Reference from Coast to Coast - Working Part-Time

Annette J. Cade, Reference Librarian
Katten Muchin & Zavis, Chicago

Working Part -Time

Welcome to Reference From Coast to Coast: Sources and Strategies, a new monthly column written by the KMZ librarians. Headquartered in Chicago, Katten Muchin & Zavis has reference librarians in Washington DC, Chicago and Los Angeles. There are eight professional librarians who are assisted by a great support staff. The KMZ librarians field questions and participate in research in a myriad of subject areas. This column will highlight some of our favorite reference sources and research techniques in the hope that sharing information  will help you in your day to day jobs. We welcome all of your comments and questions, and would particularly like feedback on sources and strategies that YOU use for research on our column topics. 

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For the past four years I have been one-half of a librarian. More accurately, I job share a reference position and work part-time. Working part-time has been a successful experience, and has in some ways made me a better librarian.   It has challenged me to be more efficient so that I make the most of the two days I am at the work place each week. Things which I took for granted when I worked full-time for 17+ years at another law firm I no longer take for granted. I don't have my own office any more where I can create piles of stuff that only I know about. Instead, I have to be flexible with my work surroundings. I am now required to to handle research requests from one of three reference librarian offices, as well as occasionally from home. I have to be what I call a portable librarian.

Below are some practical tips that help me work effectively as a part-time reference librarian.

Prepare cheat sheets. Make your own lists of frequently used firm codes, in-house telephone numbers, passwords, billing procedures and anything else that will help you use firm resources. I don't go anywhere without my lists. They are my navigational guide, providing practical information not mentioned (or which is buried) in firm manuals. When you are not in your work place every day, you can easily forget such things as how to input billing codes into the photocopier or the access code to the bathroom.

Make an extended effort to meet people. There is a large learning curve when it comes to attorneys being comfortable with a new face in the reference librarian office. When you're part-time, it takes a greater amount of time for attorneys to become familiar with you and your work. When I first started, I hand delivered research results and introduced myself so that the attorneys would have some personal interaction. This pays off, especially since many of the reference requests are made through email or by telephone, minimizing the opportunity of meeting the person asking for assistance.

Bookmark favorite web sites on all computers you use. I learned early on that adding my favorite web sites on only one computer was a sure way to a headache. It's easy to find a great new site, bookmark it, and have a request come through that you know could be immediately answered if only you could access the web site address inconveniently located on the other computer.

Keep written records of research requests and make them accessible. At KMZ, all research requests are taken down on a research request form. The usual information is recorded on the form: name of attorney, client billing name and number, time spent on request and the nature of the request. Keep all these request forms and any notes you make in one place. If a question arises on days when you are not in, your co-workers will be able to determine what was done on a particular project so follow-up can be accomplished quickly and without duplicating prior efforts.

Familiarize yourself with you library's collection on an ongoing basis. Frankly, with the ascendancy in use of online sources, one becomes fuzzy about what the library has and where it is on the shelf. And if you are in a library where shifting books is a common occurrence, it is necessary that you physically walk around the library and see where the books are. There is nothing more embarrassing than directing an attorney to a set of books you cannot find.

Keep informed. Stay in tune with what is happening in your work place as well as outside it. If you can dial-in to work, do so on a daily basis to pick up messages and to follow up with assignments. Take advantage of educational opportunities made available and attend local librarian meetings when you can. These seminars and meetings may occur on days when you are not scheduled to work, but I believe being a professional requires that personal time be used to enhance skills and contacts.

Keep others informed. Let your co-workers (and especially your job sharing partner) know what you are doing, projects you are working on and any additional work you anticipate may occur when you are not in. Communication is key when you're not at work every day. Little things can become big things quickly when people don't hear from or see you. Don't allow yourself to be misunderstood or perceived to be non-responsive.

Enjoy your time away from the work place. Probably the greatest benefit of not working full-time is having the freedom to attend to the other parts of your life. Whether you have family responsibilities or want to explore new hobbies or studies, enjoy that time. You can bring a fresh perspective and a new energy back to the work place simply because you are away from it. For me, when family matters are taken care of, I scour ethnic markets and cook elaborate dinners. Needless to say, my husband loves this and my co-workers have recently asked that I bring in lunch for them. Being able to enjoy my hobby relaxes me and allows me to more fully concentrate on being a part-time reference librarian.