Friday, April 29, 2016

How Libraries Contribute to Student Learning

Barbara Fister over at Library Babel Fish on InsideHigherEd recently posted about  a new report out from the Association of College and Research Libraries summarizing the findings of the second year of a project called Assessment in Action, an ambitious attempt involving over 200 institutions to see how libraries contribute to student learning and how we can measure that contribution.

The cumulative findings of these projects are these:
  • Libraries play an important role in helping students survive their first year at college. A number of projects showed that students who received some kind of instruction from librarians in their first year do better in their courses than those who don’t.
  • Students who use libraries tend to stay in college and get better grades than those who don’t. (Of course, these findings tend to be correlation rather than causation. Still, good to know.)
  • Many of the institutions participating found that students benefited when libraries partnered with other offices that support students such as writing centers and academic enrichment programs.
  • Some of the participating libraries looked at specific general education learning outcomes such as critical thinking, problem solving, and civic engagement, finding that information literacy programs in libraries can positively affect those goals.  
The librarians involved in this massive project offer a trove of ideas about how we can assess a library’s contributions to learning, and it’s all available online, including survey instruments, rubrics, and more. Each team devised their own question to focus on, one that reflected institutional goals, and summaries of what they learned are available in a searchable database. If you’re a librarian doing assessment of learning, this is an amazing resource.

The study notes that "to reach a high number of students and to establish a foundation of information literacy competencies for students as they progress through their academic careers, many academic libraries put a priority on instruction for students in general education, core curriculum, and required writing or English composition courses."

As Fister points out, "while it’s important to help students get an introduction to using sources for academic work in their first year, there are serious limits to how much they can learn when so much is new and overwhelming, when they have so little context for the sources they’re looking at."

And this is where we, as law librarians, find ourselves. There is a core 1L curriculum in law schools that allows librarians to give a foundation of legal research skills. But there are practical limits to how much a 1L can learn. So we must establish research across the law school curriculum to ensure that law students can practice research in context. 

And if you find it difficult to get enough face time with students in doctrinal courses, you might consider creating a law library administered legal research program

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Beware of Restrictive Publication Agreements

We've seen that publishing in open access avenues such as SSRN or an institutional repository result in a higher scholarly impact for articles.

But some publishers are reluctant to adopt the model in favor of restrictive publication agreements that protect the bottom line.

InsideHigherEd posted about Elsevier's newly established hosting and sharing policy created in 2015. Academic, library and technology organizations are denouncing a new sharing and hosting policy adopted by publisher Elsevier, saying it undermines open-access policies at colleges and universities and prevents authors from sharing their work.

Many librarians and open-access advocates, however, see the policy as an attack on institutional repositories, where colleges collect and make available research their faculty members produce. The new policy does not allow authors to share their journal article manuscripts publicly through those repositories, only privately “with a colleague or with an invitation-only online group.” Availability through the repositories is subject to journals’ embargo periods, which in some cases last for several years.

Before authors decide to publish with Elsevier, they should take this policy into consideration. Authors should also try to negotiate using a SPARC addendum to retain copyright of their scholarly work.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Syracuse Planning Online JD Degree

Earlier this month, InsideHigherEd released news that Syracuse University announced plans to create a hybrid JD degree.

The institution hopes the American Bar Association and New York State will accredit [the program]. The program will be launched in partnership with 2U Inc., which helps colleges take their academic programs online and already works with five other colleges at Syracuse. Students in the J.D. program would receive much of their instruction online but would also take some in-person courses and participate in externships, according to a news release from the university.

Legal education has been slow to move online, as the ABA has taken a conservative stance in its approvals. In 2013 it gave William Mitchell College of Law (now Mitchell Hamline School of Law) authority to create a part-time hybrid program.

In 2012, 2U helped the law school at Washington University in St. Louis create a fully online master's degree in U.S. law. The law dean at WashU at the time, Kent Syverud, is now the chancellor at Syracuse.

This is the second school to create a hybrid JD program. It'll be interesting to see how many more jump on the bandwagon.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Perils Of Censoring Searches

The NYTimes reported that UC Davis spent upwards of $175,000 to have any negative search results about the university scrubbed from Google.

After a pepper spray incident at a protest, the University of California David paid at least $175,000 to two public relations firms to suppress the negative search results generated by its name, and the name of its chancellor, Linda P.B. Katehi, according to a report by The Sacramento Bee. The news has caused some California lawmakers to call for her resignation.

One of the firms, Nevins & Associates, based in Maryland, said it would “launch an aggressive and comprehensive online campaign to eliminate the negative search results for UC Davis and the Chancellor through strategic modifications to existing and future content and generating original content as needed,” according to its contract, which was obtained by The Bee through a freedom of information request. Under the contract, signed in January 2013, more than two years after the protest, the university agreed to pay $15,000 per month for six months.

Can you really eliminate negative search results?

In a word, no. Eliminating undesirable search results is not possible, said Danny Sullivan, an expert in search engine optimization. 

Instead of zapping unfriendly news articles and commentary from the search results, the goal of such search scrubbing efforts is to create enough new content to push down the negative results to at least the second page of links in Google search results. Most people don’t dig beyond the first page, so having your own positive links bury the negative ones could dull their impact.

In essence, the firm's contract should not have stated that it would "eliminate the negative search results," rather, it would bury the results so as not to garner much attention. The uproar over this technique is surprising. Institutions have been doing this type of thing since search engine optimization came in vogue.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Fair Use Stands In Google Books Case

In what is a boon for the concept of a "World Library," the Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a challenge from the Authors Guild and other writers claiming Google's scanning of their books amounts to wanton copyright infringement and not fair use.

The guild urged the high court to review a lower court decision in favor of Google that the writers said amounted to an "unprecedented judicial expansion of the fair-use doctrine."

Google urged the justices to side against the writers because, in the end, their works would be more readily discovered. "Google Books gives readers a dramatically new way to find books of interest," Google's brief said. "By formulating their own text queries and reviewing search results, users can identify, determine the relevance of, and locate books they might otherwise never have found."

With this decline, the Supreme Court let stand the lower court opinion. The Supreme Court decision means Google Books won't have to stop scanning or ask book publishers for permission to scan. In the long run, the ruling could inspire other large-scale digitization projects, including creation of a "World Library."

Unlike other forms of Google search, Google does not display advertising to book searchers, nor does it receive payment if a searcher uses Google's link to buy a copy. Google's book scanning project started in 2004. Working with major libraries like Stanford, Columbia, the University of California, and the New York Public Library, Google has scanned and made machine-readable more than 20 million books. Many of them are nonfiction and out of print.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Happy National Library Week!

My library is hosting some amazing events for National Library Week.

Trivia night with beer and pizza was a huge hit. Thanks to Westlaw, Cali, Lexis, & West Academic for sponsoring and bringing our law school community together!

We hosted a law school scholarship reception today to honor faculty and student scholarship.

The best event, though, may be the RBG Coloring Contest!

And I am honored that Lexis chose to feature me as a "prominent law librarian" during National Library Week.

Happy National Library Week! (Law) Libraries Transform!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Lexis Views & Bestlaw Browser Add-Ons

Ashley Ahlbrand over at the RIPS Law Librarian Blog posted some great information about browser add-ons for legal research efficiency.

For anyone unfamiliar with Lexis Views, it is a browser add-on for Chrome or Safari (Firefox coming soon) that allows you to search and access Lexis Advance content while you’re researching on other websites. For instance, if you have Lexis Views activated while running a search on Google Scholar, results from Lexis Advance will also display in your results list. If instead you were reading an article in Wikipedia, a pop up at the top of the screen might tell you that Lexis Views has found a matching document for you. If you like beginning your research in Google (and have a Lexis subscription), Lexis Views could prove a useful tool for getting you to reliable legal information once you’ve used Google to get a preliminary framework for the research topic.

Bestlaw is a browser add-on for Chrome or Firefox that integrates into both Lexis Advance and Westlaw. In addition to adding certain usability features to the document you’re viewing in Westlaw or Lexis Advance, such as a distraction free reading display or adding a table of contents, Bestlaw also includes a Search feature that allows you to search for the document you’re viewing in Casetext, LII, CourtListener, Google, Google Scholar, Wikipedia, or Ravel Law.

These are neat features that you might find handy - especially when starting research in Google like so many of our students.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Changes In Legal Employment Patterns Might Give Advantage To Highly Educated

An associate professor of law at Seton Hall Law School has an interesting take on the commentary surrounding legal sector employment stagnation.

According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, law firms employed about 90,000 more lawyers and about 80,000 more paralegals in 2014 than at the start of the survey in 2001. At the same time, law firms shed 180,000 to 190,000 legal secretaries, other legal support workers and their supervisors.

As a result, [commentators] have mischaracterized a decline in the fortunes for low-skilled support workers at a time of expanding opportunities for highly educated workers as stagnation for all.

Law firms have sharply upgraded the education level of their work force, increasing the number of workers with graduate degrees by 100,000 and those with bachelor’s degrees by 30,000. At the same time, jobs for those with one year of college or less have shrunk by 125,000.

Those who say law firms are going through “structural change” may be right. Changes in employment patterns appear to be giving those who are highly educated an even bigger competitive advantage than they have had.

The best way to measure the benefits of education is not by counting jobs, but rather by measuring the earnings premium, or differences in earnings caused by differences in education. This measure also shows the advantages of education growing over time.

It is certainly important to look at numbers carefully to determine the information to be gleaned from them. But I'm not so sure that this is great news for law graduates. Does it mean that law graduates are replacing low-skilled support workers in law firms and earning the salaries that come with low-skilled support work? If you can hire a law graduate for $35,000 a year, why would you hire a high school graduate instead? While people with JDs are likely to fare better than people with high school diplomas in the legal sector, it is still rough going for JDs who have to service major student debt loads on potentially smaller salaries.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Profs Say Undergrads Need To Hone Research Abilities

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting on the latest Ithaka S+R Faculty Survey showing an uptick in faculty members who believe undergraduate students are arriving at college with inadequate research skills.

The report is authored by Christine Wolff, Alisa B. Rod, and Roger C. Schonfeld, all of Ithaka S+R, the consulting-and-research arm of the nonprofit group Ithaka, which focuses on technology in academe.

This latest edition of a survey that is conducted every three years found an uptick in faculty members who believe undergraduate students are arriving at college with inadequate research skills. Many faculty members believe their institution’s library plays a critical role in helping students develop those skills. Scholars increasingly see it as their responsibility to support their undergraduate students, with an emphasis on competencies and learning outcomes.

Now in its sixth cycle, the survey included more than 9,000 scholars in the fall of 2015 at four-year institutions in the United States, and found, among other things, that:

  • Fifty-four percent “strongly agreed” that their undergraduate students have “poor skills related to locating and evaluating scholarly information,” up from 47 percent in 2012.
  • The share of scholars who think libraries help students “develop research, critical-analysis, and information-literacy skills” is up 20 percentage points from 2012.

Bottom Line: When it comes to undergraduate students, the professors are more concerned than ever about students’ inability to conduct research adequately.

This is important information for law librarians because our instruction currently focuses on building research skills gained prior to law school. In the years to come, we may have to do more remedial research education to bring our law students up to speed.