B. Austin Waters has followed a winding path to her new role as UB School of Law’s student services librarian. Born in Arkansas and raised near Albany, she studied literature at SUNY Purchase, went back west to earn her JD at the University of Arkansas Little Rock, then received her master’s degree in library and information science from Syracuse University. Before coming to the Charles B. Sears Law Library, she worked as a reference librarian at the Gould Law Library of Touro Law Center, on Long Island.
It was during her time in law school, while working as a library reference assistant providing patron services, that she found her calling. “I knew pretty early on in law school that I wasn’t really interested in being a trial lawyer,” she says. “I contemplated doing something with contracts, but when I started working at the library in my second year, I just fell in love with it. I enjoyed the atmosphere, I liked helping people with their research, and I was able to do my own research.”
At UB, she describes her role as half research—putting students, faculty and visitors in touch with the materials they need—and half outreach, working with student groups and raising the law library’s profile on campus. As manager of the library’s social media presence, she posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok, with recurring series called This Week in the Law School and Get to Know Your Librarian.
“Austin brings a cheery, welcoming vibe to the law library,” says Elizabeth Adelman, vice dean for legal information services and law library director. “In her short time at UB she has integrated herself with the School of Law’s student body. The telltale sign of her effective outreach and immediate impact is seeing so many students stop by her office.”
A conversation with Waters reflects the creative spirit she brings to her position and the ways she’s making it her own.
It was while working in libraries as a student that you found your career path. What was it about those early experiences that hooked you?
Really, it was the public service aspect. I love answering people’s questions, and there’s nothing more satisfying than having a student come to you with a difficult problem and being able to find the answer together. It’s even better if they learn something helpful in the process. I’ve also always been a little bit of a nerd, so I deeply enjoy the research. Law is such a multifaceted discipline, and as a librarian, I never have to just pick one thing. I always have the opportunity to learn something new.
You’re managing the law library’s social media presence. What’s your goal in using those platforms?
My goal has two parts. The first is the most obvious, I want students to know what’s going on at the library. We host a lot of fun and creative events with student groups and library programs. Social media allows us to have an easy-to-see place to showcase that. My second goal is a little more nebulous. I’m always looking for ways to make the library more relatable and comfortable for students. Being on social media, engaging with students in a way that is familiar to them, is just one way to accomplish that goal. It offers them a more informal way to reach out, and they often contact me for publicity and events. Our tag is #UBuffaloLawLibrary if you are interested in following along.
One of your research interests is information literacy. What exactly is that, and how is it especially important to people in the legal profession?
I like to frame information literacy to students as how you find “good” information. Good can mean a lot of things in a lot of different contexts, so my job is to help students gain the skills to look at information presented to them and evaluate it based on whatever their current need is. I talk about obvious things like currency and authorship, but also less obvious things like bias and how information is created. Information literacy is important to everyone but especially to legal professionals. Law students are preparing for careers based on the idea of sharing information that deeply impacts clients and laws. My hope is that this foundational skill will remind them there is always more to learn.
You’ve presented on the idea of the law library as a locus for building community in a law school. But libraries are supposed to be quiet places, aren’t they? So how does this work?
I actually get this question a lot. Librarians are often thought of as “keepers of the books,” and we imagine them walking around shushing patrons. But modern libraries aren’t like that. They are havens for information, places to build community, and offer opportunities for our patrons to have access to knowledge in every form. We do have quiet floors but we also host movie nights, cultural celebrations, scavenger hunts, and even a student lounge where students can just hang out and destress. My goal is to let students know the library isn’t just a place to house books, but is a place for them to gather together, celebrate their accomplishments and get help when they need it.
In your outreach to students and student groups, how do you try to demystify the law library and build students’ comfort level with it?
It sounds simple, but I make space for them. Students are often uncomfortable using the library at first, so I spend a lot of time thinking about how to make it relatable to them. Working with student groups has been a good outlet for that. The student e-boards have a good handle on what students are interested in and can encourage their members to use the library. I check in with them frequently to help plan events and make sure we offer the resources they need. This goes a long way to making them feel like the library, at least partially, is their space. And if it’s their space, then they’ll use it.