The Law Librarian in the Broader World – Lessons from Legislative Advocacy Training and a Law Firm/Academic Librarian Round Table at the AALL Annual Conference

Kat Klepfer
 Reference & Research Services Librarian, University of Richmond

This was my first AALL annual conference as a professional librarian and I was very excited to attend the conference, not as a job-seeker, but as a practicing librarian. I began my full-time job as a reference & research services librarian at the University of Richmond just this January and was encouraged to apply for the VALL grant so that I would have the opportunity to attend AALL. I was able to cover the majority of my expenses with VALL’s generosity and enjoyed a productive conference!
We were able to bring a diverse group to Philadelphia from the University of Richmond: our new director, Roger Skalbeck, was able to attend, along with our deputy director, Joyce Manna Janto, our catalog and systems librarian, Mei Kiu Lo, and our two reference & research services librarians, Alexis Fetzer and myself. Most of us came early to enjoy the pre-conference programs on Saturday and I signed up for the Legislative Advocacy Training seminar. I have an interest in public policy research and will be helping students in our Public Policy Research & Drafting class in the fall, so I thought it would be a good fit.
The training was run by the AALL Government Relations Office Director Emily Feltren and Public Policy Associate Elizabeth Holland. The exercise they started us on seemed simple at first: fill out the name, level of education, birth date, and other basic information about our best friend. Pretty easy, huh? Then we had to do the same for our local representative. I didn’t even know his or her name, let alone what level of education they had or when they were born. I excused this by saying I’d just moved to Virginia, but honestly I don’t know when I’d have thought to look it up. I admit, I hopped on my phone on break and looked it up—and I recommend you do the same at )! 
The “Attorney Research Skills: Join the Conversation Between Law Firm and Academic Law Librarians” program was by far the most informative program I attended. It was organized as a panel presentation punctuated by round-table discussions and it got all of us talking. My table was a nice mix of firm and academic librarians and we dove into some difficult issues. I truly wish this particular program had been longer. Reporting on the results of the ALL-SIS Task Force on Legal Skills and Knowledge for Practice, the panelists discussed the gaps in legal research skills students are reporting—and law firm librarians are growing frustrated with—when they leave law school.
The firm librarians had three main take-homes for those of us teaching legal research. First, firm librarians can tell when a student has had some form of advanced legal research class. It’s something I fully intend to pass on to my students when they leave their 1L year; truly you cannot stop learning about research after your fist year and expect to succeed in the job market. Second, firm librarians urge us to focus on the method of legal research and not on individual sources. When time is tight, we tend to just try to highlight a number of databases. Priming a student to know how to look for information—as well as where—is necessary when a student may end up in a firm where substantially different resources are available. Last, and perhaps the most challenging, was that students need to be prepared for the time and cost pressures of researching in the real world. It is something that is difficult to simulate when students have such broad access to databases at our schools. The academic librarians at my table pondered as to how we could cut down on time or availability of resources to better prepare our students.
Overall, I was pleased to come home with a head full of ideas and a hand full of business cards. I appreciate VALL’s generosity in helping me to engage in our professional and gather connections. It was lovely meeting so many of my fellow VALL members at our wonderful lunch at McCormick & Schmidt’s and I look forward to seeing you all again soon!

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The Virginia Association of Law Libraries (VALL) supports and serves its members’ professional pursuits by fostering a spirit of leadership and cooperation, providing educational and leadership opportunities, and promoting and enhancing the value of law libraries.

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