Member Profile of Ramon Barajas: A Nimble Leader, Open to Change and Lifelong Learning

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 Ramon Barajas, a Library Manager in the Los Angeles office of Alston & Bird. Ramon has been a law librarian for over 15 years working exclusively in law firms. Prior to joining the world of big law, Ramon was a branch manager of a small rural public library in Central California where he worked primarily with public outreach and children’s services (yes, he did story time).  As the first member of his family to attend college, he earned a B.A. in English from CSU Bakersfield and his MLIS from San Jose State University.  Ramon has been an active member of the Southern California Association of Law Libraries (SCALL) and AALL and served as SCALL chapter president from 2017-2018.

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

What is your role at your law firm?

I am the Library Manager for the firm’s California offices and also play a role in many of the department’s larger functions such as vendor contract negotiations and managing staff. I also participate in interdepartmental committees working to advance the firm’s initiatives.

What do you believe is the value you and your team bring to your firm?

Research is the backbone of the practice of law. As research professionals and the gatekeepers of information, our value cannot be understated. The library team at Alston & Bird has been especially instrumental during the pandemic in helping the firm make the transition to a digital work environment.

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

The pandemic has accelerated many of the changes that were slowly taking shape within our industry. In the years leading up to the pandemic, we saw things trending towards flexible work schedules and the move away from print. In the last twelve months we were all forced to completely work remotely and to make the shift to digital libraries. I see many of these changes becoming permanent. Digital libraries will continue to evolve and improve. In the near future, printed legal treatises and practice guides may be completely gone.

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

We are working hard to streamline access to our various online subscriptions. Attorneys need resources to be as easily and readily accessible as possible. Converting our brick and mortar library to a digital space continues to be a challenge, but we are making strides.

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PLLIP Inaugural Diversity Summit: Keynote Explores Challenges and Steps to Achieving Genuine Equity and Inclusion

By Douglas Southard, Research and Reference Services Manager at WilmerHale

The Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals Special Interest Section of AALL held their inaugural Diversity Summit on Friday, February 26th.  The below post summarizes and reflects upon the keynote address, and we’ll follow up with more coverage of this insightful and thought-provoking program.  Many thanks to the Summit Committee for planning this well-received event.

Michelle Silverthorn kicked off the AALL Diversity Summit for 2021 with a powerful keynote speech, exploring the challenges we face in achieving equity and inclusion in the workplace. Silverthorn is the Founder and CEO of Inclusion Nation, a diversity consulting firm based in Chicago. Silverthorn spoke for 60 minutes on the prevalence of unconscious bias and how it blocks us from achieving equity in our society. 

Michelle opened her talk by identifying the obstacles to racial equity in the workplace and in society. She argued persuasively that racism and unconscious bias continue to be prevalent in our society, resulting in the numerous microaggressions that people of color encounter in their daily lives. Unconscious biases are rooted in the ways we think; we look at the world through two systems of thought: Stage One thinking and Stage Two thinking.  Stage One thinking is automatic and unconscious, while Stage Two is slower and more rational. We spend most of our time in Stage One thinking, which is when our unconscious biases take over, and we are at risk of accepting stereotypes at face value. 

The speaker demonstrated the power and prevalence of bias using powerful personal stories and thought-provoking exercises, though I did find the exercises difficult to complete in the Zoom environment. She related her life history, coming to the US from the Caribbean. Her effective storytelling really held the audience’s interest. She spoke, for example, about the countless times that she has taken her children to playgrounds on Chicago’s North Side and been mistaken for a nanny by white mothers at the playground. She drove home how painful and exhausting it is to face these microaggressions on a daily basis. This section of the talk really resonated with participants, judging from the comments in the chat window.

Silverthorn explained why diversity matters, showing a slide with detailed statistics on how the country has changed demographically. The Depression and WWII-era generation, who she refers to as “traditionalists,” was 80% white. Each succeeding generation has been more racially diverse; The Baby Boomer cohort was 72% white, Generation X was 61% white, and Generation Z (which includes those born in the 21st century) is only 44% white. For children growing up right now, the US has already become a white-minority country. She also emphasized other ways the country has become more diverse, for example the increasing number of people identifying as nonbinary. This is the world of our clients, and we need to embrace it if we are to serve them effectively.

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Voices Across the Spectrum, Tough Conversations About Race: Let the Book Start the Discussion

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 25, Number 3 (January/February 2021), pgs. 39-41.

By Cynthia Bassett, Collection Management and Electronic Services Librarian at University of Missouri School of Law and Kara Phillips, Law Library Director at Seattle University School of Law Library

Below are excerpts from the article, including a section highlighting how private law librarians have participated in diversity initiatives.

Talking about racism is tough. Not talking about it is not an option when people are dying. Across our country, people are having difficult conversations about the racism they see in their communities and the effects that systemic racism—racism that is built into the very structures of our society—have on people of color.

The University of Missouri School of Law has been having intentional conversations about the many ways that people in our country are treated as “other” for many years, but the need to talk about it in a new way surfaced after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, in the fall of 2014. Some of the University of Missouri Law School students called Ferguson home, and his death hit them hard. Others in the school simply could not see why people were protesting and blocking highways, which seemed to be counterproductive to their cause. Tensions rose and the school needed to find a way to talk about and understand how different members of our society experience the world.

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Practical Competitive Intelligence: Taking on CI in the Virtual World

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 25, Number 3 (January/February 2021), pgs. 44-45.

By Kevin Miles, Manager of Library Services at Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP

Your reference librarian recently transferred to a competitive intelligence (CI) professional role. How does he or she get and keep a seat at the firm’s virtual (remote) business development table during this pandemic? Even though we are not currently working together in an office, collecting, analyzing, and acting on information from CI efforts is more important than ever. The financial markets are increasingly volatile, more attorneys and support staff are changing firms, and some practice groups are underutilized. A physical table has size limitations, but a virtual table is infinitely large. In other words, there is room for more seats and voices at the virtual business development table.

Changes and Challenges

As we all know, the pandemic has challenged how we conduct business. For many law firms, employees work well from home. Yet working from home sets new expectations, such as 24/7 availability. What are the boundaries between home and work during the pandemic? Having a working knowledge of communication via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, WebEx, or similar tools is now critical for sharing ideas. But because we also know that law librarians are very adaptable, such challenges can be readily met and overcome.

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