New member LeighAnne Thompson at the University of Illinois GSLIS with her children.

LEEPing Into the Law Librarian Profession: a Glimpse Inside the University of Illinois LEEP Program “Boot Camp”

I recently made the “leap” from practicing ERISA law to pursuing a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree at the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS).

I enrolled in the GSLIS LEEP program, a program that combines web-based education with a 7-day residential “boot camp.” The boot camp is a 2-credit class titled “Libraries, Information and Society” that is intended to provide a broad framework for thinking about the social, economic, and political issues faced by members of the library and information professions.

In prior years, the program required an initial residency of 10-14 days and students were also required to attend some classes on-campus each semester. The current LEEP program only requires the 7-day residency.

With boot camp being shortened to 7 days, each day was completely filled with lectures, group discussions, group work and writing assignments. Scheduled lectures and group discussions generally took place between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm and group project work and paper-writing generally took place between 5:00 pm and 10:00 pm. A group project, including a poster presentation, was due the last day of boot camp.

I had brought my 9-month old daughter with me to Champaign for the week, but I quickly realized that this was overly ambitious given the workload demands. Thankfully, my husband was able to pick her up and drive her home before the final few days of boot camp, when the workload peaked.

The theoretical issues presented and the collaborative group projects were almost a surreal experience for me, having just left the practice of law at a large law firm a few days prior to starting boot camp. The collaborative environment, combined with the long days, facilitated instant camaraderie among students. I feel much more engaged with fellow students and administrators than I would have felt if the entire program was accomplished through distance learning.

Of the many interesting topics we discussed, including copyright issues, access issues, and preservation issues, I find two issues particularly interesting and thought-provoking as I enter the profession.

First, we addressed the challenges related to the valuation of library services. When I announced my decision to pursue an MLIS to friends, I was confronted with the response, “Why would you do that? The librarian profession is dying.” This response made me realize that not only must librarians constantly innovate to keep pace with this digital world, but librarians are also faced with the difficult task of assessing and communicating the value of services provided. The discussion at boot  camp highlighted some of the difficulties of applying common valuation metrics to library services.

The second issue I found particularly interesting is the current climate surrounding privacy and government surveillance in library and technology-based contexts. Despite the recent sunsetting of the controversial “library provision” in the USA Patriot Act, it is clear that librarians and information professionals will continue to play an important role in advocating for important civil liberties.

My experience at boot camp confirmed my belief that this is an exciting time to become an information professional—a time when creativity and innovation may be more important than ever. I am excited to complete my journey through the LEEP program!