June 23, 2011

Houdek to receive association's highest honor

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The American Association of Law Libraries next month will honor Frank G. Houdek, whose career with the Southern Illinois University School of Law includes more than 22 years as law library director.

Houdek, associate dean for academic affairs and professor, will receive the 2011 “Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award” -- the organization’s highest honor -- during the Association’s 104th annual meeting, July 23-26, in Philadelphia.

Houdek is one of three people who will receive the award this year; 58 people previously received the award, which was established in 1984, according to the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) website.

Houdek said he was literally “speechless” when he learned he was receiving the award.

“I am both humbled and extremely proud to receive the award,” he said. “I know so many people in the profession who have done such great things. It is a little uncomfortable to be singled out for work that builds on the contributions of so many others.”

Houdek came to the law school in January 1985. He said the award is only possible due to people he has worked with in the professional association and at SIUC. Houdek has been on the association’s executive board and was president in 1996-97, and is also involved with numerous committees. Much of his published work is on the history of the law librarian profession and the history of the association.

“My primary responsibility has always been to my institution … the faculty, staff and students here at SIUC, along with the clientele at other places I’ve worked at,” Houdek said. While the distinguished service award focuses on professional contributions, it also recognizes what recipients have done at their own institutions, he said.

“I couldn’t have done those outside projects without the great support I have had here,” he said.

Houdek, 62, and his wife, Susan E. Tulis, an associate dean of library affairs at SIUC’s Morris Library live in Carbondale. The couple has four children.

In addition to his administrative duties as library director and associate dean, Houdek also served for a year as interim law school dean prior to Dean Cynthia L. Fountaine’s arrival last summer.

“I am very pleased that the AALL is honoring Dean Houdek with this award,” she said. “This award is a well-deserved recognition of his contributions to the profession. In my first year as dean, I have relied daily on his long experience at the law school, his sound judgment, and his commitment to the institution. Our law school and law library have been the beneficiaries of his dedication and leadership. We are lucky to have him, and I am glad that the AALL feels the same way.”

With more than 5,000 members, the AALL is the largest professional law library association in the world. The association, which started in 1906, represents a wide range of law librarians in academic, private law firm, and state and county court settings.

The award honors the late Marian Gould Gallagher, a former law library director at the University of Washington in Seattle, and AALL president, who is still considered “the quintessential law librarian,” said current AALL president Joyce Manna Janto, deputy director of the law library at the University of Richmond School of Law.

The award recognizes “extraordinary, sustained contributions to both the Association and the field of law librarianship,” she said. The question, Janto said, isn’t why Houdek is receiving the award, “but more why did we wait so long?”

The organization faced “many thorny issues” during his tenure as association president, including the merger of West Publishing and Thomson Publishing, and Houdek guided the organization “through those difficult times with grace and humor,” she said. He was instrumental in the launch of the association’s website, was editor of the Law Library Journal, and worked on numerous special committees, Janto said.

She also points to Houdek’s abilities as a librarian and mentor.

“More than one AALL president called upon Frank, to use his expertise in service of the profession and Frank never declined,” Janto said. “There is more than one person in our Association who can point to Frank Houdek as the reason they achieved what they have in their careers.”

A Los Angeles native who earned his law degree from the UCLA School of Law in 1974, Houdek said that while many aspects of the law intrigued him and he respected those who practice law, he was also looking for something a bit different. He found law librarianship as one of those alternative legal careers, and a light bulb popped on, he said.

Books in their home surrounded his family, and Houdek also spent a great deal of time at the Los Angeles Public Library. Houdek said he was fortunate to already be attending law school at a university that also had a “well-known graduate library program in librarianship.” While earning his master’s degree in library science, Houdek was an intern at the Los Angeles County Law Library, one of the largest law libraries in the country.

From July 1979 to June 1982, Houdek was librarian with Lawler, Felix and Hall, managing the library for a firm of about 75 attorneys. In July 1982, he began work as associate director of the law library and as an adjunct professor of law at the University of Southern California.

“At every step of the way I continued to feel very good about the decision I made,” he said. “It continued to feel that this was the right fit for me; my abilities and inclinations fit very neatly into the library world.”

Not surprisingly, Houdek says that the biggest change in libraries during his nearly four decades as a librarian and administrator is in the area of technology. In 1975, when he began his first professional job, the legal profession was at the very beginning of its move toward computerized research and computer access to information, he noted.

With information now so easily accessible to students, there might be some who question the continued need for libraries. Houdek believes while the role of libraries and their physical facilities might change, there are still many reasons and intangibles for libraries to continue to exist. In addition, not everything is available electronically, and learning how to thoroughly research reliable material is critical, he said.

“Yes, you can be home in the middle of the night and access information, but can you converse with other people and have that intellectual exchange that somehow moves material from just information to knowledge? That is extremely important in an academic environment where we have students who are just learning,” he said. “They cannot do that learning on their own, they have to learn together and interact with other people.”