Posted in Internship

Law Reference Internship, Week 15

As the final week in the law school semester, I had expected activity at the reference desk to accelerate; but I was mistaken.

Monday was a very quiet day, with simply a few directional questions to answer (“Can you tell me where you keep AmJur Proof of Facts?” etc.).

Tuesday was slightly busier.  A call came in to find out whether a certain book was on the shelves.  After looking it up I discovered it was actually at Wells library, so I redirected the call there.  An international student came in looking for criminal procedure-investigation materials; I and another librarian attempted to show this student the hornbooks and nutshells, but he was adamant that those were not what he needed.  To appease him I looked up the criminal procedure materials in the catalog, located the titles on the investigation side of criminal procedure specifically, and directed him up there, suggesting that he look around that entire area for the best resource to answer his question, since shelf-scanning around a selected title can often lead to even better titles for answering the question at hand.  (I then went over to the nutshells and hornbooks, noted that the hornbook actually had several chapters on the fourth amendment (a topic the patron had mentioned several times), and told the desk attendant that if the patron returned, the desk attendant might point out the 4th Am. chapters in the hornbook anyway.

On Wednesday I helped a law student with trouble using the OPAC.  She was looking for an early edition of a series; one of the librarians knew it had been moved to the auxiliary library facility, but it wasn’t showing up in the OPAC record.  I discovered that there were two OPAC records for some reason – one with the two subsequent editions of the series, and a separate one for the first edition; this latter entry did note that they were housed at the ALF, so the patron was able to request the needed volume.  I then spent a great deal of time on the phone with a patron from another school who was frustrated at the world over an assignment.  I was never able to get him to ask me a direct question – instead I think he just needed to rant.  Finally he asked if he could email me a document pertaining to his frustrating assignment, and I assented.  That was two hours before we closed.  Five minutes before we closed he actually sent it, so I emailed him back and said I would address it the next day.

On Thursday my time was spent trying to understand what his question was.  He was in a non-law class, but asked to answer a law-related question, and was confused about stare decisis and res judicata, when and where each applied, and how they might conflict.  What he had sent me the day before was not his assignment, which probably would have been best; instead it was a page out of a treatise on the NLRB.  After consulting with the other librarians on staff, I wrote the patron back, defining and offering examples of stare decisis and res judicata, and told how they would apply to NLRB decisions.  He had also asked about what the citations from the treatise page meant, so I referred him to the identified source (a looseleaf service).  He emailed me back later and told me he might have me look something up for him in that resource’s index.  I was unsure of the policy on this, but was instructed by reference department staff that that is not our job, which I relayed to the patron.  I have not heard from him since, which I hope means I adequately addressed his needs.

Next week begins the two weeks of law school finals, and I am interested to see how reference activity changes during this time.

Lesson learned this week: Reference via email can be tricky; it is important to establish the role of the reference librarian in these situations, so as to make clear that we are not research assistants.


I am the Assistant Director for Public Services at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law. My research interests include exploring how emerging and existing technologies can be used to enhance library services and legal education as well as how to address knowledge gaps and meet the educational expectations of today's law students.

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