Retiring after 30 years at Mercer Law School, the Director of the Library wants to make something clear before she goes: “Everything is not on the internet,” Suzanne Cassidy says. “I say that at least once a day.”
Since her first day on the job (Oct. 1, 1987, when she started as reference librarian), Cassidy has had a first-hand view of how the internet has changed the ways we gather information, for good and ill, from accurate to wildly bogus. If anything, librarians are more important than ever for law faculty and law students.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” Cassidy says. “You have access to so much more information, but often it’s too much information. So one of the things that librarians do well is vet information — authenticate it, make sure that it is reliable and from a good source, not biased.
“Sometimes I use the word ‘filter.’ Somebody’s got to do it. It’s a good role for a librarian, to gather information and sift through it and make sure the most valuable and helpful information gets to the person who needs it.”
Not that she ever intended to be a librarian.
A self-described “Air Force brat,” born in London, raised in places as far-flung as Kansas, Guam and North Dakota, she arrived in Macon age 12, when her dad retired and moved back to be close to his family. As an undergrad, she studied social work at UGA, then returned to Macon. For three years, she served as a caseworker in the Bibb County Juvenile Court, working in the 1970s on delinquency and deprivation cases.
She enrolled at Mercer Law School, and never really thought about going anywhere else. “It was a no-brainer, because by then I had met John D., and we were pretty serious.” That’s her now-husband, whose family business, Cassidy’s Garage, was a Macon mainstay from the day it opened on Mulberry Street in 1915 as the city’s first gas station until it closed under John D.’s ownership in 2012.
Suzanne Cassidy says she has no regrets about choosing Mercer Law. She loved UGA. (“I had a very good time at Georgia,” she says with the kind of sly smile that testifies to its rep as a party school.) But Mercer was completely different — the small classes, the close relationships with both classmates and faculty. “I really loved the intellectual stimulation,” she says. “It made me sorry that I had not taken full advantage of that when I was in college. Being exposed to all these new ideas made you think and understand things differently — it made you think like a lawyer.”
After graduation, she worked as an associate with Macon attorney (later Probate Judge) William J. Self, clerked for the late Middle District of Georgia Judge Duross Fitzpatrick, and then joined Dozier, Akin and Lee. It was there that she got an unexpected callback to her alma mater from a former professor and mentor. One of the students clerking at her firm breezed in one day and said that the Law Library’s director, Leah Chanin, had sent along a message that Cassidy should apply for the reference librarian position being vacated by Reynold Kosek, who was transitioning into teaching full-time.
And so it came to pass that Cassidy found herself back at one of her favorite places, Mercer Law School. She’s been here ever since. “You know,” she says, leaning in with a typical, generous laugh, “I’ve got a lot of people to thank.”
They include Chanin, Kosek, her legal bibliography professor; Pat O’Neal, the assistant law librarian when she was a student and who was a supportive colleague when she returned to Mercer; Patricia Cervenka, the library’s director after Chanin left; and the dedicated Law Library staff. “I’ve learned a lot from everyone I’ve worked with,” Cassidy says. And from family, too.
She cites her aunt, Madrid (pronounced “May-drid”) Williams, who served as executive director of the Georgia Bar. “She could have been a lawyer herself,” Cassidy says. “She was just the smartest woman in the world and so well-regarded. She was a huge influence to me.”
In her decades at Mercer, Cassidy has seen changes in library science and study habits. The Law School had IBM Selectric typewriters when she started. She’s seen the arrival of computers, and was there when her boss, Professor Chanin, hired the first director of computer services. She was also there when the library verged on losing its collection during the flood of 1994. And she has seen the internet entice students to work more at home.
“Not as many people study in the library because they don’t have to be there to access the resources. But the library is still an important place,” she says. “We still provide resources, many in electronic format. We teach how to research effectively and efficiently. We support collaborative learning with group study rooms. Or if people want peace and quiet, we can do that.”
While she loves being surrounded by the energy of young people, some even younger people are among the reasons she’s retiring. She and her husband want to spend more time with their son, John D. Jr., and his wife and their two young grandsons in League City, Texas. They’ve also got good reason to visit Key West, where their other son, Patrick, lives on a sailboat and owns a business cleaning boat hulls.
Cassidy says, “Life’s too short. I want to spend time with family and friends I’ve neglected, lo these many years.” But she’ll be missed at the Law School, in or outside the library.
Maybe the final word should go to the woman who connected Cassidy with the Law Library to begin with. Here’s part of an email Leah Chanin sent on learning of Cassidy’s retirement:
“From all I know and have heard you have been a fantastic director, professor and faculty member. I am sorry you are leaving, but it is good to leave when you are ready ... and to have people saying ‘oh please don’t go’ instead of ‘when will she leave?’”
If you’d like to make a gift in Professor Cassidy’s honor, consider giving to the Law Library Book Fund online. When designating your fund, you must include “Law Library Book Fund” in the Remark Box.