By Janet Kearney
This is the third in a series of posts documenting my experience as a new FCIL librarian. I started as Foreign & International Law Librarian at Fordham University School of Law in February 2019.
Happy work anniversary to me! A year ago this month I officially became an FCIL librarian for the first time. To commemorate this date for the blog, I decided to do a Q & A with some other FCIL librarians to discuss how they got started, their favorite FCIL-SIS volunteer activities, and a few other questions I’ve had on my mind.
Thank you very much to the librarians who entertained my questions:
- Loren Turner, Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Librarian at the University of Minnesota Law School and our fearless FCIL-SIS chair. (LT below.)
- Amy Flick, Foreign and International Law Librarian at the MacMillan Law Library at Emory University School of Law, member of the FCIL-SIS Nominating Committee and editor of the International Calendar for the International Journal of Legal Information (IALL) (AF below.)
- Marcelo Rodriquez, Research & Training Librarian at the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals Library, FCIL-SIS Latin American Law interest group chair (MR below.)
The comments below have been edited for grammar and style, and I’ve emphasized some of the takeaways.
Tell us a bit about yourself – where do you work? How long have you been an FCIL librarian, officially or unofficially?
LT: I am the official FCIL librarian at the University of Minnesota right now. I’ve been here for almost 4 years. Before that, I was an unofficial FCIL librarian at the University of Florida.
AF: I have worked for the Hugh F. MacMillan Law Library at Emory University since 1994, full-time since 1996. I have officially been the FCIL librarian since 2013. Unofficially becoming the FCIL librarian was more of a gradual process.
MR: I’m Marcelo Rodriguez, Research and Training Librarian, US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, NY. We don’t have an official FCIL librarian. However, we do receive a few FCIL-related research questions either related to the fact that two of our Circuit states, New York and Vermont share borders with Canada, and New York City’s prominent role in international trade and finance.
How did you get involved in FCIL librarianship?
LT: I have always wanted to be a FCIL librarian. I studied Latin/Italian in high school/college and then international law in law school, so as soon as I decided to become a law librarian, I decided to pursue FCIL librarianship. When I was at Northwestern’s law library, I met Heidi Kuehl, who later recruited me to be a co-Chair of the FCIL-SIS publicity committee and it was through that service that I met the FCIL-SIS community and started developing the niche.
AF: I started as the GovDocs librarian, so I got the questions about treaties and our EU docs, and the UN document questions because faculty thought we were a UN depository. (We weren’t, but the main Emory library had a large UN document collection.) Foreign law questions came later, as more knowledgeable librarians at Emory retired or left the library. I knew almost nothing about international or foreign law back then, but I learned international law librarianship along the way. So, if you’re a new FCIL librarian and don’t always know what you’re doing, you’re still doing better than I did back then.
MR: Once I realized that I wanted to become a librarian, FCIL librarianship felt like a natural path to me. I have always been interested in international relations and foreign languages. My initial career goal was to become a diplomat or work in an international organization. I did get to intern at the Library and Archives of the International Criminal Court at The Hague, Netherlands and the Central Library of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium. More than any other area of law librarianship, FCIL librarianship forces the law librarian to think outside the box, and to take into consideration some many other variables, which may fall under the realm of non-legal. Every time I get a FCIL-related question, I’m eager to use my knowledge on geography, history, languages, international relations, and also be able to learn something else. Every FCIL question feels like a learning opportunity!
What is the best way to get involved in professional organizations? Do you think it’s important for newer FCIL librarians to participate in these groups?
LT: The best way to get involved in professional organizations is to put yourself out there: email anyone you know who serves in a group that interests you and/or just show up at group meetings during conferences. Don’t be shy! The FCIL-SIS is always looking for volunteers to develop new projects and maintain current ones. And, I think it is important for all FCIL librarians – newer or otherwise – to participate in these groups. None of us know everything. There is just too much to know. So, active participation in professional organizations keeps your skills and your connections fresh and there is an incredible community of FCIL librarians to meet.
AF: Just do it! If you see an announcement seeking volunteers – writing, presenting, being part of a committee – and it fits your interests and skill set, you’ll be welcomed. But make sure it won’t overwhelm you fitting it in with your regular responsibilities. I think it’s better to start small and do the job well than to overcommit. Professional organizations like FCIL-SIS and IALL are great for newer FCIL librarians. Besides building your resume, you make contacts that you’ll want when you get difficult questions.
Do you think it’s more important to develop specialties (like human rights, international arbitration, etc.), be a generalist, or both?
LT: In my experience, specialties develop over time based on the community you serve. When I was at the University of Florida, I developed a specialty in international commercial arbitration because I was recruited to co-coach a Vis Moot team (I had zero experience in international commercial arbitration before that). When I got to the University of Minnesota, however, I didn’t serve faculty or students interested in international commercial arbitration. Instead, my new community specialized in international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and national security/laws of war. And, through repeated faculty and student interactions, I’ve started to develop specialties in those areas. If there is a particular specialty that you have always wanted to pursue, then go for it! But, I recommend learning as much as you can about general international law (sources, databases, etc.) first so that you have the foundational knowledge you’ll need to have anyway for a career in FCIL librarianship.
AF: Being the Foreign and International Law Librarian is already a specialty within most libraries. There are few law libraries where you can spend the better part of your time in foreign and international law, much less specializing beyond that. But you will develop at least a little expertise in the subjects where your law school or firm has specialists. Emory has an IHL Clinic, so I get student questions on international humanitarian law and the law of war. And we have legal historians among our faculty who periodically send me requests for 19th century English cases or for 20th century State Department documents.
Are there any special skills that you think are critical to doing FCIL research?
LT: I’d say: curiosity and tenacity, which are critical skills for any librarian, but FCIL research can be tough. The answer to many FCIL questions may very well be: “I’m sorry, but that thing [English translation, speech transcript, etc.] is not available.” And, yet no one wants to give that answer! The FCIL librarian has to be willing to scour for a result long after others may have given up.
AF: Foreign languages would help, but I don’t have that. And good research skills in general. It’s more important to have an interest in the subject, to enjoy looking for obscure documents, trying different databases, and reading enough news and professional literature to be able to interpret FCIL questions.
Do you have a strategy or approach to continuing education?
LT: My strategy is to do it! There is so much to know as a FCIL librarian and I’m not even close to knowing it all or even most of it. I try to attend as many conferences as my budget allows, and I volunteer for many different organizations so that I maintain my network and remain “in the know.” Also, now that the FCIL-SIS has started to produce free continuing education webinars (thanks to Caitlin Hunter), I watch those, and, when my schedule allows, I also attend free conferences or programs on international law at the University where I work. Also, I read/skim every issue of the American Journal of International Law and the FCIL-SIS Newsletter.
AF: I attend conferences and webinars, of course, and I read about legal research and international law. But I learn the most while preparing for classes, a reminder that experiential hands-on learning is the most effective kind.
What is your favorite FCIL resource (for example, Foreign Law Guide, GlobaLex, Justis, Max Planck, Darts IP, International Encyclopedias)? Why?
LT: I love the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law. I always try to start every new project with it because it forces me to stop and think and put the legal question(s) I am trying to answer into context. It strengthens my vocabulary and helps me refine my keywords before hopping onto Google or one of the many FCIL databases. It is always the first database I highlight whenever I am covering background sources for my classes, workshops, or guest visits.
AF: I’m guessing that “it depends on the project” isn’t a definite enough answer. For international law questions, I like to start students with the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law for background reading and a bibliography. It frequently has the citations for the most important documents for their project. Although that has to come with a reminder to check the article date. For foreign and comparative law projects, I like to start students with the Foreign Law Guide because it not only refers them to primary sources, it has citations to major statutes by subject area.
Me, reading all these answers: