Special Library: Dolly & Homer Hand Law Library

Yesterday I was able to visit the Dolly & Homer Hand Law Library at Stetson University College of Law and speak to Pamela Burdett, the Associate Director & Head of Public Services. I chose a law library for my special library because I feel really drawn to them. When I quit my (soul-crushing) corporate gig last October to go back to school, my plan was to go to law school. Then one day my mom told me that USF had a library science program and that was more appealing to me than law school (no entrance test requirement, cheaper, shorter time commitment, and no mythical test to take to become licensed). Once I started my MLIS courses, I learned about the field of law librarianship and find it quite intriguing (I plan to take the Law Librarianship course in the fall). I specifically chose the Stetson Law Library because Stetson was the only law school I really considered last year (for purely geographical reasons), but I had never actually visited the campus.

Pamela told me that she had always worked in libraries (“since junior high”). Her first job was shelving books at her local public library. While in college she worked as a cataloger at different libraries. When she and her husband moved to Tampa in the late 70’s she planned to pursue a Master’s in women’s studies, but USF didn’t offer women’s studies at a postgraduate level. After looking at USF’s catalog, she decided that she may as well pursue a library science degree. She received her MLS from USF in 1982. She had been at school with someone who worked at the Stetson Law Library and this friend informed her that they had a cataloging backlog. Pamela was hired as a part-time cataloger and has been there ever since. Eventually the library director asked what her future plans were and she said she’d like to try her hand at reference. The director decided to give her a shot at the reference desk even though she didn’t have a JD (Juris Doctor). At this point, she is the only librarian at the Stetson Law Library without a JD. Both a JD and an MLS are pretty much required for all law librarians now, but Pamela has been “grandmothered” in. Pamela is a member of AALL (the American Association of Law Libraries) and is heading to Philly this weekend to attend the annual conference.

When you first enter the Dolly & Homer Hand Law Library, you walk into a lobby that, although big and airy, feels kind of dark. It reminded me a lot of the public spaces in Whitmyre Hall, the residential hall/classroom building for the honors college I was a member of as an undergrad. It almost feels like they’re trying too hard to give off an academic vibe. I suppose that would be off-putting for some people, but I found it very familiar and almost comforting. The rest of the library feels light, airy, and modern. There are study carrels and reservable rooms for individual study in addition to conference rooms and lounges for group study. These study spaces were quite popular when I was visiting because many students were studying for finals or the bar exam.

The Dolly & Homer Hand Law Library serves a rather diverse population. Most of the users are Stetson Law students, faculty, and alumni, but it is also open to members of the Florida bar and judiciary and the general public. Stetson’s Tampa Law Library, however, is not open to the public. The library’s staff of approximately 22 includes 10 professional librarians. While touring the library I was introduced to two USF alumni who were working the reference desk. An interesting aspect of working for the Stetson Law Library is that you are required to split your time between two locations. Most of the time is spent at the main library in Gulfport, but everyone has a weekly turn in the Tampa location as well. The library provides a company van for commuting between the two. Some of the services available through the library are inter-library loan and document delivery for law firms and alumni. Law libraries are mostly used as reference, so there isn’t a heavy circulation per se. They do offer a collection of law-related movies on DVD that are checked out fairly often.

One of the major trends at the library in recent years is embedding librarians in courses/programs. For instance, Stetson offers a digital-only elder law program and a librarian is embedded in each course. Though the elder law program is only open to practicing lawyers, they have generally been out of school for years and are used to passing research (if not typing or other “school” skills) off onto their associates. The school has found that embedding a librarian in the courses makes things much smoother. The technology used at the library is mostly PCs, but they recently bought iPads using a gift from an alumnus. The gift was designated for “something to make [the librarians’] job easier.” They use Blackboard, Lexis/Nexis, Westlaw, and RefWorks. They also offer an online search feature called Encore that is similar to the USF Web Catalog search. Instead of a student needing to run the same search in multiple databases, they can perform an Encore search and have the system do all the work. Stetson Law has a big social media presence, with a Facebook page and accounts on Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, but the Dolly & Homer Hand Law Library’s social media presence is limited to a blog.

Would I like to work here? As I said before the law appeals to me. By extension, so do law libraries. Although the law is a specific academic discipline, it is so broad that I think there would be a variety of reference questions. I also think it would be fulfilling to help law students and lawyers. On the other hand, law librarianship pretty much requires a JD. And a JD means taking the LSAT and three years of (expensive) law school. Plus, you have to help all lawyers; you can’t choose not to help a sleazy ambulance-chaser or someone representing an evil corporation.

Contact Information
Dolly and Homer Hand Law Library
1401 61st Street South
Gulfport FL  33707
Phone: 727-562-7820
Fax: 727-345-8973
Email: lawrefgp@law.stetson.edu
Reference Desk: 727-562-7821

Hours of Operation for Students, Faculty, Staff, Alumni, Florida Bar and Judiciary
Monday – Thursday: 7 AM – 10 PM (Reference:  9 AM – 10 PM)
Friday: 7 AM – 6 PM (Reference: 9 AM – 6 PM)
Saturday: 9 AM – 6 PM (Reference: 10 AM – 6 PM)
Sunday: 9 AM – 10 PM (Reference: Noon – 6 PM)
Students, Staff and Faculty can use their ID cards for 24/7 access
The most up to date information on hours can be found here.