Posted in Uncategorized

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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Posted in AALL, Professional Development

Review and Reflection: AALL Annual Meeting, July 13-15, 2014

2014 AALL LogoLike so many of my colleagues, I have just returned from the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries.  In the past, I have ordinarily blogged at the end of each day, but I found my evenings a little too busy this year, so here’s my update, after a couple days’ pause to reflect.

Saturday, July 12th

W1: AALL Hackathon

I have never been to a hackathon before, but this did not disappoint.  Attendees – including law librarians and area IT professionals – broke into groups, selected datasets of government information, and attempted to create apps to make this data more accessible…in about eight hours.  My group chose to work with AALL’s Online Legal Materials site, specifically the fifty states’ inventories of government information accessibility.  Our biggest challenge, I think, was normalizing the data, as each state organized their information differently, some added extra categories information, and some seemed to leave certain categories out (some states’ info we couldn’t even access).  We also discovered that it can be a little difficult to communicate precisely what we’d like the app to do with the data to the programmer.  While we were unable to complete our project in the time allotted, we were certainly off to a good start, and I think we all agreed by the end that our project had significant value.  I would not be surprised if we continued to work on this project remotely, as all of us were quite invested by the end.

Sunday, July 13th

Keynote – Andrew Keen

It was okay, but he didn’t really know that much about law libraries, and though he had done a little research into the current state of the legal profession, he didn’t really tell us anything new.  I usually expect keynote addresses to be inspiring, and his was a bit of a downer – not a great way to start out a conference.  Nevertheless, he is well-spoken, very intelligent, and an engaging speaker.

B5: LibGuide Guidance: Innovative Uses for LibGuides

Ultimately, this session seemed geared toward beginners or those interested in pursuing LibGuides, so, having used LibGuides for awhile myself, I didn’t find it particularly innovative.  I was also surprised that the speakers were not discussing LibGuides2, the new platform, though it is quite new and not everyone has transitioned yet.  Nevertheless it did foster good discussion during the breakout session (although at my table our discussion focused on my experience migrating to LibGuides2), and I did come away with a few new ideas, such as creating personalized research portals for our professors.  I’ve done this for their research assistants and classes to be sure, but hadn’t really thought of it for the professors themselves.  I also thought the presenters did a great job of pulling examples of innovative guide usage from a wide array of library types, which is not an easy task, since LibGuides are predominantly an academic product.

Monday, July 14th

R2: Recharge: Next Level Leadership: Showcase What Really Defines You

The recharge sessions tend to bring in outside speakers to give a talk on professional topics, not necessarily law or library-related.  For instance, last year I attended an excellent session on giving dynamic presentations.  This year, I wanted to learn about the traits that make up a good leader.  Sara Canaday was our outside speaker, and while I wasn’t nearly as inspired as I was from last year’s recharge, I did walk away with helpful notes.  While she elaborated on each point in her talk, ultimately she focused on key components of a good leader – reflection (self-awareness), projection (how you come across to others in appearance and demeanor affects their reaction to you), connection (interpersonal skills), prioritization (focusing on specific skills you’d like to develop to become a better leader), and sustainability (setting up a system of checks and balances to make sure your skills development stays on track).

C3: Building Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance While Teaching Legal Research

Lately I’ve become quite interested in metacognition and learning science, so I thought this was a very compelling presentation. The speakers discussed the concept of grit, which they defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals, and how we might teach this to our law students.  The idea is that education is a lifetime pursuit: whether you’re in school or not – you’re always learning.  Often students become defeated if something isn’t immediately successful for them, so teaching them to appreciate the process and the journey of skill development could be key to success.  The speakers had us take a grit test to see how gritty each of us is – I was not surprised to see that I scored a very high grit score – and then they discussed the pros and cons of grittiness.  Ultimately, will I discuss grittiness with my legal research students?  Probably not.  But I think this session will inform my approach to teaching and my reaction to student perceptions of learning legal research.

D4: Cool Tools Cafe

I’ve never had the chance to attend the Cool Tools Cafe, and I guess technically I still haven’t.  For my first Cool Tools experience, I presented on Legal Research Apps.  I was warned that I would have a nonstop crowd at my station, and I was not disappointed.  In fact, I tried to get there 15 minutes early to set up, and there was already a full house!  Mine was an interesting station; theoretically, you presented on your tool for 10 minutes and then started over, but I had a list of potential tools to show, so instead I simply asked my audience which they’d like to see, and as my audience changed, I’d pose the question again.  In demoing my tools, I talked about the capabilities and limitations and gave my overall opinion of their usability.  I had wonderful feedback, both during the Cafe and in the remaining days of the conference – people kept coming up to me to thank me for my demonstration.  It was extremely gratifying, especially considering how exhausting the experience actually was!

Tuesday, July 15th

E1: Demonstrative Evidence, Courtroom Technology, and Trial Practice

This one started out a bit rough (especially for 8:30 in the morning!), with a review of many of the rules of evidence.  The speaker was well-versed on the subject, but it’s hard to make that topic lively!  From there, however, things picked up with the second speaker providing several great examples of the use of PowerPoint throughout the trial process, and why it actually is worth the effort.  I think often it’s easy to think that use of such visual aids is superfluous or flashy, meant to distract more than inform; however, the speaker – an attorney – discussed how these visual aids can help judges and juries understand the key points in a document, the critical facts in a case, the main elements of your defense, etc.  It’s not about distraction, but rather clarity.  There were only two disappointing things about this program for me: first, I had thought that they would discuss more technologies than PPT – in fact the second presenter kept mentioning PPT and ‘other trial presentation software,’ but never actually identified what those other trial presentation software programs were; second, the second speaker ran over time by so much that the final speaker wasn’t even beginning until the program was supposed to end!  Some people were able to stay and hear the final speaker, who remoted in via Skype, but many of us had other programs to get to, so we missed him entirely.  Panels can be very difficult to run on time, but timing is critical so that everyone gets a chance to speak.

Poster Sessions – “Communication Wheelhouse”

I presented a poster session this year based on the results of a survey I gave our students in April on the communication practices of the Law Library.  My session consisted of a poster displaying the results of the survey, as well as a smaller poster that showed a breakdown of our social media followers.  I also printed up a short report of these findings for anyone interested in a handout.  I have presented posters at smaller conferences in the past, but at such a large conference, I had far more foot traffic and very positive feedback and good discussion, both on the appearance of the posters and their content.  The posters are both available online: Communication Wheelhouse and Sidebar: Social Media Reach.

G6: Hot Topic: Beefing Up Your CV with Altmetrics

Katie Brown gave a version of this talk at the CALI conference this year, talking more about the theory behind altmetrics.  At her AALL presentation, she talked more about the tools to measure one’s altmetrics.  Having seen her first presentation, I was very much looking forward to the second one.  She showed several different tools, what each covers, and how to set them up.  She mentioned the benefits of measuring one’s altmetrics, and discussed how they can be helpful for both your own professional development and as a service to your faculty.  She was also careful to emphasize that altmetrics are not a replacement for other metrics and they should never be the sole tool you use when preparing your CV or tenure dossier.  Rather, altmetrics are another tool for your tenure arsenal, and must be carefully explained to demonstrate their importance.  They are simply a way to measure one’s impact in the modern invisible college.

H5: Law Librarianship in the Digital Age

It seems like there were several programs this year with titles similar to this.  I’ll admit my draw to this particular one was its format: eight speakers (in one hour!) presenting in pecha kucha style.  In this format, presenters had six minutes to present, and their presentations were accompanied by 18 slides, timed to transition every 20 seconds!  The idea is to generate a focused discussion of your subject.  The speakers chosen had each authored a chapter for a recent book, Law Librarianship in the Digital Age, so they spoke on their chapters.  Each did a reasonably good job of sticking to their allotted time, and having their talk flow along with the slide transitions.  It was certainly an interesting and entertaining format to watch, and while no one in the audience posed any questions of the speakers, I think this had less to do with the content than the fact that it was the very last program slot on the very last day of the conference!

Night Life at AALL

There are so many receptions these days that you either end up picking and choosing what to attend or double-and-triple-booking yourself.  Naturally, I attended the IU Alumni Reception, always a lovely time to catch up with friends and see where we’ve all ended up over the years.  Likewise, the LLJ/Spectrum Authors’ Reception is a great appreciation event that often brings you together with authors of articles you’ve loved over the past year.  This year, I will give a big tip o’ the hat to LexisNexis and ThomsonReuters for truly excellent events.  Lexis always has a lovely event – this year at the Institute of Texan Cultures – and it was great fun to see the entertainment they brought in, representing six different cultural music groups from around San Antonio.  I’ve only been to three ThomsonReuters/AALL Customer Appreciation events, but this year’s was by far the best.  I always go, because they usually pick some interesting off-site location, but admittedly I usually leave early, finding it too crowded and too loud (I know, being younger I’m supposed to love the wild-and-crazy, but I have more of a quiet-and-sophisticated preference).  This year’s event was at the Knibbe Ranch, so I knew I’d go just to see the locale, but figured I’d leave soon after arriving as usual.  Not the case!  This year’s event was fantastic!  First of all, they had a meal for us – not finger foods, but an actual, sit-down meal of Texas BBQ.  You could eat in the ranch house, where a country band was playing (and if you haven’t heard a deep-country rendition of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” you’re missing out!), in an outdoor tent, or out in the open.  They had a rodeo of barrel-racing, rope tricks, etc.  Most importantly, they ended with a fireworks display.  It was a great time, and they have a lot to live up to for next year!

All in all, the Annual Meeting did not disappoint.  I would prefer a few less breakout sessions during the programs – some of us really do just like to hear from the experts on the subject, rather than discussing with our neighbors every hour – and I would LOVE to see us go back to having Introductory/Intermediate/Advanced ratings on programs to help you choose what to attend.  Other than that, good show.  See you next year in Philly!

Posted in Presentations, Teaching

How is Legal Research Like Math?

I participated in a reading group at IU this year in which educators from all different departments on campus read a book called Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Help Improve Student Learning, by Jose Bowen (check out the website here).  The book talks about flipping the classroom so you can more effectively use face time to ensure student comprehension.  During one of our discussions, I was sharing my teaching experiences in the 1L legal research curriculum, how students would come to me a month or so after my Fall lectures on case law and statutory research and say, “Your lectures made sense to me at the time, but now we have a new client file.  How do I do it now?”  I’d always be a little crestfallen that they couldn’t extrapolate to the next research scenario.  But another participant in the group who teaches freshman math piped in and said that she has the same problem.  And that’s when I realized: Word problems are word problems.  Whether you’re talking about mathematical concepts or legal concepts, students encounter the same struggles.

Those of you who read my blog on a regular basis (bless you!) know that I am relatively new to law librarianship, only two years in.  In today’s climate, more emphasis is put on strong legal writing skills than on legal research, especially in the 1L curriculum.  I was counting it up the other day, and realized that, in an entire academic year, I get at the most 3 hours to teach basic legal research.  Now, I’m not here to argue about that – it is what it is, and you work with what you’re given.  After swapping stories with colleagues at other schools, I feel fortunate that I get to come into the 1L classroom at all!  But having only that short amount of time does mean I have to make it count, and how do you do that?

Well, judging from my experiences with my students and my little epiphany in the reading group, it occurred to me that perhaps my students’ main problem is that they cannot see the forest through the trees.  Maybe I need to focus a little more on the big picture.  In my last lecture of the Spring (in January), we mostly review everything I’ve taught them.  So this year, I used a Prezi for this part of the lecture.  Now Prezi gets a lot of flack: (1) many people use it mostly because it’s flashy and different than your standard PowerPoint, and (2) its setup – zooming in and out of each point of the presentation – has been known to make people seasick.  However, I like Prezi because it sets you up to focus on the big picture.  You literally start with the big picture, zoom in to focus on individual points, and zoom back out to the big picture again at the end.  If you don’t like the Prezi experience, fine.  But you can’t argue with that organization.  (And by the way, my Prezi did not make anyone sick, and students came up afterward to thank me, because it was the first time that everything was put together for them.)

I decided to share this experience and expand upon it for the CALI Conference for Law School Computing this year.  My idea was to share not only my Prezi, but also to envision how the same presentation – The Basic Legal Research Process – could be conveyed through other visual formats.  I didn’t do anything too mind-blowing, instead focusing on the tried-and-true, like PowerPoint, Keynote, and other linear slideware like Haiku Deck and Google Slides.  I also threw in mind-mapping, with an example from Coggle, and more static visuals like posters, bringing an example of one made in Canva, or teaching from a LibGuide.  For the presentation, I showed examples of each, talked about the pros and cons, and gave suggestions of where each visual might best serve the education process.  Like I said, not mind-blowing, but instead purposefully focusing on existing technologies and how best to use them to optimizing learning and retention.  In preparing for this presentation, I learned a few things:

brainWhile I thought it was just good practice in teaching, it turns out that visual aids are scientifically proven to aid in education.  It comes down to how the right brain and left brain work together.  [Warning: This will be incredibly simplified, as I am not a cognitive scientist!]  In a typical law school classroom, where students read the cases before class and listen to lecture and maybe a little Socratic Method during class, the left brain is really well stimulated.  This is because the left brain absorbs individual pieces of data, as from a book or a lecture.  But the right brain needs a little more.  The right brain makes connections between those individual pieces of data, and does this best in a visual format.  So even having a simple PowerPoint of bulleted slides accompany your lecture fires the right brain into action.  By using both the right and left brain, we learn better.  It aids in our memory – we retain and can recall information much better.  And then there’s the issue of learning styles.  There are many theories out there, but generally I found six learning styles:

  1. Oral – learns best by talking it out (think: Socratic Method)
  2. Aural – learns best by listening (think: lecture)
  3. Verbal – learns best by reading (think: reading the cases, handouts, etc.)
  4. Kinesthetic – learns best by acting it out (think: trial advocacy courses)
  5. Tactile – learns best by touching (think: clinics)
  6. Visual – learns best with visual aids

Now you would think that the argument for visual aids in the classroom is because visual learners need them.  That’s true, but as it turns out, visual aids benefit every learning style.  Again, this goes back to optimizing use of both the left and right brain.

Clearly, I was thrilled to find this out, as it backed up the premise behind my talk.  But we’ve all seen terrible PowerPoints, and those critical of visual aid use in teaching are not entirely incorrect.  There are many ways to use visuals incorrectly in teaching, but, as was the punchline in my talk: That’s on the speaker.  Blaming the technology is like shooting the messenger.  Instead, it’s the person behind the message that’s to blame.  For every visual aid faux pas, there’s a solution:

  • Too wordy?  Focus on fewer words, more images (Relevant images, I should say; it turns out putting pictures of kittens on every slide is unlikely to help your audience remember your points!)
  • Reading the slides?  Ouch – that’s the worst!  And as it turns out, not only is that bad form, but that impedes learning as well.  It seems counter-intuitive, but if you read your slides to your audience while they’re trying to read them as well, that’s redundant, and they will actually retain it less well than if you had a few bullet points on your slide for them to read, but you elaborated on these points in your lecture.
  • Too flashy?  Yeah, that’s easy to get carried away with.  A good rule of thumb with visuals is: Everything you do should have a purpose.  Create your visuals thoughtfully.  Sure, I can make my slides bounce onto and off the screen, but what does that convey?  Too flashy = distracting = difficult to retain.
  • It’s a crutch: It’s easy for a speaker to let the visual take over.  A common complaint of students is that when professors use visuals the class becomes far less interactive.  You have to remember that the visual is merely an aid.  Just because you have a PowerPoint up does not mean you can’t pause for class discussion. For example, put a hypo up on a slide and work the class discussion into the visual.

What you should notice here is that in each of these scenarios it’s not the technology that has failed, but the speaker.  It is critical to know how the technology works and how best to use it to convey what you’re teaching.  Don’t use it just because you think you have to; use it thoughtfully.  Finally, make sure the technology fits.  As I concluded in my presentation, some technologies – PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi, etc. – are still top dog for use in lectures; other technologies, like LibGuides and posters, might be better to bring up at the end of class as a study aid after-the-fact.  I even thought it could be really powerful to create a mind map interactively with your class in a review session; that way it’s not a map of the professor’s mind, but of the collective class mind instead; while untested by me, I have a hunch that doing something like this with the class would really help students grasp the concept.  (If you try this out, please let me know how it goes!)

If you’re interested in more about this presentation, you can check out my materials here.



Posted in Research

Crowdsourcing in Law? My June Post as a Ms. JD Writer in Residence

Ms. JD LogoIt’s hard to believe I’m half-way through my year as a 2014 Writer in Residence for Ms. JD!  It certainly goes fast, and it can be hectic at times, but I am grateful for the experience.  For my June post, I reviewed Mootus and Casetext, and discussed how crowdsourcing seems to be making its way into legal practice…or at least, legal research.

A couple of posts back, I talked about Jurify, a new website where attorney-members contribute cases, legal forms, and other legal documents that they have found particularly helpful in their own practice.  This type of pooled-resource contributions is commonly referred to as crowdsourcing, defined as “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.” (, “crowdsourcing,” obtained June 5, 2014)  Traditionally, the legal industry is not known for its collaborative environment.  Of course, this is a gross generalization, but after all, associates are competing against each other to make partner, and opposing parties want to keep their case strategy close to the vest; this profession, therefore, naturally lends itself to an individualist work ethic.  Yet I believe that the legal industry is changing, starting to embrace collaboration as a tool for accuracy and efficiency in legal practice.  This transition is evident through the recent emergence of legal resource platforms, like Jurify, that utilize crowdsourcing to build their collections.  For this month’s post, I thought we would look at two more such sites: Mootus and Casetext.

You can read the full post here.  Thanks for reading!

Posted in Uncategorized

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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Posted in Teaching

Apps in Legal Education

I am a (sometime) blogger for the Law School Ed Tech blog.  I have been very negligent in my duties this year, regrettably, but today (hot off the presses!), I posted my reflections on having just taught a lecture on apps for legal research.  I hope you’ll give it a glance at the link below, and if you have ever given any similar lectures and have advice on other apps to cover, I’d love to hear them!

Apps in Legal Education.

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 Research

Unravelling Ravel Law

My February post as a Ms. JD Writer in Residence is up! (This is my rudimentary method of re-blogging it!) The following is an excerpt from my post, which reviewed Ravel Law, a new case law database. Following the excerpt is a link to the whole post on Ms. JD’s site.

In the world of electronic legal research, two names have always dominated the market: Lexis and Westlaw. There are others of course, such as LoisLaw, Fastcase, and Casemaker, and a couple of years ago, Bloomberg Law entered the market. The trouble with these databases is that they’re subscription-based, and even those that tout themselves as low-cost will set you back a hefty sum. Luckily for us, the Free Access to Law Movement (FALM) has spawned and inspired a variety of legal research platforms that offer access to statutes and cases without a costly subscription. These platforms range from official codes posted on state and federal government websites to law school born databases, such as Cornell’s Legal Information Institute (an official member of FALM). For this post, I’m going to focus on another, very new, legal research platform born out of a law school and inspired by free access to law: Ravel Law….

Read the rest of this post on Ms. JD’s website.

(This is also cross-posted on my other blog, Legal Research Redux.)

Posted in Technology

Technology for Technology’s Sake?

It comes as no secret to anyone in the library world that libraries today are in a state of flux, forced by the needs and desires of our patrons to move away from the traditional concept of the library as keeper-of-books to something more.  Far from the Doomsday cries of some in the field who proclaim that the library is a dying entity, I reside firmly in the camp that says, if anything, libraries and librarians are needed even more today.  Yes, we need to reconceptualize the library, but that’s just a matter of recognizing how libraries and library services need to evolve to meet the needs of patrons today. library-card-e-reader

Arguably, even as technology transforms patrons’ lives, their needs remain ultimately the same: they need to locate certain materials; they need to answer a research question; they seek recommendations on the best resources to fit their needs.  The only difference today is perhaps the format: the materials they want to locate might be housed in a database rather than on a bookshelf; their research questions might be best answered using electronic resources rather than print; and these days more than ever, librarians are called to help patrons find the best [often electronic] resources to address patrons’ needs.  Information illiteracy, ironically, seems to increase as the amount of information available increases.*

While the needs of patrons may not have changed, the resources we use to answer their questions, we can see, have changed (although I am also not in the camp that believes print will entirely die out; books are still important and in many cases much easier to use for research than print databases).  But it’s no secret that technology demands have (and will continue to) changed in libraries.  Beyond the basics such as internet access and database subscriptions to facilitate research, libraries are finding more and more ways to evolve their services, such as creating library apps, offering chat reference, and maintaining a library blog.  Indeed the knowledge that libraries need to keep up with technology has been embraced so voraciously in some respects that we might be seeing circumstances where libraries are embracing a technology just because it’s there, skipping the ever-important step of assessing how that technology will enhance their services.

I’ve written about this concept previously in terms of social media use and neglect, but in this post we’ll look more generally at technology in libraries.  As an example, we have recently installed a touch-screen only computer for quick access to our online catalog.  The machine is slick, and operates like a very large tablet.  But its on-screen keyboard is quite small and cannot be enlarged, some unaccustomed to smart screens had difficulty using it at first, and shortly after installation the question came up as to why there couldn’t be a physical keyboard.  The answer to that immediate question might simply be that the machine is not built to have a physical keyboard, but to me this actually posed the greater question of whether this was a useful addition to the library, or simply flash-and-bang.  The answer, I think, is – it depends.

First, I think it depends on who’s using the machine.  There are many patrons these days who are so accustomed to their smart devices that a large touch-screen monitor might be a welcome addition to the library.  There are others who will find it difficult to get used to.  Second, it depends on how it’s used.  If we were replacing all of our computers with these smart screens, I would be concerned; but this is a dedicated terminal for accessing the catalog only; it is meant to be a quick stop on your way to finding a resource, and I think the touch screen nature of this machine fits that purpose well.  Finally, I think it depends on how often it gets used.  Sometimes with new technologies, you just have to dive in and try it out to see whether it will take hold.  Technology use anywhere is an experiment at first, so I think time will tell better than any other assessment whether this particular use of technology in libraries is a success.

Yes indeed, the evolution of libraries is a true evolution – it’s survival of the fittest: the libraries that survive will be those who can look at traditional library services at their most basic level and match the appropriate technologies to these services to adapt our methods of meeting patrons’ needs in a digital-run world.  Some tech attempts will succeed and some will fail, but it’s those who refuse to adapt who will ultimately perish.

* The image used in this post is from a Publisher’s Weekly blog post from 2011.

Posted in Professional Development

Overlooking Legal Research as an Essential Lawyering Skill

Happy 2014, everyone!  With a new year comes a new adventure for me – I’m participating in Ms. JD‘s Writers in Residence program.  Essentially, I have committed to writing a monthly column for their blog: “Research Makeover: The Tips, Tricks, and Trade of Legal Research in the Digital Age.”  My first post is up, and both introduces who I am and why I thought a column on legal research was important.

Essentially, I discuss legal research the way many have before me – as an overlooked, but essential, lawyering skill.  I cite to AALL’s recent task force survey of practitioners and the research faults of their summer clerks and new hires, and I allude to several other studies as well.  Given all this evidence that legal research is an essential and lacking skill, I postulated two main reasons I see for why such an essential skill is so commonly overlooked: Assumption of Skill and Information Overload.  I hope you’ll read the post (and my next 11 as well!), but I thought I’d flesh this out a little further here.

Assumption of Skill – I think it is easy for anyone today, not just law students and not just in the legal profession, to assume s/he has solid research skills.  In the Ms. JD post, I cite one reason for this: that most of us have had to do some kind of research during our education, for a paper, an article, or something similar.  Therefore we know how to research, right?  Unfortunately, there is a critical distinction to be made here between academic research and client-based research.  Sure, you might use some of the same resources and materials for both, but the strategy is necessarily different.  Academic research can be a little more exploratory without causing any significant problems; you can wander between resources, run a thousand different searches, and download hundreds of documents without worry.  When you’re researching for a client, however, you have to know the best resources for finding your answers, you have to have the confidence that the answers you’re finding are complete and accurate, and you have to complete the research process efficiently, both for time and financial concerns.    With many subscription databases, opening documents, downloading documents, or even running multiple searches can rack up your costs without you knowing it until the bill arrives!  The stakes are high in client-based research.  You need to have a plan; you need to know what you need to know; and you need to know where to find it.  All that issue-spotting ingrained into you in your substantive law classes is a critical component of your research strategy, and an important first step in the process.  You don’t want to go in blind.

In addition, I think today especially it is easy to assume that legal research is a no-brainer because of the Google world in which we live.  Even the legal research databases we’ve been accustomed to for years have begun migrating to a Google-esque platform.  With the “world at your fingertips” mentality, it is easy to assume you’re finding everything there is to find on your subject by running these catch-all searches.  But I must reinforce my earlier point: you still have to know where to find the answer.  Even if you’re running a whole-database search, if you don’t know that you need to be looking at regulations instead of statutes, you may end up looking at the wrong search results.  Legal research is just as much about knowing where to look as it is about finding the right answers.

Information Overload – This point has already been touched upon as well, but, ironic though it may seem, having easy access to so much more information than before may actually make it harder to find answers.  There is so much more to sift through, and evaluating the validity and reliability of electronic resources is not always an easy task.  Like many librarians, I find value in both print and electronic research.  One of the characteristics I value most highly about print research, and something I find lacking in electronic, is the ability to always know what I am looking at and how the information is organized.  I try to emphasize to my students that, with electronic research, you need to always be cognizant of what you’re looking at; with a few tabs and hyperlinks, I may go from looking at one case to looking at a citing decision without realizing it.  That makes it awfully easy for me to misappropriate references in my briefs and memos.  And when dealing with statutes and regulations, it’s so much easier to understand these materials when you can see how they’re arranged; yet many databases post these materials without posting their finding aids, such as tables of contents and indexes.  Information is only as good as what you can comprehend.

This discussion is a little more fleshed-out than in my Ms. JD post on the subject, but I am hoping that it will prompt devoted followers of the blog to tune in to my future posts.  Like any law librarian, I am passionate about legal research, and I am so happy to get to share this with others.