Librarianship – Promoting Public Service and Philanthropy

Kara Phillips, Collection Development Librarian/Associate Director at Seattle University Law Library since 1997, has worked for various state agencies in Washington as a contract librarian as well as the Gallagher Law Library East Asian Law Department and Lane Powell Spears Lubersky. Recipient of a Blakemore Fellowship, she studied Mandarin Chinese at the Stanford Center in Taipei, Taiwan in 1996 and during her sabbatical in 2007 will work in China, setting up an American legal collection at Shanghai Jiaotong University School of Law.

Our library recently received a copy of the Spirit of Law Librarianship: A Reader, 2nd Edition by Roy Mersky & Richard Leiter. This captivating book presents essays on the notion of service in various library settings and also features the personal stories from the 1992 – 2004 recipients of the Spirit of Law Librarianship award. In exploring the many facets of service inside and outside of libraries, the book emphasizes service as a core value within the library profession. Inspired by these stories, in October 2006, I polled various law librarian listservs for examples of volunteerism within the library community. I was overwhelmed by the number of responses from individuals engaged in service on the local, national and international level. From short term projects to life long commitments, a range of activities were represented, some closely related to the practice of librarianship and others completely unrelated. Below, I have summarized the responses which reflect a variety of philanthropic endeavors:

ABA/Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative

Adopt a family at Christmas/Thanksgiving

Adopt-a-Highway program

Animal Shelter/Humane Society

Archivist for historical society

Bar associations (local & national)

Big Brother/Big Sister

Book donation projects

Condominium homeowners association

Community theatre

Dental hygiene in developing countries

Diversity trainer

Domestic Violence Center/Women & Family Shelter

Food bank

Friends of the Library volunteer

Fundraising for specific causes

Girl Scout troop leader

Hospice volunteer

Junior League

Katrina relief effort

Land Trust board member

Library board member/officer

Library volunteer (including special and public libraries)

Literacy volunteer/tutoring

Mentor/advocate for school children

Political/government office/appointment


Religious organization/missions

Rotary Club

Teaching/coordinating athletic skills and events

Teaching English as a second language

Teaching legal research to inmates

United Way

Veterans Oral History Project

Wildlife rehabilitation

YWCA board member

As service is a hallmark of librarianship, it is little wonder that so many librarians are engaged in volunteer work. Often, librarians choose a career in librarianship because they like to help others. Our library schools and professional library associations actively promote service as a core professional value. For example, the Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies state that MLIS program objectives should reflect: “…the value of teaching and service to the advancement of the field,…the role of library and information services in a rapidly changing multicultural, multiethnic, multilingual society, including the role of serving the needs of underserved groups.” The American Library Association’s mission statement provides:

…The broad social responsibilities of the American Library Association are defined in terms of the contribution that librarianship can make in ameliorating or solving the critical problems of society; support for efforts to help inform and educate the people of the United States on these problems and to encourage them to examine the many views on and the facts regarding each problem…”

The American Association of Law Libraries’ 2005-2010 Strategic Directions lists among its core values: the role of the law librarian in a democratic society and continuing improvement in the quality of justice and community.

Additionally, professional library organizations have established standing committees with a specific focus on service work. For instance, the Social Responsibilities Roundtable (SRRT) of the American Library Association “believes that libraries and librarians must recognize and help solve social problems and inequities in order to carry out their mandate to work for the common good and bolster democracy.” Among SRRT’s areas of interest are: alternatives in publication (alternative and independent presses); the environment; homelessness, hunger and poverty; feminism; international responsibilities; Martin Luther King Day, and information policy. The AALL Social Responsibilities Special Interest Section “acts as a stimulus to AALL members by focusing attention on and serving as a forum for discussion of critical social issues that affect us both as members of our profession and of the human family.” Its standing committees address lesbian and gay issues as well as services to institution residents. Those who attend AALL annual meetings have likely participated in this section’s annual children’s book drive to benefit needy schools in the conference locality. Several local AALL Chapters have created standing committees on community service (see for example LLNE’s Service Committee – 2006 projects included a walk for hunger and children’s book drive).

The Spirit of Law Librarianship engages its readers to reflect upon their personal views about service. The above listserve responses of service and volunteerism illustrate the diversity and range of personal volunteer efforts within the library community. For those who have a desire to volunteer, there are many resources available to match your interests with existing opportunities. Finding placements at the local, regional or international level is as simple as searching the Web. Popular volunteer Web portals include:

Idealist – “Over the last ten years, Idealist has connected millions of people with thousands of organizations around the world. Now we are going a step further by building a global network of people who want to work together to change their communities and the world, online and face-to-face.” A good site to search for international opportunities.

Network for Good – “Network for Good is the Internet’s leading charitable resource, bringing together donors, volunteers and charities online to accomplish good.” Check out Ten Tips for Volunteering Wisely.

Volunteer Match – “VolunteerMatch is a leader in the nonprofit world dedicated to helping everyone find a great place to volunteer. The organization offers a variety of online services to support a community of nonprofit, volunteer and business leaders committed to civic engagement.” See their list of 20 Great Reasons to Volunteer. – “ and the Points of Light Foundation are dedicated to connecting America through volunteering.” Nominate a deserving volunteer for an award.

For those interested in volunteer opportunities related to libraries, the above websites can be searched by keyword or subject specialty. You might also check out the resources listed on the AALL Social Responsibility SIS website or the ALA SSRT website.

A sincere thanks to the many librarians who generously shared their stories of activism and who engage in service work! They are an inspiration to us all and a credit to our profession.

Posted in: Features, Law Librarians, Libraries & Librarians