Are Law Librarians Experiencing a Self-Image Crisis?

self-image

Kreig Kitts, Reference Librarian at Crowell & Moring LLP (kkitts@crowell.com)

How often does this happen: Checking your email in the morning, you see that a colleague has endorsed you on LinkedIn. With great excitement – level of excitement may vary, depending whether you’ve had breakfast and coffee yet – you open the email, and your excitement dies down. Once again, you’ve been endorsed for your most mundane skills – your ability to use a product. Interlibrary loan? Copy cataloging? PACER? Is this what you’re known for? Is this what you want to be known for? If you answered “no” to that last question, then why are you advertising it on your profile?

Librarians everywhere have been going through a self-image crisis lately. A few years ago, the Special Libraries Association had a members’ referendum on changing the name to take out the word “Library”. This year in Seattle, the theme for the American Association of Law Libraries annual meeting and conference was “Reconsider Your Value” (a double-edged sword of a theme if ever there was one). Especially in the private sector, many librarians have had their titles changed, sometimes at their own request, to “competitive analyst”, “information specialist”, and other variations to try to shake up the perception that they’re clerical workers. Professional credentials work their way into email signatures, because when in doubt “Chris J. Doe, M.L.S., J.D., M.B.A., C.K.M.” is sure to impress.

So back to LinkedIn, the platform on which we list our professional skills. Due to my frustration at getting endorsed over and over for my ability to use a resource, and I don’t mean something kind of cool like using a Bloomberg terminal or really cool like a Taco Copter, I took action. With a bit of housekeeping out went Lexis, Westlaw, Pacer, Interlibrary Loan, and pretty much anything else that was on an exam during my first year of library school. In went Company Profiling, Competitor Intelligence, and many other valuable things I do and for which I prefer to be known.

LinkedIn makes it easy to edit your skills at http://www.linkedin.com/skills. You can even find skills with certain keywords, and better yet, related skills. For reference librarians, you probably perform in-depth company research, either for competitive purposes, due diligence, or litigation. If you don’t already analyze the information, you might start and then add it to your LinkedIn skills. For technical services and acquisitions librarians, look at your involvement in budgeting or user experience design. Look at yourself, your work, and your value, and look at how you can best showcase it.

Moreover, LinkedIn is not just for job networking. Have you connected with people at your firm? With professional colleagues who are involved in programming? Professors from library school or law school who might be looking for guest speakers? You don’t need to be “on the market” to benefit from putting your best professional face forward.

And once you start changing how you describe yourself in one area, you might start doing it elsewhere. When people learn you’re a librarian and say “so you organize the books” or “you do research”, maybe you’ll reply “I also perform corporate research and analysis”.

I already hear the objections as I type this. “We do this already. We need to educate our users about what librarians do.” If you’re altruistic, then consider this part of the education. If you’re not altruistic, then consider this a way to educate people about what you do.

This isn’t just about jazzing up a profile so everybody will think you’re amazing. Going past the general buzzwords takes some reflection, not only about the kind of professional you are, but the kind of professional you want to be. If you haven’t given that much thought, now might be the time to think about it. Plot a course of action, and determine where you are now and where you want to ultimately be. What do you do? What do you do well? What do you do really well? What are you known for? And most importantly, what do you want to be known for?

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3 thoughts on “Are Law Librarians Experiencing a Self-Image Crisis?

  1. You raise some interesting points. I agree that I don’t want to be known solely for such common skills as PACER or Lexis. (But I do want to be known as being good at all of this.) There’s a lot more to me and my skills and knowledge, and I’ve decided to review my profile accordingly. I agree completely that we do so much that we definitely should include things like competitor analysis, company profiling, and so on.
    OTOH, if you leave those mundane, not very interesting skills out of your profile, and I retain them, I’ll be the one who’s found when a not-so-sophisticated recruiter or an ATS runs a keyword search for “Lexis”. So, thank you for narrowing the field a bit.

  2. Kreig, I absolutely agree that it’s important for Law Librarians not to be known soley for their use of Westlaw or LexisNexis. However as the previous commenter says, the onus has to be on the Law Librarian themselves to update their LinkedIn profile to ensure it’s appropriate. So instead of Westlaw and LexisNexis, Law Librarians could add a skill of Legal Research, Research Skills or Analytical Skills.

    These are attributes and skills that all Law Librarians should have and I think it’s better to promote these on your profile, rather then Westlaw, LexisNexis or PLC.

  3. Does anyone actually take the skills and endorsing seriously anymore? I’m genuinely asking. When skills first came out and one had some control over it, I would have said yes. However, when LinkedIn granted the ability to endorse, I think the wheels quickly fell off the wagon. At first blush, it seemed like a good idea. In time, though, when everyone and their mother endorsed everyone else for any random skill, it just became worthless. And I say this as someone who’s mother has actually endorsed her for some library skill, which just makes me chuckle. The proliferation of random endorsements made it meaningless in my eyes.

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