This week, I interviewed Indiana State Library General Counsel Sylvia Watson. You may be wondering, “Why does the ISL needs a lawyer on staff?” My conversation with Sylvia will serve to answer those questions and many more.
RB: Coming out of law school, what led you to the ISL?
SW: I did my first legal internship for the state Public Defender’s office. That was my first contact as a state employee, as a clerk for the state Public Defender’s office.I did that for a year and then after I was done with law school and was waiting on bar results, I applied to work with the Department of Child Services (DCS). My undergrad was social work, so the fit with DCS was pretty good.
Then I left for a while to go into the private sector because I thought the private sector might hold more opportunities. That didn’t really work out, so I came back to the state and I had good references and I got my foot back in the door.
RB: So that’s when you came here?
SW: Uh huh. When I left to go into the private sector I got into real estate and that was right around the time when everything was falling apart. So, the place where I went to work cut out half the staff and all of us knew people who were let go, and some of the long-timers were let go. It was a title company and they were hit really hard.
RB: Yeah, I was hit hard too. I was in the music industry and I went from making great money and doing all of these shows to not having enough business to keep afloat. I was doing about 150 shows a year.
SW: What did you do?
SW: You were in a rock band? [With excitement]
RB: [Chuckling] yeah, you didn’t know that?
SW: Oh my gosh, no! That’s so exciting. We need to do a piece on you for the Wednesday Word.
RB: I went from about 2004 to 2012…2010 is when it started fading out.
SW: So do you sing or play an instrument or both?
RB: Both. I’ve got several albums that I’ve put out…
SW: That’s exciting! Is it rock music, or what?
RB: The first group I was in was called Ladymoon. It’s more like 60’s and 70’s progressive rock, almost psychedelic stuff, and the other group I was in was called Austin Bridges and it was more like pop rock. Kinda in the vein of Barenaked Ladies or something like that.
SW: How fun that you got to do something that exciting.
RB: It was fun. It’s just hard to make money at it. So, since I had already done PR and marketing for my bands, that’s why I went back to school and am working on a Master of Arts in Public Relations. That’s how I ended up doing that and I thought if I am going to do this then I need to find a job that is in communication so…first I was working at the Department of Education as an intern and then I was a press secretary for the Indiana State Senate for about six months. That was a temp job where I was filling in for a guy who took a leave-of-absence.
Fortunately, this job became available and I am now working as the Director of Communications for the ISL. This is good for me because it’s not so political and overwhelming that I can’t still get my school work finished, and it is enough work that I get to actually practice what I am studying. I am excited to be here. I feel like everyone has been very welcoming.
SW: Yeah, we are a good, nice bunch. Yeah when I came back here, now that I think about it, I could have actually gone back to DCS but this position was open and I have actually always loved libraries. So that is probably a better reason as to why I chose to come here as opposed to DCS, because I’ve always loved libraries. I grew up going to the library all the time and just I thought that working at the library would be really fun.
RB: What made you want to become a lawyer?
SW: It was all part of the whole idea of helping people. I really like to help people, so as a social worker I helped people but I wanted to have a broader impact. As a social worker, I worked with a small caseload of families. There were about 10 people that I worked with at a time, and that was fine, but I went to law school because that would allow me to have an impact on a broader range of people. Before I went to law school I didn’t really know where I would land, but this job fulfills me because I have a huge customer base and I am able serve a lot of people. That fulfills that side of me that needs to be a helper.
RB: I kind of had a similar idea when I was looking for a graduate degree. I was looking at the PR program as well as the law school. I took the LSAT and didn’t receive the score I wanted. After consulting with a few lawyer friends, most of them were saying “don’t do it,” so I changed my focus to PR. I couldn’t justify getting into hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt when there isn’t much of a job market out there for lawyers.
SW: The debt is a problem. I have felt the impact of that as well.
RB: I guess you don’t do it because it pays well. You do it because it is something you love to do.
SW: Right. You follow your heart. Then you realize, what have I gotten myself into! [Chuckling]
RB: That is kind of how it was for me with music. I mean…I made pretty good money playing and everything, it’s just hard being out all the time and being in smoky places. That wore on me. You do that for ten years and you don’t even like to go out to bars anymore.
SW: I didn’t think you can smoke in bars anymore.
RB: Well, you can’t around here. But that law is pretty new and when I was doing it all the time there were many places that allowed it. There still are in smaller towns. Just being in one reminds me of what it used to be like.
Back on topic; describe to me your role at ISL and what you do for libraries in general…
SW: I’m a resource for public libraries around Indiana. They can call me and consult with me about what a particular law may mean to the library or if they don’t know their legal obligations with something, they can ask about that and I can help them. I get most of my questions via email, which is the method I prefer so that I can write a thorough written response and I have time to research their question and don’t have to think of it off the top of my head.
I also do enjoy the phone conversations as well because it’s nice to get that human connection. I get calls and emails and I help with that. I also send out a quarterly legal bulletin. I’ve got my webinars online to help libraries if they need training on a specific legal topic.
For the Indiana State Library, I work on our contracts and I assist with rulemaking and with policies that are legal in nature…basically, any legal issue that comes up. I also assist our foundation with legal questions and policies that are legal in nature.
This blog post was written by ISL Communications Director Ryan Brown. For more information about the Indiana State Library, please visit http://in.gov/library/.