Juanita Harrell MLIS '12

The quest for the right piece of information. It’s the challenge that thrills a good librarian, no matter the setting. 

Juanita Harrell MLIS ’12, a law librarian at the DuPage County Law Library, helps attorneys and patrons who are representing themselves find the information that they need.

“In some cases if they just had the right information, they could get something really helpful done in court,” Harrell says. “If I can at least lead them to that…I love that. I absolutely love it.”

It’s the same quest that drew Harrell to Dominican University for her Master of Library and Information Science after working several years as a paralegal in a real estate law office—experience that serves her well in her current position.

“I was working a really crazy schedule, but I never had any trouble getting into classes. Dominican offers a lot of variety with their scheduling. Most people are working or in the process of changing careers when they’re going to get their MLIS,” Harrell says.

During that time of balancing her paralegal career with part-time work at a local public library and her part-time class schedule, she says, the professional experience of Dominican’s faculty was invaluable.

With a faculty that brings years of experience working in libraries and information centers to their teaching, Harrell says her professors understood the needs of working students, as well as the importance of gaining hands-on experience in the competitive and evolving field of information. 

“I always felt like there was an open-door policy. Even since graduating, I’m friends with a lot of my professors on Facebook, and I always feel welcome to speak with them whenever I need to,” she says. “Going to Dominican, knowing people from Dominican definitely helped me get my foot in the door in this field.” 

After graduating, Harrell worked as a teen librarian at Oak Park Public Library, where, among other duties, she helped lead programs targeted at increasing the information literacy of young people. It’s those same skills that she’s seen benefit adult users of the law library.

“I work with judges, lawyers, law students, and a lot of my work is with Pro Se patrons who are representing themselves in court. So everyday is something new,” she says.

She credits her Dominican education with giving her the flexibility to move among a variety of career settings. After initially thinking that all law librarian positions required a law degree, Harrell saw a job posting for her current position, applied and was hired on the strength of her previous experience and her information-gathering skills.

“The paralegal certificate definitely helps because I know the legal terminology and I’ve done some of the work, but the librarian background helped me learn how to interact with the patrons, how to do the reference interview, collection development, all of those that are helpful to working in a law library,” she says. “It seems that no matter the environment, the library and information science degree helps you do the work and be professional in your job.”