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It seems like often when libraries are brought up in the news, it’s someone suggesting that the library is an outdated, arcane institution.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, 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 Outreach, Teachable Moments, Technology

The Rise of the Reference iPad

Wow, the first week of the school year is always a whirlwind!  With 1L orientation on Monday, a journal sourcing assignment Monday-Wednesday, and 1L library tours Thursday and Friday, to say that it’s been a busy week would be an understatement.  But entering my second year as a librarian here at Maurer Law, it’s also been really fun.  Not only did I get to meet the students that will be in my two sections of Legal Research & Writing, but I also got to catch up with a few of my students from last year.  I was thrilled to hear that one of them had been invited back to his summer employer again for next year – this is, of course, what we’re hoping for.  (And it made my day when he told me he’d be sending all the 1Ls our way for research help!)  Though I won’t be seeing my 1Ls this year again until October, I’m glad they can recognize me as a resource so early in the semester – it’s always nice to be able to put faces to names, especially in a new environment.

The library iPads we bought in the Spring have taken on all new services this Fall.  While some libraries circulate iPads, ours are for the Reference Office, not for the patrons.  We use them to test out apps and such, but we haven’t heavily used them in service…until this week.  We had a journal student needing to scan a large volume of statutes from an enormous tome, making it a tedious job for him on the physical scanner, so, feeling bad for him, we lent him one of our iPads and showed him how to use the CamScanner app to scan his pages instead.  (As an aside, do you know he was the second journal student who came in this week that didn’t have a smartphone?  Both young students too – I was surprised.  It just goes to show we really cannot assume that our students are completely immersed in the latest tech.)  Anyway, this was a huge hit for him; he even lent it to another journal student as well (which frazzled me, but he did eventually bring it back to us, safe and sound!).  I was thrilled that we could offer this service to the students, but we realized we had to rein it in, since our iPads were not meant to be lent out and we had no policies or enforcement procedures in place to handle that.  So the downside is that we did get several more requests for the iPad, which we had to decline.  But this situation caused me to realize what a great tool an iPad could be for a journal.  Now they would of course have to be responsible for maintaining it and monitoring its use, but clearly there’s a need for it.

Then just today I received a call at the reference desk from someone across the country needing some historical Indiana bills.  These are easy enough to find, but, as with the journal student’s problem, these bills are bound in massive, unwieldy volumes.  Enter the Reference iPad!  I scanned, OCR’d, and emailed them right from the iPad, no trouble at all.  When we got our iPads, I imagined us using them in teaching, perhaps doing brown bag sessions with app demonstrations.  I just love finding new ways to use library tools to augment our services, and I think I certainly saw that this week with our iPad.  Finally, definitive proof that these were a good investment for the Reference Office.

Posted in Teachable Moments, Teaching

Adventures in Teaching Legal Research

Is it odd to walk away from a lecture and feel that it was simultaneously disastrous and highly successful?

Today I gave my last lecture for the year on basic legal research.  The structure of the 40-minute lecture was to spend the first half discussing legal periodicals and the second half reviewing statutory and case law research.  I gave this lecture to two sections of students, back to back.  In the first section, my colleagues (giving the same lecture elsewhere at the school) and I realized that the indexes and databases we were showing were inexplicably inaccessible from our students’ laptops, problematic since they were to use these resources tonight in an assignment due tomorrow!  Disaster #1.  Because it took so long to try and resolve this problem in the first lecture, my review of primary sources was cut abruptly short.  In the second class, I was prepared for the problems with the databases, but my students – quiet in all of my other lectures – unexpectedly asked many questions about legal periodicals, thus again cutting drastically into my review time (I was actually thrilled by the questions!  See below.).  Disaster #2.

So how could I possibly walk away from these lectures with a positive feeling?  To be sure, I am disappointed that I didn’t get to do the review justice; primary source research is critical, and a thorough review would have been very helpful for the students.  And yet I ultimately walked away feeling successful because the first half of the lecture, discussing legal periodicals, went so well.  It’s true – it didn’t really go that well.  After all, the students couldn’t access the databases!  But that was a technical glitch that was quickly resolved after the fact, and on my classroom computer the databases worked fine, so the students still got to see how each operated and the purpose each serves.  Furthermore, I was able to convey the information I wanted them to have thoroughly, clearly, and efficiently.  In fact, watching the clock, I was making really good time on my lectures, were it not for the technical glitches and the curiosity of the students!

I think what I found most thrilling, to be perhaps a little dramatic, was that the students were so inquisitive.  I love that they asked me questions!  It showed that they were paying attention and that they were engaged.  For the most part, these weren’t questions born out of confusion, but curiosity, a yearning to learn a little more.  As an instructor, you always wonder if you’re getting through to the students (especially when they don’t ask you any questions!), and today I walked away from each section knowing that I had at least gotten through to a few students in each class.

To make me feel even better, this is the first time that the students have really taken me up on my suggestion that they come to me with research questions.  After the last lecture, a couple of students came to me with questions about their assignment.  After today’s lecture, students came to me, both with continued database problems (that have now been resolved) and with further questions about the resources I have shown them and how they work.  I even had a student ask if we offer any more lectures on legal research!  He said he really got a lot out of my lectures (what a relief to hear, let me tell you!), but because they were over so quickly, he often felt like he needed something more in-depth that reinforced these principles.  I immediately told him about a few different opportunities we have coming up, and he seemed very interested.  (I’ll admit that he, in particular, made my day today.  He even complimented me on my handouts – seriously, he knows the way to my heart!)

So yes, despite the disasters I encountered, I cannot help but feel that today’s lectures were a success.  I handled a technological crisis well, I seemed to really reach my students, and I finally reached the point that at least some feel comfortable coming to me with questions.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely a good experience.

Posted in Outreach, Presentations, Teachable Moments

Conceptualization and Technology

This week has had me thinking about technology in terms of conceptualization – both technologies that are intended to make you conceptualize information in a different way and reconceptualizing existing technologies for use in new ways.

For the past two days I have attended the Statewide IT Conference here in Bloomington.  Admittedly, as I am not an IT specialist by any means, much of the conference material was over my head; however, there were several programs that dealt with the use of technology in the classroom, and it is my reflections on these programs that inspired my post for the week.  For at least the third time this year, I attended a program that discussed Prezi.  For most, Prezi is fairly well-known at this point as a presentation software akin to PowerPoint, yet entirely different at the same time.  I had to agree with the presenter today – I have seen both good and horrible Prezi presentations!  The thing that sets it apart from PowerPoint is – my buzzword for this post – conceptualization!  PowerPoint is inherently linear – you present your information slide by slide.  Prezi is more of a “mind map,” meaning that the information you are presenting is all linked around a central concept; certainly, you will present this information in a particular order, but in theory you could present the same information in a different order, because it is all interrelated.  I’ve been a little leery to use Prezi in the past because so many people I know find it sea-sickening (I think I’ve coined a new term there!), however, there is much in legal research that could be taught, perhaps best even, through a mind map conceptualization, because so much in research is interrelated; thus I intend to start experimenting more with Prezi to see how my presentations might be transformed for the better.

In addition I continue to find new uses for existing technologies that I believe could put a new face on typical library activities and raise our profile among our patron base; this goes beyond the Facebook and Twitter accounts I began earlier this year.  I hate to be so vague about this, but as I haven’t put these into action yet, I think I should hold off on detailed ideas.  Suffice it to say that I have been looking at existing social media and other popular applications lately in new ways that I think could change or supplement the manner in which we present library services and collections in the future.

To be continued…

Posted in Outreach, Social Media, Teachable Moments

Catching Up

It’s been a while – the last few weeks have really flown by!  We’ve been knee-deep in the interview process for another librarian to replace our outgoing Electronic Resources librarian.  Being just two months old myself, it has been interesting to see the interview process from the other side and imagine what these candidates would be like to work with.

In terms of my job here, I have been so busy with tech projects I have had little time to do personal research of my own (not that I’m complaining – it feels good to feel needed!).  In what was perhaps a stroke of genius, a colleague suggested a little competition to garner more “likes” for our Facebook page.  Thus, lately we have been advertising that, as soon as our page gets 100 likes, we will randomly select one law student who has liked us to receive a $25 Starbucks gift card.  The irony of this, of course, is that our advertising avenues are our Twitter and Facebook accounts, our blog, and our digital sign – if the students aren’t looking at these, they still do not know about the competition!  Nevertheless the likes have started coming more quickly, and I think we’ll soon make our goal.

We are now exploring other social media to see how we can promote ourselves in even more and different ways.  To be continued…

With students back, we are elbow-deep in sourcing projects for journals and orienting 1Ls and international students to the trappings of the library.  I’ll admit that I quite enjoy the craziness and fast-paced world the beginning of the semester always heralds.  It was great getting to start my job in the summer, in the quiet, but with the semester in full swing I feel like my law librarian journey has truly begun.