New FCIL Librarian Series: Staying Relevant?

By Traci Emerson Spackey

As I wrap up this series, I’m now almost a full two years into my career as an FCIL librarian. Update: I still love it, which is saying something because a) I didn’t even make two years practicing law, and b) much of the first two years has been highly unusual. In any case, at this point I’m still new enough that I don’t have everything figured out (I know that’s not a thing), but also seasoned enough to be able to poke my head up for a moment and start thinking bigger picture about some things. 

As a result, lately I’ve been thinking about a word I commonly hear/read in the law library world: “relevant”. I don’t know if this has always been a trend and I’m just new to the table, but it does feel like lately I often hear or read about how law librarians are trying to “stay relevant” to their institutions or patrons. As a new librarian, this hasn’t sat well with me. I finally started asking myself why I didn’t like that particular conversation.

I realized that it was because it made me feel as if my field was threatened. It’s given me an (until now unspoken) unease about career security and felt like the burden was put on me to keep, well, relevant. I then realized that I was interpreting the word as “important”. Once I realized this, my legal mind kicked in and I decided I needed to understand the term first before I drew conclusions about it:

Definition of relevant

Hm. I clicked on the hyperlink in definition C. 

There it was. Embedded in the definition of “relevance” is what made this whole conversation click for me: “the ability (as of an information retrieval system) to retrieve material that satisfies the needs of the user.” That’s literally what we try to do. (I could not have hoped for a more on-point example for the dictionary definition.)

This makes me smile, because as long as the discussion is about how we are serving the needs of the user well, then this conversation makes sense to me. As I engage with this conversation, I will now choose to define the word correctly: “relevant” in this field means “pertinent” rather than “important”. And naturally that’s what I always want my work to be.

While I didn’t have my head on straight about the definition of “relevant”, I think it’s been an important question to grapple with early on (no pun intended). It sets my framework early on. I have the firm conviction that law libraries will always be important, because legal information will always be essential to a well-functioning society, but how we steward the profession through technological change after change and stay with–if not ahead of–the curve will keep us relevant, pertinent, or:

Oh look, there’s that word. 

Thanks for following along with me this year! I sincerely hope to meet so many of you in person in the future.

New FCIL Librarian Series: Disruption and Innovation at Reference

By Traci Emerson Spackey

So, it’s been a year. Actually, it’s literally been a year…no…13 months, almost to the day, since I began “WFH”.

Back in law school I remember sitting in class one day when the professor began to lecture about the idea of dynamic regulation. But first the preliminary point he wanted to drive home was that disruption drives innovation. This principle has stuck with me.

This last year has been nothing if not a disruption. I’d love to talk to the person that didn’t have transitional woes from the office to working from home. I have yet to meet them. It might be hard to parse out how much of the transition was due to adjusting to a PANDEMIC of all things, and how much was getting used to the working from home aspect of it, but that is neither here nor there: the switch from the office to work from home was hard.

However, as talks have begun about going back to the office and what that mightlook like, I keep coming back to the relationship between disruption and innovation. I can’t help but ask the question: how will the law school reference desk innovate? Would we be missing out on a chance to innovate if we don’t change anything at all? In my experience, there are actually some really good discoveries that came from this year working from home, and it makes me wonder if this year of disruption could change the reference desk permanently. At our library, we’ve been entirely virtual for a year and it’s fairly unanimous in our reference department: it has gone much better than we had expected. I don’t know what that means for the future of our reference desk, but I do know that the disruption known as COVID-19 has permanently changed the way I do reference and the options I offer my students from my own desk. Here’s what I discovered.

In our library, the reference desk is fairly typical and seats a student on one side, and a reference librarian on the other. There is one computer screen which faces the librarian and sits on a swivel stand in order for us to swing it around (partially) so that a student may see what we are demonstrating. While it is perfectly functional, it is also generally uncomfortable for both the student, who often tries to follow along on their own device on the desk between us, as well as the librarian. But until COVID-19 hit, I simply had not even thought about an alternative (though I’m sure others had).

Moreover, before the pandemic, in person meetings with students usually mostly happened in the Fall, when journal students were required to meet with someone for office hours for their scholarly note. A librarian counted for their purposes, so I would get contacted. There were certainly exceptions, but this was the reason for most of my meetings. Otherwise, most in-person interaction, at least with students, took place at the reference desk. Most of my other reference work was done over email.

After mid-March of last year, as soon as reference requests started to come in, I quickly found myself often preferring to meet with a student over video conference rather than try to explain things, step by step, over email. This was new. Email and chat reference wasn’t new at all, but the video chat was.  I had simply never contemplated a web meeting for reference before (I’d be curious how typical that was pre-pandemic in the broader community!).  As I got more comfortable with Google Meet and Zoom, it was so easy to just share my screen and walk a student through my process—just like I would at the reference desk, but with no straining. I found that I could quickly cover so many more features of a database or details of a search process over a video conference than I could in an email. I could add much more commentary and the fact that it was synchronous added a more personal touch that I think many of us were grateful for (Zoom fatigue notwithstanding). I was able to ask more questions and get more details about a student’s question and they benefited from watching and hearing my process. I generally got really positive, grateful feedback from students too. Certainly, not everyone has the same learning style, so I do try to give the students the option of meeting through video or proceeding over email, but the vast majority of students choose video conference.

Photo by Anna Shvets on

While these meetings were not very different than my in-person meetings with students, to my surprise I did find that I was having more of them. I had never considered jumping on a video call in the middle of my reference portal shift before, but I have found that students were grateful whenever I offered to do that instead of even chat. I have been surprised at how effective this approach is, and I have found at least a few other advantages of video conferencing over the desk besides just ergonomics:

1. There is a recording option. Depending on the student’s preference, I can record the session for them to refer back to later.

2. It is a truth universally acknowledged that law students are busy and overloaded. Video conferencing is vastly more flexible to schedule for our students. Especially our evening students.

3. Because of this flexibility, I found that students were more willing to ask for more of my time and request follow up meetings. I met multiple times with more students this year than last, by far. I actually started to build relationships with them, even over Zoom.

I do recognize that as a new librarian I didn’t even have a full/normal school year experience before getting disrupted, but I do feel like I had enough time to get into habits that can now benefit from post-disruption innovation. I think that, even if our school chooses not to do anything differently with the reference desk after we return to the library space, the way I seek to meet students’ needs will change. I will continue to offer the option of virtual reference through video conference for students and embrace its flexibility moving forward.

I’d be curious to hear other perspectives and experiences too!

New FCIL Librarian Series: FCIL Favs

By Traci Emerson Spackey

This blog post may be a bit of a snore for FCIL veterans, because I’m doubtful I will say anything insightful to the more experienced. Rather, this post is for anyone truly new to Foreign, Comparative, or International legal research. This is just a brief primer of some of my favorite FCIL sources, as well as some pros and cons. 

Max Planck’s Encyclopedia of Public International Law

Surprisingly, I didn’t learn about this resource until late into library school when I did my directed fieldwork at the UN Dag Hammarskjöld Library. My fieldwork director recommended it for getting familiar with an area of international law. It has saved my *ahem* derrière a few times. 

I often find myself consulting this resource when a student emails me, thick in the weeds of their international law research paper, assuming I know exactly what they are talking about.

So…I’ve had a few professors introduce me to their students as an “expert” on international law, and I do try to clarify when I can (with a smile): “I am a specialist in foreign & international law, not an expertyet.” (Maybe that’s my way of trying to manage expectations?!) What the students don’t usually know is that sometimes I’ve never even heard of the treaty they are researching, and I definitely don’t know what Article __ of it says. That doesn’t mean I can’t help them find what they need, but it does mean I need to get up to speed quickly. 

Enter Max Planck’s. This resource is vast, but palatable. It’s perfect for when you just need to quickly get your bearings on a topic, and you can’t read the student’s whole rough draft to get familiar with it. The entries are rife with hyperlinks to primary source material, other encyclopedia entries, and there are bibliographies at the end of each topic for good secondary source reading. 


Extremely thorough, annotated, authoritative. There’s an entry for just about everything Public International Law related, you usually just have to find the right vocabulary (or spelling!).


The search features can be a little clunky at times. It’s fine for me as a librarian, but sometimes I wonder if it’s harder for students to navigate. Also, the bibliographies are often slightly outdated.

Brill’s Foreign Law Guide & GlobaLex

I usually end up using and/or recommending these resources together. They are both directories of nations and how to find their laws. Both are annotated, and fairly frequently updated. Some countries have more info than others on each respective site, so I usually end up looking at both when trying to hunt something down. That said, I often find that GlobaLex goes into more detail about each country’s legal system, which can be particularly helpful when trying to understand where to look for law. (This always surprises me because of the two, GlobaLex is the free resource.) However, there have been times when I’ve found links to online sources of law through Foreign Law Guide that were not indicated in GlobaLex. Used together, these are wonderful resources for finding foreign law. There is a lot of overlap between the two, but I’ve taken to always looking at both to cover my bases.


Did I mention GlobaLex is free? Also, Foreign Law Guide has a helpful subject directory as well as a country index. It’s Brill-iant.


I’m not sure if other libraries struggle with this, but we often run into access issues with Foreign Law Guide and I have to clear my cache just to get into it. (It’s some kind of fluke that I think our Electronic Services librarian is sick of hearing me complain about.) Also, not necessarily a con, but a tip on navigating GlobaLex: when selecting a country, click the link that says “UPDATE” (in All Caps) to get the latest info. If you click the other link you’ll get an older version that may not be up to date in terms of what you’re looking for.


I saved this one for last because…oh how I could extol its virtues!

I’ll try to be brief, though. HeinOnline has a constantly expanding universe of legal material to be found, and an impressive amount of international material. While I was aware of HeinOnline’s existence in law school, I did not fully appreciate it till I became a librarian. Even though it’s true that much of the primary source content on HeinOnline can be found elsewhere, Hein has a very sophisticated Advanced Search, as well as browsing features that allow for easy navigation to what you need. Recently, as a “database of databases”, Hein has started allowing search of more than one specific database, leaving behind its one or all approach (you know you’re meant to be a librarian when that is exciting news).

Several important international law databases within Hein include:

  • U.S. Treaties and Agreements Library
  • World Constitutions Illustrated
  • World Treaty Library
  • United Nations Law Collection (includes some League of Nations material)
  • Hague Academy Collected Courses Online / Recueil des cours en ligne
  • History of International Law
  • Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (IFLP)

And this is naming only a few. Besides international law primary sources, I also find that Hein is my #1 recommendation for law students looking for international law related law review articles. But that’s another blog post altogether.


So. Many. Hein is very responsive to ideas and is constantly innovating. The full-text search is very reliable, and you can save your research by creating a “MyHein” account (highly recommended). Also, don’t miss the “Search Tips” link under the search bar for Hein-specific boolean.


Honestly, the UI feels a little outdated. I do not really complain about this too much, because I’d rather Hein channel resources toward content than the interface, however, students are often intimidated by Hein for this very reason.

So, this is just a short little fly-over of some of my favorite FCIL resources. I hope they serve you as well as they have me. Thanks for reading!

New FCIL Librarian Series: 7 Things I’m Most Grateful For My First Year in FCIL

By Traci Emerson Spackey

As the end of the year nears, I have naturally been reflecting on many things–as one does. Especially this year. As my own culture is in full holiday swing and the year 2021 is nigh, I’m grateful for so many things and simultaneously more mindful than I have ever been of the privilege that is my very gratitude. If that even makes sense. While extremely difficult, this year has taught me so much and will shape my outlook for the rest of my life.

And that’s a good thing.

In theme, reflecting on my first year (plus) as an FCIL has been a subject of some thought as well. I recognize that I was beyond fortunate with the timing of when I found my position. Not only did I end up with a wonderful position, I also got a good 6 months in the office before switching to WFH.  I thought I’d take the opportunity to reflect on my first year and highlight some of the things I’m most grateful for during my first year as a law librarian.

1. As Much Ref Desk As Possible

When I came onboard at GW Law, there had been four reference librarians doing the work of six for several months. Needless to say, they were happy to have one of the two open positions filled. It was the beginning of the semester, Fall 2019, and the reference desk was busy. For the first few shifts I shadowed the other librarians, and then I went solo with the others on call for backup or questions. 

A librarian pushing a tall tower of books.

Going solo on the reference desk was surprisingly intimidating for me–it wasn’t a fear I had expected. What helped break through was simply doing it. I pushed through and started volunteering for as many shifts as possible, and for a few weeks I had shifts nearly every day. I found myself freezing embarrassingly a few times and then eventually remembering the obvious resources to refer patrons to. A few face palms later I started to get comfortable, and part of that was getting comfortable asking for help too (Bluebook, anyone?). I’m grateful I had the opportunity to be on the desk so much in my early weeks. I learned a ton.

2. Saying ‘Yes’ to Everything I Could 

As previously mentioned, I started my position at the beginning of the school year, but unfortunately missed all orientation offerings for the students. As a result, I found myself a bit… disoriented (couldn’t resist). Seriously though, in the first week I was told that one of my journals had a scholarly writing session, and did I want to do it? Having not participated in the journal experience in law school, I didn’t know what that meant, but I said yes anyway. Turns out I was given access to my predecessor’s PowerPoint presentation for the same event the year before. This was my saving grace and it went pretty well. Throughout the year I also had presentations in various professor’s courses to give, a moot competition that surprised me halfway through the year, and a colleague asked me to sub for a week in his Advanced Legal Research course. Of course, some of these things were simply a part of my job description so saying ‘yes’ was not particularly notable, but even for those things that weren’t I’m really grateful I just said yes. I am shocked at how much more I know now by just choosing to bumble my way through a few things and just DO them. That said, I would not have been able to learn near as much as I did without my predecessor–who, incidentally, I have never met. This brings me to my next point.

3. Not Trying to Reinvent the Wheel

My predecessor was a highly experienced FCIL veteran who had been at GW for many years, earned his LLM in International and Comparative Law at GW, and retired. Talk about huge shoes to fill! Enter me: other end of the spectrum. But the advantage of this on my end, I found, was a level of openness that I might not have had if I’d been more experienced in the same position. I ended up poring through every last known resource left to me, the LibGuides, bibliographies, the PowerPoints, and “updating” them. Of course, that does mean a facelift on some of those things, but I found it even more meant “updating” my knowledge of things.

After going through the in-depth FCIL research guides, I had a much better understanding of our FCIL collection on treaties, the UN, human rights, and international law in general. I also had a much better understanding of the power of HeinOnline, and also a plethora of free resources out there (three cheers for Globalex and all the research guides at any library, everywhere, about anything). Anyway, I may not have met him yet, but I am incredibly grateful for all of the resources he left behind for me (and to the colleague who shared his Google Drive folder with me!). I learned much by “remaking” instead of reinventing the wheel.

4. Meeting with the Library Director About Collection Development

Our library’s model is slightly unique in that each reference librarian is responsible for collection development within their specialty. I inherited what (still) seems to me a vast and wonderful FCIL collection and was reasonably intimidated by the prospect of growing it well. I had only done some collection development work in library school as a part of an assignment, and while I was familiar with GOBI and FirstSearch, I was generally at a loss of where to start. Our library director is very fond of collection development, however, and had been doing the FCIL selection while my position had been vacant. Therefore, in effort to a) understand the process, and b) build a relationship with him, I asked if we could meet monthly and go over my selections. He could approve or deny each selection and then I would pick his brain as to why. 

I am so grateful I asked for his time in this. I have learned a great deal more than I ever could have if I’d tried to solo the task. I now understand some quirks about various publishers, both domestic and foreign, I learned for the first time what a “Festschrift” was (and, yes, we buy them), and I now know what characteristics to look for or weed out. Just a couple of months ago I finally started selecting on my own. (That said, our acquisitions outlook is different than it was a year ago, to be sure.) I also want to add that he actually maintained our monthly meetings even after COVID hit and he was faced with all sorts of unprecedented navigation of circumstances. I’m truly grateful for his time.

5. Making Friends with ILL/Document Services

The next relationship that I am grateful to have cultivated is the ILL & Document Services department. I worked in ILL in library school and so I have a soft spot for the department anyway. Moreover, the head of the department’s office was (is?) next to mine so we shared a wall and…an electrical circuit we found out! (I learned to tell her when I was making tea.) I never could have known how important that department was about to become to our library. During this crazy, COVID year the ILL department has bent and flexed to work within and without our collection to get our patrons what we need. I can no longer walk into the stacks and pull an item to scan or send to a faculty member, but I can ask them to. Having built a bit of rapport with the department before COVID hit turned out to be a boon, as I have been able to ask for help, input, and even favors during this time. I’m very grateful for them!

6. Email Templates

This was such a small hack that saved so much time, I’m almost embarrassed to mention it. I’m sure that everyone in the professional world has figured this out before me, but I’ll share it anyway: I drafted email templates for emails I found myself sending frequently. For instance, when scholarly writing for the journals starts up, I get a slew of emails from students asking to meet. So now during this season each week I write up a template email of my available hours for the week and then adjust it as appointments get scheduled. That way I’m not always consulting my calendar–I do it once, and I don’t have to waste unnecessary time on scheduling.

I also found myself constantly explaining over email how to get to HeinOnline or the Foreign Law Guide from our library website, as well as why you have to go through the library website. I wrote up a couple of different template paragraphs for each of these things, so that when I’m writing an email, I can just insert that language. It’s a very small and simple hack that probably shouldn’t have taken me so long to figure out, but I’m just grateful that I did.

7. Hugo Grotius post

Finally, at the very beginning of 2020 I volunteered on this forum to do a post on Hugo Grotius. I wanted to know more about him, and I knew that volunteering to write about him would force me to read up and learn about him. Well, turns out the man’s life was complex, prolific, and no small amount is written about him. I found myself with a 1000-page biography in hand and a tinge of regret for volunteering. Turns out that during the first weeks of the pandemic and even into the summer, there were days when I struggled to look at a screen, to concentrate, to even do meaningful work (anyone else had that pandemic experience??). In all honesty, there were days that all I could bring myself to do was to read about Hugo Grotius, knowing at least that reading, in some small way, would add value to my career knowledge. So, in an odd way, the project took on a life of its own because it turned out to be a coping mechanism for the pandemic. While it was quite an undertaking and I was often frustrated trying to distill 1000 pages into a blog post (which became three), I think I’ll always appreciate the man for not just all he contributed to international law, but for also taking my mind back centuries and across seas during a difficult time. And I’m thankful DipLawMatic Dialogues was flexible enough to let that project grow!

I’m not the first to say that it’s been quite a year. Indeed, it’s been one for the books (again, couldn’t resist). Literally no one’s life looks the same as it did a year ago and there are things that have been irrevocably changed. In the midst of all this, I’m so grateful for the work I’m privileged to do and I’m grateful for a moment to reflect on that. 

Happy Holidays!

New FCIL Librarian Series: Becoming a(n FCIL) Librarian

By Traci Emerson Spackey

I’m Traci, the (self) nominee for this year’s New FCIL Librarian series, and I’m pleased to be here. Considering that this has been an exceptional year to launch my career, I hope this will be an interesting series!

Traci Emerson Spackey headshot

The TL; DR

I’m the baby FCIL Librarian at GW Law, and I’ve been here a year now. I was extremely lucky to land my dream job right out of library school–and my first year has been as much about becoming a librarian as understanding my specialty.

The Rest of the Story

My third year in law school I realized that I definitely didn’t want to practice law. I was not quite ready to undertake an additional graduate degree, but I was curious about law librarianship. I had the privilege of working as an RA at my law library in Minnesota, and couldn’t help but notice how happy the law librarians generally were–and they didn’t have to take their work home at night…or bill hours. By then I also knew I loved international law, but I had no idea that such a thing could intersect with librarianship.

Like a good researcher, I requested Roy Balleste, et al.’s Law Librarianship in the Twenty-First Century via ILL, and started to read. I highly recommend this title for anyone considering law librarianship. Each chapter gives a helpful and realistic snapshot of various different law librarian roles in academic, government, and law firm settings. It didn’t take long for me to zero in on Mari Cheney’s chapter on Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Librarianship and I was sold. That’s what I wanted to do. For the first time in my life, I’d found a career that I could unequivocally say I wanted. It was…kind of a moment, honestly.

So then I started to ask around: how do I get there? Ann Bateson, the law library director at the time, steered me toward the University of Washington’s MLIS program, and I headed that direction. I ended up taking a year off between law school and library school, took the bar exam, and briefly practiced. While I don’t regret it, this “gap year” further solidified my career goals: I wanted to be an FCIL librarian.

I enrolled at UW and started coursework while monitoring the job boards. I was fully prepared to wait till later in my career for an FCIL role, since one usually spends time building toward that specialty, and I was open to many things, but I also knew I’d probably have to move eastward to pursue my interests. So I set my sights on Washington, DC, the epicenter of law librarianship. Naturally, I was thrilled to see a reference opening at The George Washington University Law School with an FCIL specialty open up just as my coursework was coming to a close.

Long story short, I was extraordinarily fortunate to land my current role as FCIL librarian at the George Washington University Law School straight out of library school. But I had no small shoes to fill. My predecessor was an extremely experienced FCIL veteran with a long history at GW Law, and I was not only a new FCIL librarian, I was a new librarian. Full stop. This left me vacillating between the following sentiments:


Female in foreground of a classroom sitting and looking overwhelmed

On top of that, I began work at the beginning of September, right after the school year kicked off, so I missed many of the beginning of the year events (meaning, context for my job) and had some catching up to do. In the early weeks, I remember recording a research session for one of my international law journals, to teach some basics about FCIL research. I was literally learning as I was recording, feeling keenly inadequate, and grateful for my predecessor’s legacy PowerPoint presentations. Another memorable day, I remember getting overwhelmed during an early reference shift because a line started to form and I had to call for backup. Moments later I was kicking myself because I’d forgotten to refer the student in front of me to ProQuest Congressional, an easy answer to their research question. I was mortified when the librarian (whom I’d called for backup) asked if I’d looked there. Of course, I had completely forgotten it existed (I’ll never forget it again, nor it’s cousin Legislative Insight). Embarrassingly, I remember breaking down in tears at the end of that reference shift wondering if I actually had what it took and how I’d even gotten the job. (True confessions! At that moment I was thankful for an office with doors–remember those?).

But I think that day taught me that I wasn’t going to survive if I didn’t have grace for myself. One of the things that I still hadn’t unlearned from law school is that I didn’t actually have to know the answers–I just needed to have the skills to find them. And that changed my perspective. It was my job to learn, not to know, and to teach others to learn…and find. I could do that. And I loved doing that. Humility was going to be my best friend.

It’s been a year and I can unequivocally say I love my job, I love my specialty, and I am so grateful I landed where I did. I’ve grown to love the fact that I don’t know many things, because it means I’m never done learning. I’ve learned to love the “aha” moment, I love helping people, and I’ve learned that it’s okay if I can’t too. [*cough* sometimes English translations DON’T exist for everything *cough*] I’ve fallen in love with HeinOnline and built a rapport with Brill’s Foreign Law Guide (as well as the Electronic Services librarian who frequently reminds me to clear my browser cache whenever that particular database isn’t working). It’s been quite a learning curve, and then COVID-19 on top of that, but I’m excited to share with you my little corner of the library world. 

Next time, I’ll be sharing about the best things I did during my first year as a(n FCIL) librarian. Again: pleased to be here!

New FCIL Librarian Series: The Wrap-Up

By Janet Kearney

This is the fifth post in a series documenting my experience as a new FCIL librarian. I started as Foreign & International Law Librarian at Fordham University School of Law in February 2019.

This is my final installment of the New FCIL Librarian column, and it is perhaps the most meaningful to me. Let’s talk about a critical piece of continuing education: learning how to combat systemic racism and the power structures of white supremacy in our work as FCIL librarians and as humans inhabiting the same space on the planet. This is on all of our minds right now and frankly, as I’m continuing to learn, should be on our minds all the time.Book cover for "A Black Women's History of the United States"

Like the other continuing education we do, it is incumbent upon each of us to create a plan to actively learn and not rely solely on others to provide us education. How do we do it? It is not harder than other types of continuing education and should be a part of our normal process: look for webinars on the topic; add books to your lists; have discussions with coworkers and colleagues; involve yourself in volunteer work that exposes you and challenges you.

I’m working on my plan. My first step is continuing to educate myself (for example, reading How To Be An Antiracist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi) and identifying ways to combat systemic racism and social justice more generally within my courses and my research. I am at the very beginning stages of this effort – currently reading Teaching Race: Pedagogy and Practice. This is relevant in our courses no matter the subject, even when the room is full of future big law corporate associates. (And maybe it’s even more important when this is the audience given the systemic disparities in big law!) As for research, whether for myself or a faculty member, we must recognize that the structures of systemic racism and white supremacy actively affect where members of academia are educated, who is published, where they are published, and what is ultimately cited to in subsequent scholarship – all critical indicators of success in the legal academy. The choices we make in our research matter.

Book cover of "How to Be An Antiracist" by Ibram X. KendiWhat I have learned so far in this process is that, for me, it is not enough to recognize the issues and be upset by them. Reading is just the first part – the real work is taking those ideas and concepts and actually implementing them in a meaningful way. I do not know what that looks like for me yet, but I know it needs to be done. What steps are you taking for your continuing education?

Resources & References (a very, very small drop in the bucket of resources):

New FCIL Librarian Series: Resisting the Urge to Do It All

By Janet Kearney

This is the fourth 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.


Where to even start? Like every single one of you, I’m not working on what I expected to be working on in the way I expected to be working on it. I’ve always dreamed about prepping for class in my pajamas on the couch, sitting next to my cats, Drew Brees and Ruth Bader. But not like this. Instead, I’m not allowed to be in my office – a real luxury I now realize. I call two cities home: New York City and New Orleans, and both are in…not a great spot – as I write this of course. Things are changing so quickly, who knows what the world will be as you read this. (Insert meme about March being 100 days here.)

I don’t even remember now what I originally wanted this month’s column to be on, but I couldn’t conceive of a way now to make it about anything else. So I’m going to highlight something I struggle with all the time and am feeling particularly acutely on this Friday afternoon while I’m feeling so maudlin.

How do you say no? Whether it’s to others or yourself? It’s a particular affliction for those librarians that identify as “Type A librarians” – the urge to do it all, either because we want to be helpful or because we want to be the best or some combination of all the things. (It’d be interesting to know whether FCIL-ers suffer from this at a higher rate.) This tends to hit me in waves, but I know others feel this all the time. It comes up a lot in our normal day-to-day. There’s an AALL annual meeting program on my wish list, Getting to ‘No’: Setting Boundaries and Pushing Back Strategically. I’m the type of person who likes to say yes – my supervisors, past and present, are all very familiar with it. In the best of circumstances, we cannot do it all, and we cannot always be the best. (A common refrain: don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.)

What about in these circumstances? When packing up my office to work remotely during a pandemic, I printed out articles I’ve been wanting to read, grabbed books, and made sure I emailed all those half-written articles drafts I have saved. Now I find myself looking at that binder, personally offended: stop. staring. at. me. I’m moving two classes online, conducting reference remotely, separated from my reference team, planning future online classes – heck I even saved time by having conference presentations cancelled, right? I should be done with an article by now, at least. Meanwhile, I’m counseling students, removing homework, just generally understanding that they cannot be the same right now – I’m not even talking about their best, I’m saying they are struggling to be normal. For the first time in several weeks this past Wednesday, I received three questions at the same time – 2 from reference chat, and one from a supervisor in Google chat – I totally froze. I thrive on pressure, and I literally forgot how to do more than one thing at a time.

My husband is taking online classes and got this humorous note from his professor today that sums it up:

PS On a lighter note that has made the rounds on academic twitter, apparently Issac Newton also had to work and study from home during the bubonic plague in London in 1665. During that time, he basically wrote what would be early calculus and his initial ideas on gravity. So #nopressure for academics right now.


Here are some general thoughts I have about handling this – what are your strategies?

  • Talk to someone about feeling overwhelmed – about the injustice of it all or a very real problem. I count myself lucky to have a supervisor willing to listen to me and a partner isolating at home with me. The cats, of course, are great listeners.
  • Reminding myself that although things can almost always be worse, that does not negate my own personal feelings of struggle. Both can be true at the same time.
  • Work the workday and the workday only.

I’m constantly learning to be more kind to myself, the same way I strive to be kind to all those around me. To those of us feeling the pressure to be all things to all people PLUS write our magnum opus WHILE, by the way in case you haven’t noticed, there is a pandemic going on around us — I encourage us to find a way to release the pressure. We won’t be perfect, and we will struggle, and I will most assuredly keep staring at that binder. I’m going to start by actually closing my laptop at closing time and hugging my cat until he runs away. (She says, as she makes edits at 6pm. Acknowledging a problem is the first step, right?)


New FCIL Librarian Series: Q & A

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:

New FCIL Librarian Series: Evaluating Databases

By Janet Kearney

This is the second 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.

Heads up: I ask a lot of questions in this one. There is a short survey embedded, or I’d love to hear from y’all in the comments.

One of my favorite parts of my job is collection development – I’ve written on it before in a separate post highlighting the Fordham Law collection. (Sarah Reis also wrote a bit about this in her New FCIL series.) It is such a balancing of interests. We want our resources to be useful to our users and that means critically considering their needs and how they access materials. We also want to be careful stewards of the collection. There are so many FCIL books and databases out there, but not every resource is necessary for every collection. How many Oxford books do we need on the sources of international law, let alone other publishers? Certainly not all of them. And of course, the cost of these resources can add up quickly – very quickly!

At Fordham, we have a culture of asking why: why are we collecting in this area; why do we have this series? We ask these questions in our acquisitions committee, made up of reference librarians, administrators, and some technical services librarians. We try to evaluate new materials in this way, as well as evaluating our past decisions – like, why do we have so many books on drones and blockchain? (The jury is still out on that one.)

Three books. Titles: Drone Controversies: Ethical and Legal Debates Surrounding Targeted Strikes and Electronic Surveilance, Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, Drone Warfare

A small sample of our drone books.

Evaluating databases is an important part of this. When an FCIL database renewal is upcoming, our collections management librarian will collect statistics and ask me to bring an evaluation of the resource to our acquisitions meeting.

So how do we evaluate databases? What are our best practices? Let me walk you through a recent example of how I evaluated a database that was up for renewal. In the survey at the end, let me know if you agree with the decision we reached.

Recently, we received a renewal invoice for the Readex Access UN resource. One of my supervisors asked me to look into it because in all her years, she’d never actually used it and wasn’t sure if she even knew it existed. I had at least heard of it (yay!), but I did not know how it was actually useful. Here are the questions I asked:

  • What is it? The Access UN index from Readex (aka InfoBank) serves as an index for “United Nations documents including Official Records, masthead documents, draft resolutions, meeting records, UN Sales Publications, and the UN Treaty Series citations.” Some full-text is included.
  • Do some other schools have it? Of the peer schools we use for comparison, 3 had it and 3 did not.
  • How functional is this resource for our users? It seemed as if librarians could get used to the interface pretty quickly, but I had doubts about our students and faculty having the patience for it. Perhaps our users do not research heavily in the UN or because so many UN documents are easily discoverable online these days, I do not get a lot of questions for UN documents. On the other hand, we do have some active researchers that use UN materials, including seminars and the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice. But most of their research is current and this is better for historical materials – is it useful for our current researchers?
  • Do other librarians who have it actually use it? For this I reached out to our FCIL-SIS chair, Loren Turner, who in turn connected me with other members to get their opinions. (Thanks for responding, by the way!) There were a wide variety of responses, and next time I think I’ll send the call out via the My Communities page so even more people can weigh in. Few of those consulted had used it, let alone regularly. Interestingly, in another group I asked the same question and essentially received the opposite answer! Those used it frequently for older UN materials.

Ultimately, I recommended that we cancel it given the lack of requests for UN materials, our close proximity to the UN Library, and the variety of available UN finding aids (the Digital Library, ODS,, and Hein for starters). Even though the cost is relatively minimal for a database, what is most important to me is the usefulness, and right now we do not have the demand for it. I find it difficult to recommend cancellation; at heart, I’m more of a library hoarder. It made it easier for me to be more realistic when I realized that the cancellation of a database is not the end of it! If need be, you can reorder it. (Not sure why it took me so long to realize that!)

Let me know what you think by filling out this survey (also embedded below)! I can share the results with the group.

Donate to the Syllabi and Course Materials Database & Pay It Forward to Help Others

By Paul Moorman

I recently received a call from a student at my undergraduate alma mater asking for a donation. The student who called me was a pre-law history major who lived in the same dorm I had lived in and had received a scholarship to help pay for his tuition­—so basically he was me 30 years ago (although I was a political science major, but let’s not quibble over details). While I was talking to him, all the great memories I have from my undergraduate years came flooding back. When it came time for him to make the “big ask,” I was ready to say no like I usually do, but then I thought about it some more and decided that this time I would say yes and donate some money for a scholarship fund.  What ultimately helped me decide to make a donation was a realization that I had benefited from all those who had given generously to the school in the past.  I was now in a position in my life to be able to step up and help “pay it forward” by showing the same generosity that was shown to me by donating to others.

So why am I telling you this story? I’ll get there, but first let me start by saying that I’m one of the current co-chairs of the FCIL-SIS Teaching Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Interest Group. I, along with my co-chair, Amelia Landenberger, have a lot planned this year. One of our most important goals is to update the Syllabi and Course Materials Database and I am taking the lead on this project. As the readers of this blog likely know, it’s an amazing source of useful information for anyone teaching foreign, comparative, and international legal research and I’m confident many of you have used and consulted it while planning their courses. The database only exists because your colleagues have generously donated their courseware to help you. As useful as the current database is, it hasn’t been updated for a few years and it is starting to get long in the tooth. Legal research has changed dramatically in the past few years and FCIL-related legal research is no exception. As the tools and methods we use change, the way we teach our research courses needs to adapt to those changes.

So now it’s time for me to make my “big ask.”  Please consider this blog posting to be my first official request for you to donate your courseware to the Syllabi and Course Materials database. Unlike my alma mater, I’m not asking for money—instead I’m asking you to help by sharing your knowledge, expertise, experience, and hard work to help others who could benefit from it. If you have any FCIL-related courseware (you know who you are!), whether it be a syllabus, test, assignment, PowerPoint presentation, or even an entire module (really anything course related), now is the time to “pay it forward” and help your colleagues. If you’ve donated your courseware to the database in the past, please donate a more current version.  If you’ve never donated before, now is time to review your files and see if there’s anything you have that others could benefit from. Your colleagues have helped you in the past, now it’s time to help your colleagues.

My plan for the next few months is reach out to those who have donated to the database, and also to those who teach FCIL-related legal research courses, and ask you to donate your courseware to the database.  If you send the materials to me now by emailing it to me a, you’ll save us both a lot of time and effort. Thank you in advance for your generosity.  Your colleagues and I are grateful.