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Joe Hodnicki: Associate Director for Library Operations at Robert S. Marx Law Library at the University of Cincinnati
by Robin Salisian
To avoid the draft, Hodnicki applied to college, stayed on when his number wasn't called, and graduated from DePaul in 1974. Next, Hodnicki attended "its graduate school for philosophy from 1974 to '75" and during that time decided to study librarianship — "it was just about the only way I would get a pay raise," he says.
To make this happen, Hodnicki attended the University of Chicago Graduate Library School. And unlike DePaul, library school was hard.
"There were times when I left a lecture not understanding one iota of it," he admits. However, "the education [he] received there has carried [him] through to this day."
"I look upon contemporary developments in IT and the Internet and see their logical progression from the lectures I attended almost 30 years ago," he adds.
While attending graduate school, Hodnicki met professor Judith Wright, took her law librarianship class, and discovered his interest in the field. He also began working part-time at the University of Chicago Law School Library. There, Hodnicki was impressed by the law librarians' work -- enough to persuade him to pursue law librarianship.
"I chose big-firm law librarianship, where I could specialize in legal reference and research," he says, "because I wanted the action, the immediacy of having a client ultimately at the receiving end of my work."
After leaving library school in 1980 Hodnicki dove into research and reference work in Chicago law firms. Of the three he worked for, the most enjoyable firm was Seyfarth Shaw. For eight years Hodnicki worked and "found [his] niche in their labor law practice." He grew confident in his work, knew he and his colleagues did it well, and believed that "opposing counsel" had no chance of outperforming their "research, writing, and communications capabilities."
But while Seyfarth was "home," he left in 1990, feeling burnt out. He had gone four years without vacation (his choice) and was suffering from the death of his father. After a short return — "I quit the firm without another job in hand but returned to my Seyfarth Shaw office the next Monday because one of their clients retained me to continue working on their labor contract negotiations" — Hodnicki began consulting, moved into the publishing industry, and spent time as the associate director at the University of Miami School of Law library.
Then, in 2000, he began working at the Robert S. Marx Law Library at the University of Cincinnati.
"I began working there...because my wife, Lynette, lived [in Cincinnati]. The law library had a nice little job creating webpages that I grabbed up because the dot-com bubble was about to burst. I remember that the day I interviewed for the job, the value of my trading account dropped $40,000 because I had been away from my computer. That was more than the starting salary for the web-authoring job! One thing led to another, and now I'm responsible for the day-to-day operations of the law library, excluding IT."
Along the way, Hodnicki discovered law blogging. He and a Cincinnati Law professor, Paul Caron, had worked together "to create a digital supplement for one of his books, Tax Stories, which [they] hosted on the College of Law's web server."
"Paul has always been interested in utilizing web communications for teaching and legal publishing, so blogging seemed to be a perfect fit," continues Hodnicki. "We eventually launched his TaxProf Blog on April 15, 2004. A couple of months later, either Paul discovered or OSU law professor Douglas Berman called to his attention that Berman's new blog, Sentencing Law and Policy, was modeled after TaxProf Blog. We saw the business opportunity and established the Law Professor Blogs Network in the summer of 2004."
A year later, Hodnicki launched his own blog, Law Librarian Blog, and recruited his colleague, Ron Jones, to join him. And today, the two "monitor developments in the legal publishing industry and the law library community via RSS feeds and email subscriptions to publishers, think tanks, professional organizations, and web content providers such as other blogs."
"We generally approach our blog as a current awareness service for law librarians so we are never at a loss for topics. We leave thought pieces to others in the law library blogosphere, although the curmudgeon in me has been known to reveal itself in some of my posts."
Hodnicki blogs in the mornings, "working at home over coffee," on Law Librarian Blog, Law X.O., and Law School Innovation. On the weekends he provides "tech and editorial support for members of the Law Professor Blogs Network." While the work is hard, the results have made it worth it.
"As for Law Librarian Blog, the rewards come in emails — compliments from law librarians I've never met, notes of thanks from non-librarians who find the information we publish useful. There are 150-plus law librarian/law library blogs online. Knowing that Law Librarian Blog is one of the most visited blogs in our very busy corner of the blogosphere means we must be doing something right."
Unfortunately, as with many forms of publication, the negatives, particularly the harsh readers, inevitably follow the positives.
"Blogging [hasn't] always been a pleasant experience," admits Hodnicki. "I've been threatened with a lawsuit by an irate reader for reporting something in the public record, email bombed for something published in my blog and again for something not published in another Network blog, and criticized on bias grounds for what I select to publish. But all that comes with the territory."
|Q. What do you do for fun?|
|A. I play Texas hold 'em poker whenever I can, which isn't often or is too often, depending on whether you're talking to me or my long-suffering wife.|
|Q. What CD is in your CD player right now, or what music is on your iPod?|
|A. Fats Waller's A Handful of Keys and Senator John Danforth reading his Faith and Politics: How the "Moral Values" Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together.|
|Q. What is the last magazine you read?|
|A. Smithsonian. The December 2007 issue's "Last Page" column on domestic bliss is on the refrigerator.|
|Q. What is your favorite TV show?|
|A. Top Gear.|
|Q. Who is your role model?|
|A. My dad.|
Yet despite the frustrations, Hodnicki considers his web contributions one of his most notable "ongoing" career projects.
"Helping create the Law Professor Blogs Network has been very rewarding. At the beginning, the Network consisted of TaxProf Blog and Sentencing Law and Policy. Now we publish 50 topical law blogs with about 90 editors. I particularly like helping our younger law profs become more visible by providing them a vehicle to demonstrate their scholarship in action. I'm proud of what the Network has accomplished so far."
Another notable career accomplishment occurred in 1983:
"Our client, a healthcare provider, wanted to be able to fire any employee if the company saw that employee smoking anywhere...at work, driving in his or her car, at the bowling alley, on the front porch of the employee's home...because the client wanted all employees to set an example for others by quitting smoking. In the early 1980s smoking restrictions were largely limited to government buildings in several Northern California communities. You could still smoke in workplaces, restaurants, etc. A partner…gave the assignment to a chain-smoking librarian, me.
"My answer: there wasn't a shred of legal authority anywhere that said our client could not implement the policy as long as proper notice and counseling was provided. The client proceeded to do so. The story made the prime news slot in the Wall Street Journal, front page, full left column, and the rest is history. Law librarians make contributions every day; I now smoke outdoors."
But Hodnicki also desires to contribute to the legal publishing industry in another way — "to accommodate persons with disabilities by making all the titles in their sales catalogs and all their online research services readily available in accessible formats."
Who, then, influenced this law librarian as he journeyed from restaurant worker to DePaul student to associate director for library operations to law blogger?
"Two colleagues always come to mind," he says. "The first is Ken Kirkland, a card-carrying member of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement who I worked for at DePaul University. A periodicals librarian at the time, I first learned what librarianship was by watching Ken work diligently every day — his attention to detail and personal interest in patron reference questions, plus his appreciation of the absurdity of academic politics, are all things I'll take to my grave...[And] the second is Lee C. Shaw. Lee was the most open-minded person I've ever had the pleasure to work with...I learned a lesson I all too often forget now: 'be open to new ideas.'"
"Find a place where excellence is expected daily and where the resources for that pursuit are provided without question," Hodnicki advises young professionals starting out in the legal field. "Accept nothing less from your employer or yourself, or you may not have many memories to reflect upon as your career inevitably slides into oblivion. We all cannot be the Berrings, Germains, and Merskys of our profession, but you can leave your mark."
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