Profile of Jennifer S. Stephens, MLS, Technology Services Librarian at Haynes and Boone in Dallas, TX
What was your path to law librarianship?
I focused my coursework on academic librarianship, specifically in cataloging, and had even been offered a position in a small college. I turned it down because I was not sure my car would hold up for a 500 mile move. My dad called me the next day, saying he saw an advertisement for a position in the law department of Dresser Industries, Inc. and encouraged me to apply. I did apply, interviewed with Karen Dibble, the library manager, and was offered the job the next day. It was the best decision I ever made.
Did you have a mentor or librarian who helped you and/or influenced your work style/ethic?
Two of my school librarians influenced my work style tremendously. Elizabeth Teasley was my elementary school librarian, and Mary Berg was my junior high librarian. Both were always willing to listen, to help me find the best books to read, and to make recommendations for best resources to answer my research questions.
Karen Dibble, my manager at Dresser (and currently assistant director at the Dallas County Law Library), gave me terrific support in my first job as well as encouraging me to join and participate in library associations. She made sure I could go to SWALL (Southwestern Association of Law Libraries) conferences, where I met librarians in all types of law libraries. This was invaluable in networking and learning how others tackled similar problems.
How has your job evolved from the time you first began your career?
I started at Dresser Industries as the law librarian, which meant I did research, cataloging, acquisitions, budgeting, training, and special projects working with our law department MIS specialist. The obvious changes have been the march from print to online, but as I’ve worked different places, my professional responsibilities have shifted from reference and operations to library technology and end user training.
What is your biggest challenge at work?
My biggest challenge is a good one, working with people from multiple departments on large scale projects. This forces me to be able to rephrase my questions and answers into terminology that people in IT, accounting, and training can understand.
What part of your job do you enjoy the most? [what part drives you crazy?]
The part I enjoy the most is finding ways to streamline processes while providing better output. For example, I’ve used database applications to create customized reports for managers and accounting on our online services. Importing the raw data into an Access database means I can repurpose the same data into all sorts of reports based on specific queries and report formats. I also love cataloging and the whole concept of describing individual sources in such a way that they can be discovered through multiple approaches.
The only part that drives me crazy is that I’d like to clone myself so I could get more done in a shorter time frame.
How do you keep up with news and trends in law libraries?
I subscribe to the various Pinhawk emails and have the RSS feeds for multiple blogs. I read library newsletters and journals, take advantage of webinars offered by library associations and vendors, and I attend conferences when I can.
What job would you have if you had not become a law librarian?
Given my technology background, I probably would have worked in web design for an academic library. I was the webmaster for DALL (Dallas Association of Law Librarians) from 1995-2005, and loved solving issues from basic HTML to learning enough ASP and CSS to streamline the presentation of multiple links on a page.
How do you reach out to your attorneys to let them know how the library can help them?
The majority of my initial contact with attorneys has been through orientation. I work with fall and summer orientation, and fill in lateral orientation when my manager is not available. Our department sends personalized emails to all new attorneys with their initial research service logins, current awareness (routing) lists, and desk book lists. We work to make all of these relevant to their practice.
Any advice for new librarians who are just starting out?
Be flexible, and take advantage of any chance to learn something new. If you have questions, ask. We tell our new associates to never be afraid to pick up the phone, send an email, or come see if if they have questions or feel like they are stuck. The same advice applies for new librarians, be willing to ask for guidance from your managers or co-workers. Last, but certainly not least, take care of yourself. Make time to exercise, even if it is just a ten minute stroll at lunch.