Law Librarian Status & Academic Freedom

We know that law librarians lack status in the status-obsessed legal academy. Some could argue that this is a gender equity problem, with females making up the overwhelming majority of law librarians (another post for another time).

But the lack of status also confers a lack of academic freedom to engage in tough conversations. This is particularly difficult for law librarians because we are not protected to fully engage with and advance our field. A field that is wrongly pegged as supplementary or secondary.

In the era of big-data algorithms with no accountability and the "fake news" phenomenon, librarians must tackle tough, controversial subjects that affect information. And law librarians take the ethical use of information very seriously with the  ACRL Framework for Information Literacy emphasizing the role of “using information, data, and scholarship ethically” and the AALL Legal Research Competencies and Standards stating that a successful legal researcher “distinguishes between ethical and unethical uses of information.” Finally, The Boulder Statement on Legal Research Education specifies that legal research instruction should include “an ongoing examination of professional standards, including the identification of ethical responsibilities.”

However, our lack of status precludes us from fully engaging in conversations surrounding controversial issues because we lack the institutional support to do so.

And if our institutions don't support us, who will? Our associations? The associations are also concerned with their lack of protection. They are cautious with criticizing the major legal databases, for example, for fear of the lawsuits that may result. Even if those legal databases are partaking in unethical behavior.

So if not our institutions and if not our associations, how are we protected to openly discuss the hard issues affecting the information that is the foundation of the legal profession?

Comments

  1. It is true, as you say, that "females mak[e] up the overwhelming majority of law librarians." It is so here. And it also is so with law libraries throughout the common-law world.

    But why is this so? It is because women are drawn to law-library work? My library-school class was overwhelmingly female. Or is it because the word has not gotten out that law librarianship is a truly wonderful career?

    I must say that the gender imbalance in law librarianship has puzzled me for the longest time. True, I have many male friends in the field. And some have said--and I suspect that there may be something to this--that the distribution of genders throughout the profession is hardly random, with a higher concentration of males in leadership positions in law schools.

    But perhaps there is something else going on here too. And that is women (but not men) recognizing that, as I said in an earlier paragraph "law librarianship is a truly wonderful career," and grabbing their opportunities. But not the men.

    What says the Ginger (Law) Librarian?

    --Dewey

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    Replies
    1. You've hit the nail on the head here: "I suspect that there may be something to this--that the distribution of genders throughout the profession is hardly random, with a higher concentration of males in leadership positions in law schools."

      I also suspect that men don't gravitate toward law librarianship because of its lack of status. It's got a similar stigma as man saying he's a nurse. But what more does this amount to than gender discrimination? It's women's work, so it not as valuable? That's what we're left to infer and have been effectively told for the entirety of American legal education (with a few exceptions).

      I plan to do a statistical analysis on this subject for my next full-length piece. We need a good look at the numbers. We were 67% female in 1999, but that included the directors who are male at an unrepresentative rate and skew the overall percentage.

      To the men who are enlightened to the beautiful world of law librarianship and help bring status just through your involvement, thanks for that.

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    2. There's an interesting book (old-ish but unfortunately still extremely applicable), _Still a Man's World_, that takes a sociological perspective on men in librarianship, teaching, nursing, and social work (ie overwhelmingly female fields). It examines issues such as prestige and leadership. Probably relevant to your interests.

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