Interview with a Law Librarian: Karen Grushka

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in Toronto, but moved after high school to attend college and graduate school in the Midwest.  After finishing law school at Michigan State University, I moved to New York City, where I decided to pursue a degree in library and information science and St. John’s University.  I now work as a reference assistant at New York Law School’s Mendik Library, where I handle interlibrary loan requests for faculty, staff and students.

Why did you decide to become a librarian?

I really loved the rigors of law school, but I knew that upon graduation, I wanted to pursue a more non-traditional legal career.  Prior to law school, I had completed a master’s degree in French studies, where I spent time working and doing research in France.  I grew to love doing the research, engaging people in conversation, asking questions, reading and writing.  So I was lucky that during my legal studies, I had the opportunity to work in the law library as a research assistant for the librarians and faculty.

After graduation, I moved to New York City, where I spent a year doing various law-related jobs, until I realized that library school might provide a place where I could combine both my legal background and my love of research.  

What is a typical day for an ILL librarian?

Most of my day is spent responding to and organizing internal and external requests for items, processing incoming and outgoing mail, and sometimes, searching for hard-to-find materials.  I also spend some time assisting at the reference desk.

How do you feel technology has changed the field of librarianship?

In the context of interlibrary loan and reference work, technology has made the exchange of information almost instantaneous.  Requesting items from other libraries, or responding to outside requests is extremely fast and efficient.  It’s amazing how quickly a request for materials can be placed and filled. For items like journal articles in PDF format, the time between ordering and receiving the resource can take just a few minutes.

You’ve had some fascinating internships at different government offices – which one was the most rewarding and why?

During law school, I interned at both a Michigan circuit court, as well as at the Attorney General’s office in the Community Health department. Both were fascinating, since I had the chance to gain perspective on different aspects of the legal process.

At the circuit court, I responded to pro se complaints and observed criminal and civil trials in process.  At the AG’s department, I researched various issues pertaining to nursing homes and food stamp programs in Michigan.  Both offered the opportunity to strengthen my research skills and to gain a better understanding of state law.

What do you like most about your career?

I like that I’m working with a group of people who love what they’re doing, who are really engaged in their work, and who are fascinated by the challenges of research of problem-solving. I also love working in an academic environment, since there is a pulse among students that fills the library with a dynamic energy.

You have your JD as well as your MLS.  Do you feel your education adequately prepared you to enter the field?

I think that both degrees have contributed to my ability to work in the field, but like most professions, I believe that practical, working experience is the only way to truly grasp the intricacies of the field.  There’s always more to learn, and since technology changes so quickly, it’s important to be practicing in order to keep a handle on emergent information sources and research strategies.

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