Tag Archives: reference librarian

Interview with Legal Reference Librarian: Sheila Doherty

 Sheila Doherty currently works as a Reference Librarian at Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP.

What made you decide to specialize in legal librarianship?

I used to be a Social Studies teacher, so I taught about the development of governments throughout the world. While I left that profession after three years, I have always enjoyed learning. I thought working in a law firm would be interesting, so I spent one year at the Palmer School (Long Island University) alternating between their four campuses and one legal class at Queens college to be sure and get the most out of my education. As a reference librarian at Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, I do legal and corporate research. I’m glad to say that it is better than I ever imagined.

How do you feel technology has changed the role of the library in your law firm?

Quite honestly, the thought of working with books alone kept me away from librarianship. It is something that just did not appeal to me. With the advent of internet search engines, I learned to love finding facts quickly. As I honed this skill, the field of librarianship became an option that was not there in the past. As a newer librarian, I only hear about the past from more experienced librarians. To sum up their thoughts in a sentence, it was much slower paced. With the incredible advances in technology, there is a “I need this NOW” attitude that did not exist in the past.

What do you like most about your career?

I love always learning. As a reference librarian, I do not have a niche, and this means there is always a new question or challenge to make the day more interesting.

Do you still use books or do you find you do most of your research online? Which books? Which online resources?

It really depends on the question. If people need an overview, print treatises are still best to flip through. If the question is very specific and would require many resources to answer it, online is best.

Do you still use the “reference interview”? Do you find most of your questions come in via email, phone, person?

In a way, yes. Most questions come in e-mail form, and these can get a follow-up e-mail or phone call to ask for more details. However, if a person calls the library, we can perform the reference interview right then. This is much better, especially for newer attorneys, as it allows us to use our experience to shape their questions.

Can you discuss a particularly challenging reference question?

Well, it has been five years, and there have been countless challenging questions. I would have to say that the challenge has very simple origins. The longer I do this, the easier it seems to become. Of course, there are still plenty of questions that require a great deal of thought and effort, but the process by which you answer them becomes easier. Going back to your previous question, I absolutely still use the reference interview. In fact, the more experience I get, the better that interview becomes. Practice really does make perfect!