Stranger in a Strange Land: Changing Jurisdictions as a New Law Librarian

By Michael Muehe

In August 2021, I accepted a role as a Research Librarian Fellow at the University of San Francisco School of Law, thinking that it would be the perfect position and an opportunity to continue building my librarianship skills while I finished the last four classes of my MSLIS program. For some reason, I anticipated a simple transition from Rhode Island to California. I’m two years into my law library career and I am fortunate enough to have at least a firm foundation in teaching and legal research to feel comfortable answering reference questions, and people move to new places all the time, so how hard could it be?

But, having been in New England for most of my life, and having worked almost exclusively with Massachusetts and Rhode Island legal systems, I overlooked the work and patience it takes to learn a new jurisdiction’s rules and resources. Students don’t even learn all of them over the three years of law school! So, I started to feel like I took my familiarity with those jurisdictions for granted. On top of that, having spent the summer interning remotely with the CRS team, my navigation of legal resources and databases grew a little rusty. Ultimately, I realized that I needed to put myself into the shoes of a law student once again – something I never thought I’d say after finishing law school the first time.

Fortunately, mentors at the Dorraine Zief Law Library immediately took me under their wings, knowing that I have no experience in California law, and I quickly took notes on the resources they pointed out. Sometimes, it required a quick exploration of the stacks, while other times it was as simple as sending me a link to important websites, such as the California Office of Administrative Law and the California Judicial Branch Jury Instructions. From California practice guides to treatises, court rules to local codes, to even locating the courts and other local law libraries, adjusting to a new jurisdiction, especially one far larger than those in New England, took more grounding than I anticipated. It wasn’t unlike when my first law library mentor, Nicole Dyszlewski, gave me 15-minute introductions in the stacks and I had forgotten how important those walkthroughs were to my foundation in law librarianship. However, this process also provided something else important: a perspective on how we teach new library colleagues and its parallels to teaching students. These training experiences brought me back to my 1L year, walking through the library fascinated by and curious about all the new resources at my fingertips, and gave me a new sense of sympathy when working with patrons.

As I continue on in this profession, these training experiences are something I’ll remember closely, and I am curious what my colleagues think: what are the first resources you would point out to a new law librarian? Are there must-haves in your jurisdictions that every lawyer, law student, and librarian should know about? How have you, if ever, adjusted to working in a new jurisdiction?


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. Their essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.