Improvising and Excelling

By Ramon Barajas

Think back in time to 1999. Think about a time when we did not have our calendars readily accessible on our mobile phones. It’s hard to believe that before the advent of personal cell phone devices, I managed my daily professional life in a bound planner. I toted that thing everywhere I went, but sometimes meetings did not find their way into the planner. Even today with our calendar apps, it’s still a challenge to keep abreast of all appointments and commitments. So, you can imagine back in June 1999 how I managed when I was the Branch Manager of a small rural branch of the Kern County Library. Some of my many responsibilities included juggling several outreach and engagement events such as community outreach, storytime, and classroom field trips from the neighboring elementary school.

The morning of June 14, 1999 I was driving to work with a few minutes to spare. I was feeling really good about the workday ahead, and that’s when I turned the corner onto my street and caught sight of Ms. King’s kindergarten class marching towards the library for their monthly fieldtrip. How in the world did I forget about this standing appointment? I made a habit of prepping a week in advance by checking (and double checking) my planner. For whatever reason, I did not enter Ms King’s visit that week. 

I waved and smiled to Ms. King and the class as I drove past them towards the parking lot, trying to hide my panic and anxiety. Classroom field trips always included specific “deliverables” that the children came to expect. They always got a guitar accompanied song, a read-aloud, and some curated children’s jokes or riddles. On this day, I had NOTHING prepared. I suppose I could have recycled one of the previous plans, but for whatever reason that did not enter into the equation. As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed no one had raised the flag that morning. That’s when inspiration struck. It was June 14, Flag Day. 

I grabbed the American flag from my desk and ran out to the front of the building to intercept Ms. King’s class before they could enter the library. The children all greeted me. Some knew me by Mr. Ramon, while others called me Mr. Barajas. There may have been some high-fives exchanged amongst the unbridled energy and controlled chaos of welcoming a spirited group of kindergartners. I stepped up to the front of the class and turned up my presentation voice to announce we were doing something different because it was a special day – it was Flag Day. 

I gave them a brief history lesson about the American flag making sure to explain the significance of the stars and stripes. Volunteers helped me unfold and raise the flag. The whole 15 minute impromptu event was a hit! As we wrapped things up and made our way into the library, Ms. King winked and whispered to me something to the extent of “you totally improvised all that, didn’t you?” I confessed to my lapse in planning and she soothed my anxiety by congratulating me on pulling it off.

Twenty three years later, It’s clear that improvisation plays a large part in being a successful law librarian. Law Librarians are the architects that build the foundations for lawyers to stand upon. We have to improvise and look for solutions to complex legal questions in ways that make us stand apart. How many times have research requests landed on your desk after the lawyers/law students have hit a brick wall? And, yet somehow and someway we find creative and innovative ways to drill through the proverbial brick wall to find solutions. They say necessity is the mother of invention. I can’t think of another more innovative and inventive group of professionals than law librarians. Over the years I have been impressed time and time again by our collective ability to find solutions. 

  • Working with leadership in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries (SCALL) to plan the annual Institute, it was amazing to see how folks had acquired the skills to plan large scale events including managing service agreements, negotiating catering terms, etc. 
  • I once worked with a Head Librarian who could create detailed floor plans to scale in preparation for an office move. No need for CAD software! She did it all by using Excel. 
  • This very blog, Notes Between Us, is yet the latest example. When Marcelo recognized the need for an outlet to give us a voice, he was the catalyst to make it happen. I’m sure he didn’t learn this in library school. He invented himself out of necessity. 

I could go on for an eternity boasting the accomplishments of the brilliant law librarians I have worked with over the years. Everyday I am in awe of how my team at Alston solves complex problems using creativity and improvisation. The more we reinvent ourselves by learning new skills, the more nimble and confident we become when addressing new and unknown challenges. It’s important to recall your past experiences to draw strength when you need it most. 

One day a labor & employment partner called me to confirm some litigation research I had done. He asked me pointed questions about court coverage, party name variations, and other details to make sure my work product was thorough. Once he was convinced the research was comprehensive, he asked if I would be willing to testify in front of a mediator. I agreed. He replied, “Great, come on down to the 36th floor in 10 minutes.” It felt like June 14, 1999 all over again.


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