Posted in Internship

Law Reference Internship, Week 16

Final Week

This marks the final week of my reference internship at Maurer School of Law.  While for the rest of campus this is the last week of classes, for the law school it is the first week of exams.  To be honest, I was not sure what to expect: either everyone would be so engrossed in studying for finals that the reference office would be dead quiet, or everyone would be so stressed in their studies that we would be flooded with reference questions.  As I learned, the former possibility prevailed.

Monday and Thursday were very quiet, with only a few directional questions asked.

On Tuesday I had a phone-in reference interaction with a law librarian at a firm in another town.  An attorney in her firm was looking for a resource; she gave me the citation and a name.  The citation she gave me was to a case reporter, so I assumed the name was a party to the case.  But the date she provided did not match up to the reporter volume in the citation.  I explained this to her and she got a little defensive and said that it was not a citation to a reporter, but rather to a law review.  I checked the Bluebook (legal citation guide) just to be sure, and confirmed that she (or rather her attorney) had given me an incorrect citation – the abbreviation she had given me was indeed to a reporter, but she had intended to give me a citation to a law review.  After figuring that out, the rest was easy; I tracked down the article, calculated what the charge would be to her firm for me to send them the article, and she ended the transaction gratefully.

On Wednesday I spent the bulk of my shift working on a reference question on Indiana law for a law professor.  In this case I was tracking down news reports on a state constitutional amendment that had been voted on by referendum by the people of Indiana.  Finding the news articles was simple, and I was able to send the professor several that answered his question.  I spent additional time, however, trying unsuccessfully to track down any official explanations of the proposed amendment, generated either by a government department or agency or a citizens’ advocacy group.  The librarian with whom I was working and I were surprised that our collective efforts at finding such a document still came up empty-handed.  Nevertheless, we did actually supply the professor with what he requested, so the interaction was still an overall success.

Each week this semester I have ended my posts with a lesson learned that week.  This being my last week, however, I would like to end with a reflection on the entire internship experience:  I am surprised how natural the act of serving as a reference librarian felt for me.  Since I have not had the opportunity to do much legal research in the past two years during my SLIS coursework, I will admit that I was very nervous when I first started my intern shifts; however, the beginning of the semester brought high reference activity, and there really was no time to be skittish – I just had to jump in.  As it turns out, getting back in to legal research was like riding a bike.  This is not say that every reference transaction was simple; that’s what I love about legal reference – the challenge!  Before starting my librarianship path, I never would have guessed that working in libraries would be such an unpredictable career, but I was certainly mistaken.  One of the things I loved most about my internship experience was never knowing what the next shift would bring.  I worked with all nature of patrons – from the general public; to law, graduate, and undergraduate students; to professors; to judges and attorneys – on all nature of questions.  And I quickly learned that in this profession asking your colleagues for help is not a sign of weakness or lack of skill, but is rather the innate nature of the profession, a sign of the camaraderie and collaborative atmosphere of librarianship.  I certainly asked my share of advice from the librarians in the reference department, and they, in turn, would ask my assistance in tracking down answers to reference questions they had received.

In summary, my final lesson learned for the semester is this: After sixteen weeks of orientation to the world of academic law librarianship, I am 100% certain that this is the career path for me.

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.

Posted in Internship

Law Reference Internship, Week 14

Perhaps this is the lull before exams (for the law school they start in one week!), but the desk has been fairly quiet this week.  (No complaints here – I have plenty of my own work to keep me busy!)

Most of my traffic has been directional queries – where to locate certain resources, for example.  One patron called in looking for an electronic version of the U.S. Constitution with all amendments; I knew this had to be available for free, probably in several locations, so I went to and found it quite easily.  I immediately saw what his problem had been, however.  Many of the resources contain only the Constitution, without the amendments, or only the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  The source at the National Archives held everything, but I did have to inform the patron how to get there and where to look for the amendments, as they were linked to separately from the Constitution itself.

I also feel it necessary to relay an embarrassing event from today.  A patron came in looking for a federal tax form.  He knew the form number, but said he had had difficulty finding it online, and was only finding instructions to it.  Honestly, I googled it, and the IRS website was the first hit.  I was directed first to the instructions (my patron’s frustration!), but the second hit on the list was to an IRS web page of frequently requested tax forms.  This specific form was not there, but I did find it in a list of all tax forms by searching for the specific form number.  All in all a success.  However, he now wanted it printed out.  I do not have printer access in the reference office, because the interns apparently never do, but I knew that the library had two public access stations with attached printers, so I took the patron out to use those.  In order to use them, public patrons have to give up their ID in exchange for the log-in information for the computer.  As I was trying to acquire this the circulation director intervened, informing me that the patron was not a member of the public, as I had assumed, but was in fact a professor at the law school!  (This is the disadvantage of working and interning at the law school while never having attended here!)  I apologized for my mistake, emailed the form to one of the other reference librarians, and she printed it out for the professor, who seemed pretty amused by the whole situation.  No permanent harm done to my ego, however; I regularly embarrass myself, so I’m used to it.  But:

Lesson learned this week: Don’t assume anything (especially that you know what type of patron you’re dealing with!)!

Posted in Internship

Law Reference Internship, Week 13

As we get closer to finals, I’ve noticed that the reference desk is getting busier and busier, this week being no exception.

On Monday I assisted several types of patrons with questions: I helped track down the best resource for a student in a law librarianship course; I aided a pro se patron in locating print resources on Indiana case law; I suggested resources and search strategies for a law student working on a comparative law paper.  Finally, I worked on an email reference question one of the reference librarians had received.  This question sought information on a brand new Indiana law the patron had heard mention of (by description, not title or citation!) and wanted to learn more about.  All in all, a busy but productive day!

Tuesday (as seems to be typical) was a little quieter than Monday.  A professor from another campus department called in looking for electronic legal resources available to non-law affiliates that she could use to conduct some education law research.  Originally she was asking for access to Westlaw, but, since this is only available to the law school community, we recommended Lexis Nexis Academic instead, as its contents are coextensive with the law community’s Lexis access.  At the end of my shift, one of the law librarianship students was replacing me at the desk to work some reference hours as a part of her coursework, so for the last five minutes or so I talked to her about what sorts of questions I have seen most often and generally what to expect at the desk.

This Wednesday I worked an evening reference shift for a librarian who was out of town, in addition to the three afternoon hours I always work on Wednesdays.  During the afternoon, I worked with another pro se patron who wanted to see some current petitions for grant of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court, as the patron was planning to make a similar petition soon.  I found that the simplest place to locate current petitions was on the Court’s website, under the Docket information; I showed the patron what I had found and how I had gotten there, and the patron was very grateful for the assistance.  I also had an international student getting her SJD come by a couple of times, asking that I edit some letters for her to make sure they were professional and polite.  Personally, I really enjoy editing, so I was happy to help; talking to a librarian afterward, however, I was advised that the staff is split on whether this is an appropriate role for a reference librarian to fill.  I think I’ll talk to my internship advisor for his opinion on what I should do in the future.  Surprisingly, the evening was quite popular as well!  A journalism student I worked with last Tuesday when filling in evening hours was back for more communications law resources.  I found a few good databases and directed her to the FCC’s website (she was looking for current events in communications law), and she was thrilled with what I found!  She later returned with a legal citation she had found that she needed to have “interpreted” for her.  Experiences with students such as her reinforce for me why I want to be a law librarian.  I also spoke to a 1L that evening; at first he came in because he knows I am a student preparing to be a law librarian, and he is interested in knowing a student’s perspective on this career path; but as we talked he actually ended up with a reference question for me on behalf of a friend.  The friend was looking for resources on American legal history bibliographies, and after an IUCAT search, I was able to direct this student to several titles that would be helpful for his friend.

As is often typical of Thursdays, this Thursday ended my internship week on a quite note.  A few patrons came in with directional questions, and a law student phoned in wondering whether there was any access to the Bluebook (handbook on legal citation) anywhere online, because she did not have access to her print copy.  I explained that there was not a free e-Bluebook, but told her of a LibGuide at Georgetown on Bluebook for cases and statutes.  However, I cautioned her that I could not guarantee the completeness of the information on that site, and that the best advice I could give would be for her to come to the library and use one of our print copies.
Lesson learned this week: I suppose this is a given, but it did come up with week – just because a patron says “I searched [insert name of resource] and found nothing” doesn’t mean there was nothing there – it just means the patron didn’t find it.  It never hurts to go back and check that resource again.

Posted in Internship

Law Reference Internship, Week 12

This week has remained consistently active at the reference desk as well.

Monday in particular I worked with a law student on finding non-law purposes for a paper the student was working on, and also pointed out to the student that some non-law sources, such as newspaper articles, can be found on our legal databases to which they are more accustomed.  For the first time, a professor phoned in needing help navigating the search capabilities of a database; I was particularly pleased with the success of this transaction, because I had not yet worked with a professor and wondered how such an interaction might play out.  I had a couple of students come with “directional” questions, needing help with issues such as computer problems for which I directed them to the computer technician in the library.  Just as Monday came to a close, another phone interview consisted of a public patron desiring interpretation of the Indiana statutory code.  This was tricky for me, because I have to be so careful not to cross the line into legal interpretation, which would constitute the unauthorized practice of law.  Another librarian in the reference office guided me through how best to handle it, and, while the patron may not have gotten exactly what s/he was looking for, I directed the patron to the best code citation to answer the question, giving as much information as I ethically could.

The rest of the week was far less busy; Tuesday evening I worked the lone reference shift and aided an undergraduate in the beginnings of basic legal research; this patron returned with more questions while I was on the desk Wednesday afternoon, and I provided some further assistance.

Lesson learned this week: This week I learned that in a situation that could involve unauthorized practice of law, we generally direct the patron to the best legal resource and citation for answering the question.  Even reading the cited text to the patron (ex: in a phone interview) can pose problems, because the librarian may err in the reading or the patron may mishear what is being read.  While it may not always seem satisfactory to the patron, the best solution is to give the best citation possible, and leave the patron to look it up.


Posted in Internship

Law Reference Internship, Week 11

Week 10 of the semester was spring break, so I had a brief respite from my internship.  It’s probably a good thing too, because this week has been surprisingly busy at the reference desk!

On Tuesday in particular I was flooded with patrons.   A patron from another school on campus had questions about Indiana educational law and policy, so I took her to the print Indiana reference collection and explained how the Indiana Code and the Indiana Administrative Code are organized, and also directed her to other Indiana references that provide a little more explanation and discussion of topics.  Later that day I worked with a patron from a student organization who was trying to locate helpful documents for a client of that organization; for this interaction I employed the help of the government documents librarian, but we determined that no one document existed to answer the patron’s question, but rather required several resources.  Several quick interactions that day came from students from a class with a research assignment due; these students simply needed instruction on the use of the two major legal databases, Lexis and Westlaw.  Finally, a patron came in seeking legal assistance of a personal nature and I directed her to a community legal clinic run by the law school.  And that was all in a short, 3-hour window!

The rest of the week quieted down a bit.  I continued to have questions from students in the class with the coming-due research assignment.  Since they all had the same research question, it became easier to answer as the interactions went on!  Most of these questions really came down to database instruction, and I was happy to gain some experience in this area.

Lesson learned this week: In an academic library setting, it can be beneficial for reference librarians to stay up-to-date on upcoming research assignments for which reference assistance may be sought.  Especially when the assignment is the same for every student, it is highly likely that the librarians will see the same questions day in and day out; while the questions this week were simple to answer right off hand, preparation and anticipation are great benefits.

Posted in Internship

Law Reference Internship, Week 9

Without noticing, half my internship has flown by!  With spring break on the horizon, reference desk activity has continued to be light; still, the patron requests that have come in I have handled quite professionally with little need for outside assistance.

The ongoing research project I have been assisting with for most of the semester is progressing quite nicely.  The librarian with whom I have been working on this will be presenting the fruits of our labor for a group of professionals in April, so we are working furiously to finish the project by then.

I had an interesting phone interaction this week with a librarian at an out-of-state law firm requiring Indiana administrative law assistance; although the Indiana Register is now online, it is not so in its entirety, and she needed an earlier citation.  What was interesting was the middleman role she played.  We sent her the first document she requested, only to find out the next day that the attorney for whom she was working wanted to try and find other references to the Indiana Administrative Code citation in earlier registers.  This ended up being a case of a non-answerable reference question, but I was able to provide both the proposed and final rules for the attorney.  Wanting to make sure I had not missed any other useful resources, I sought the advice of another member of the reference staff; after explaining the situation, I was surprised when this librarian told me that the information I had found was correct, but that I should do no more for this attorney.  Which leads me to my lesson of the week:

Lesson learned: While it is my job as a reference intern to assist patrons with their questions, it is not my job to conduct attorneys’ research for them.  The situation would be different if I were an intern at the firm, but at an academic institution, this is not my role.

Posted in Internship

Law Reference Internship, Week 8

This week has been project-intensive for my internship.  The desk has been relatively quiet compared to other weeks, which has allowed me to cover much more ground on my assigned reference project; the initial phase of it is nearly complete – soon we will be discussing how to present it online.

In addition, two other reference librarians came to me with projects this week.  I am grateful that so many members of the reference staff have sought me out for assistance on their projects.  Each project is completely different from the last, giving me a better understanding of the broad range of research interests in this field.

Although the reference desk was quieter than it has been, it was by no means silent!  Much of my direct work with patrons this week has involved assistance in tracking down books and electronic resources, resulting in one-on-one instruction in database and OPAC search strategies.  I quite enjoy these individualized teaching experiences, and added to the new reference projects I have been asked to assist with, I count this a quite satisfactory week!

Lesson learned this week: Research interests and endeavors are seemingly limitless in law librarianship; most anything one might think of in this field could be of benefit to the profession, the public, or one’s patrons.

Posted in Internship

Law Reference Internship, Week 7

This week I gained much more experience with international patrons, who can sometimes prove challenging if the language barrier is high.  One of these students I actually worked with twice this week – the first time another reference librarian and I were suggesting resources to help with an extensive research project he was working on; he was slightly aggravated at one point during this interaction, as one of the resources we were recommending contained a legal term of art in the title, the meaning of which, in ordinary parlance, made the resource seem completely inappropriate to his needs.  Nevertheless, we were able to explain what the term meant in this case, and he seemed satisfied with our assistance.  Later this week, the patron returned, having interlibrary-loaned this resource and now needing assistance finding the laws referenced therein online.  This was a much more comprehensible interaction for him, and I believe he was quite satisfied with the assistance.

Yesterday I helped another international student with some complicated legal citations, giving me a refresher course in Bluebook legal citation styles.  Today I again encountered a not-directly-answerable reference question for an international student; after pouring through the Indiana Practice series, with my gut instinctively telling me what the answer to the question was, I consulted another librarian for confirmation.  She too was uncertain whether there was a direct answer available, but her gut agreed with mine, and we found a citation in another resource that best answered the patron’s question.

As noted in previous posts, I continue to work on a research project for one of the librarians, and have been informed today that another project is lined up for me in the coming weeks.  I was particularly excited to have these “special projects” experiences in this internship, to see what the behind-the-scenes work of the reference librarian entails, so I am thrilled to have so many opportunities to gain this experience.

Lesson learned this week: It’s easy to take for granted legal jargon; when working with a patron, international or not, it is important to ensure they understand what you mean – learning the vocabulary of the law is important for them, but first they need to understand the plain English meaning of the concepts.

Posted in Internship

Law Reference Internship, Week 6

Another week of new experiences at the reference desk!

This week I worked/will work two more evening reference shifts, running the reference office myself.  While not ordinarily too busy, during last night’s shift I did have two patrons from the Legal Bibliography course (which I took last Spring) come in for help finding the correct source to answer one of their assignment questions.  Luckily, I took thorough notes during that course, a strategy that helps me commit facts to memory better, and I was able to direct them to the best available source to answer the question.

I also had a phone-in reference question that required me to scour the Indiana Code to find an answer.  It was a two-part question, and while I was able to find a direct answer to one part, the other had to be inferred by utilizing two separate code sections, an excellent lesson in understanding that not every question has a definitive answer!  Despite the fact that there was only a direct statutory answer to one part of this question, the patron seemed satisfied and grateful for the assistance.

Finally, I continue work on a couple of ongoing projects with one of the reference staff.  Initial feedback on the projects have been quite positive, which, for a long-term project like this, is very reaffirming!

Lesson learned this week: While this does not happen often, not all reference questions have answers, and others have indirect, inferred answers instead.