A Law Librarian's Degrees

Hiringlibrarians ran a post about an analysis of law librarians who work at top-50 institutions (U.S. News) and the rank of their degree-granting institutions. Here's a citation to the results: Ahlbrand, A. & Johnson, M. (2012). Degree pedigree: Assessing the effect of degree-granting institutions’ ranks on prospective employment at academic law libraries. Law Library Journal, 104(4), 553-68.

The authors compared the ranks of where librarians acquired their library science and law degrees to the rank of the school at which they were employed. The authors used U.S. News and World Report rankings as the measure since those rankings are most prevalent today

The methodology for the study consisted of the authors recording each librarian’s employing law school and its current rank; the attended law school and its current rank; the attended library science program and its current rank; and the years each degree was attained, if available. The initial data analysis was performed on both the intended sample of librarians working at top-fifty law schools and a random sample drawn from all U.S. law schools by calculating frequency statistics. Then a few chi-square analyses were done to compare the groups of data in different categories.

The study showed that, to attain a position at a top-fifty ranked law school, one should strive to attend a top-ten ranked library science program. The analysis revealed that those working at top-fifty ranked law schools were more likely to have attended highly ranked library science programs than those in the random sample of all law schools.

There was no significant difference between the rank of law schools attended for librarians in the top-fifty and random samples. But more closely comparing librarians working at top-twenty-five and top-ten law schools, the data did reveal a difference in law school educational patterns: librarians working at top-ten law schools were much more likely to have attended highly ranked law schools than those working at law schools ranked in the top twenty-five.

Knowing this fairly recent information from 2012, if one were to apply to a top 50 law school for a law librarian position, should she follow the advice from this Chronicle of Higher Education article and ask in advance if the hiring committee has any particular concerns about her?

The very example the article from CHE gives is: "If you have spent much or all of your career at elite institutions and are a candidate at a nonelite college, you can expect people on the hiring committee to wonder about your ability—and your desire—to make the transition. You will have to make an extra effort to dispel the notion that you are not only from an elite institution but also an elitist."

I wonder if a law librarian candidate should bring a discussion of her degree-granting institutions to the forefront and let the hiring committee know that she realizes that the hiring committee may have questions about the candidate's degree-granting institutions? Or does that seem presumptuous? And should it be done in a cover letter or only once a potential candidate has been asked to interview? Cover letters are tricky things. Trying to set yourself apart on paper can be a challenge.

It feels awkward to bring up any negative information, especially when these seem to be obvious questions. I also do not feel that the degree-granting institution's reputation is always the best way to judge a potential candidate. But depending on the hiring committee, taking a few risks might be worth it to set yourself apart from the rest of the run-of-the-mill crowd.


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