Teresa M. Miguel-Stearns
Today is August 1, 2020. The world is in the throes of a pandemic not seen since the Spanish flu of 1918. Although we are working mostly remotely, thanks to laptops and wifi, those of us in academia are furiously planning our return to the classroom – physical and virtual – in a few short weeks; and our return to the campus immediately. At the same time, courts and businesses are slowly reopening, closing, reopening again – like a dance, two steps forward, one step back, constantly in motion. Much uncertainty factors into re-opening a campus or workplace amidst debates around safety balanced with effective teaching, learning, and working. What is certain is the disparate impact this pandemic has taken on our Native American, African American, and Latinx communities, including our students and their families.
At the same time, our country is reckoning once again with white supremacy and racism, which pervade long-standing institutions and attitudes in the United States of America. Recent murders of people of color at the hands of law enforcement and civilians alike are rightfully forcing all of us to examine our own actions, attitudes, and practices; our workplaces and our gathering spaces; our neighborhoods and our schools. We are conscious now, more than ever, of the explicit racism, implicit bias, and complicit silence woven throughout our lives, our beings. Law libraries are part of larger institutions, and law librarians are members of professions – legal and library – that parallel the complicated history of inequality in this country.
What does this have to do with a textbook on law librarianship?
Law libraries are a microcosm of the world today, facing unprecedented uncertainty while tackling racism and discrimination in new ways. Libraries have long been at the forefront of racial and social justice activism via community outreach, programming, and collections. But our workforce does not reflect the diversity of the populations we serve. Why is that? What can we do differently to attract and grow our profession alongside the changing demographics of our communities?
We can start by profoundly reflecting on our profession and radically changing how we teach and practice law librarianship in the 21st century. This textbook, Introduction to Law Librarianship, helps us do that. Written and edited by expert practitioners, this tome reframes traditional approaches to law librarianship while expounding on emerging theories and themes permeating society and education, demanding incorporation into the library science curriculum.
We also have an opportunity with this open-access e-textbook to reach beyond our borders. Librarianship is one of the oldest professions in the world. Well before universities, law firms, and courts of law were established, libraries flourished, and librarians were the keepers of knowledge. Librarians have built collections, shared resources, and supported research for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Law Librarianship, on the other hand, is a relatively new profession — and it is not a well-established profession in other parts of the world where law is a social science studied at the undergraduate level. There, academic librarians manage law collections in the same spaces in which they oversee their history, literature, sociology, and other resources. There is very little specialization except, at times, with the highest courts and federal legislatures.
Thus, we are uniquely positioned in the United States to share the varied and specialized nature of law libraries and law librarianship with the rest of the world. We have an opportunity to shape the future of our profession in the United States and beyond. This textbook will help us do so by providing new perspectives on traditional activities – activities that we still need to do but that we can do differently, in a more inclusive manner, through a critical lens. Library science faculty and students worldwide will be able to study how we are tackling issues, old and new, and educating students, thus sparking international discussion, debate, and collaboration in our profession. Undoubtedly, we have plenty to learn from colleagues around the world who face different challenges and perform heroic feats with many fewer resources and greater creativity and innovation.
What’s next for law librarians? Where are we and our profession heading? Where will the next generation take us?
We are at the precipice of radical social and technological change in the way we work, interact, and solve problems. So now is the time to radically change how we recruit and educate the next generation of law librarians.
For all these reasons, this comprehensive, superbly written, open-access e-textbook is so perfect at this moment in time. Indeed, Introduction to Law Librarianship is the first textbook exclusively devoted to law librarianship. This textbook gives us the tools to critically examine and rethink our profession, our work, and how we educate the next generation of law librarians within these imperfect institutions of historically unequal access. This textbook will allow us to reach beyond our borders to support the growth of the profession around the world.
And who benefits? Naturally, professors and students of law librarianship benefit, both of whom, with this textbook, have a curriculum at their fingertips. But ultimately, it is our patrons – law students and faculty, lawyers and judges, pro se litigants and public patrons – the people whom we serve – the reason we became librarians in the first place – who are the ultimate beneficiaries of the students who will be educated with this unique and transformative course of study.