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Karen Westwood
Karen Westwood

2021 Unsung Legal Heroes: Karen Westwood

The stereotype of a librarian’s day is studious, bookish and perhaps even reclusive. Karen Westwood says she loves her work as director of the Hennepin County Law Library because it’s the complete opposite.

A librarian for most of her adult life, Westwood said her current role is very much a people position. Being a law librarian “gives me the opportunity to help others empower themselves, whether they are working on their own or need help having success working with a lawyer. I can help make law understandable,” she said.

Westwood has held her current position since 2015. Before that, she was associate director of the Warren E. Burger Law Library at Mitchell Hamline School of Law for five years.

She earned her master’s degree in library science in 1987 in Massachusetts and worked near Boston until she and her husband, who were both raised in Minnesota, returned to their home state in 1990. Her first job upon returning to Minnesota was with the Minnesota State Law Library’s outreach program that served inmates in the state correctional facilities. She worked as the law librarian in a private firm for a short stint, and then returned as department head of the same Minnesota State Law Library outreach program.

Westwood ultimately decided to get her own law degree in her 40s, graduating from the Mitchell Hamline School of Law and working for a short stint with the corporate law firm Lindquist & Vennum LLP (now part of Ballard Spahr).

“My heart was really in librarianship,” she explained about her return to her first career. Her days now find her working with judges, lawyers and everyday people who are preparing to represent themselves in court for a traffic violation, divorce or some other legal matter.

“I like helping people along with their law careers or making the law more understandable for those who aren’t lawyers. Very little work these days is just hanging out with the books,” she said.

In recent years, Westwood has joined forces with other legal and county librarians in the Twin Cities to stage several educational programs for public librarians on how to field legal research questions. And she has taken a leadership role in Hennepin County librarians’ effort to reach diverse populations.

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