Late Night Legal Reference in the Big Easy
by Brian Huddleston
Evening/Weekend Reference Librarian
Loyola University New Orleans School of Law

I started as Loyola's Weekend/Evening reference librarian in August. I always wanted to live in New Orleans, and this is what I always wanted to do - reference work in a big city law library that is open to the public. Here in New Orleans, Loyola is the only law library open to the public after nine o'clock, and the only one with a librarian - me - on duty in the evenings. So we're the only game in town late at night, when the, uhhh, more colorful characters come out.

This one patron had a fifty-year old jury duty notice that she found in her mother's papers. We were able to track down a reported appeal from this notorious murder trial, which apparently included some gory testimony from the investigating police officers. But then she started talking about suing the state for the mental problems her mother suffered as a result of serving on that jury. I just kept a straight face, helped her find some treatises on government liability, and wished her good luck.

I had a couple of undergrads once who wanted to find the "secret CIA procedures" for foreign insurgency operations. I told them that the CIA probably doesn't make that material available to the general public. But they were pleased when I gave them the home page URLs for both the CIA and Covert Action Quarterly, and they went home happy.

And more recently, some teenagers had run afoul of Harahan's 11:00pm curfew because their car broke down. A local cop blew it all out of proportion and the one eighteen-year old in the group was actually arrested and charged with contributing to the delinquency of minors. The D.A. laughed at the idea of prosecuting the kid, but his mother wanted to make sure the arrest didn't stay on his record, so I helped her find the statute on expungement. She also wanted to see if this constituted a violation of the teenagers' civil rights, so we found the relevant state and federal statutes, along with some books on civil rights litigation. Some of their parents had even written the FBI about this. She showed me the letter they got back, on official FBI stationary, from the "Assistant Agent in Charge of Civil Rights, New Orleans Field Office", saying "while the situation and facts you describe may demonstrate a lack of professionalism in certain members of local law enforcement, it does not rise to a level requiring the intervention of the FBI. Please feel free to contact us again if the circumstances change".

But enough of my tales from the front lines. Most of us have similar stories. What we don't have are any good power-pop rock and roll ballads about our profession.

As a struggling performer, Billy Joel saw the gritty underside of life in piano bars. The characters and stories he saw and heard were the inspiration for his classic song, "Piano Man". So, following his example (and using his tune), here is a song about the gritty underside of working public reference in law libraries.

Reference Man (to the tune of Billy Joel's "Piano Man")

It's six thirty-five on a Wednesday
And the pro se crowd wanders in
There's an old man rambling on about
How the Freemasons have tricked us again.
He says "Son, you don't have to pay income tax!
Its really just voluntary!
Its simple, I know, and its there in the code,
But the IRS hid it from me!"

Find us the cite, you're the reference man
Find us the cite today
We need to draft pleadings and arguments,
And we know you'll show us the way.

Now Frank with the twitch is a regular
He's here nearly every day
He's going through a divorce, and he's full of remorse
But he's gonna make them all pay.
He says, "My wife's lawyer wants to take everything
But I've got a plan of my own:
I'll declare I'm a Common Law Citizen
Then the courts have to leave me alone!"

A businessman's charged with embezzlement
After taking a "personal loan"
And the Viet Nam vet swears that the internet
Was built just to watch him at home.
And this old lady just lost her driver's license
Now she's suing the cop for ten grand
Yes they're taking the law in their own hands
Because the system has screwed them again!

Find us the cite, you're the reference man
Find us the cite today
We need to draft pleadings and arguments,
And we know you'll show us the way.

© 2000 Brian Huddleston