Janice Collins, Candidate for CALL Treasurer

A New Decade: A Librarian’s Reflection

I received my master’s degree 30 years ago: where has the time gone?  For those born with technology in your hands, you may wonder how past law librarians survived and thrived.  This question makes me want to reflect on being a new librarian in the pre-internet, pre-flat rate contracts era.

In the pre-internet-days printed materials ruled supreme.  Westlaw and Lexis were not on every device imaginable  In fact, at Clausen Miller where I started my career as a newly minted librarian we had one red Lexis UBIQ terminal with tiny chicklet shaped keys.  The printer was a tall device with only one function, print cases on paper with holes running up the sides and perforations between the pages.  Nightmares ensued when the paper was not fed correctly. Westlaw was loaded on only one computer which used a dial up modem to connect.  Use of electronic services was a luxury.

Westlaw and Lexis were used only after all other non-electronic resources had been exhausted.  Attorneys could be found in the Library using all manner of printed resources, including the Shepard’s volumes.  This resulted in case pull requests.  Reporters needed to be pulled from the shelves, tabbed and sent to the copy center, usually on another floor.  We had great upper arm strength from manhandling the carts in and out of the elevator.  Want to know who wielded power in the firm during this era?  The copy master who held your request in their hands.  How times have changed!

Today most firms no longer have reporters, large treatise collections or need a filing service to visit weekly .  Most rely on electronic databases from a variety of vendors.  Gone are the days when libraries only had the big three research databases, Dialog, Lexis and Westlaw, in addition to OCLC.  I saw how the advent of flat rate contracts and email changed the personal connection between the library staff and those we served.  Attorneys stopped coming or calling directly to discuss a project as often.  Secretaries no longer needed to hand deliver a rush case pull, and rather emailed the request.

You may wonder how we did research without the specialized databases we have today.  We went to the stacks pulled out the books and consulted the index.  Interlibrary loan was relied upon heavily to fill the need for books we did not own.  A reliable interlibrary loan delivery was worth their weight in gold. Their job involved daily trips to the Cook County Law Library and nearby firms and academic libraries.  We always dreaded when George was away from the office.  In addition to book research, we had the librarian’s secret weapon – a telephone! And we knew how to use it.  I called government agencies, the Secretary of State to verify a corporation’s status and anyone else who could help in my quest for information.  Another must have was a current CALL Directory.  Colleagues were the fount of knowledge on any topic.

Docket research, document retrieval, and current awareness have changed the most through the development of the internet.  I laugh when thinking about how we obtained court documents.  We called the court, got a page count, went to accounting for a check, typed a letter and prepared the FedEx envelope.  The docket pages would arrive in a few days: yes a few days!  The attorney would review it, and the process started again.  For all the complaints about PACER’s stone age functions, it does the job in minutes.  Alerting was someone searching the papers daily for articles on selected topics.  Library staffs were the alerting service.  Now the alerts are created electronically and for the most part do not require daily monitoring.

I will end this stroll with one last thought.  Through all the changes in the legal industry CALL is still supporting librarians at every stage of their career.  When I was a rookie hired at Clausen as an Assistant Librarian the first thing Nancy Tuohy did was sign me up with CALL.  Members Carol Dawe, Betty Roeske and Linda Devaun taught me invaluable skills in legal cataloging.  Laura Hyzy and Mary Ann Lenzen helped me navigate my first AALL Conference in Anaheim.  I look forward to the creative ways CALL members will continue to support each other in this rapidly changing environment.