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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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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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Service with a Smile, or Why Librarianship is Not Dying

I just can’t stop blogging! My latest edition: contributor to the RIPS-SIS blog. Here’s my first post.

RIPS Law Librarian Blog

In the chaos that always comes with the beginning of another school year, I, like so many colleagues across the country, find myself drowning in work. To-do lists only seem to get longer, never shorter, and much of the work that takes up my days is work that I did not anticipate, that seeks me out unexpectedly and takes me away from my planned to-do list. In all honesty, this is something that I actually cherish about my job: the unexpected. I have to laugh every time a non-librarian remarks that my job must be boring. I think we can all agree that it’s quite the opposite – on any given day, you really don’t know what will come through the door!

The Evolving Job

Reflecting on the chaos I have witnessed in this brief start to the semester, I marvel at how faculty service has grown over the years…

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The Most Overlooked Skill in Information Literacy Instruction

I’ve been thinking a lot about information literacy for law students lately, and this post from Designer Librarian really struck a cord!

Designer Librarian

How is it that a student can find and use research-quality information sources and still produce a mediocre research paper? Poor writing skills? Maybe…probably. There’s another factor in play too. Ask yourself this. How much time do you spend on teaching students strategies for evaluating their information needs? Not evaluating information sources, evaluating information needs.

Identifying information needs is the first step in the whole research process. Yet, we tend to gloss over that skill and focus on finding and evaluating information sources. It doesn’t help that classroom instructors create assignment “recipes” (e.g. 4 peer-reviewed articles, 1 website). And students follow those recipes. Either that, or they make the assumption that anything that appears relevant in their database search results will meet their information needs. That’s because they don’t know what their information needs are! And because they haven’t explicitly identified their information needs, their database searching techniques are less focused…

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I’m back!

Wow – it’s been a while!  It is a busy semester!  So where have I left off?  I finished my last lecture for the school year – it’s nice to have the first round out of the way – I look forward to (hopefully) improving on my weaknesses and building on my strengths for next year.  I’m knee-deep in research guides at the moment, having just published one that I had been working on for several months, and now working on one for a professor and another I’m co-creating with a colleague that is a how-to guide on creating guides.  Not to mention the list of subjects I’d like to create in the future!

Beyond that, I’m exploring other, increasingly popular tools, such as infographics, to see how I could use those in libraries and education.  One of my interests is in finding ways to reach different kinds of learners, especially in a digital age, when attention spans are shorter and shorter and different stimuli are required to maximize retention.  So I don’t have anything major to report at the moment – but definitely not having any trouble staying busy!

What I did want to mention – and something that will probably keep me away from my blog for most of the month – is that I am the designated blogger-of-the-month for Law School Ed Tech – a blog maintained by a group of us whose careers focus on educational technology in law schools.  So if you’re interested in hearing from me this month (or you’re interested in educational technology and looking for a good resource), check it out!  My first post – just an introduction – is already up.

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Millennials, Learning, and Legal Research

This week I’ve been reading over a few technology-related law books we’ve recently added to our collection, and I was quite interested in how the material related both to my role as the educational technology librarian and as a lecturer in our legal research and writing program here at Maurer Law.

One of the books in particular, The Millennial Lawyer by Ursula Furi-Perry, has some very interesting insights into the generational differences between the millennial generation (also referred to as Generation XY) and older generations who will likely be hiring these younger individuals for summer clerkships and (hopefully!) post-graduation.  The major differences that are affecting workplace relationships primarily involve learning styles and attitudes toward technology.

Naturally, these two major differences are linked together: as Furi-Perry explains, today’s law students have grown up with technology at their fingertips; they’re considered “just in time” learners, who tend to only focus on information that they need at that moment; this is contrasted with older generations who are considered “just in case” learners, who tend to store away information in case the need arises to use it (122).  This understanding is nothing new – educators in all disciplines are slowly adapting their teaching methods to be more interactive, as Millennials are less responsive to the straight lecture method of teaching.

Fortunately, Furi-Perry suggests that these differences can work to the firm’s advantage.  Clearly, new attorneys still need to be taught the ropes when it comes to the practice of law, but they should be encouraged to put their technical skills to use.  Social media publicity is an increasing trend in law firms, and that responsibility could naturally fall to a younger associate; however, the same ethical standards apply – that’s where the experience of the practiced attorney comes into play.  For those firms that are attempting to break into technology, Millennials might be able to offer their own insight – take cloud computing for example: Gradually companies are coming forward with safe methods for securing client files in the cloud; Millennials, likely to be familiar with cloud storage, should be able to offer insight as to the pros and cons that must be considered when choosing cloud storage options for confidential files.  These are just a few examples of how the mixture of generations within a firm could actually strengthen the firm in the long run.

But none of this relates to my job and what I found so inspiring about this book.  Beyond the technology aspects of my job, my colleagues and I are tasked with introducing the 1Ls to the basics of legal research.  While they are still required to complete shorter research assignments with paper materials (a task that I believe all of us feel is still an important skill to have), our lectures focus on electronic legal research.  Having completed my two fall lectures prior to reading through this book, I used its insights to reflect on my teaching methods.  As one of my colleagues, who has seen each of us lecture, observed, all the reference librarians here have very different lecture styles.  While some go into the nitty-gritty of all the features available in Lexis Advance and Westlaw Next, it has been observed that I move a little slower, offer a little more explanation, and focus more on the task at hand.

For our lectures, we are made aware of the ongoing research assignment the students are to complete through electronic research, and the writing professors identify a few specific things they would like us to point out in the lecture.  The observation about how my lecturing differs from my colleagues’ concerned me initially – I worried that perhaps I was “teaching to the test” as it were – however, after reading this book, I think my approach reflects the “just in time” mentality of my students.  In each of the lectures I have completed, I began by reviewing their research scenario, discussed why we needed to complete the type of research I was about to show them, and then proceeded to conduct the research with them, always relating it back to the research scenario and the methods they should employ as they replicate this research for their assignment.  In essence, I tried to stay practical and show them what they needed to know for the task at hand.  Perhaps in the spring my lectures can become more detail-oriented, as the students will then be more familiar with the databases, but for now (thanks to my reading of Furi-Perry’s book) I feel confident that I have sent them off with the skills they need to begin their legal research.  I was also led to wonder why my approach went the practical route – I do so enjoy the bells and whistles these databases offer! – but I’ve concluded that perhaps my just-in-time teaching style stems from the fact that I am also of the Millennial generation (though being born in the ’80s I’ve just made the cut!), so perhaps over the years I’ve come to appreciate this method of learning.

(FYI – I have also read elsewhere that Millennials tend to scan rather than actually read large volumes of text, so most likely my method of writing, which tends toward the verbose, is a little too “old school” to effectively reach my students!  Perhaps that’s something I should work on as well…)