A teacher, scholar, and attorney, Canick returns to the Arthur W. Diamond Law Library in Columbia, where he began his career as a reference librarian two decades ago.
When Simon Canick was studying at Boston University School of Law in the mid-1990s, his passion for legal research began. He befriended the school's librarians and discovered that they all had J.D.s, which opened his eyes to an alternate career path. With his plans to become a family lawyer, he was wiped out by a recession and instead enrolled at the University of Washington, where he earned a Masters in Library and Information Science. Canick began his career in 2000 at the Arthur W. Diamond Law Library at Columbia Law School. He then held positions at the University of Connecticut School of Law, the Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, and most recently at the University of Maryland's Francis King Carey School of Law, where he was Professor and Associate Dean the law library and engineering. Now he is returning to the law school as director of the library.
Simon brings a wealth of specialist knowledge and management experience, an innovative and strategic perspective, and an unwavering commitment to promoting and sustaining a rich and vibrant intellectual life in Law School to his new role, said Gillian Lester, Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law . As Canick accepts his position, he shares his thoughts on the role of legal libraries, the importance of teaching research skills for students, and his vision for the future.
How does it feel to be back in law school?
Just unbelievable. I loved my years at Columbia, the energy of the place, the sense of creativity, and the importance of the faculty work. It was here that I became a teacher for the first time and made many close friends. And New York is where our children were born. It's been a wonderful time in life, both professionally and personally, so it's exciting to be back. When I first came to Columbia, I wanted to pursue my career as a librarian, but I became increasingly interested in politics and management. I wanted to work more closely with faculties, deans and administrations. I wanted to see how the library fits into the bigger picture of the law school and think about the place of libraries in the academy.
What excites you most about running the Diamond Law Library?
What excites me most is working with incredibly talented people. The group of people here is quite remarkable, and that includes people in the law library and in the other Columbia libraries. It's a community of expertise and dedication to service and when you have that you can achieve almost anything.
How do you define the library's mission?
You can think of a law library as a combination of facilities, collections, and services for students and services for the faculty. We should have rooms that attract students to different assignments. We should continue to build a collection for broad research needs: legal, non-legal, interdisciplinary, domestic, foreign, comparative, and international. And we should help teachers and students get the most out of this collection! In general, I want the law library tenaciously to support the school's current needs. The libraries I respect the most are the ones willing to reinvent themselves, to try new things, so they are at the heart of the school's teaching and research mission.
What do students expect from the library?
Their needs are really different from those of the faculty. Students are not often asked to do the kind of research faculty members do on work with national or global impact. For students, the library means finding a quiet place to be productive or to work with their study groups. I think they also expect responsiveness and support from the library when doing research. But it is just as important that the library shows students the importance of being knowledgeable researchers. These are skills that are just as important as any courses you take in law school.
You taught legal research and environmental law courses at the Maryland Carey School of Law. Will you be teaching at Columbia Law?
Yes. All Columbia Law School librarians spend significant time teaching legal research as part of the first year curriculum. This spring I will be supporting the Advanced Legal Research Seminar. And in the future I hope to teach a class on technology in legal practice.
What are librarians' misconceptions?
Well, I think there are still people who believe that librarians spend their days silencing people before going home to their cats and a good book. Think about it, that may still be true of cats and good books! But libraries are so different than they used to be. Today, libraries are all about change and transformation! Much of my work relates to the interface between libraries and technology. There are many librarians working with new data sets and assisting the faculty with empirical research. And there are librarians who focus on promoting faculty scholarships, which can be thought of as marketing, but which is really about disseminating information. We optimize information for the web, track downloads, and try to make information freely available to the world. I wrote about it in an article in the Journal of Library Law .
Do you have any plans for your employment in the library that you would like to share?
So much is still to come, but the only thing I've been thinking about lately is how we can develop the rich archive of law school history that we have in the library. Maybe we can do an oral history with alumni to archive their important memories. It's something that would highlight the importance of Columbia Law School in the lives of some truly amazing people who made a huge impact on New York, the country, and the world.
About this story
- Law School News
- Arthur W. Diamond Law Library
- January 12, 2021