Leader Profile of Kim Nayyer: Building Bridges and Amplifying Voices

We are continuing our coverage of the Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals (PLLIP) inaugural Diversity Summit, hosted in conjunction with the Black Law Librarians (BLL) Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL). The Summit’s theme was “From Difficult Conversations to Collaborative Action”, and the session, “Diversity Shares: Listen to Learn”, featured three members of the law library community as panellists, Ramon Barajas, Catherine Deane and Kim Nayyer.

This profile is on Kim Nayyer, Edward Cornell Law Librarian, Associate Dean for Library Services, and Professor of the Practice at Cornell Law School. Previously, she was Associate University Librarian, Director of the Law Library, and Adjunct Associate Professor at University of Victoria in Canada. Before joining academia, Kim worked for many years as a research lawyer and information specialist at an appellate court and in small and large private law firms in Edmonton, Calgary, and Toronto, Canada.

Answers compiled by Megan Moltrup, Librarian at Baker & McKenzie LLP in Washington, DC.

What is your role at your institution?

I oversee the Cornell Law School library and serve on the administration team of the Law School. My law library is one of few in the US law school landscape to be administered by a university library system in conjunction with its law school. I see my role as a bridge-builder and an advocate, ensuring responsible administration of law library spaces, resources, services, and staff, and upholding of my ABA accountabilities in our legal education program. As a Professor of the Practice, I also teach credit-bearing courses in the Cornell Law School JD, LLM, and MSLS programs.

What has been the biggest single change you have seen in the industry? And what changes do you see ahead?

Since I began either legal practice or legal information practice, I’ve seen many changes, several of them pretty big and influential. The single biggest one I can identify, though, is one that we’re in the midst of right now. This is the immense amount of data—legal data, practice and operational data, user-generated data. Information professionals have understood for some time that we can extract value from data to make better operational decisions, to support our colleagues and organizations, and to make better predictive legal analyses in support of our clients. The significant influence of data we’re still wrestling with, is the impact of the vast amounts of real-world data and how they influence the innumerable machine-manipulated tools and resources we use daily. The influences are difficult for our users and communities to see, for information professionals to discern, and—increasingly—for even developers to know and address.

Name one thing that you or your team is doing this year to meet the challenges ahead.

The past year has presented some challenges that are new and others that are long-standing but more widely evident or understood. One that I feel most strongly about is the work we are doing to both interrogate and work to dismantle structural exclusion and inequalities—racial, socioeconomic, ability, for example. Structural exclusion and inequalities exist in so many facets of life, domestically and globally too, and we can focus our efforts on those closest to our home and on which our own work centers. Our team is creating learning resources to assist with learning about how structural racism and other forms of exclusion in the legal and justice systems affect or skew the legal information we research and apply in practice. We are developing our collections in ways that amplify voices and perspectives that have not traditionally been centered in legal information, even if substantively valuable. We are assisting faculty in growing their curricular resources in ways that can help them adapt their teaching. We are working to improve communication internally to ensure all members of our workplace recognize their voices matter and their work matters. 

How has your job evolved from the time you first began your career?

My work has evolved so much and yet has remained with, or returned to, my early focus. When I began legal education, I wanted to advance social justice. Coming from a background which gave me a sense of looking in from the peripheries, I wanted to be able to increase the voices of and access to justice of others on the peripheries, or in the margins. My legal career was a winding path in medium, small, and large firms and the courts, and my work throughout focused on legal information and using my skills to improve analysis of and access to legal information and knowledge to provide high-quality solutions to problems. When I shifted to law librarianship, I had the opportunity to assist students and the public researchers make sense of the maze of legal information and, later, data-driven legal outputs. As a law library director, I’ve been able to have a stronger voice and to influence the priorities of my library. I am working hard now to ensure I myself seek out and listen to other perspectives, with particular attention to those that might have been traditionally less heard.

What job would you have if you had not become a law librarian?

I think I would have been a journalist. I could see myself investigating issues or events, researching them, interviewing people and surfacing their perspectives, and then writing informed pieces. Just before my shift into this profession, I did some community journalism for a news media organization in Canada and I loved it. In my early years as a law librarian, I had the opportunity to do some freelance writing for legal publications, which I found immensely rewarding.

Any advice for new librarians who are just starting out?

Seek out different perspectives, step beyond your most evident circles and sectors. If you think you may be interested in academic libraries, attend events and engage with colleagues of private law firm or government law libraries, for example. Connect with mentors and prospective mentors. Librarians and information workers I’ve come to know tend to be helpful and willing to lend a hand, an ear, or some tips.

If you could be any fictional character, who would you choose and why?

My answer will vary with the last fictional story I think about. Because it came up in class today, I will choose Tintin, le jeune reporter qui voyage au monde.

What’s the last photo you took on your phone?

A selection of pies that I picked up on pi day, from a local Ithaca co-op.

Final thoughts?

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in the PLLIP Diversity Summit and in this profile. I learned so much and met some new and interesting colleagues.

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