|Oregon State Bar Bulletin DECEMBER 2006|
By Melody Finnemore
|In four decades of helming the Multnomah Law Library, Jacque Jurkins has seen many highs and lows within an institution that constantly struggles for funding, resources and even permanent storage space.|
Jacque Jurkins doesn’t back away from a challenge. One of few female law students during the 1950s, Jurkins has helped build several law libraries from scratch. And the Multnomah County Law Library director was the first law librarian in the state to hold degrees in both the law and library science.
Jurkins, who grew up in Wisconsin, says she decided to become an attorney after meeting several through her high school debate team. Her parents were supportive of the idea, though there were easier career paths she could have selected. "They pretty much felt that if you put out the effort, you could do it," Jurkins says.
Few law professors at the University of Wisconsin were as encouraging. "I went for an interview with the dean and he was definitely anti-women in law school," she says. "It was difficult. In my property class, the professor would call on me at the beginning of each class. Soon, no one wanted to sit by me because they didn’t want to be called on next."
When she graduated in 1954, Jurkins planned to pursue a business-related practice. However, her first employer gave her probate and domestic relations cases. "I really wasn’t ready for the emotional issues that came up because they didn’t teach you that in law school," Jurkins says.
She returned to the University of Wisconsin’s law school to pursue her master’s degree and work as a research assistant. A fellow student encouraged Jurkins to explore a career as a law librarian. Jurkins applied to the University of Washington, the only institution that offered the program then.
"I was the only student in the program that year, which gave me a real good background in law librarianship because my teacher and adviser was Marian Gould Gallagher. That name opened a lot of doors for me," Jurkins says.
Upon completing the program, Jurkins served as the assistant librarian for the Washington Supreme Court’s law library and director of the Colorado Supreme Court’s library. Legislative funding for the Colorado court’s facilities fell through, so Jurkins left in 1964 to join the Multnomah County Law Library, the West Coast’s oldest county law library.
"It was a challenge because the library was kind of rudderless. The prior librarian, Mr. Tucson, had passed away very suddenly," she says. "When I first interviewed they asked me for a consultation report and I told them what I thought was feasible. They called me back and told me they would like me to come. In light of all the turmoil in Colorado, I thought it was a good move."
Jurkins signed a two-year contract. Some four decades later, she has seen many highs and lows within an institution that constantly struggles for funding, resources and even permanent storage space.
"When I first came here, I worked on plans for a new county courthouse. I think I’ve got a stack of projected plans and surveys that is at least a foot high," Jurkins says. "There have always been threats to move the library someplace or to make cuts, so it’s been a challenge to maintain it."
Established as a private non-profit corporation, the library is a quasi-county entity funded strictly by litigant filing fees. "Many bar members believe the law library is supported by their dues to the bar, and that is completely wrong," Jurkins says. "All county law libraries are supported by a percentage of litigant filing fees, which have been cut during the last couple legislative sessions, so it’s been tough to maintain the practicing collection for the bench and bar."
Along with her work at the Multnomah County Law Library, Jurkins has taught legal research courses at a handful of colleges, including Lewis & Clark’s Northwestern School of Law and Portland Community College. She was instrumental in establishing law libraries at those institutions as well.
Jurkins also ushered in the electronic era at the county’s law library, the first in the state to offer automated research and have Westlaw. While automation has its benefits, it can’t replace the quality of information, detail and historical context contained in law books, she says.
"With the advent of the computer law has changed, and one of the ways it has changed is the research methods," she says. "I think all legal research people, whether they’re paralegals or graduate lawyers, need to know what a law book is. Students need to have access to traditional, manual research tools."
Despite many hurdles over the years, Jurkins says she enjoys her career, the people she works with and the chance to work with students. "I had the ability to direct this library and I’ve been able to teach, so I’ve always said I’ve had the best of all worlds," she says.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Melody Finnemore is a Portland-area freelance writer and a frequent contributor to the Bulletin.
� 2006 Melody Finnemore