How can a law librarian help animals? If you’re Stefanie Pearlman, you study animal law, assist others in their research projects, and help found an animal law caucus. Two years ago, I started a series here at Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk shining a spotlight on volunteers in the animal welfare world. With this series, I wanted to encourage myself and others to think outside of the box when it came to volunteer ideas. Stefanie is a perfect example of how one to match unique skills with a passion for animals.
Stefanie Pearlman is a professor of law library and reference librarian. Her responsibilities include reference duties and teaching a portion of the legal research component of First Year Legal Research and Writing. She serves as the faculty advisor to the National Animal Advocacy Competition team, runs the Faculty Research Assistant Fellowship Program, and chairs the Social Responsibilities-Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries. I’m honored to introduce her to you.
ALLISON: Tell me about your background with animals.
STEFANIE: In my baby book, my mother wrote, “Stefanie loves dogs and approaches nearly every dog in sight!” I was 11 months old when she made that entry. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate into having the company of my own dog. The only companion animals we had growing up were a couple of goldfish when I was in grade school. As an adult, I adopted my first dog, Katey, from the Humane Society of Missouri.
ALLISON: When and why did you become interested in animal law and research? How has this changed how you view animals? What does it feel like to be an author of professional publications?
STEFANIE: When I started working at the Schmid Law Library at the College of Law, University of Nebraska, I had the freedom to create my own research agenda. My interest in animals led me to dedicate part of my scholarship to the study of animal law. Since I am a law librarian, it was natural to focus more specifically on helping others research animal law. It gives me a sense of satisfaction to know that my work helps other people complete their own research projects.
ALLISON: You were a founding member of the animal law caucus of the American Association of Law librarians [AALL]. Why did you feel a need for this caucus? And how you help set this up?
STEFANIE: There are many law librarians interested in animal law. When one of my colleagues proposed creating this caucus, I jumped at the opportunity to assist. It was very small in the beginning…maybe four of us. There are over one hundred members now. I suppose we created the caucus the same way most people start a group, filling out paperwork and discussing our goals. Since then, we have hosted guest speakers at most of our business meetings and created a web presence where we share information on animal law.
ALLISON: What was the purpose of the “Lessons from the Snail Darter”? program? How did you end up being a moderator for it? What was that experience like?
STEFANIE: This is one of my favorite projects by the Animal Law Caucus. There is a famous Endangered Species Act case, Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill, which involved the snail darter (a fish) and a dam project. Zygmunt Plater was the attorney who argued on behalf of the respondents, in support of the snail darter. The Animal Law Caucus proposed a program at the AALL Annual Meeting and Conference where he could discuss this case and his book The Snail Darter and the Dam: How Pork-Barrel Politics Endangered a Little Fish and Killed a River. The program was selected and I had the good fortune to introduce him. It was a wonderful program.
ALLISON: How do you prepare for the roles of a coach to students in animal law competitions and supervisor of independent animal law research projects? What have you learned about mentoring from those roles? About animal law?
STEFANIE: When coaching, I review the problem and the related law. I then help the students to the extent permitted by the rules of the competitions. Independent research projects are a bit different. I have long conversations with each student to discover their areas of interest and whether a particular topic is a good fit for a research paper. We also discuss research strategies. I review drafts of each paper and provide feedback before a final draft is submitted.
The main thing I learned from working with students is how fantastic they are. It is a joy to work with them. They are bright, enthusiastic, and full of great ideas. Through these projects, I have a greater understanding about animal law. It is a broad area of law, which includes wildlife, agricultural animals, and companion animals. I learn something new from every student.
ALLISON: What are some basic animal laws that it’s important for the public to know? Ones involving wildlife? Ones involving farm animals. Ones involving domesticated animals?
STEFANIE: This is a hard question to answer. I suppose the most important animal laws for people to understand are the ones that directly impact them. Such as limits to the number or type of animals they can own, hunting laws, and wildlife laws that protect certain animals and their habitats. Patrons are welcome to come to the Schmid Law Library to do research to learn more about animal laws. Information about our hours can be found at: https://law.unl.edu/library/.
ALLISON: The most traditional ways that one helps animals is by rescue, adoption, transport, and fundraising. What are innovative ways that you help animals? What advice would you give to those for whom the traditional ways don’t fit?
STEFANIE: The best way to find nontraditional ways to help animals is to match your skill set with your love of animals. I am a law librarian, so I do my best to help people research animal law through my writing and the occasional presentation. Find what you are good at and try to use that to make a difference for animals.