How to Become a Law Librarian
If you look behind the scenes of major court cases, law schools, and even the law departments of large companies, you will likely find highly-skilled law librarians. These individuals make it their business to know everything about legal research and have been well trained in the acquisition, organization, and administration of legal resources and the art of looking things up including using databases like Westlaw and Dialog. Attorneys and law students alike have found law librarians to be extremely helpful with court cases and homework.
A career as a law librarian can be rewarding personal and financially. The first step many people take to enter this profession is to obtain master’s degrees in library science from an American Library Association (ALA) accredited program. The most common degrees awarded by most colleges and universities are the Master of Library Science (MLS), Master of Library and Information Studies (MILS), and a Master of Arts in Library Science (M.A. in LS). Obtaining any of these degrees is enough to get an entry-level job as a law librarian.
While it is not necessary to earn a J.D. to get a job as a librarian in a law office, government agency, or corporation, it is immensely helpful to have some formal education in the law. Additionally, if you want to advance up the corporate ladder and become the director of a law library or get into reference librarianship, you will need to have earned a J.D. There are a number of schools that offer dual degrees in library science and J.D.
The most important thing when pursuing a degree in library science is to make sure the program is accredited by the ALA. There are approximately 51 programs approved by the American Library Association. According to the 2007 America’s Best Graduate Schools report produced by U.S. News and World Report, the top 3 schools that offer degrees in library science are the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Syracuse University in New York, and the University of North Carolina.
Library science master’s degrees take about 1 to 2 years to complete depending on the program and whether the student attends on a part-time or full-time basis. Before applying to a particular program, there are a few things you should look out for. Make sure the program fits your lifestyle and goals. For example, if you want to enter the job market quickly, try to find a program that only takes a year to complete.
It is also important to check the admissions criteria. In general, graduate degree programs require applicants to have completed a bachelor’s degree. Most library science master’s degrees will accept a bachelor’s degree in any subject, but there are a few that only take students who have earned a bachelor’s degree in library science. Some schools also require students to submit GRE or LSAT scores in addition to letters of recommendation and participating in entrance exams.
Whether you attend graduate school on a part-time or full-time basis will, again, depend on your goals and lifestyle. If you work and have a family, attending school part-time may be the best way to go even though it will take longer for you to earn your degree. Some schools also offer distance-learning options which may make completing courses easier.
Although obtaining an education in library science is critical to getting a job in the industry, it is equally important to have some work experience under your belt, especially if you are not planning on earning a J.D. or taking any law classes. There is a lot of legal terminology and other information that you must know to be effective in your job. You can gain job experience by working as an intern at a law library, law office, clerk’s office, or corporate legal department.
Paying for graduate school can be challenging, especially in a soft economy. However, you should apply for financial aid. There are also a number of scholarships available for students pursuing law librarianship. The American Association of Law Libraries, ALA, and the Special Libraries Association all have resources available to help students find and apply for scholarships on their websites.