Posted in Outreach

Adventures in Working Remotely, Day 3 (or is it 5)?

As I roll into week two of working remotely, I feel like I’m falling into more of a routine. But I have to admit, the weekend had me a bit stymied. With all activities cancelled, one day looks the same as the next, so should I just go ahead and follow the same day-to-day schedule through the weekend too? Or is that just a recipe for burnout? (In fairness, I have a tendency to work on the weekends, whether I’ve been told to work remotely or not, so it’s not much of a stretch for me, but I have to say, when I woke up on Saturday, it felt like just another day of the week, not the weekend.) When you’re working from home, do you have strategies for disambiguating your work life from the rest of your life?

Our remote classes began today. I haven’t heard any horror stories yet, other than the recordings taking a bit longer than usual to render and be made available. Strange though the circumstances may be, it feels good to get back to some kind of normal, with students (virtually) back in class, programming resuming (via Zoom), and all of our eyes set on finishing out the semester. As frustrating as working remotely can be, as isolating as it is, I can’t help but feel inspired. We have all been thrust into this unprecedented situation, and rather than accept defeat, everyone’s rising to the challenge, finding new ways to stay connected, maintain community. Student groups and offices are hosting social media challenges (I love the hashtag IUZoomington!), and it makes me want to join in too. The Law Library certainly has many plans for serving our patrons remotely. Planned workshops for the spring are moving to an online format, and I’ve reached out to a number of vendors to get temporary online access to The Bluebook, West Academic Study Aids, Wolters Kluwer Study Aids, and more. But what else can we do? A library, after all, is so much more than a building. I’ve got some ideas rattling around in my over-stimulated brain, so I’ll be sure to report back as these new initiatives take full form. But for tonight, I’m glad to have the Maurer community back together, however far apart we may actually be, and I’m excited to see how we wrap up this decidedly unusual semester.

Meanwhile, my new coworker is living his best life, and loving this work-from-home thing. Stay healthy!




Posted in Lessons Learned, Technology

Adventures in Working Remotely: Day 2

A second day of remote working in the books. Today was a mix of (1) trying to get back to that ever-growing to-do list of routine work and (2) continuing to sort out COVID-19 contingency plans. Today’s contingency plan focus: student workers. With the library closed, our student workers are out of work (they can’t exactly work the Circulation Desk), which feels unjust and, for some, unaffordable. I’ve been in several meetings about this over the last couple of weeks, looking for solutions, and surveying colleagues at other law libraries about their approach to this issue. Like many, this week our University took the position of saying students will be paid, but ideally by assigning them to alternative tasks.

A few challenges present themselves with this solution: First, you have to find enough tasks to cover all student workers, for the duration of the closure. Second, you have to supervise them on those tasks, and in some instances, train them. Third, for the students, these new jobs are not what they originally signed up for; it disrupts their schedule, and may actually create more work than they had originally (esp. if their previous job was working the Circulation Desk, where they could often study during shifts). But, as emphasized yesterday, these closure contingencies are all about adaptability, so adapt we do.

At first, the idea of coming up with a huge number of projects seemed overwhelming and impossible (talk to me in two weeks – I might feel that again as the projects start to dry up!); but as it turns out, the more I think of projects, the more projects come to mind. It’s hard to know how long each will take, but I feel confident that, at least to start out, I’ve got assignments for everyone. And you know, I’m actually sort of excited about it! I decided this year I was going to get back into writing, so I have a list of article ideas I’m sitting on, and suddenly I have a pool of potential research assistants. Several other librarians have come up with projects as well, as have other departments. We all have projects waiting in the wings, and times like these are a great opportunity to heat them up. Could this closure actually be more productive for us in the end? Probably not in reality, but it is certainly allowing us to expand our list of active projects, which is not something I’d anticipated.

Yesterday’s work was sponsored by Outlook, Slack, and Zoom. Today a new sponsor entered the ring: Trello. I’m a fan of Trello boards for organizing my own work. (Full disclosure: I got a little “board-happy” when I first started using it, and it actually became a little overwhelming, so I backed off and simplified to using boards to make lists of agenda items for the growing number of meetings I report to and brainstorming for potential presentation proposals and articles.) To manage our student workers’ assignments during this closure, I’m stepping up my Trello game to use it for project management. I have checklists for each student, showing what project I have assigned to them (so far), and who’s supervising it. This helps me keep track both of the projects and the students they’re assigned to. Simple, but effective, and definitely putting my mind at ease, which is not an easy feat these days!

These are challenging times, but the funny thing about challenging times is that they often bring about creative solutions. I’m determined to stay positive throughout this, so I focus on these moments of creativity, the lessons we can learn, the improvements that will come out of this experience, and the many ways we can come together (just not physically!) as a community to be there for each other.

communicationI admire the way my University has handled things so far. Indiana University was quick to act, and has shown great care in ensuring they meet the needs of the faculty, staff, and students. The decisions they’ve had to make – like closing the dorms, deciding whether staff should work remotely, determining what university functions are essential, thrusting us all into remote teaching – are not easy decisions, and were not made lightly. True, the policies continue to be adjusted, tweaked, and updated on a near-daily basis as the numbers of COVID-19 cases in Indiana continue to grow exponentially, but as frustrating as it can feel having to readjust our plans every time the policies change, I’m glad they continue to change – it shows me that the University realizes the importance of being flexible, not rigid, and continuing to make safety our number one priority. I appreciate the level of transparency I have felt throughout this process. The number of statements from campus and university leaders help keep us informed, which is so much preferable to feeling like you’re constantly in the dark. In turn, that’s my goal with my constituents as well: transparency. Lay it out there, let them know what I know, and also what I don’t know, but what I’m going to find out! I have emailed my staff on an almost daily basis since this all began (go ahead, ask them!). I’ve tried to keep students in my class informed from day one as well. We are all affected by these closures in different ways, and I think more communication is better than scant. Are they getting tired of my emails? Maybe. But no one’s said that yet. So keep it up, IU, and so will I.

Before I close for the night, I have to do a little more bragging. This time, I have to thank my colleagues. The librarians and staff I work with have been incredible through this process, very supportive, flexible, and accepting of the adjustment to working remotely. The senior staff have been cooperative, coordinating, and quick to lend a hand or offer solution. Our Dean has been equally or perhaps even more transparent than the University in communication with the law school community. And the students? Wow. I can’t imagine this happening to me when I was in law school, and how I would have handled it, but the students have been amazing. They’re asking great questions, and showing a real investment in their education and their community, and I couldn’t be prouder. The student workers in the library who have responded to me so far today, rather than bemoaning the situation, have shown an enthusiasm for taking on alternative work assignments. I know I’m biased, but every year I feel like Maurer has the best of everything – amazing staff, amazing faculty, and amazing students. Now is no exception.

The funny thing about enthusiasm? It’s contagious. And a much better thing to catch than coronavirus. Stay healthy.

Posted in Lessons Learned

Adventures in Working Remotely: Day 1

Long time, no post. In truth, I’ve been dying to get back to this, but have negative amounts of time these days; however, as I move into working remotely, along with the rest of the country, I thought this would a great time to jump back in and document that transition.

On March 6th, Indiana had its first confirmed case of COVID-19. Today – 20 days later – we are at 465 cases. In response, like most, if not all, other schools, the University moved to online instruction for all classes for the remainder of the semester. The libraries stayed open for a period of time after that, but closed this week; the Law Library closed just yesterday. The governor issued a stay-at-home order this week as well, in effect through April 6th. In the past three weeks, we have all worked furiously on contingency plans, and as the virus spreads, those plans get rewritten at the same rapid rate. First lesson learned: It’s hard to write a solid contingency plan, because you cannot anticipate every contingency! Rather, we have to learn to be flexible and adaptable, and go into situations like this knowing that, for a while at least, things will change on a daily basis.

Libraries, I believe, were made for this. The library is not just the books it collects (physical or electronic); it is a space and it is a service, and those spaces and services do not have to be physical either. Creating a plan for the services the library could offer if/when we closed was not particularly hard. We cannot offer our physical collection, but our virtual collections are still accessible to IU patrons. We cannot take walk-up reference appointments, but we can take virtual appointments via Zoom or chat. We can continue to offer guest lectures and other library programming through a virtual environment. We can reach out to vendors and ask for temporary access to virtual materials. Yes, whether it’s stuff, space, or service, the library is nothing if not adaptable. The modern library strives to reflect and support the changing needs of its community. Well, the community’s needs have definitely changed now!

Today was my first full day of working remotely. I set up my home office last night, and wrote out an organized, hourly schedule… which didn’t go at all according to plan. Ah, well. It’s just day one. Despite my plans, my work day was sponsored by Outlook, Zoom, and Slack. I emailed back and forth with students about reference requests, and what they could use in the absence of a physical volume in the collection. I emailed back and forth with vendors, many of whom are being very accommodating in offering access to their e-products for students who went home for Spring Break, only to learn that they would not be returning to campus. To those vendors, I say, thank you. The whole world is having to adjust and adapt to this new, suddenly remote environment, and I appreciate your efforts to help ease the adjustment. I sat in on several Zoom meetings, helping faculty prepare to give online exams and adjust to remote teaching, and working with other department heads in the law school to continue modifying and clarifying our remoting policies. I chatted with my librarians and staff about student support, new resources, and the challenges of adjusting to remote working. The day went quickly, and I got through a fraction of what I thought I would. Second lesson learned: Keep your plans simple, because other things will come up. For tomorrow, I’ll focus on a couple of projects only, to allow for needed flexibility.

Third lesson learned: My new coworker handles Zoom meetings fairly well, but will bark at any and all noises heard out the window, whether I’m muted or not. I guess this will be an adjustment for both of us.

Gus, my COVID-19 Co-Worker

That’s all for today. Stay healthy!

Posted in In the News, Teachable Moments

Fake News and the Librarian

It seems like often when libraries are brought up in the news, it’s someone suggesting that the library is an outdated, arcane institution. Who needs libraries when everything’s online? Librarians will surely be replaced by artificial intelligence. Blah, blah, blah. If you ask someone who works at a library whether they feel they’re being replaced by newer technologies, most of us would reply with a resounding ‘no’ (and the snarkier among us might add in an eyeroll for finesse). But asking someone who’s in a particular profession whether that profession is doomed to die out isn’t always as meaningful as hearing it from an outside perspective, so I am thrilled when libraries are recognized by non-librarians for their continued contributions to society, even if that recognition is simply a celebrity’s delight at how wonderful libraries are. It was, therefore, my pleasure last week to see an article from Forbes singing the praises of reference librarians in the fight again fake news (Kalev Leetaru, “Could Public Reference Librarians Help Us Combat Digital Falsehoods?” (Aug. 20, 2019)).

info-overload-blogWhen I teach students about legal research, this is one of the points I like to drive home. Long before “fake news” became a household phrase, we lived in an era of information overload. It’s true that we have an inordinate amount of information at our fingertips, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to find. You still have to possess some minimum research skills to track down your data from the sea it swims in. And yes, fake news makes that dive all the harder. In librarianship (and other fields), we talk about the need to teach individuals information literacy, not only how to track down information, but how to evaluate its authoritativeness (another facet of this is digital literacy, which brings with it its own problems, but we’ll save that for another post). This is a recurring theme in my legal research classroom, comparing free and low-cost resources, assessing their strengths and weaknesses, and gaining the skills to know where to go first to find the answers to a variety of research questions. This helps students understand, for instance, why Lexis and Westlaw are such expensive products in the “real world” — they’re reputable, they’re reliable, and they combine the best parts of both smart search algorithms and editorial teams to create their product. It’s also wonderful to surprise students by showing them that the best place to find particular types of legal documents may not be Lexis or Westlaw; that, for instance, and provide authenticated versions of federal government documents, authentication that Lexis and Westlaw do not provide (bonus: both sites are free!).

I also make it a point to dispel any rumors that a course about research is naturally anti-Google. We are not. Google is an excellent research tool — I use it in a large percentage of the reference questions I’m asked — we simply stress that you don’t end there. You have to evaluate the resources you uncover before you decide to rely on them. And to be an efficient researcher, you have to know the best resources to go to for particular research questions. Both of these requisites go toward your competency and trustworthiness as a budding lawyer.

But Mr. Leetaru’s article, rightly, isn’t talking about a classroom. Reference librarians have the ability to teach these skills to patrons at the point of need as well (which is arguably far more memorable than in a classroom). Public libraries, whether we’re talking about a city or county public library or an academic library at a public college or university, see patrons from all walks of life, from the highly educated to those without a high school diploma. All seeking information. I work reference at a law school library, but because I’m at a public university, we are still open to patrons of all types, not just law students and faculty, and we receive questions from self-represented litigants, local attorneys, faculty and students from other parts of the university, and people from other parts of the state, the country, and the world. Libraries are community-driven, and we’re here to serve all. But no matter how educated you are, no matter your background, if you haven’t taken a class that specifically dealt with the evaluation of information, you may still struggle with information overload and information reliability. As Leetaru points out, there are a number of tools out there to ferret out fake news, but one of the best is still indisputably the reference librarian.

Posted in Lessons Learned, Teaching

Reflection as Change

journal-for-blogWith a new semester beginning, I find myself thinking about what, if anything, I’d like to change with my teaching this year. I’m a firm believer that there’s always something that can be tweaked; in fact, I tend to be at the opposite end of the spectrum, with all sorts of ideas of things I’d like to try. In my experience, however, moderation is always best, so I’m trying to focus on one or two new/different tweaks this semester.

One thing I plan to do is keep a teaching journal. I teach the same topics in my research course each semester, with the same basic assignments, but of course, nothing is really ever the same. Last semester, for instance, I lectured on a topic I’ve done several times before and barely made it through the lecture content, without any meaningful time for the planned in-class exercise. What did I do differently? How can I avoid that time-suck again? Regrettably, I didn’t keep a journal at the time; I just have an ever-fading memory of the event. The same thing happens with assignments. I typically make new questions for most of my assignments, but I’ll occasionally recycle questions from several semesters ago if I thought they were particularly good. Every once in a while, I’ll discover a problem with a question, whether it’s ambiguous language or the law has changed and the question’s now irrelevant or unworkable, and I’ll think to myself, ‘don’t use this one again‘. Yet, when I decide to recycle a question, I go to a former answer key to grab it; that answer key doesn’t have any notes about what questions worked and what didn’t. And the cycle repeats itself.

How can you avoid those cyclical teaching errors? One method is self-evaluation. We’re used to getting student evaluations at the end of each semester, and those can be great measurements of your teaching; but it’s also important to evaluate yourself. One simple way to do this is the humble journal. In their book Dynamic Lecturing, Christine Harrington and Todd Zakrajsek promote reflective journaling as an effective self-evaluation practice. Several reasons they list for the advantages of maintaining a journal address the problems I noted, above: you’re more likely to actually make changes to your teaching if you’ve written them down; even when you think about things you’d like to change for the future, as time passes, those ideas fade (unless, again, you’ve written them down).

But they also list a few other advantages to maintaining a reflective teaching journal that only served to reinforce my commitment to trying this method out this year: “Keeping a reflective teaching journal can help us be more intentional as we reflect on our teaching practices…. [W]e are more likely to approach the reflection process in a thoughtful, comprehensive way when we write rather than just think about our teaching…. [J]ournals can become an excellent way to reflect on our overall growth as educators. Rereading journal entries can reinforce the changes and improvements that were made” (Harrington & Zakrajsek, 152-53).

I appreciate Harrington and Zakrajsek’s more expansive thoughts on the usefulness of journaling, that it’s not just about the minutia of what went right/wrong in each lecture, but also about seeing how our own teaching styles and philosophies change over time. It’s actually kind of fascinating to go back and look at how your work product has changed over time. I’m doing that for a different course right now, redoing some tutorials for a first-year writing course, and I realized that my method of presenting the same information has changed significantly in just the seven short years I’ve been teaching.

So my initial challenge to myself for the semester is to keep a journal about the course I co-teach each semester, so that I will have a written record of my thoughts on what should and shouldn’t change for the spring. But my further challenge to myself is to consider expanding on this, to create a reflection practice about other aspects of my work. Will this be a journal? Not necessarily. After all, things like the tutorials don’t change every year, so this reflection may not be as regular as a journal entry after every lecture. But I think it would be interesting to look back and see how similar work product (like PowerPoints on a similar topic in 2012 v. 2019) has changed over time and reflect on what that means about my development as an educator. With the school year starting this week, that’s the challenge I set for myself. I’ll report back in May. Stay tuned…

Posted in Teaching

Context/Skill Divide in [Legal Research] Education

apple2-blogThe more I teach, the more I find myself researching in education literature (no surprise there, I guess). Whether or not I’m reading about legal education, my thoughts always lead me to how I can apply what I’m reading to law schools, and especially, legal research.

I read an interesting article from The Atlantic this week about elementary education in the U.S. and how the push for reading comprehension skills may be backfiring in terms of producing better educated children. (Natalie Wexler, “Elementary Education Has Gone Terribly Wrong,” The Atlantic (Aug. 2019).)

The article was fascinating, and quite worth the read, but I’ll summarize my takeaways. Essentially, Wexler writes about the disconnect students have with reading material when they’re focused solely on practicing the skills of reading comprehension, such as identifying the main idea, drawing conclusions, comparing and contrasting, etc., or as Wexler puts it, “‘learning to read’ before ‘reading to learn’.” This all sounds practical, right? Well, as it turns out, all this focus on comprehension skills isn’t actually producing better readers. And in fact, it’s causing an achievement gap between kids from wealthier families versus kids from families with less resources. Wexler goes on to describe a number of case studies in which content, rather than skill, was the focus of learning, where the results showed far less of an achievement divide, and, in fact, a greater enthusiasm to learn from even those students with weaker reading skills.

So, how does this relate to legal research? Quite a bit, I think. While reading the article, I couldn’t help but think, gosh, I teach a skills-focused course… am I doing my students a disservice? Are we so focused on skill mastery that I’m creating an achievement divide? Thankfully, I believe I’ve talked myself off of that proverbial ledge. I don’t think a legal research course is quite the same context; however, I do think there are things we can learn from this article to help us be more effective legal research instructors. Namely, a research skill on its own has less meaning than when it’s put in context. That is, an assignment question that says, “Find a legal encyclopedia article that says ____,” doesn’t reinforce the context in which a legal encyclopedia can be helpful in research. Crafting the question around a brief hypothetical, that puts into context a scenario in which a legal encyclopedia might be your best bet would be more meaningful. Following that up with an extension on the hypothetical that asks the student to find an answer to a question that won’t be in an encyclopedia, but might be in a law review article (for instance, some currently developing legal topic that wouldn’t have been published yet in an encyclopedia) would be a great way to have students compare and contrast (one of those pesky reading comp skills) the varying usefulness of each resource.

If you’re teaching a legal research course that’s tied to a particular seminar, you can get even more context-driven, since the students are all learning the same subject. Relate the research skills to that. However, if, like me, you teach a survey course in Advanced Legal Research, with a mix of 2nd- and 3rd-year students, their backgrounds are far less uniform. One thing they do all have in common, though, are the first-year subjects they took, which is why our final capstone assignment typically involves tortious conduct. So never fear! All is not lost when teaching a skills-focused course. Just remember that context and content familiarity augment mastery of skills, and construct your course accordingly.

By the way, Wexler’s article is adapted from her book, The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System & How to Fix It. Guess what’s going on my ‘To Read’ list?

Posted in AALL

Conference FOMO? How to Embrace What You Learned at AALL without Getting Overwhelmed by It

Well, it’s been several years now since I blogged here, but I’m bringing it back! I got a little busy, and the blog took a backseat, but for many reasons, I feel like I’m in a good place to bring it back to life, so here’s day one!

My renewed desire to blog was inspired in part by a session I attended at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) a couple of weeks ago (Just Write It: Embracing Your Inner Author). That meeting also inspired the subject of today’s post: FOMO – the fear of missing out.

I love continuing education. I love attending conferences and CLE presentations and getting inspired to make a large number of changes to my work life when I return home, whether that’s implementing a new tool, updating how I teach, or changing my workflow to be more productive. But lately I feel like another sensation rivals my excitement at conferences: FOMO. I hear about all these amazing things that other libraries and librarians are doing, and I start to feel… inadequate. Why does my library not do that? Are we falling behind the curve? Are we failing to adequately serve our patrons? Do we need to completely change our operational procedures?

As you likely know, FOMO is a term (or, really, acronym) inspired by the anxiety that social media can bring on, when you start comparing your life to others’ based on what people are posting about their own families/vacations/purchases/etc. I would argue (based on my own experiences) that conference FOMO can generate similar anxiety about work.

So what do you do? Stop going to conferences? No way! There’s a lot to be learned at conferences, and learning from your peers can help you make needed changes that will increase the value of your library’s services to your patrons. What we need to focus on is the inspiration conferences generate, while not allowing all that inspiration to overwhelm us.

My advice: focus on one or two small changes you’d like to bring to your library in the short-term, and place others on a longer-term to do list. That, at least, is my plan. I chose two small things I can focus on in my personal work this year, and one thing I’d like to try in my department. One of those small changes? Start blogging again! (Check) Another? Start getting to work an hour early (h/t Jamie Baker) to blog or work on other writing projects. Not everyone has that luxury, but it’s an easy adjustment for me. Today was my first day implementing that change as well. (Check) It’s 8:57, and my first blog post is almost done. And guess what? It’s very quiet at my library an hour before reference opens! This has been a very productive hour for me! I know it’s only day one, but by focusing on just a couple of initiatives I was fired up about at AALL this year, I (so far) feel inspired, rather than anxious. No mo’ FOMO!

Posted in Uncategorized

Too Crowded? The Pros and Cons of Crowdsourcing Legal Research

My latest for RIPS Law Librarian:

RIPS Law Librarian Blog

crowdsourcingA few weeks ago, I gave a lecture in our Advanced Legal Research course on free and low-cost legal research. This is not a new lecture topic for me. Typically, we focus on Fastcase and Casemaker for the low-cost resources, and Justia, FindLaw, Google Scholar, and government websites (among others) for the free resources. Recently, however, a number of legal research startups have come on the market that are attempting to change traditional legal research in some way. Ravel Law, for instance, approaches legal research through a data visualization lens. What I have found particularly interesting, however, is the trend toward crowdsourcing legal research.

“Crowdsourcing is the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.” I took this definition from Wikipedia, which seems fitting given that Wikipedia…

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Posted in Uncategorized

Are We the “Parents at the Party?”: Assessing the Use of Multiple Communication Channels with Today’s Students

My latest post for the RIPS Law Librarian blog – on communication strategies with today’s students.

RIPS Law Librarian Blog

Sept-ImageIn an age of pervasive social media and constant connection to the digital world, colleges and universities – and therefore libraries – find themselves questioning how best to reach our students. Naturally, we experiment with a variety of methods, from chat and text reference to Facebook and Twitter accounts and more, resulting in scattered communication channels. The question then becomes: Is it beneficial to send your message out through a wide array of channels, thereby casting the widest net? Or is this actually counter-productive because students then lack a central channel for receiving communications from the university?

The Survey

Last spring, I surveyed our students about the Law Library’s communication channels –  everything from our Twitter feed and Facebook page to our digital sign,

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