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Bill Draper: A Look Back

February 28, 2022

After 30 years of service, Bill Draper will be retiring at the end of February 2022. Read his reflections as he looks back on his career along with what he has planned for the future.

Bill initially served as Biddle’s head of circulation services, but later transitioned into his current role of reference librarian, where for decades he has made his true impact as an ambassador for Biddle and the Penn Law community. Among many accomplishments, he served as a trusted liaison and researcher to dozens of faculty members, taught LLM, 1L, and advanced seminar courses, and mentored generations of law students interested in getting their papers published. And, perhaps most recognizably, Bill’s major and lasting achievement for the Penn Law community was serving as one of the major architects, as well as the day-to-day overseer, of the Penn Law Scholarship Repository.

What drew you to librarianship?

I tried the practice of law, and it wasn’t for me. A law school colleague of mine suggested that I investigate library school at Illinois (our Alma Mater). I followed through, and for a time we were officemates at the Library of the U of Illinois College of Law. Running circulation and stacks services at Illinois did not dissuade me. It was fun.

Describe some changes you’ve seen over the years, either in librarianship or at Biddle.

I have worked for many years to exceed faculty expectations. Library automation made that easy at first. However, as most faculty members have gone digital, it has become increasingly difficult to find ways to exceed those expectations.

New law students used to be mystified by paper legal research systems. No longer. Lexis and Westlaw now have Google-like interfaces that seem to have removed the learning curve for new law students. The result is that they think they know how to research when it’s still not that simple.

You’ve had a successful career. What accomplishments are you most proud of?

I worked from 1992 to 1995 to grow circulation/stacks staffing from 5 union and 6 or 8 student positions to 6 union and 18 student/part-time positions. We had double staffing at the Circulation Desk at all times; we had a student stack assistant assigned to each floor in Tanenbaum; and we had a student assigned to shifting and reshelving in the microform room. We also had a “townie” part-time employee to help with coverage during breaks.

I published three articles in law reviews.

I taught a directed reading seminar here for three years with Prof Howard Lesnick, entitled The Science, Religion and Law of Human Survival. It was a dream come true.

And I had the pleasure of working with such esteemed faculty members as Elizabeth Warren, David Skeel, Jill Fisch, Dave Hoffman, Elizabeth Pollman, and Frank Goodman.

What were some memorable experiences and what did you gain while working with faculty?

I have some wonderful stories about life in the old library. The elevators would jam regularly, with employees screaming for help. Empty book boxes were thrown down the front stairs (near the Lincoln bust) on their way to the dumpster. There was an occasion when this practice was termed “Bowling for Faculty.” Prof Warren survived to move to Harvard and run for office.

At one point I was assigned to all of the law & economics scholars on our faculty. I was even the co-editor of the American Law & Economics Association Newsletter for three years. My economics degree helped greatly. The more I worked in the area, the more I understood that the entire field of law & economics is based on unlimited self-interest and that laws were being erected to protect the self-interest implicit in economic theory. When I realized that such laws were leading to the taking of lives, including marginalized and minority lives, I drew the line and said, “No more.” That’s when I started writing articles about the legal system, its impact, and ways to avoid that impact.

What’s next?

I still have one more article to write. And I will be getting married. My fiancée will determine a lot of what happens in the next chapter. I look forward to sitting on a rocker on the front porch of our cabin and looking out at the otters playing in the lake out front. And I look forward to kayaking on that lake and hiking around it.