting not only because the academic atmosphere within a law school setting compels it; but also because a reference law librarian in an academic setting is required to provide accurate and reliable reference services as relates to the scholarly works of a law school’s faculty and students. That is not to say that a law librarian without a law degree could not do so. It should also be noted that “The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) emphasizes that the MLS is an essential qualification for law librarians and that a core competency is “enough legal knowledge to direct their patrons to the correct resources” whether or not the person has a JD.” (Butterfield, 2007). This would not really apply in an academic setting because “enough legal knowledge” may not be sufficient in an academic setting. Besides reserch has revealed that having dual degrees increases an accdemic law librarian’s chances of easily obtaining a promotion.
In a law firm library setting “although there may be a trend towards requiring the MLS and JD for reference librarians,” (Butterfield, 2007), a majority of reference law librarians do not possess a JD and are not required to have same. However, most of the directors of a law firm’s library do tend to possess dual degrees. It has been stated that having a law degree may be a disadvantage in the law firm setting as the law firm’s administration tend to think that the law librarian with a JD or dual degreed is seeking a backdoor entrance into the law firm to later practice law. (Butterfield, 2007). but is important to note that this notion may be somewhat antiquated as a JD is preferred in certain roles. Law librarian’s roles have metamorphosed as some law librarian are required to perform functions in areas of knowledge management and business development or competitive intelligence and a JD is a preferred requirement in most job postings. Further, another issue that frequently presents itself is the issue of a law librarian with dual degrees potentially practicing law without a license when responding to requests for reference services. These issues are not prevalent in an academic setting, instead it is more one of how can a law librarian teach legal research for scholarly purposes to law students and not possess a law degree.
In the federal government, certain positions may require dual degrees or a MLS and/or JD. This is evident in the federal job position qualifications for a law librarian within the Library of Congress or any federal courts. Certain state civil service positions may also require a JD or MLS and/or a combination thereof along with a certain number of years of experience. This is evident in the requirements for civil service position of a Principal Law Librarian and a Senior Law Librarian within New York State Court Unified System. The requirement of having an MLS and a JD also seems logical, in these settings because similar to academic law librarians, who serve law professors and future lawyers, the federal and state librarians serve Judges, court attorneys, and supporting federal agencies and having a JD may decrease the potentials of mistakes that are not obvious to a librarian with only an MLS and that may have drastic consequences for litigants.
There is some contention as to whether having a law degree makes a law librarian more competent in providing reference services. The curriculum in law school tends to require law librarians to possess skills that may be important to obtaining a better and deeper understanding of certain legal research questions and issues. While a law librarian who holds dual degrees may utilize their law school knowledge and training to resolve complex legal research reference questions more efficiently and may lead them to find a resource quicker than a law librarian without a law degree or specific legal research education. According to Susan Rippley, “librarians will need a thorough understanding of the legalities surrounding image permissions, copyright, and intellectual property, as well as the ability to communicate with lawyers” (Rippley, 2005). However, most library schools in the New York area do not provide library students with the required courses to conduct legal research, which further complicates matters. But many years of experience in law librarianship may also lead to a law librarian without a JD attaining more insight when responding to tough legal reference questions. But this may not apply to reference law librarians in an academic setting because most reference law librarians are often “on a faculty tenure track” so they must have their JDs as required by the ABA.
The issue of dual degrees also presents a potential problem for some law librarians who may possess same as they may not be fully compensated for utilizing the skill they acquired from their legal education. This issue tends to occur in situations where the law librarian position requires either one or both degrees. But, this is an issue that may be controlled by individual dual degree candidates when seeking employment as they may select appropriate positions as they deem fit. Another potential problem may also present itself in certain environments where the superior of a dual degree law librarian may only possess one degree be it the law degree or the MLS, thereby creating issues as to who is more competent etc. This issue may also make it harder for an employer to hire a dual degree law librarian to fill a junior position to a law librarian who only has one degree.
Dual degrees ultimately make a law librarian candidate more attractive to a potential employer who prefers same but there are pros and cons because the employer would have to pay the dual degree more that a candidate with one degree unless that candidate has had many years of experience. It is ultimately up to each individual to determine whether having a dual degree is beneficial or detrimental based on their individual circumstances.
The geography and demographics may also play a huge role in the decision to obtain dual degrees. It is well known that New York only has a very few federal satellite offices and law schools that may require dual degrees. However, in Washington, DC many federal agencies and law school exist that require dual degrees. Here it is clear that a dual degree candidate may be more successful in Washington Dc, than in the New York area, although the recent changes in law librarians ‘roles in law firm settings may defy this notion.
Additionally, the role of the law librarian within each specific position either in an academic law library or government office may be an important consideration, because any specific law librarian position may be based on which degree was obtained first (Fletcher, 1998). The law librarian who obtained the MLS first may be more prone or forced to perform technical services work; while the law librarian who obtained the JD first would be more prone to work as a reference law librarian. Here having dual degrees may potentially place a dual degree law librarian in positions that may not be appropriate for their background and/or they may have to handle certain responsibilities in areas that they are unfamiliar with due to their focus on their having legal education versus a librarian education. Examples would include a law librarian with a focus on patent law research which is very specific and specialized, may not be as adept in criminal law research and a law librarian with a law degree may not be familiar with aspects of cataloging. Likewise a law librarian with a technical services background may be presumed to be adept at reference when they are more suited for technical services; variations of this theme continue to permeate the law librarian profession as relates to dual degree law librarians.
In conclusion, as relates to the academic setting it is not strange that law librarians with dual degrees would gravitate to the academic setting. It is an area where a dual degree law librarian is necessary and required in most cases. Most academic law librarians tend to maintain their position within a specific law school and obtain tenure as faculty and for this a law degree is required. Additionally, most law librarians in academic law libraries interact with student and faculty as relates to scholarly research and having a law degree would be an asset to increasing the success of any scholarly work. Although the same can be said of government law librarian positions, as the law background would increase the effectiveness of presentations and work product as relates to a variety of government related positions. However, unlike academia there is no specific mandate requiring government law librarians to possess a law degree. Hence one may conclude that over time it is for the most part logical that having a law degree in an academic setting is an asset well utilized.
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