Thursday, October 19, 2017

Facilitating Law Library Sponsors

After another session in a longstanding conversation with my wonderful colleague, Alyson Drake, about the state of the profession, she made the brilliant connection that law libraries need sponsors. In the past 5 or so years, there's been quite a bit of discussion surrounding sponsorship for career advancement. You'll find relevant articles here, here, here, here, and here.

While many of the articles discuss sponsorship in terms of individuals, the notion, as well as the need, is similar for law libraries.

So what is a sponsor? 
A sponsor is someone who will use his or her internal political and social capital to move you . . . forward within an organization. Behind closed doors, he or she will argue your case. A sponsor has been described as “an influential spokesperson for what you are capable of doing.

And what’s the difference between a mentor and a sponsor? 
Mentoring is a gift. A sponsor, on the other hand, is more transactional. . . . A senior person is not going to go out of their way unless you have proven your worth.

How is this connected to law libraries?
Law libraries need reciprocal support from the communities that they support to survive and thrive. Libraries are sustained by people through institutions and society in general because they believe, feel, intuit or think that libraries are important to them, because they have a positive perception of them.

We're currently facing many challenges in law libraries. Most notably, as budgets continue to decrease and are spread across additional competing (valuable) concerns like bar prep and career services, for example, law libraries will continue to get the short end of the stick. The law library's value is in providing substantial support for the primary goals of the law school. But programs that fulfill the primary goals (not merely support them) will be seen as more important.

Law libraries do so much to support the law school and the ABA Standards, but it's easy to forget that support in times of budget shortfalls.

That's why we need sponsors. Sponsors in the form of doctrinal professors who see our value and will champion the law library behind closed doors. These doctrinal professors must have the political and social capital to be heard in a meaningful way. And they must believe in the mission of the law library. Now the question is: Do they exist?

I certainly hope so.

It's easy for me to type that we need to do our best so that these professors see our value and champion our cause. That they might spare some of our budget so that we can continue to provide the requisite support.

It's tougher when we've been doing that and still see cut after cut. And are now expected to provide the same level of support with far less resources.

Hopefully each of us can identify at least one faculty ally to have a frank discussion with about sponsoring the law library. It may be that they haven't given it much thought. When the opportunity arises, we must engage in the discussion to facilitate these relationships.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Teaching Legal Research in the Books: Necessary or Not?

Over the course of the last week or so, there's been a lively discussion on the LRW-PROF listerv about teaching legal research using books.


The discussion started from this post:

At SCU, we have traditionally held one or two class sessions in which students conduct legal research in the library in books.  

Some of us are considering modifying, shrinking, or even eliminating these exercises to make more time for additional electronic research practice. We identified some theoretical pros and cons to this approach. We are curious to hear about practical effects from anyone who has gone through this process of shrinking or eliminating book research. What effects, good and bad, have you seen in your students' ability to research? Any flak from librarians or employers? I appreciate any ideas. 

Here is a sampling of the responses:

Sample Response 1:
I have always taught a modicum of book research each year, and, at the very least, I introduce my students to the existence of the books and their historical relation to what is being seen online.  It does seem to make the students better understand the connections between the sources and also appreciate how and why we have duplicative sources that seem to provide the same research references (like C.J.S. and AmJur). Most employers do not have things like legal encyclopedias in their law libraries, but they often have the state code.  Some employers here have expressed frustration that students never seem to have been introduced to a book or an index and, as a result, spend an hour on the computer rather than taking ten minutes to pull the statute off the shelf.  Also, one of the benefits of seeing the books is seeing that the sections before and after might also be related.  Although you can page through the material online, it isn't as intuitively done as it is in a book.

I also like to expose students to books as a "just in case" skill.  What happens if the research needs to be done and you have no access to a computer and no idea what to do with any of those objects in the law library?  Interestingly enough, this scenario has come up when some students lost access to Lexis and Westlaw in the summer semester.  It also occurs when students graduate, are working for a small firm that has only limited online research access, and no longer have student ids.  It is kind of fun to hear the tales of how I was proved right that one day the book research exercise would come in handy.

Even if I don't have the time to fully teach book research, I think it's important to expose the students to it.

Sample Response 2:
You can effectively cover "book" research on the computer.  I tell students there are three ways to do the research.  You can do a word or phrase search on the computer.  And the computer will retrieve matching files for you.  You can look in an index, and look at all the sources the publisher has compiled under a specific topic.  Or you can look in a table of contents, which like an index, is compiled by humans.  The latter two types of searches are typically associated with books but can also be done on the computer.

So, if you are looking at a statute on Westlaw, you can do a word search, browse the table of contents or look in the index.  If you are looking for cases, the Digest is basically a giant annotated table of contents, and it has an index too.  So you have the same options for cases.  We are all familiar with the written version of the digest, but the same thing is on line, called the Westlaw Key Number System.

I try to avoid describing the research options as book vrs. computer.  Instead, I tell students you can either have a computer look for literal matches based on the words or phrases you give it or you can look through an index or table of contents of cases that have been filed and sorted according to the topics they deal with by humans.  

Sample Response 3:
A search request is, functionally, an instruction to index a database.  Indexing a single book is a difficult enough task (as anyone who’s actually faced the chore of providing a useful index can attest), but at least that task gets done after reading the text.  Indexing a digital database via a search request is many times more difficult because the indexing occurs without having read the text first, which means the user’s hoping — guessing — that the search request reflects a collection and configuration of words that the author of a relevant but as-yet-unread text has also used.  That’s why computer-assisted searching (unlike indexed-book searching) significantly favors the expert over the novice:  the expert has a much stronger grasp of the collections and configurations of words that reflect relevant concepts, including analogous or related concepts that might be disguised.  An indexed book, on the other hand, typically includes cross-references (as in “see” and “see also”) that can guide the novice relatively quickly to the place where experts would have begun their research, thus placing both novice and expert on a more equal footing.  Hence, the value of a digest that leads to CJS or ALR, which in turn will provide the novice with an introduction to the language and concepts the expert already knows.  

In my view, the issue isn’t computers versus books, but pre-indexed texts (texts with indexes created by someone who’s read the text) versus post-indexed texts (texts for which the only index is a search request tossed into the textual abyss).  Without introducing a student to pre-indexed texts (usually in book form), the new student (i.e., novice) will have a longer road to travel to achieve real skill at post-indexing a corpus.  (And we’ll leave the issue of the widely differing assumptions underlying various search algorithms and their impact on searching for another day or year.)

Sample Response 4:
I don’t require students to research in the books, but I do bring the books to the students and vice versa, because I think it useful to show students the basis for the online platform organization. Students who forget their laptops have to use the books. This year, the two students who fell into that category were able to find the information faster than their peers, much to their surprise. After that I have heard back from a handful of students—including those two—that they prefer to start their research in the books. 

Sample Response 5:
I personally think that research in the library stacks can be reduced and that it's most important that students have an exercise that leads them to through the secondary sources, digests, reporters, and codes on the shelf, hold them in their hands, and see how they work.  It could be just a set of instructions that leads them from one to another in the setting of an issue and requires them to read certain parts of each, taking maybe no more than 60 minutes of self-guided work.  Later -- even when they are researching almost entirely online -- if you mention the importance of starting with a secondary source on an unfamiliar issue, they'll have a concrete idea what you mean.  And when they see West key numbers, they'll have some grounding in searches through substantive categorization by legal topics. They will also see how enacted statutes are fit into codes, organized by topic. Finally, they'll know that some helpful materials, like treatises, are easily available and readable and are freely accessible in hard copy in their library, causing them to sometimes choose the non-electronic option.  

The legal research & writing faculty seem to be all over the place on this issue. And it's interesting to see what the legal writing folks think about legal research pedagogy because they are often driving the decisions on this front

In a perfect world, I would say that book research is still a useful tool to provide context for online searching, which is, inevitably, what the Google Generation will rely on. As law library budgets continue to shrink, and as print collections are reduced in favor of online access, researchers will have little choice but to rely on electronic content.

Moreover, the Google Generation and beyond have been conditioned, through years of poor research instruction, to simply Google a few keywords and rely on the first page of results without giving much thought to source, context, or indexing. Left to their own devices (pun intended), why wouldn't they continue to research the law in a similar fashion by relying on database algorithms to do the heavy lifting for them and by focusing on the first page of results?

In fact, I've seen it time and again. Particularly during a reference interaction when I ask a student how they've gone about researching to get a sense of where I need to begin the teaching moment. Most often, they've done keyword searching in a database and are overwhelmed with the results because they have no context or strategy to work from. 

In law, that just won't do. In a system where the future of law is reliant on past law (think precedent), the legal researcher must understand legal research in context. That means teaching a sound strategy, regardless of content format, that the students can apply to any issue

I show this strategy in books and online, as well as with a combination of print and online to illustrate to the students that the strategy is the thing! Regardless of format! 

When teaching each part of the strategy (preliminary and secondary sources, codified law, binding precedent, persuasive precedent), I discuss the books mainly to provide context for the online sources. When teaching about secondary sources, for example, it's helpful for the students to see the print table of contents and index to understand, in context, what they see online. 

I find the books particularly helpful for federal statutory law. Students need to understand the publication process to understand what part of the law they are viewing (slip law, session law, code section, etc) and why it's important to the process. This seems to be most effectively done in print then by showing the online corollary. 

But we shouldn't stop there. Sure, we can teach them how to research in a couple of classes in law school. But if we expect them to absorb the strategy and become truly proficient researchers, we should include legal research across the curriculum. Or, in lieu of that uphill battle, we should create a separate legal research program to ensure mastery of this very important skill

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Librarians Guiding the Use of Classroom Technology

As librarians, we are often the go-to institutional source for teaching technologies. In law, the faculty often look to us to help train on and maintain these technologies for the benefit of the law school community. And with a 21st Century library's focus on service, we are happy to help.


To that end, The Teacher's Guide to Tech 2017 is an invaluable resource. It’s a 265-page digital binder you’ll use all year: Keep it on your desktop, laptop, tablet — even your phone — to help you navigate the tech world with confidence. Like having a tech-savvy friend on call to explain things in plain language, the guide will give you a sense of control over all the options.

The guide explains over 150 tools in clear, simple language. All tools are grouped into categories based on what they do. Each section starts with a discussion of classroom applications.

Then it takes one tool at a time, explaining what it does, how you can use it in the classroom, what it costs, and what platforms it works on. You get a screenshot of the tool in use, plus a link to the tool’s website and a video that shows you how it works. 

Not only will you find a how-to regarding the technologies, there are also sections with advice to implement the various technologies with a look at a few teachers who use technology to enhance the learning experience.

You'll find technologies that help with the following classroom activities:
  • assessment
  • blogging & website building
  • book publishing
  • classroom management
  • cloud storage
  • coding instruction
  • collaboration
  • content curation
  • discussion tools
  • feedback tools
  • flashcard creators
  • flipped learning
  • fundraising
  • image making
  • interactive posters
  • interactive whiteboards
  • language learning
  • learning management systems
  • live streaming
  • mind mapping
  • note taking
  • photo editing
  • podcasting
  • presentation tools
  • productivity
  • research tools
  • screencasting
  • social media
  • student response systems
  • survey tools
  • video production
  • video sharing
  • virtual reality
  • writing
View the full Table of Contents here

As more law schools dabble in online learning and as our focus on outcomes assessment increases, these teaching technologies will be very important to ensure proper student-instructor interactivity in accordance with the ABA Standards. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Continued Evolution of WEXIS Graduate Access

In a continued effort to attract longterm users, both Westlaw & Lexis have modified graduate access to offer generous extended access.

As to Westlaw, currently, if you are a "Practice Ready" school, meaning that you subscribe to the Practice Ready suite, Westlaw sends the following message to impending graduates:



Don’t miss out! Enable your extended access now:

·         Sign in at www.lawschool.westlaw.com
·         If you have not already enabled your access, you should see a prompt asking you to extend. Click on “I agree” and you are all set. 

Not seeing the prompt?
·         Use this link - https://lawschool.westlaw.com/authentication/gradelite

What do I get with my extended access?

·         Know How - Access to helpful sample documents and checklists with Practical Law & Practice Point
·         Research Westlaw access to understand the law and find authority 
·         Drafting Tools - Access to contract review, citation formatting and authority review tools with Drafting Assistant.

You’ll have 60 hours of access to the tools above each month for 18 months from your graduation date!

A few things to note: 

  • There is a deadline for graduates to sign up for "Grad Elite" to continue access for 18 months from graduation. For example, May grads generally have until the end of the following November to sign up for extended access. 
  • While this email was sent to our graduates directly from Westlaw, very few of our recent graduates actually took the steps to enroll. We worked with our law school's alumni office to advertise "Grad Elite." This resulted in additional enrollees while generating alumni goodwill toward the law school (we hope). 
  • The 60 hours of access each month for 18 months includes commercial use. 

As to Lexis, currently, May graduates retain access through the end of the year. Here is a sample email that recent graduates (and bar exam takers) received from Lexis:Law School Graduates,

With the bar exam behind you and the endless possibilities of the future ahead, it can be daunting to figure out your next step. To help, we're introducing a completely new experience to help you stand out. Go to www.lexisnexis.com/lawschool (just like when you were in school), you'll see all sorts of new information for law school graduates including:
  • Access to the top legal news from around the web and from Law360®
  • Career tips to help you build your resume, interview smarter, and network your way to the top
  • Resources to sharpen your research skills and start your own practice
  • A selection of "Graduation Gifts" from LexisNexis to choose from
Sign in now with your law school Lexis Advance ID and you'll benefit from all these great resources. And don't forget, we're giving you free access to Lexis Advance® through December 31, 2017. As you take that next step and start your professional career, count on us taking it with you.

As most of us know, this is just the latest iteration of graduate access to WEXIS in our ever-evolving subscription models. I do, however, appreciate Westlaw's marketing for Grad Elite as being provided by the law library and supported through the law school:

These practice-ready solutions are provided by your law library to help you begin your career as a practicing attorney, supported. . . . These experiential legal tools are designed to help you build confidence, find insight into complex questions, and more - all through the support of your law school.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The 21st Century Law Library: Focus on Service

As we continue to talk about the ABA's watering down of law library standards, as well as the impending squeeze from artificial intelligence, Law Librarian Dan Odenwald reminds us to focus on the fundamental service tenet of our profession. 

In a recent AALL Spectrum article titled "Transforming Customer Service in the Post-Digital Law Library," Odenwald notes that [w]e may be a long way from the day when artificial intelligence discerns legislative intent for us, or drones drop deskbooks at our doors, but we ought to contemplate that future and the critical role that customer service will continue to occupy in it. 

He further articulates rules for law library customer service in the post-digital age: 

1. Stop Selling Yesterday's Fish: Next-generation legal research platforms, linked data and Watson long ago replaced the perfunctory, will-you-pull-a-statute-for-me duties of law librarians.

2. Anticipate Needs Before They Arise: As the practice of law transforms, so too do the needs of our customers. 

3. Make Doing Business with You Remarkable: Every interaction between the library and its customers could fall on a graph of one to 10.

4. Make Others Look Good: How often do we as librarians thank our patrons or recognize their good work?

5. Join the Team ... in Every Sense: Embedded librarianship is by now a familiar concept, and the benefits of weaving the library into the broader parent organization are well documented. 

6. Help Manage the Disruption of Change:  With the ever-expanding burden of mastering change—ironically enough perpetrated on patrons by digital technologies—librarians are uniquely well situated to address those challenges for constituents.

7. Embrace Technology -- and Know its Limitations: Law librarians in particular have a long history of adapting technological advances to their purposes, including electronic research itself.

8. Always Evangelize the WIIFM (What's in it for me?): The importance of marketing your library can barely be overstated

9. Do More With Less -- Automate, Outsource, and Offload: 
Excelling in customer service involves choices, namely, deciding what you’re going to do and what you’re not going to do.

10. Assess. Iterate. Improve: If you’re not already creating mechanisms by which to measure, weigh, and evaluate the results of your labors, then how will you know if you’re succeeding?

These are all wonderful points that also comport with a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled "What the 21st-Century Library Looks Like." As noted, [n]ow, with information always a few taps away, libraries have had to carve out a new niche. They’ve done so by pivoting away from books and toward supporting students. 

As a student-service component, librarians are broadly spending less time with collections and more time teaching students how to do research and use digital tools.

It's clear that our path forward is by going back to the basic, high-level service tenet of the profession. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Our Changing Role: A Survey of Law Firm Librarians

As this study indicates, the legal profession is nearly a decade into fundamental, structural change. And perhaps no single role has seen greater impact than the law firm librarian. Budget pressures, shrinking law library footprints, a decreasing reliance on print, a greater push for online resources, and the advent of new job responsibilities are just a few of the factors that have combined to push law librarians into new territory.

So how much change, exactly, have law firm librarians endured? According to the survey’s 123 respondents from a combination of large and medium law firms, more than half of respondents said their role had undergone substantial change within the past three years, with 15 percent reporting “extreme change.” Forty-eight percent of respondents reported spending more than three-quarters of their time on activities that were not part of their job descriptions three years ago. 

A few of the most-identified changes include:
  • Conducting research, as opposed to facilitating the research process for others, became a new job responsibility in the last three years.
  • Due diligence, with 37 percent of respondents reporting it as a new job responsibility within the past three years. 
  • Competitive intelligence and knowledge management were two additional areas where librarians expect to see increasing responsibility, as approximately 20 percent of respondents saw each as tasks they would assume within the next three years.

While law firm librarians are being asked to do more, it is often with fewer resources. To keep up with these changing requirements, a strong majority of librarians reported needing additional resources to adjust to these expanded roles. According to the survey:
  • 81 percent needed additional technology tools
  • 79 percent needed an increased budget
  • 71 percent needed better knowledge tools
  • 69 percent needed more staff

Ultimately, the study concludes that librarians will likely struggle to find additional budget or head count to address their expanding roles, but the pace of change for those responsibilities seems unlikely to decrease. Doing more with less has become almost cliché, but it remains quite relevant for today’s law librarian.

As an academic law librarian, it's always enlightening to see what is happening in the law firm setting. Those of us in the academe know that the underlying trend is the same -- that most of us are being asked to do more with less. It's a brave new world. One that we all have the skills for. The lack of resources, on the other hand, will be our biggest challenge.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Dark Side of Open Access Publishing

Normally, I am a staunch advocate for open-access (OA) publishing. See previous blog posts on OA here, here, here, here, and here. But with a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (sub. req'd.), it became clear that advocating for OA publishing without mentioning the possible pitfalls is irresponsible.

The CHE article follows the recent demise of Beall's List -- the list created by a librarian to warn researchers about predatory publishers. CHE provides the following possible causes for the demise:

  • [Beall's] fellow university librarians, whom Mr. Beall faults for overpromoting open-access publishing models.
  • A well-financed Swiss publisher, angry that Mr. Beall had had the temerity to put its journals on his list.
  • His own university, perhaps fatigued by complaints from the publisher, the librarians, or others.
  • The broader academic community — universities, funders of research, publishers, and fellow researchers, many of whom long understood the value of Mr. Beall’s list but did little to help him out.
  • Mr. Beall himself, who failed to recognize that a bit of online shaming wouldn’t stop many scientists from making common cause with journals that just don’t ask too many questions.

As to the first point, in Mr. Beall’s analysis, journal-subscription costs had been driven up by a variety of economic, academic, and demographic shifts, compounded by the failure of academic librarians to properly manage those shifts. Rather than admit that, Mr. Beall concluded, librarians had joined in unfair denunciations of large subscription-model publishers, such as Elsevier, for reaping unduly large profits. Those librarians essentially adopted a political perspective, Mr. Beall argued, that led them to overlook a chief characteristic of open-access journals — a model in which authors, not subscribers, pay the cost of publishing. That model, according to Mr. Beall, creates dangerous incentives for corner-cutting and abuse.

I take issue with the notion that advocating for OA also somehow means advocating for predatory publishing models. Many librarians advocate for open access because the underlying research is largely funded by public monies, and the resulting articles should be more accessible to the public.

Although I do, now, recognize that the pitfalls of OA publishing should always be mentioned when advocating for OA, along with a link to any "white lists" -- lists that provide approved OA publishers and are presumably less problematic than black lists.

In the scientific world, leading examples of white lists include PubMed's MEDLINE, the journal archive operated by the National Institutes of Health, and the membership lists of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association and the Directory of Open Access Journals, all of which use quality criteria to limit eligible journals.

Ultimately, Beall was providing a valuable service, largely on his own time. And he was brave for doing so given the associated risks. Many will be sad to see this contribution fall by the wayside.

Thankfully, in law, we have moved toward a model of broad OA, with many reputable journals (that largely do not adhere to the author-funded model) now making their content widely accessible. For a list of OA law journals, see the American Bar Association's Free Full-Text Online Law Review/Journal Search.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Competitive Intelligence in Academic Law Libraries


Competitive intelligence (CI) is decidedly in the law firm setting. Law firms use CI to:
  • gather and analyze information about a competitors’ activities and general business trends to further their goals;
  • gather, analyze, and manage external information that can affect a firm's plans, decisions, and operations;
  • monitor competitors within a specific marketplace; and
  • collect information pieces that have been filtered, distilled, and analyzed and turned into something that can be acted upon.

While it is natural for law firm libraries to create a CI cycle and process within their firms, it can be more difficult to see how CI affects academic law libraries. But academic law libraries certainly have a part to play in teaching CI techniques to prospective lawyers. 

One of the key components of CI is that the information can ultimately be acted upon. And the prospective lawyers will, at some point, be the ones acting upon the information. So it follows that prospective lawyers would do well to understand CI and the underlying information gathering processes. 

In a legal research course with a CI component, the law librarian could help lead the students to CI data for a hypothetical firm and pose action questions to the students based on the information found. This would allow the students to understand the greater workings of the legal economy and be more informed about the market at play.

Data collection and analysis is our future. While law generally lags behind other sectors in terms of technological advances, this is one area where firms who invest in a CI function will be improved beyond current measure. And we want our students to understand the importance of CI as they become the next generation of law firm leaders.

For more information on CI, consider attending AALL's course on Competitive Intelligence Foundations in Chicago on October 27, 2017. Registration ends on October 2. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Law Libraries Retaining Talent

While at AALL Management Institute last spring, one of the other attendees asked Maureen Sullivan, our fearless leader and management expert, how law libraries can stop "hemorrhaging talent."

This question struck a chord. I love this profession, and it feels like a calling. But I often find myself asking "is it time for something else?" The sense from the room at Mgmt Inst was that I am not alone. And we are at a continued risk of losing talented, valuable librarians.

We have to consider why we're losing folks to create change. I'll highlight a few reasons here:
In the academe, the solution is to SUPPORT the talent. We're often talking about what law libraries do to support our community with little regard for our own well being. Law librarianship is so rewarding that you'd be hard pressed to find a career with higher satisfaction. Because the work is inherently rewarding, supporting librarians is key to the retention of talent.

Legal writing instructors have been so successful in securing status across the country, and law librarians need a similarly secure status. Our law faculty colleagues should understand the gender dynamics at play that perpetuate our low status and the systemic devaluing of law librarians because of our institutional role. In particular, faculty should recognize (1) the devaluing of law librarians based on role/credential; (2) changing their accepted behavior based on our role; (3) the actions (ignoring/excluding/surprise/interrupting) related to our role; and  (4) the terminology related to our position.

With the proper support, law libraries will be less likely to suffer at the cost of other programs. And with more security and status, it could be a better "deal" to become an academic law librarian.

Seven years ago, when I approached my mentor and told him that I intended to pursue his profession, he responded that he was afraid I was coming to that conclusion and that I was in for a miserable, frustrating life. Of course, that stayed with me. And while there are days that it feels like too much, I just can't see myself doing anything else. So let's make it less miserable. In fact, let's be agents for change.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Analysis in Legal Research

Too often, searching for relevant information and the ultimate analysis of facts to law is disjointed. That's because teaching the analysis of the law is often left up to the doctrinal professors or the writing professors.

But analysis is inherent to the legal research process. Using the 4-step legal research process to find relevant information requires that the researcher has the ability to analyze the law to select the material that will aid in their arguments. 

Legal research is inevitably a back-and-forth process. The researcher starts with secondary sources to get a better understanding of the cause of action. The researcher moves onto the codified law to understand what needs to be analyzed in light of the facts of the case. The researcher then continues with binding and persuasive precedent to craft arguments by comparing facts and analogizing or distinguishing from case precedent. 

A researcher cannot begin to know what types of binding and persuasive precedent to find without analysis. And this analysis must be part of the discussion in any legal research course. 

Many legal research courses teach the mechanics of finding certain types of content without focusing on the analysis that works to bridge the "knowledge in action gap." This means that the research becomes disconnected from the analysis while in law school, but it is very much connected in practice. And practicing lawyers are left to bridge this gap themselves when they should be prepared, instead, to hit the ground running. 

The creative analysis that is required during competent legal research also means that legal research will be difficult to automate. Sure, some types of legal research could be automated for efficiency. But when it comes to searching case precedent to make creative legal arguments for clients, a machine is just not capable of that level of deep thinking

As law librarians design courses for AY2017-18, please keep the very important analysis portion in mind. To that end, see a previous post on selecting a case to cite

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Law Librarians Improving the Profession

Image from AALL Twitter
During Bryan Stevenson's keynote at AALL in Austin (login req'd), he noted and expounded on 4 things that will improve justice:
  1. Get proximate to injustice
  2. Change the narratives that sustain injustice
  3. Stay hopeful
  4. Do uncomfortable things
His message is an important one, and law librarians certainly have a role to play in improving access to justice. 

Throughout his keynote, I couldn't help but connect these 4 things to the issues facing law librarianship, in general. Like improving justice, law librarians need to work to improve the state of our profession to ensure that we can continue to assist with access to justice issues, among other things, for years to come. 

In that regard, we can do similar things to improve law librarianship: 

     1. Get proximate to the issues facing law librarianship

There is a myriad of issues facing law librarianship: budgets, staffing, librarian supporttechnology, public perception. We need to face each of these head on and work to create solutions. 

     2. Change the narratives that sustain the misunderstandings re: law librarianship

Lately, it seems that we need a wide array of elevator speeches to explain our importance. It's tough to constantly explain in a clear, meaningful way when our importance seems so obvious to us. But it's necessary. I will forever regret letting a faculty member confidently tell me that the only thing that the law library needs is a subscription to Westlaw & Lexis. Law librarians know that there are pedagogical concerns, licensing issues, and many other things wrong with that statement. On this day, I let the comment pass with no retort because I was exhausted from a long day in the office and didn't feel like engaging in the discussion. But we must engage in these discussions. We must advocate for the profession.

     3. Stay hopeful

After attending AALL and talking with other law librarians about our work, it is clear that we are all very busy. And when we get too busy by being asked to do more with less, coupled with feeling underappreciated, it's easy to lose hope. I love this profession, and I, for one, need to do a better job of remembering the intrinsic value of law libraries

     4. Do uncomfortable things

We can't sit still; we must engage. And that's inherently uncomfortable given our responsibilities. 

One of the best things about AALL is meeting all of the wonderful people in the profession and feeling re-energized about tackling these issues. Let's use the momentum until we meet again next summer in Baltimore (with John Waters!).