Public Health and the Reference Desk

Statistically speaking, you are extremely unlikely to catch Ebola while working a reference shift. You’ve probably seen some version of a chart of things more likely to kill you than Ebola, which has become somewhat of an internet meme. These charts tend to include lots of potentially lethal things that people encounter regularly, such as bees or lightning. (As someone with an irrational fear of bees and an unduly-large-but-entirely-rational fear of lightning, I’m not sure I’m comforted.) In point of fact, you are much more likely to be killed crossing a street on your way to your reference shift than you are by catching Ebola from a library patron. (This is particularly true if you work in a library on a university campus bordered by a major road known by a nickname such as “the strip” or “the drag.”)

Just because you won’t catch Ebola at the reference desk, do not think you are safe from germs while fulfilling your library duties. Many, many different pathogens are out there, virtually all of them more contagious than Ebola. For example, the flu strikes an extensive blow every year in an annual outbreak known as “flu season.” The CDC provides a handy chart to educate the public as to when the flu is likely to hit its peak. Since reference librarians typically interact with members of the public in relatively close proximity, they are likely to be exposed to influenza germs each year. Furthermore, those of us who provide reference at law schools often interact with an especially sensitive population, namely overly stressed, sleep-deprived law students. Given their state, these students may be even more likely than the general public to be harboring the flu.

Of course, the germ exchange could work the other way as well. If a reference librarian reports to work contagious (we are typically dedicated), that single librarian may accidentally infect multiple library users in a single day. For instance, I have a toddler in daycare. Since he has started daycare, I have on several occasions come to work only to discover during the course of the day that I have come down with: hand, foot, and mouth disease; viral gastroenteritis (twice); pink eye (thrice); or a severe head cold (more times than I can count). On these days, I was more likely to be an accidental disease vector than an unwitting victim.

Luckily, conscientious librarians can take several steps to minimize the chances of an unintended exchange of microbes during reference interactions. First, keep hand sanitizer at the reference desk and wash your hands frequently. (Incidentally, according to the CDC, vigilant hand washing also works against Ebola.) Second, sanitize surfaces regularly; keyboards do not explode when sprayed with Lysol. Third, maintain your recommended vaccinations (including yearly flu shots) to contribute to herd immunity. Fourth, if you know you are contagious, impose a self-quarantine by calling in sick. While you may think you’re annoying your coworkers by forcing them to having them cover for you, trust me, they’ll be much more annoyed if you infect them with contagion. Finally, use your reference librarian know-how to research other recommendations and likewise refer patrons to credible sites such as the CDC, WHO, or Mayo Clinic.

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Cool Teaching Tools

I recently attended the Mid-America Association of Law Libraries (MAALL) Annual Meeting. As at most law library conferences these days, there was a program on cool technology tools that we could use in the office and classroom. Here are some that caught my attention this time around.


Move over Prezi — there is a new presentation program available. With emaze, you can seamlessly toggle back and forth between a multitude of media such as slides, videos, and in-class demonstrations. This is perfect for demonstrating your favorite online resource in your legal research course. When students go back to review your slides, they can also view recorded class content.


LibGuides are a library web publishing service offered through Springshare. This service provides its users with a platform for creating, managing, and publishing electronic research and resource guides. While this product may not be new to many, Springshare’s new LibGuides v2.0 may be! V2.0 offers more efficient searching, the LibAnswers widget, more user account restrictions, an improved line checker and tags, and other new features. Already have LibGuides v1.0? Good news! You will be able to migrate your v1 guides into v2. You can find out more about this process and more here:


What is i>clicker? It is a tool that allows instructors to interact with their students through a remote control. You can take attendance, take polls, quiz students, and facilitate discussion all through the click of a button. Instructors can also display the results instantaneously within their presentation. Students can also turn their smartphone or laptops into an i>clicker. This encourages students to become more involved in class without having to raise their hand.

Have you tried any of these cool tools in your classroom? Do you have any tips or feedback to share? Or do you know of other cool tools worth sharing? Let us know!

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The Pitfalls of Video Presentations – and a Suggestion for Avoiding Them

A traditional librarian duty is to create guides for students and other patrons.  As better technology has become available, libraries moved from paper booklets to online guides like LibGuides. To further assist in classes and training, especially in academic libraries, many librarians have created podcasts or videos. These are all effective ways to disseminate information and give guidance on resources to a wide variety of patrons, including those who cannot physically get to the library, but there have always been problems with services provided in this way as well.

There is a lot of advice about how to get the most out of research guides, as they may not be read or used as much as they should be, but one of the biggest concerns is that they have to be updated. Updating takes significant time and effort, and this problem has been Continue reading

Posted in Patron Services, Reference Services, Teaching (general) | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Working with non-law students from your university

For the last few months, the unique reference situation has been the norm. It started with some unexpected questions and has continued with an uptick in requests by non-law students from across our greater campus. While it is always our intent to help as much as possible, these students bring their own set of challenges and questions.

Where are they getting the referral to us?

At Emory Law, we have a research consultation request form on our website that we market to our law students. Although many of our student requests for assistance still come via the more traditional methods (in person at the reference desk or emailing a familiar librarian), we do see 5 – 7 requests via the consultation request form from law students per month. Recently, we have noticed an increase in requests-via-form from students across campus. While the form is not exactly buried on our website, the student would still have to search to find it.

We have learned from discussions with other librarians on campus that they are familiar with our system and are referring students to  the form for research questions. Some of these questions are clearly law related, while others only touch the edges of legal information. It is flattering to know we have a good reputation across campus and that we are known as the best resource for legal research questions.  But is there another issue?  Could we do more to help other librarians better handle these questions?  Our law librarians are quite adept at interdisciplinary research; could we help our colleagues become more comfortable with the basics of legal research?

How much do they know about what we are providing?

I am sure most of you have gotten the request for access to one of the password-protected databases from a non-law student and found a way to politely explain our licensing agreements, with the next paragraph in the discussion providing information on access to alternatives including the lite versions of Westlaw and Lexis. But even then, how much do non-law students know about what they are researching? A recurring request for us comes from graduate students needing federal court docket information for empirical research projects. After explaining the nuances of what is available, I often try to talk about what they will find within the dockets such as the myriad of motions, orders and other filings. But I can’t spend forever with them. Even with access to what they need, is there going to be real comprehension of what they find?

How much time can you allocate to them?

From the example above, you can imagine that these encounters can be time consuming. Non-law students are not our primary patrons,  but we still want to provide quality guidance. I have found that providing the basics and leaving the conversation open for additional email communication works well. It gets the student started, gives them a chance to work with the resources and materials, and then lets them know that they won’t be on their own if questions arise.

As we see interdisciplinary research become more common, these requests from non-law students will continue to increase. The students bring fascinating questions but also present their own logistical issues. We have our best practices for working with them – how does your library help your non-law student patrons?

Posted in Information Literacy, Issues in Law Librarianship, Patron Services, Reference Services, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

WGDLLE: The Hardest-Working Working Group You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of  

A couple of weeks ago, William Mitchell College of Law hosted the Working Group for Distance Learning in Legal Education (or WGDLLE, as we are currently and affectionately calling it) for its fall meeting. This is what the weather was like:

Fall in MN

Don’t you wish you had been here?

A rogue group of professors, educational technologists/instructional designers and academic law librarians, WGDLLE is an eclectic bunch, with the state of distance learning in legal education as their common thread. I should say, “you should check us out,” and, “we are an eclectic bunch,” as I am a member of the group, but I feel rather odd saying that, as I’ve only been at the last three meetings.

“Officially organized in November, 2011, the Working Group is an outgrowth of the Program for the Legal Profession’s Future Ed Series,” WGDLLE’s website informs us. Many of the members of the group work at law schools which offer online LL.M. or certificate-type programs. Others are experimenting with the limits Continue reading

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AALL Hackathon – July 2014

A guest contribution from Jenny Wondracek, RIPS-SIS Chair

At the AALL Annual Meeting this past July, RIPS-SIS joined together with GD-SIS, CS-SIS, and SR-SIS to sponsor the AALL Hackathon. The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI) also provided much time, many ideas, and moral support in planning the hackathon, plus they gave us a web portal to post information about the hackathon and the datasets that we recommended.

What is a Hackathon?

At a Hackathon, people who are well versed in the public’s information needs get together with those who can program, build Continue reading

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Researching Across the Law School Curriculum

Law schools generally require two or three research & writing courses before graduation. Some law students will actively seek electives that provide additional training with a research component, but many students shy away from these courses. With the limited curriculum devoted to legal research, we are only skimming the surface of student comprehension. And, as noted in a recent RIPS Blog post, if we try to show the students too much information at once, it can lead to information anxiety.

But the more often students see research on a different legal issue, with a different database, or in a different source, the more likely it is they will Continue reading

Posted in Information Literacy, Legal Education Standards, Legal Research, Legal Research Instruction | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment