Crafting an FCIL Research Niche (When You’re NOT an “FCIL Librarian”)

By Alyson Drake

worldCrafting an FCIL research niche when you’re not labeled as an “FCIL Librarian” is something I’ve been thinking about lately, particularly in light of my FCIL research course being cancelled this semester due to low registration numbers.  It got me thinking that teaching at a law school that doesn’t have many course offerings in the area of international law or many professors who are doing research in FCIL-related areas, it can take some active effort and some creativity to keep up my FCIL skills.  To be honest, I sometimes consider whether trying to keep some focus on FCIL-related work is even something I should do as my responsibilities expand in other areas.  Then I remember how much fun and how challenging I find FCIL research and remain determined to find some ways to stay connected to that interest area.  So I thought I’d provide a few tips on staying connected to FCIL librarianship without being an FCIL librarian.

  • Share your interest with others. I had an interest in FCIL librarianship right out of law school, as I’d spent several semesters and a summer in law school as a research assistant to one of the international law scholars at William & Mary.  Despite spending a significant amount of time conducting international law research (specifically international criminal law research) in law school, I didn’t feel qualified to apply for FCIL librarian positions out of law school, due to a lack of modern languages (Ancient Greek and Latin FTW!).  But, when I started my first law librarian job at the University of South Carolina, I made sure my colleagues were aware of my research interests.  This ultimately led to a number of opportunities, including being assigned to collection development in human rights law and international law; being assigned presentations in the area of international law; acting as the law library’s liaison to one of the law journals; and even just having students sent my way when other librarians received questions related to foreign or international law.

    This has carried over to my current position. When students are writing a journal comment on a matter of foreign or international law, they are sent my way.  I’ve also been assigned as the liaison to our few faculty members who do undertake international and foreign law projects occasionally.

  • Propose a course. This is something I was able to do at both South Carolina and at my current job at Texas Tech.  At South Carolina, with a full first year teaching schedule, it was a summer session course.  At Texas Tech, I taught it last spring to a wonderful group of students and now think it might be better off as an every-other-year course since we’re not an international-focused law school.  But I’m also considering ways I might partner with the few professors here that do teach in the area of international and foreign law, perhaps by persuading them that incorporating a research project into their courses can help their courses meet the formative assessment or experiential learning requirements required by the ABA.  There are always opportunities if you’re creative enough!  You could also present to student groups with an interest/relation to FCIL.
  • Get involved in FCIL-SIS. Joining the FCIL-SIS and getting involved helped give me a well-reasoned excuse (as if I needed one!) to stay abreast of development in FCIL librarianship.  Added bonus: the FCIL-SIS community will encourage you to get involved!  I’d been kind of lingering on the fringes of the group for a few years when I attended my first FCIL-SIS Business Meeting at AALL 2015.  Alison Shea basically said, “Hey! You should be the chair of the European Law Interest Group!”  Before the meeting concluded, I was.  Three years later, I co-chair the Publicity Committee, which allows me to keep my finger on the pulse of much of what’s going on in FCIL librarianship (and strongly encourage other newer librarians to get involved), and serve on the Advisory Board of the Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals. At first, it may seem intimidating to get involved with FCIL-SIS if you’re not labeled as an FCIL librarian (at least if you suffer from imposter syndrome like I sometimes do), but this group is comprised of librarians of every ilk, including a large number of people who not branded with an FCIL title.  Writing a blog post for DipLawMatic Dialogues is one easy way to get your feet wet, so please feel free to contact me if you’re interested!
  • Volunteer for FCIL-Related Opportunities As They Come Up. I will soon have two FCIL-related writing projects to my name. Both were just opportunities that passed me by that I grabbed onto.  The first, updating a GlobaLex article that was out of date, came along largely because of my first point, letting my then-boss, the author of the original article, know that I had an interest in international law.  When the time came for update, he was busy and asked if I’d be interested in completing it.  Yes, please!  The second is a bibliography project where they needed chapters on foreign, comparative, and international law.  I volunteered to do one or two of the chapters, and somehow ended up doing all three.  Both projects allowed me to indulge my interest in foreign and international law and learn some new things.

So, if you, like the former me, are lingering on the fringes, are just someone who has an interest in FCIL without it being a part of your everyday job, are unsure of where you might fit into this group, I encourage you to jump on in! The water’s fine. The people are nice. You’ll learn new things. And there are opportunities for you here regardless of your title.

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