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Bar News - December 14, 2007

Ever Wonder What Law Librarians Do?



Jennifer M. Finch

Mary E. Burbank

Many people, even members of the law community, do not know what law firm librarians do for their organizations.   Librarians certainly do more than shelve books, but true to the stereotype, much of what they do is done quietly in the background.  

In larger institutions, librarians may work in separate departments within the law library, specializing in one area (reference, collection development, interlibrary loan, circulation, etc.), but in smaller law firms, there is typically just one librarian and possibly a full- or part-time library assistant.  These firm librarians have to be “Jacks or Jills” of all trades.


Law librarians provide current awareness services to firm attorneys. They process all incoming library mail and route trade journals and publications daily.  In the online arena, they monitor legal electronic mailing lists, forums, blogs, RSS feeds, and news services and then forward items of interest to attorneys to help them stay abreast of up-to-the-minute happenings in their areas of law.  


They acquire federal and state cases of interest to attorneys, for meetings or other uses, through various means, such as calling courts or searching print or electronic resources.  They also can track down and requisition copies of legal, medical, or other materials (articles, books, and other media) not held in the firm’s own collection, making  interlibrary loan arrangements with other libraries, often on a national level.


Their administrative duties include checking and approving bills and renewals for print and online subscriptions.  They also write budgets for library accounts, monitor monthly online research expenses, negotiate contracts with online vendors, such as LexisNexis, Westlaw, and other publishers.  They arrange product training, assist attorneys with problems or questions and manage passwords for online systems.  It is also their job to keep attorneys (and often a library committee) informed about books and online costs, contracts, and offers. 


Law librarians handle reference questions of all types.  Regarding collection development, they select library materials based on firm needs, then maintain a library catalog and other lists, catalog and label new items for the collection, weed outdated materials, and file updates, which include loose-leaf pages, pocket parts, and periodic supplements.


Additional duties often include maintaining firm listings in publications such as the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory and the New Hampshire Daybook and Directory, etc., working in cooperation with business development staff to perform competitive intelligence research.  A law librarian acts as liaison between the firm and the Web site managers, meeting with vendors, maintaining collection of blank writs and other court forms and attending professional meetings at state, regional, and national levels.


Many New Hampshire law librarians from all types of libraries belong to the Association of New Hampshire Law Librarians (ANHLL), which is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary during its 2006-2007 membership year.   The Association is composed of 29 members and was organized in 1981 by Franklin Pierce Law Center Librarian, Atty. Thomas Steele and Librarian Connie Rinden of the New Hampshire Law Library.    ANHLL meets several times each year, with its annual dinner meeting in June.  Officers are elected on a biennial basis.  The Association provides a wide variety of programs, such as:


  • Understanding administrative rules and the rulemaking process;
  • Touring the state historical archives;
  • Studying the editing cycle of an issue of the NH Bar Journal;
  • Observing Law Blogs – “Blawgs” - what they are and how to find them;
  • Touring the Boston Social Law Library;
  • Learning about Health Care Law.


ANHLL membership is not limited to New Hampshire librarians.  Anyone with an interest in New Hampshire law libraries and the work of law librarians may join.  To that end, the association also has members from Maine and Vermont.  Membership is composed of court, academic, law firm, department of justice and prison librarians, as well as librarians from companies such as Accufile, Inc. and Sullivan Information Management Services. Regional librarian associations such as NELLCO, a cooperative network established to enhance research and educational opportunities at law libraries in New England, are also part of the group.   For more details on the Association, visit the Web site at:


Law librarians continually strive to add value to the legal world by providing assistance, sharing resources whenever possible, and finding new and better ways of doing things.  They also try to learn more about the profession and improve their skills, willingly sharing their knowledge in their workplaces, communities and regions—and they always welcome new members to their organizations and to the library profession. 


Mary E. Burbank, MLIS, is the Law Librarian at Sulloway & Hollis PLLC in Concord. 


Jennifer M. Finch, MSLIS, is the director of library and research services at McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton PA in Manchester.



If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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