Meet Your LIT-SIS Vice-Chair/Chair-Elect, Michael Robak

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Michael Robak

In this series, we’re getting to know our LIT-SIS board. In this third installment, Michael Robak, LIT-SIS Vice-Chair/Chair-Elect, answers a few questions. Read on to get to know more about Michael!

1) Tell us about your path to law librarianship.

My journey to law librarianship began in high school when I worked at the Greenfield (Indiana) Public Library.  The library was one of the original Carnegie libraries and was, to my mind, (being Catholic) akin to a cathedral.  I worked there again while in college.  I also worked at my college library (Wabash College in Indiana) assisting at the reference desk.  So even though the plan was to go to law school after college (Father was a Judge, Grandpa was a Judge) I was strongly considering applying to Library school.  But my Father’s sage advice was it would be better to go to law school at that point in my life, as having a JD would never be a negative, and I could always try library school later.   And so, I went to law school and practiced in a variety of settings for fifteen years.  And long story short, in 1999 I stopped practicing law and went to Illinois to get my MSLIS.  And, thanks to following Father’s advice about going to library school later, I think I arrived at the exact right time to be prepared for the changes in information science that were underway.   Although I was a Graduate Assistant at the Illinois College of Law’s Jenner Law Library, law librarianship wasn’t where I headed.  Instead, I took a position with a consulting firm in Chicago that was somewhat legal adjacent.  That firm merged with a larger publicly traded consulting firm and, while my portfolio included some legal research, I was far more SLA than AALL.  That is, until 2008 when, in a single day, the publicly traded company lost fifty percent of its market cap.  Perhaps it was serendipity or some higher power at work, that same day a Jenner Law Library reference librarian position posted.   My journey then became complete as I began my career as an academic law librarian at the University of Illinois College of Law in 2008.  From day one though, the goal was to become an Academic Law Library Director.  In 2017, after moving from Illinois to the University of Missouri – Kansas City, I joined the University of St. Thomas (in Minnesota) as Director.

2) Why is involvement in an SIS valuable?

I really like this question.  In part because it made me wonder, how long has the SIS structure been around and why was it created?  It was a lovely research rabbit hole to go down.  I think the history of how the SIS came to be is instructive and helps answer the question.  This starts in 1973 when “public sector law librarians had become concerned that AALL’s structure and educational programs were not meeting their particular needs, nor helping to solve their problems.  Issues pertaining to academic libraries, not public libraries, seemed to dominate.” As a result, a group of public law librarians started the State and Court Law Libraries of the United and Canada (SCLL).  In 1974 the SCLL petitioned AALL for “official affiliation”.  “The larger Association, however, had no vehicle for permitting such a relationship.  Responding in a fashion it still uses today, the Association appointed a Task Force on the Reorganization of AALL to investigate the concerns raised by SCLL’s petition.  The Task Force issued its final report in 1975, and in June 1976 the Association’s constitution and bylaws were amended to authorize the creation of special interest sections. (SIS) (87 LAW LIBR. J. 51 (1995))

The 1975 Task Force report was discussed on June 25, 1975 at a third business session of the 68th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries.  The Chair of the Task Force, J. Myron Jacobstein, opened the discussion.  After some review of the past two year’s activities, he stated “We hoped to accomplish three things.  First, we all felt very strongly that, whatever action is taken the American Association of Law Libraries should remain a strong national association.”  After more review, he noted “There is a need, however, as was expressed in the original resolution, for a mechanism that will give greater participation for the members.  We are recommending two constitutional changes.  One, we will set up divisions……..  Jocobstein went on to discuss how much the association had changed, not only becoming larger, but also bringing in a much more diverse set of people with many different interests beyond those distinguished by the three new divisions.   He goes on to say, “The next major proposal is that subject interest groups be set up.  This again, I think, is a rather obvious need.  Today, if you happen to have a particular interest in microform or in automation, unless you are appointed to the Committee on Automation or the Committee on Microforms, there is no way you can really participate in what this association does concerning your particular interest.  Under the proposal you will be voting on, any group that has an interest in a subject will have the right to form this group and will not depend on an appointive process.  We believe these two constitutional changes will provide the room for growth in leadership, for a mechanism where more and more members can be active, and at the same time, it will not change the national structure of the association.”  There was discussion on the two separate proposals and then two separate votes were taken, one on the divisions and the second on the Special Interest Sections.   The divisions proposal went down in flames while the Special Interest Sections was “overwhelmingly approved”.  (68 Law Libr. J. 385-394 (1975))

The final report was attached as an appendix with the full discussion of the Task Force’s reasoning.

To quote the report: “By the creation of special interest sections within the AALL a mechanism is provided for groups to pursue their particular interests.  These sections will perform the function of many of the present committees.  They have the advantage that any member can join and participate as a matter of right (emphasis in the original), independent of presidential appointment.”  (68 Law Libr. J. 393 (1975))

And, to finally answer the question – the SIS history I think helps explain why involvement in an SIS is valuable.  It is a place for not just great discussions and sharing ideas but also a place to build a network of those who are especially interested in the subject.  And one that anyone can join and participate as much or as little as is their desire.

3) What do you enjoy most about being involved with LIT-SIS?

The people!  I am always energized when I engage in discussion with anyone who is a member of the SIS.

4) Recommend one book you’ve read recently.

I highly recommend Will Guidara’s Unreasonable Hospitality: The Remarkable Power of Giving People More than they Expect.

I became aware of the book when I watched The Bear, Season 2, Episode 7 Forks.  While the book is ostensibly from the restaurant/hospitality world it is truly a great management book with amazing insights for anyone who provides service.

Research Librarian, Perkins Coie LLP