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Tiffani Willis: 1974 – 2022

By Joanie Harmon

UCLA IS alumna, attorney, and research professor served as associate director of Southwestern’s Law Library.

UCLA alumna Tiffani Willis (’12, MLIS) passed away on March 20 at the age of 48. Combining her skills as an attorney, research professor, and a librarian in her career, Willis served most recently as associate director of the Leigh H. Taylor Law Library and an adjunct professor of law at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles.

Fellow Bruin Amber Madole (’07, J.D.; ’11, MLIS) remembers her former colleague from their time working together at Loyola Law School’s Rains Library. 

“Tiffani was a trusted friend, colleague, and a consummate librarian,” says Madole, who is a law librarian in research services for Indigenous Law and Policy, and an adjunct assistant professor at the USC Gould School of Law. “I first met Tiffani when we were in library school together at UCLA in 2011. My first impression was that she was a serious and committed person, and quite disciplined. Later, when we had the opportunity to work together and work on many projects together, I found out more about her warmth, humor, and quiet strength. Tiffani was a thoughtful colleague with an incredible gift for legal analysis and teaching." 

Tiffani Willis was born on November 28, 1974. She graduated from C. K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento and earned her bachelor’s degrees in journalism and in political science from Boston University. 

While still a law student at the University of Southern California, she worked as a member of the school’s Post Conviction Justice Project. After graduation, Willis practiced law in New York and in Cailfornia, and focused on general corporate and securities law at Sidley Austin LLP.

Upon achieving her master’s degree in library and information studies at UCLA, Willis began her law librarian career and held positions in a branch of the Ninth Circuit Court Library in Los Angeles, the Harnish Library at Pepperdine Law School, and the William M. Rains Library at Loyola Law School. 

Suzie Shatarevyan, head of Access & Collection Management Services at the Rains Library, recalls her former colleague and friend. 

“The first time I met Tiffani, we were in San Antonio, Texas for the annual American Association of Law Libraries conference. The year was 2014 and both of us were squeezed into a bus on our way to a library tour. She was so friendly and approachable that I struck up a conversation [and] learned that she was a law librarian at Pepperdine. I never imagined that two years later she would take a position at the same institution where I worked. 

“At Loyola, she became more than a work colleague,” says Shatarevyan. “We became friends. We shared a love of books, tea, travel, and baking shows. Every Wednesday evening after work hours, we would get together with other local law librarian colleagues and indulge in network programming or talk about the latest books we were reading. Last April she left Loyola to pursue an opportunity at Southwestern, and while we no longer worked at the same institution, our friendship kept us connected. We maintained our monthly movie nights and dinner outings and had so much more planned. I miss my friend dearly and am grateful for the opportunities I had to know her and be her friend.”

Willis enjoyed international travel and sports, running eight marathons and earning her brown belt in karate. A prolific reader, she had created a home card catalog long before going to library school. Willis was an active member of library professional organizations and served on the board of the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, as well as on multiple committees for the organization. She was also a member of multiple committees for the American Association of Law Libraries. 

A lover of many genres of literature known among her friends for great book recommendations, Willis contributed her talents and time to Mocha Girls Read, a nationwide book club based in Los Angeles, and wrote the blog, “Passport Books.”

Joy Shoemaker, branch librarian for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Library in Pasadena, met Willis when the latter was an intern at the Ninth Circuit Court Library in Los Angeles. 

“Tiffani’s friendship was easy,” recalls Shoemaker. “She knew so much about so much and shared her viewpoint in the kindest ways. If she disagreed with something, she could always gently point out another idea or way to approach the topic. I will remember Tiffani for always being supportive and thoughtful, never a naysayer. 

“One of the many things Tiffani taught me is that you can be who you are. You can take a night off from socializing to make sure you get to library before it closes. You can love your job and still take weeks off to travel with your family. You can be talented in one thing and yet switch gears to pursue another thing. You can pursue a good life. Tiffani pursued a good life. Tiffani was a friend, teacher, lawyer, librarian, sister, aunt, daughter, and so much more. I will miss her and remember her.”

Willis is survived by her mother SJeanay Willis Bolden; sister Toccara D. Willis; and niece Tomai D. Willis. A funeral service was held at St. Mary's Cemetery and Funeral Center in Sacramento on April 22. 

Southwestern Law School is planning a memorial for Willis, to take place at Southwestern’s campus on Monday, June 13 at 3:30 p.m. PST. To attend, contact Margaret Hall at mhall@swlaw.ued.

In memory of Tiffani Willis, donations may be made to a local public library in her name, to her family through PayPal to, or to

“I take inspiration in Tiffani’s life – she spent her energy on the most important things,” says Madole. “I only wish we had more time with her, more book recommendations, and more clear crisp analysis of complex topics. She was a wonderful friend, colleague, traveler, reader, and librarian, and we will miss her more than words can say.”