Meet Law Library Director and Professor of Law Austin Martin Williams
April 20, 2023
Austin Martin Williams vividly remembers his first visit to Georgetown Law, in the summer of 2019. He was then assistant director of the law library at North Carolina Central University, where he earned both his J.D. and M.L.S. with honors, and had come to campus to interview for the position of deputy director at the Edward Bennett Williams Law Library.
“There was something so special about walking up those steps,” he said. “I called my wife after the interview, ‘Oh my gosh, this is it.’”
Williams, a native of Kenansville, North Carolina, says a career in the law was not on his radar when he started college at N.C. State. But his history thesis advisor suggested he take a look at law school. At J.D. orientation he learned that he could concurrently complete a degree in library science, and he felt like he’d found his calling.
“I wasn’t very interested in practicing law, but I was a strong researcher,” he recalled. “I became intrigued by the idea of running a law library – it seemed like a way to combine a lot of different things into one role.”
Williams got the job at Georgetown, and five months after he started, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the library staff suddenly had to pivot to operating online. A few months later, his predecessor, Michelle Wu, retired after a decade as library director, and he was named interim director. He was finally running a law library – one of the nation’s largest at that – but under conditions he’d never anticipated.
“Libraries have always been about providing access to information,” said Williams “We don’t stop at five o’clock. If a student is struggling with a research question, there’s always going to be a friendly face around to help. When we went remote, it took away many of the tools at our disposal, such as easy access to print materials and in-person support.”
The library staff sprang into action, setting up virtual reference support channels for students, providing pick-up services for library materials, mailing print resources to faculty and much more.
Williams also recognized the importance of maintaining staff morale and cohesiveness, encouraging his team to brainstorm about ways to stay connected. One colleague’s idea led to the creation of a “Cyber Staff Lounge,” a Zoom room where staff could drop in and catch up with each other as they would in an office break room. He described this and other innovations in a 2022 article for the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) Spectrum, “Leading Remote Teams.”
In January 2023, the Georgetown Law faculty voted to promote Williams to director of the law library and professor of law.
“I am thrilled to welcome Professor Williams as the director of the Edward Bennett Williams Law Library,” said Dean and Executive Vice President William M. Treanor. “He did an extraordinary job leading the library as the interim director during the pandemic, and his commitment to Georgetown, his scholarship and his managerial skills are all astonishing.”
Lilian Faulhaber, Associate Dean for Research and Academic Programs, added, “Austin is ideally suited to be director, based both on his experiences over the last several years and on his vision for the future. And the faculty were also thrilled to have him join us as a professor of law. He is incredibly well respected among law librarians – and his friendly personality and willingness to go out of his way to help make him a welcome member of the campus community. Georgetown Law is lucky to have him here leading a fantastic team of librarians and library staff.”
For Williams, the great satisfaction of his role is being able to do “a little bit of everything” — from leading staff to overseeing the library’s role as one of the country’s largest producers of research guides. He has also been a longtime leader in AALL and other professional organizations.
Looking ahead, Williams noted that the pandemic spurred an ever-growing demand for online resources. “We’re thinking hard about how best to manage our budget to make sure that we’re still collecting materials that we want to hold on to forever, while meeting that just-in-time need a lot of students and faculty have,” he said.
Williams continues to view the law library with the same sense of awe he felt on his first visit. “I feel so honored to be in this position,” he said. “It’s not my library — it’s the students’ library, the faculty’s library. I’m just the steward of it.”