Katie O’Laughlin, who owned Village Books on Swarthmore from 1997 to 2011, was nominated for an “I Love My Librarian” award this winter.
“For a bibliophile, there are few things more rewarding than a professional association with a librarian whose knowledge of books is exceeded only by their joy in sharing that information,” Paula Parisi wrote in nominating O’Laughlin.
Katie was a lawyer before opening her bookstore, which was much beloved in this community. Her store’s motto: “Large Enough to Serve You, Small Enough to Know You.”
When the bookstore closed during tough economic times, this left a hole in the community, and we lost O’Laughlin’s lovely presence in town. She moved to Long Beach and found just the right job at the LA Law Library (LALL), located downtown at 301 W. First Street.
LALL is the second-largest public law library in the U.S., its nearly one million items exceeded only by the Law Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., which has 2.9 million volumes.
Law libraries contain many materials not housed by other libraries, including the United States Reports (official government record of the U.S. Supreme Court), the West National Reporters, the West American Digests, official reports from various states and the Federal Register of rules and regulation.
While law professionals receive training in how to use these resources, the public does not. O’Laughlin routinely helps novice citizens navigate the stacks.
One person who nominated Katie for the award wrote: “LALL is uniquely positioned to offer the general public direction pertaining to their legal concerns. . . .In this regard Katie O’Laughlin is, quite simply, unparalleled. Her depth of knowledge about the LALL holdings is nothing short of dazzling.”
Another person wrote: “It seems almost as if in her 10 years at LALL she has personally read every book on its shelves and absorbed the information therein. Technically, that would be impossible, yet somehow, she makes it seem so.
Another person wrote that she had seen O’Laughlin assist a woman at a computer terminal: “Mai Chappel is a 69-year-old who emigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam with her mother and siblings in 1982. Suspecting her mother’s 2016 demise in a nursing home was the result of abuse, Mai — a former volunteer for the American Red Cross and Sentara Obici Hospital in Virginia — said she has been unable to find an attorney willing to take her case pro bono.”
Chappel said, “I love her [O’Laughlin], because everything I ask her, she will try to search it and give me the information. She cannot say ‘no.’ She will help any way she can.
“She stands next to me [providing personal assistance] because she understands that by myself, no way the hell I could have done any of it, because I did not understand the word of the law of the court,” Chappel said.
“The LA Law Library has a constant stream of non-legal ‘customers’ — people with no legal training, and often little training in English, or in logical thinking, or writing, but who have encountered some legal issue in their lives,” says Thomas Hall, an attorney licensed with the California Bar and a Certified Family Law Specialist.
He said that O’Laughlin regularly handles requests “from all manner of library patrons, from the terrified pro per litigant or evictee to the jaded senior partner having to get fast information over a lunch break during a trial at the courthouse across the street.
“Whether she is dealing with my requests for some obscure legal reference or bit of legislative history or dealing with someone who is trying to figure out what they need to learn to begin dealing with a problem, I have never witnessed Katie exhibit impatience or job fatigue,” Hall said.
O’Laughlin started an LALL Book Club in 2012, with selections focusing on social justice. She also teaches classes for LALL, such as Civil Lawsuit Basics: How to Make & Oppose Motions; CLB: Getting Documents to Prove Your Case; What is Due Process: Know Your Rights; Where You Begin: Civil Rights; Introduction to Lexis; and Citators: Expand Your Research and Cite Good Law.
O’Laughlin received her undergraduate training at the University of Notre Dame. She received her Master of Library Science from the University of Southern California, and her Juris Doctorate from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
The American Library Association noted that it had received more than 1,500 nominations for “I Love My Librarian,” but had been limited to 10 recipients, which did not include O’Laughlin.
Hall wrote, “While I’m sure that winning the award would be well-deserved and a pleasure to Katie, I doubt that the honor would be as exciting as the arrival of her first grandchild this year.
“I’ve worked with many librarians over my own now-long life, and I can’t think of any one more deserving of recognition than Kathleen O’Laughlin,” Hall said.
Owner of the bookstore on Antioch, Collections Antiques . . .and Books! Jeff Ridgway, told CTN, ‘It would never surprise me that Katie was nominated for any sort of award. Excellence is her true surname.
“From working with Katie at Village Books, I saw first-hand a tenacious researcher, with an encyclopedic memory, and the great communication skills with the public which make for a perfect bookseller, as well as a superb librarian,” Ridgway said. “She deserves many awards, rewards and kudos.’