Embracing My Unofficial FCIL Role

worldBy Yasmin Morais

I am the Reference and Cataloging Librarian at the David A. Clarke School of Law, a small, public law school in Washington, D.C. My previous position was Resident Librarian at the Georgetown Law Library for two years. While there, I responded to a heavier volume of international law queries. There is no Foreign and Comparative Law Librarian (FCIL) position at my current institution, and reference queries and faculty research on international and comparative law issues are relatively few. However, when requests for help with international law research are received, increasingly, I am asked to assist with these requests. I enjoy getting these requests and am embracing my role as the unofficial FCIL librarian.

Long before I became a law librarian, I think that my background, education and work experience were molding me to assume this role. I grew up on the island of Jamaica, and I think that island people instinctively want to reach out and discover the big, wide world that lies beyond their shores. I started learning Spanish in elementary school and chose it as my undergraduate major. I later decided to pursue a master’s in Government, with a focus on International Relations, and while living in Jamaica, I worked as a Program Officer for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which involved extensive travel throughout the Caribbean and parts of South America. My own personal travels have taken me to Cuba, Scotland, and England, and I lived about eight years in Canada, where I completed my master’s in information studies.

For my LLB degree, which I pursued through the University of London, European Union law was a required course, which enhanced my understanding of the legal systems of this vast area. My interest in FCIL work has also led me to create research guides on topics such as Scottish Legal History, Cuban Legal Research, and the Caribbean Court of Justice. For many years, I have also chosen to be a part of the FCIL-SIS, in order to stay current in this area, and within the last year, I assumed the position of Chair of the Latin American Law Interest Group. My duties from being both a Cataloging and Reference librarian allow me a unique perspective of being aware of FCIL resources and their organization, as well as being able to provide reference help in international law for those who need it.

For this blog post, I decided to review our library’s reference analysis program, Gimlet, to get a sampling of the FCIL reference questions that I have responded to over the past two years. Below is a summary of ten queries from faculty, students and alumni:

  • Gender equality in Cuba and economic opportunities and entrepreneurship for women.
  • Sources of Australian law, and particularly the laws of South Australia relating to children in foster care
  • Customary international law for procedure and trial practice
  • International resources for a comparative labor project
  • Out-migration and the debt crisis in Puerto Rico
  • Request for help in compiling a bibliography for a Human Rights Seminar
  • Resources on international law for a dissertation topic for Oxford University
  • Cuba’s laws on cooperatives
  • Sources for French commercial arbitration decisions.
  • Research on the health laws of Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Switzerland. This request led to my being invited to teach an evening session on researching international law to students in the Legislation Clinic.

These questions, and the occasional invitations to teach informal sessions on researching international law, have helped me to hone my skills in this area, as well as allowed me to pursue a niche interest of mine. I thought I would share this post to encourage other librarians who have an interest in FCIL law, but who might not have the official title, or might be apprehensive about tackling reference questions in this area. I am encouraged that there have been similar postings on DiplawMatic Dialogues in recent times.

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