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 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 Lessons Learned, Teaching

Easier Said Than Done? Constructing Good Legal Research Assignments

frustratedOne of my biggest research interests is legal education, understanding its evolution, current trends, and best practices.  Most of my teaching currently is confined to the standard lecture format, but I look forward to someday trying a flipped classroom and online education.

In addition to course format, I am also deeply interested in best practices for assignment construction.  I don’t currently teach much outside of our four guest lectures for the Legal Research & Writing course each year, and we do not craft the research assignments for that course; but I have assisted a colleague in drafting questions for various research assignments in Advanced Legal Research and other upper level courses.

For the most part, these assignments consist of what I would call “fetch” assignments – a series of short questions that ask the student to simply retrieve various, usually unrelated, legal documents.  This kind of assignment is no stranger, having been around for generations; and its questions, though often unrelated to each other, will speak directly to the skills taught in the preceding lecture and whether or not the student has paid attention.  Of course, this is not the only kind of assignment that corresponds with a research skills course.  Many programs have writing-intensive research assignments, asking students to follow a fact pattern and write a brief or memo, conducting research entirely on their own.  Our own Advanced Legal Research course culminates in the students’ creation of research guides on a topic of their choosing.

There are two key advantages, as I can see it, of these latter, writing-intensive assignments:

  1. Students are put to task to actually show that they know how to research on their own, without being prompted by a pointed question.
  2. These assignments are more likely to leave a lasting impression on the students than a series of random “fetch” questions.  I believe students are more likely to remember these resources and how/when to use them from having completed the more reality-based assignments.

The assignments I have assisted with are fetch assignments, but I try to tie some “reality” to the fetch questions that I create.  For example, my questions usually have a mini hypo at the beginning, such as “A client comes to you asking for…” or “Your boss has asked you to research….”  By starting my questions this way, I hope to convey to the students that these are the kinds of research situations they are likely to confront in the real world.  Often I will use the same hypo for three or four questions as well, to show how one client scenario can cause you to research several different types of primary and secondary sources.  Does this help the students remember the particular resource I was asking them to use?  I don’t know.  I’m sure I could conduct an assessment of this, but remember, this isn’t actually my class – I’m writing these questions for another colleague!

We have noticed, and I’m sure we’re not alone, that students, at least in the first half of the semester, are quite stressed out by these assignments, having become so accustomed to the standard exam-only format of the law school curriculum.  So when we craft questions for these assignments, we try to be as straightforward as possible, and we emphasize to the students that the assignments are not designed to be tricky; we just want to know that they are comprehending the lecture material.  So what has astounded me is how hard it is to construct a question that is actually straightforward.  Even when it seems like I am basically spoon-feeding them, the students will return frustrated, off-the-wall answers.

Therefore, my new research mission, I have decided, is to learn how to construct effective legal research assignments that won’t frustrate the students or me.  (Okay, that exact goal is probably a pipe dream, but you see where I’m going!)  Exploring concepts such as problem-based learning, reverse-engineering courses, and scaffolding assignments, I hope to learn how to better construct research assignments and curricula so that when more teaching responsibilities come my way, I can better ensure that students leaving my classroom have mastered the AALL Legal Research Competencies and are prepared to enter their legal careers as effective legal researchers.


Posted in Lessons Learned, Miscellany, Teachable Moments

Weathering the Storm

This is another installment of “They Don’t Teach You That in Library School.” Today’s topic: Severe Weather

I’ve worked around here long enough to know that we do annual fire drills at the law school, and in my previous role here as a desk attendant, I was trained in what to do when severe weather strikes, but putting it into practice as a professional is another story.

Fortunately, I’ve not actually been here for a real fire evacuation, but drills are interesting.  For the most part, people are very good about evacuating, but you do get two types of lingerers: the students that know it’s a drill and don’t want to leave because they don’t want to “waste” their study time, and international students that don’t understand what’s going on.  I’m sure they’re quite alarmed/confused seeing the librarians racing through each floor of the library, ushering people out.  And of course, it’s not exactly easy to explain the process to them while alarms are blaring in your ears!  Is there a master technique?  I don’t know – I’m up for suggestions.

And then of course, here in Indiana at least, there are tornado watches and warnings.  While with fire drills we are required to get everyone out, with tornado warnings, we strongly urge people to go to the lowest area of the building, but we insist that they at least get away from windows.  If you’re familiar with our Law Library, you’ll know that windows are a key architectural feature for us:

outside-libThat’s not even the best example – our Reading Room is known for it’s natural lighting, with two-story windows and skylights.  So in the event a tornado, this is not the safest place to be!  The insistence on clearing away from windows during warnings usually goes fairly well, with the obligatory grumbling, but what I’m always troubled with is whether to stop people from leaving altogether.

Today for instance when the first sirens went off I could overhear people saying, “I’m just going to outside and see what it looks like.”  Now, we’ve already warned them of the weather conditions – should we stop them?  On the one hand, of course you want to stop them – there’s potentially dangerous weather outside.  On the other hand, I’m not their mother – do I really have the place to force them not to go outside, or can I only strongly discourage it?  Earlier this year, we had another tornado warning, and we followed our usual procedures of clearing people away from windows, telling them where they should go, but not forcing it; and an international student dropped by later to tell us that we should have done more, because she and her international friends didn’t really know what a tornado was and hence what the threat was.  Who’s teachable moment is that?  Should we as librarians have known that they wouldn’t know what this was?  Should it have been covered in their orientation?

Again, these are things that aren’t taught in library school.  I guess the best we can do is follow our procedures, explain along the way, and adapt as necessary.

With the weather clearing up for the moment, I’ll take this chance to get home before the next storm myself!

Posted in Lessons Learned

They Don’t Teach You That in Library School

Lately, the subject around the “watercooler” here has been things that you just don’t know to expect when you enter the world of librarianship.  I took the foundation courses – collection development, reference, cataloging, library management – and those certainly prepared me for the general role I assumed as a reference librarian.  But there are so many other things that occur in this job that I never really imagined when I chose this path.

I’ve written previously, for instance, about my adventures with rodent removal on weekend reference.  And then there are the purchasing decisions outside of collection development, such as whether to replace appliances that keep getting broken or stolen, having to weigh the value against the cost.  I never would have thought that part of my job would pretty much be salesmanship – whether I’m advocating to my colleagues for a product I think we should buy with our limited budget or to the faculty for the services I can provide them as the Educational Technology Librarian.  And then there are all the facility problems that crop up – shoving trashcans under cascading leaks in the library entryway, investigating door alarms that keep going off, and dealing with power outages on the weekends when no one is around to help.  Yes – as it turns out, librarians wear many hats.

Now am I saying that my education was inadequate?  No.  I think these sorts of lessons crop up in any job, and there’s not really a way to prepare for them.  I have certainly found, since day one, that no two days at a library are ever the same – and that’s one of the things I love about working here.  You never know who’s going to come through the doors, and you never know what they’re going to ask.  It keeps life interesting.  I’m not sure there is a class that can teach you common sense or to think on your feet.  It’s life.  It’s random.  It’s interesting.  It’s a library.

Posted in Lessons Learned

When it’s Summertime, but the Fall Semester is Nigh…

It doesn’t seem possible that August could already be half-over!  It seems like we just celebrated graduation, and now we’re getting ready to welcome (and welcome back) our students for another school year.  This was my first full summer as a law librarian, and naively I thought summer would be a time of catching up, charging forward on projects that had sat on the back-burner during the previous school year.  Wrong!  While I have in many ways successfully played catch-up on the ol’ To Do list, it is by no means completed.  The summer absolutely flew by, and I am in awe that the school year is upon us again.

Given the timing, however, it does seem time to reflect upon my summer activities.  Much of my time this summer was spent attending and presenting at various conferences: in May I spoke about various and innovative uses for LibGuides to a couple different groups of librarians; in June I attended the CALI conference, held this year in Chicago; and in July of course I attended and co-presented at the annual meeting of AALL, held this year in Seattle.  When I wasn’t traveling or preparing for these presentations, I was updating two of my research guides, badly in need of makeovers, and working on a long-term research project involving a lot of data analysis.  In addition, I began work on a couple more research guides and began collaborating with colleagues as we gear up for another year of teaching legal research.

Along the way, I learned a few things:

1. When it comes to work, you’re To Do list will never be a Done list – as one task finishes, two more begin, and the cycle continues; of course, this is ultimately a positive – you never want to be in a position that there is nothing left for you to do.

2. Research guides are never truly finished.  Once published, they require updating, including adding new sources, checking for broken links, and revising as source content and layout changes.  If you’re not updating your research guides, they lose their utility.

3. When it comes to research projects involving data analysis, whenever possible, keep at it until it’s done, even if you only work on it for an hour a day.  The project I’m working on has been a year in the making, with about a 6 month break in the middle; when I came back to the data, I found I ultimately had to start over to guard against mistakes and to reacquaint myself with the categories I had initially created.

With only two weeks until classes begin, the summer is unlikely to slow down, but I remain hopeful that I can make a little more progress on my To Do list before then.  (I am not naive enough to believe much progress will be made during the semester!)

I hope you’ve all had productive, yet restful, summers, and I wish you the best of luck with your upcoming academic terms!

Posted in Lessons Learned

A Confession

A confession: when I first got my job as Educational Technology Librarian, I had a list of projects I wanted to do, but there was a part of me that worried that eventually I would run out ideas and have nothing to contribute.  Ha!  If anything, my original list remains unfinished, and continues to grow at a remarkable rate!

Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled (and relieved)!  But staying this busy has made me into a pretty terrible blogger; it’s been months since I last posted!  So let’s catch up:

I have successfully completed my first academic year in the working world.  Spring semester flew by.  In March my article on social media use in law libraries came out in AALL Spectrum.  With April came the end of the semester, a time during which our library offers its “Jumpstart” program, where law students can sign up for small group sessions to review legal research methods and tips to prepare for their summer jobs.  This is one of my favorite services our library offers, and it was really well-attended this year, with some of us offering extra sessions as demand required.  Naively, I thought things would “slow down” once students left for the summer in early May, but so far this has not been the case!

Which brings me to a lesson learned: professional self-restraint!  While it is important to be involved in the profession and seize opportunities to write and present at conferences, be careful what you wish for!  I became something of a volunteer-junkie this Spring, grasping at nearly every opportunity to submit proposals for conference presentations and to write book reviews or articles for publications.  This led me to writing two different book reviews this Spring, as well as editing my article that came out in March; two solo presentations for different librarian organizations; three co-presentations this Spring and Summer for different librarian organizations; and two posters for conferences!  I didn’t intend to be quite this busy; I just wanted to be involved, so I submitted several conference session and poster proposals for conferences across the state, hoping I’d get one of them and was shocked when each was accepted!  Again, I am not complaining – I was honored to have my proposals accepted, and to share my experiences with several different audiences.  However, many of these conferences were within a few weeks of each other, so May has thus far been a very stressful month!  And the race continues, with a couple of co-presentations coming up in June and July!  The saddest part is that, despite the stress the first half of the month brought, it still takes all my energy to refrain from submitting even more poster and session proposals for the summer!  So far, self-restraint is working, as I remind myself that these opportunities will arise again next summer, when I will have a whole new batch of potential topics to propose!

Even with the self-restraint, this summer will by no means be lite!  In addition to the June and July presentations, I hope to play catch up on the ever-growing to-do list, especially with research projects I’ve been dying to jump into.  My version of vacation will also come up in June and July in the form of conferences: in June, I am thrilled to attend my second CALI Conference for Law School Computing, held this year in Chicago; and in July I am equally thrilled to attend (and co-present at) the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries, held this year in Seattle!  (There will be a little personal vacation time as well, but the big hits of the summer will be these two conferences for sure!

With my self-restraint in check, I will try to be better about blogging more regularly, and you can definitely expect posts about these two conferences during the summer.