IBA Interrogatories - Benjamin Keele

April 24, 2013

By Tyler D. Helmond, Voyles Zahn & Paul

keele Benjamin Keele

Research and Instruction Librarian, Indiana University McKinney School of Law

He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Indiana University Maurer School of Law, and Indiana University School of Library and Information Science. He served as a reference librarian at the William and Mary Law School prior to joining the library faculty at the Indiana University McKinney School of Law. He is Benjamin Keele, and he has been served with interrogatories.

Q What does a research and instruction library do?

A Basically, I help people find legal information. Professors ask me to help find materials for scholarly articles they write and classes they teach. Students working on seminar papers or journal notes ask for help brainstorming research plans or polishing their footnotes. I also produce instructional materials and assignments for a legal research class the librarians teach. Research librarians often have specialties (I focus most on copyright), but I never really know what questions will come in on any given day. I find the variety very stimulating.

Q You have been a proponent of open access to scholarly information but it seems progress has been slow. Can that movement be successful, especially given the recent exposure following the death of Aaron Swartz?

A I’d argue that progress has actually been accelerating, especially in the physical and biological sciences. For legal scholarship, too, many law reviews are making their articles freely available online, and law professors have long been placing drafts and articles online through the Social Science Research Network. I think the conversation has mostly shifted from debating whether scholarship should be open access to debating how to pay for open access.

Q You collect diplomas. What is the prize diploma in your collection?

A I have two highlights. First is a 1940 Bachelor of Laws from Duke. The seal is Duke’s trademark blue. Second is a 1932 Master of Arts from my alma mater, the University of Nebraska. It was earned by Ralph Brooks, who became the 29th governor of Nebraska (my home state) and died in office. You can find the strangest things on eBay.

Q You have also been known to collect bobbleheads of U.S. Supreme Court justices. Which justice would you be most excited to add to your collection?

A The first judicial decision I remember being important to me was Tinker v. Des Moines, 393 U.S. 503 (1969). It was significant because it articulated some First Amendment protections for student speech and I was on the school newspaper. Justice Abe Fortas wrote for the majority in that case, so I think a bobblehead of him would be especially fun.

Q Law schools and libraries are both operating in a period of unprecedented stress and scrutiny. What is the future of law librarianship?

A The notion that libraries are primarily storehouses of books will continue to be undermined by reduced purchasing budgets and greater use of databases that the libraries essentially rent, not own. I am optimistic that libraries will be identified more by the people who help access information than by the information the library holds. I am sure that people will continue to think of the library as “the place I go to get a book,” but I hope they will more often think of the librarians as “the people that will help me find what I need to know.” This vision requires librarians to continually improve and highlight our services, regardless of where needed information comes from or where our services are provided.

Q You have contributed as an author or co-author to over 20 academic publications. What is your writing process, and what makes a scholarly publication great?

A I read a lot at work, whether when doing research for someone or just reading about legal topics I think are interesting. As I read, questions occur to me, and I write them down. About 90 percent of those questions turn out to make no sense, and half of the questions that do have already been handled well by someone else. If a question makes it that far and I’m still curious about it, I read and think about it some more and then write up whatever conclusion I reach. I have to accept that most of my ideas will be dead ends, but I learn from the research along the way.A great scholarly publication should be written by authors who are genuinely curious about the subject and should avoid jargon as much as possible. I’ve found valuable information and ideas in papers that would be considered esoteric by most people, and I was surely not in the target audience for some of these papers, so I think writers should tailor their language so that people outside the writers’ fields have a reasonable chance of understanding the publications.

Q When you look back in 20 years, what do you hope you will have contributed to the field of law librarianship?

A I hope to have helped further an understanding of copyright law that enables libraries to perform their important jobs of providing access to and preserving information. I also hope to have helped train law students to understand how important legal research is and how to conduct good research.

Q If you could choose one U.S. Supreme Court case from the last year to participate in as an amicus, which would you choose and what party would you have been aligned with?

A Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley. This case decided that the first sale doctrine applies to copyrighted works produced outside the United States. Since many items in library collections were manufactured outside the U.S., the case had important implications for libraries. I would have sided with Kirtsaeng. The court happened to reach a decision I like.

Q You have traveled far and wide during your education and early career, with stops in Lincoln, Nebraska; Bloomington; Williamsburg, Virginia and now Indianapolis. Name your favorite dining experience for each city.

A Near downtown Lincoln is the Haymarket District, which has a number of nice restaurants and a great ice cream place called IvannaCone. It always had a rotating selection of really interesting flavors.I still miss Falafel on Kirkwood in Bloomington. Almost every time I visit Bloomington I get some falafel and mint tea.Williamsburg has a lot of tourist activity, so there is almost every chain you can think of, but there are also some very good local places. A place that recently opened was Mad About Chocolate. It has incredible baked goods and other confections. For a meal it is hard to beat their satisfying savory bread pudding.I’ve just started exploring the eateries in Indianapolis, but so far I’ve been most impressed by anything I get from Goose the Market. I could eat one of their sandwiches every day. My sense is that Indianapolis has the greatest selection of dining experiences of any place I’ve lived.•