Introducing…Lyonette Louis-Jacques as the October 2015 FCIL Librarian of the Month

1. Where did you grow up?LyoWitch3

I spent my early childhood in Haiti. I have vague memories of mountains, jellyfish, market, L’Épée magique, and Mardi Gras celebrations. When I moved to the States, I thought Playland at Coney Island was the greatest thing, especially Skee-Ball.

2. Why did you select law librarianship as a career?

Richard Bowler. Dick was the director of the University of Chicago Law Library back then.  During and after college, I worked at the circulation desk in the evenings. Students would ask me questions like “where can I find F.2d?” and I wouldn’t know the answer.  Dick gave me a copy of Morris Cohen’s Legal Research in a Nutshell and I was off and running.  I found l liked answering reference questions and helping students.  So I decided to go to library school (University of Michigan) and law school (University of Chicago) to become a legal reference librarian.

As a pre-professional, I had the privilege of learning about law librarianship as a career from Margaret Leary, George Grossman, and Judith Wright.

3. When did you develop an interest in foreign, comparative, and international law?

On the job.  I had no plans to specialize in FCIL librarianship, but I needed a job after graduating from law school, and the University of Minnesota had two openings for a reference librarian, one with foreign language skills.  I applied and got my first professional position in 1986 as a foreign and international legal reference librarian.  I replaced Yugoslavia-born Joseph Levstik, who had been Foreign Law Librarian at Minnesota for 20 years (1964-1986).

Kathie Price was the director of the law library at the time and very involved in an AALL initiative to develop a new generation of FCIL librarians. The first generation of foreign, comparative, and international law librarians were mostly Europe-trained lawyers, and they were retiring or had passed away. How to replace their knowledge of foreign legal systems and legal bibliography?

I attended town meetings and workshops on how to train the future generation of FCIL librarians.  And then I participated in the educational programs created to train next generation FCIL librarians. I attended the five AALL/Oceana Institutes and co-edited (with Jeanne Korman) one of the resulting books.  The Institute books became training materials for future FCIL librarians:

  • Introduction to Foreign Legal Systems (Richard A. Danner & Marie-Louise H. Bernal eds., 1994)
  • Introduction to Transnational Legal Transactions (Marylin J. Raisch & Roberta I. Shaffer eds., 1995)
  • Introduction to International Organizations (Lyonette Louis-Jacques & Jeanne S. Korman eds., 1996)
  • Introduction to International Business Law: Legal Transactionsin a Global Economy (Gitelle Seer & Maria I. Smolka-Day eds., 1996)
  • Contemporary Practice of Public International Law (Ellen G. Schaffer & Randall J. Snyder eds., 1997).

As part of my new FCIL librarian training, Kathie Price arranged for me to travel to Europe for a practicum working with the United Nations depository library documents collection at the Library of the Walther-Schücking-Institut für Internationales Recht at Christian-Albrechts-Universität in Kiel, Germany. I also visited libraries in Heidelberg, Brussels, and Geneva.

I  apprenticed with Latvia-born Adolf Sprudzs, who was then Foreign Law Librarian at the University of Chicago.  Mr. Sprudzs taught me how to select FCIL materials.  Suzanne Thorpe and I taught the first International and Foreign Legal Research course at Minnesota, and teaching helped me hone my FCIL skills further.  And I learned substantive and bibliographic FCIL info/knowledge from working with international law faculty and attending AALL FCIL-SIS, ASIL, IALL, and other conference programs and workshops.

4. Who is your current employer? How long have you worked there?

I am presently Foreign and International Law Librarian & Lecturer in Law at the D’Angelo Law Library, University of Chicago Law School.  I have been since Judith Wright hired me in August 1992 to become Mr. Sprudzs’ successor. Judith was also a leader in the initiative to train the next generation of FCIL librarians. And I continue to try to follow her and Kathie’s lead in mentoring and helping train new FCIL librarians.

Mr. Sprudzs was President of IALL and a scholarly international law librarian.   I seek to follow in his footsteps.  I focus my scholarship on identifying gaps in international legal research tools and trying to fill them as well as sharing information about new FCIL research resources.  I also promote and support FCIL scholarship generally.

5. Do you speak any foreign languages?

English!  Really, sometimes I lose my English and have to go find it… I grew up speaking Haitian Créole, and learned French in school, so I theoretically speak both. And I took courses in Spanish and German in college.  I speak Spanish well enough to be understood, and a smidgen of German.

6. What is your most significant professional achievement?

I’m very proud of having compiled the Law Lists (1992-2005) guide to law, library, and law library-related listservs, Usenet newsgroups, and e-newsletters. It enabled me to connect with diverse people across the globe and to help them connect with each other. I am also thrilled that the Int-Law listserv which I co-founded in 1991 with Mila Rush while I was at Minnesota is still active and being used by law librarians and others worldwide who work with and research FCIL materials.

I enjoyed chairing the FCIL-SIS during its 10th anniversary celebration (July 1995).  And am grateful to my FCIL colleagues for honoring me with the 2014 Daniel L. Wade Outstanding Service Award.  I admire Dan so much for his continued service to our SIS.  He’s such a great mentor!

I love helping others create new tools and resources as well as continue old ones.  I’m glad to have updated Dan Wade’s original 1993 “List of Foreign and International Law Librarians Who Have Expressed a Willingness to Help Non-Experts” with the Jumpstart guide.  This directory of people willing to help answer FCIL research questions by jurisdiction/region and topic is now being updated and maintained by Mary Rumsey.  If you have special expertise or willingness to help in researching the law of a particular country, international organization, or FCIL topic, please volunteer!

7. What is your biggest food weakness?

Diet Coke.

8. What song makes you want to get up and sing/dance?

Any good doo-wop tune.  The Del Satins’ Remember (1961).  Pink Martini.  Konpa/Kompa/Compas (especially Tabou Combo). Salsa.  Bachata.  Merengue. (I like Señor Priego’s Échale Salsa mix)  Big Pun’s ode to Puerto Rico – 100% (edited language version). Funk.

9. What ability or skill do you most wish you had (that you don’t have already)?

I wish that I could clone myself.  One Lyo would sleep all day and watch movies.  A couple of others would travel the world and learn new languages.  One will write a popular bestseller and become a kazillionaire.  One would be a trucker.  I wonder if I could get myself to stop cloning at five Lyos?

10. Aside from the basic necessities, what is one thing you cannot go a day without?

Besides Diet Coke?  The Internet, particularly Twitter.

11. Anything else you would like to share with us?

I really enjoy being an FCIL librarian.  Having a specialty enables to you master an area even if you’re continually learning new things.  I also think being a generalist legal reference librarian is quite interesting and challenging too.  In my job, I get to do both general reference as well as specialize. The best of both worlds.  I never get bored.  And, since I’m still trying to improve, I always have a goal…

I enjoy meeting new people who enter the field and finding out what unique skill or life experience they bring to the mix.  Looking forward to meeting all of y’all at the 2016 AALL conference in Chicago!

8 responses to “Introducing…Lyonette Louis-Jacques as the October 2015 FCIL Librarian of the Month

  1. Pingback: Introducing…Lyonette Louis-Jacques as the October 2015 FCIL Librarian of the Month | Veille juridique

  2. Thanks Lyonette! I’m glad I did something right in my otherwise dismal career as a law librarian. Now that I am retired I am running my local church library, cataloging books in, of all things, in Dewey. It;s a small collection, but the one used by all the postulants training to be priests and deacons in this diocese, and maybe penance for an old agnostic like me.



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