Encouraging Community in the Physical Library Environment

In my last post, I discussed creating a virtual community for online learners, but what creative things are we doing to create communities in our physical libraries ? What kinds of cultures are you trying to create in your library, and how do you go about encouraging that? At the Warren E. Burger Library of William Mitchell College of Law, we’ve experimented with several initiatives and activities over the last few years, primarily centered on crafting better communication with students and exploring creative ways to improve service. These are some of our successes, most of them small and easy to do.

Unusual circulating items
When you hear about public libraries arranging for seed-lending, providing laptop chargers at circulation perhaps doesn’t sound so revolutionary. However, students are constantly forgetting them. So we have several laptop and cell phone charges available for students to check out. Additionally, we offer headphones, laptop locks, and bookstands (which are surprisingly popular) for circulation. The circulation periods for these items are more similar to reserve items than normal books – two to four hours, rather than three weeks.

Not a day goes by when I’m sitting on the reference desk that I don’t hear a student ask for a cell phone charger. As far as I know, there have been no problems getting these items back, although I think the rate of charger breakage is higher than you might expect. However, the replacement fees are not terribly high. I’d love to hear about other unique items circulating in law libraries. We all, of course, have heard of Monty, the therapy dog who circulates at the Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale, but what other kinds of unexpected things are you loaning to your patrons?

Loo Review
Shamelessly purloined from an idea Harvard Law School’s library suggested, a few years ago I started a “bathroom reader” in our library to inform students of things that we librarians thought the students really needed to know about and just weren’t getting. We call it the Loo Review (name provided by a very funny student; the tag line, provided by the same student, is “Captivating News for a Captive Audience”), and it comes out a couple of times a month. We post the “reader” in magnetic sleeves that attach to the inside of the stall doors — mildly embarrassing but it works!

The Loo Review has showcased electronic databases that students tend to neglect in favor of Wexis, changes in library hours, courses that librarians are teaching, helpful advice for finals studying, fun places to eat near campus, and much more. We know the students read it, because they come to us with comments and questions based on the things in it. It reflects a fun, looser side of law librarians, I think. You can see a recent issue here.

Open-voice area
A few years ago, our new director was interested in creating a more dynamic environment on the main floor of our library — more of what the public libraries have been doing in the past few years, emphasizing the library as gathering place, instead of stressing a silent study area. We created an “open voice” area on the main floor, replaced some furniture with some big, overstuffed comfy chairs, and loosened our eating policy (from absolutely no food or drink to covered liquids and “non-stinky, non-messy” food allowed).

Admittedly, the results of this experiment have been mixed. Not everybody is pleased with a law library that is less-than-silent in all areas, and sometimes the policies may feel arbitrary. For example, we still ask people to take their cell phone conversations outside  (however, at least during my shifts, I’ve found that most seem to understand this). I’ve definitely noticed a cultural shift in the first floor. You can hear conversations going on, and the area seems busier than before. I think students who would otherwise be studying outside the library are now doing so inside the library. As long as we continue to enforce quiet in the quiet areas of the library, I think this has been welcome shift for many students.

Reference office moves
This summer, for several reasons, the reference librarians moved their offices from the top floor of the library, far away from all the action, to the main floor of the library, near the reference desk and smack-dab in the middle of the open-voice area, where all the action happens.

Although this initiative is more elaborate than the others I mention, and it was not done with the purpose of contributing to the library culture, I believe it has done just that. The reference librarians are more visible than they were before. Students will stop by our offices with questions; before the move, they did not even know where our offices were. If the reference librarian on duty is busy with a patron, another student does not necessarily have to wait for assistance. Personally, I feel more connected to our patrons and believe I have helped more of them than I was able to before.

Coffee during finals

Finals Haiku

Coffee table set up in library conference room during finals time. Haiku and thanks provided by students.

I think our biggest gratitude-generator/attention-getter is providing coffee during finals, when we open up our conference room and turn it into a study break area. We keep it stocked with coffee, trashy pop culture magazines, puzzles, and games. This initiative has proven quite popular. I couldn’t even tell you how many pots of coffee our students go through during finals. And I think they really appreciate having a spot where they can truly take a break.

Students work on the puzzles we supply, take turns at the Scrabble game we put up, and are sincerely appreciative of our efforts. The finals coffee break room brings in students we don’t normally see, if only for them to tell us the coffee needs refilling. Then the next semester, some of them remember us and are more willing to ask for help for our more “typical” reference duties.

What kinds of fun and unusual activities are you attempting in your library? Has it changed your library’s culture?

Posted in Customer Service, Issues in Librarianship (generally), Library Displays, Inspiration and Design Ideas | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Why do I do this?

For the second year in a row, I have had the pleasure of writing one of the last posts before the New Year.  But instead of making resolutions, I wanted to answer a question and send out a call to action.  So why do I blog?

I will admit there are some times when deadlines are looming that I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?”  I have many demands during the workday, and I have a full home life.  Most days I don’t set down to relax until well into the evening.  It would be easier to pass on some extra-curricular activities and give that time to a more pressing duty.

But what fun would that be?  In the time I have been working with the RIPS Law Librarian Blog, I have had the opportunity to write about the great things we are doing at my library, think about things we should be doing, and talk with other librarians who were interested in a topic I wrote about or have great ideas we haven’t even thought about yet.  It may take a few minutes out of a busy day to put together a 500 word blog post, but the benefits that come from the process and the aftermath are well worth the time spent.

That’s why I do it.  But what about this call to action I promised?  I know from meeting librarians over the years that we all have great backgrounds and we are doing interesting things at our respective librarians.  Many of us have areas of subject expertise which can expand to great ideas for papers (or conference presentations).  In my mind, everyone should be active in the profession in some sort of way, and writing about what we do is a great way to do this.

Everyone has different demands on their time, and coming up with ideas can be difficult.  Next time you think about heading to Facebook, why not instead spend a few minutes jotting down your thoughts?  Do you feel like you have writer’s block and the ideas just are not coming?  Check out this recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education discussing the writing habits of highly productive scholars.  There are numerous great tips to becoming a more productive writer with a general theme that it primarily requires developing habits and practices to get the work done.  Much like everything else, writing is a skill that can be and should be developed.

In the end, I enjoy writing for the opportunities to interact with my fellow librarians.  And yes, it can be time consuming and at times difficult to come up with new ideas.  But I stick with it, figure out the best practices for me, and find moments when the time is right to work on the next project.  So the next time you see a call for “insert the publication or conference here,” I strongly recommend considering giving back to the profession with those great ideas I know all law librarians have.  I promise you won’t regret it, and you may even learn to love it.

Posted in Productivity, Uncategorized, Work/Life Balance, Writing (generally) | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Evolving Role of the Academic Law Librarian

As law libraries transition from print collections to digital collections, the role of the academic law librarian will continue to evolve. This evolution will take us from being the curators of print collections to the curators and navigators of electronic collections.

Some libraries are making this transition faster than others, and a total transition is still many years away. As Jerry Dupont of the Law Library Microform Consortium stated in a May 2013 ABA Journal article, “’When people say everything’s online they’re woefully uninformed.’ Dupont, founder of the LLMC, a nonprofit law library cooperative, estimates that of the 2 million unique volumes contained in America’s law libraries, only about 15 percent are available in digital form. That figure includes access via Continue reading

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Competitive Intelligence: Giving Our Students a Leg Up

A law firm partner that I admire greatly put it succinctly when he said, “Successful lawyers spend 90% of their day being entrepreneurs.” Although we might dispute whether 90% is an accurate data point on the spectrum, it is indisputable that successful lawyers more closely reflect entrepreneurship than most of us would like to admit. Although law schools offer law office and practice management courses, business development has yet to become a core course in the law school.

To help fill this deficit or perhaps to put a dose of reality in law school, I advocated for and developed a one-week unit on competitive intelligence (“CI”) in our required semester long second-year legal research class. The objective of the CI unit is to introduce our students to the concept of CI and its role as a business development tool.  Although brief, the unit introduces CI as a tool to better represent current clients and to develop new business from existing and prospective clients.

We keep it simple! The objective of the unit is to have students understand that in an increasingly competitive environment successful lawyers need to understand how to gather and transfer business data into strategic knowledge that informs and drives planning and action. The unit focuses on identifying relevant data; gathering and comparing the data in a systematic manner; and using the data to advise a client on a business opportunity. Although deeper concepts of benchmarking and market analysis are noted, we don’t delve into those concepts in this basic introductory unit.

The unit:

      • includes a brief historical overview of CI and its roots;
      • distinguishes CI from corporate espionage;
      • introduces business, corporate, government, social media, and news resources and search engines;
      • discusses cross-checking data and developing relationships between different data; and
      • puts it all together in advice for the client.

Students are also introduced to the Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) organization and resources such as the SCIP Insight newsletter. Aqute Intelligence and its free resources are also introduced. Aqute’s Competitive Intelligence Tools (found on the free resources page) is a list of over 200 CI tools, including over 25 social media CI tools.

LLRX.com hosts Sabrina I. Pacifici’s Competitive Intelligence – A Selected Resource Guide (updated August 2014). Although Pacifici’s guide is likely to overwhelm most students, it’s a good free resource to introduce them to for future use.

The goal is that at the end of the unit our students will be familiar with the concept of CI and have a basic understanding of identifying and connecting data to advise a client. For those of you who may be interested in developing a similar option for your students, the following additional resources were helpful in developing the CI unit:

I am interested in hearing from anyone else that is introducing CI to their students. I am also very interested in hearing from any private law librarian who might be performing CI research as to what we should be teaching our students about CI!

Posted in competitive intelligence, practice ready | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Too Crowded? The Pros and Cons of Crowdsourcing Legal Research

crowdsourcingA few weeks ago, I gave a lecture in our Advanced Legal Research course on free and low-cost legal research. This is not a new lecture topic for me. Typically, we focus on Fastcase and Casemaker for the low-cost resources, and Justia, FindLaw, Google Scholar, and government websites (among others) for the free resources. Recently, however, a number of legal research startups have come on the market that are attempting to change traditional legal research in some way. Ravel Law, for instance, approaches legal research through a data visualization lens. What I have found particularly interesting, however, is the trend toward crowdsourcing legal research.

“Crowdsourcing is the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.” I took this definition from Wikipedia, which seems fitting given that Wikipedia is probably the best-known example of crowdsourcing. The idea behind Continue reading

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Combating Link Rot for Legal Writers

Much of what we do as librarians revolves around preserving knowledge and making it accessible.  Thus, the growing issue of “link rot” and “reference rot” in legal information is a troublesome problem.  Link rot is the phenomenon of broken links – when the URL provided via a hyperlink no longer functions.  Reference rot is a bit more deceptive; in this situation the hyperlink still works, but the webpage or information provided is no longer that which was originally linked to. In their recent article Perma: Scoping and Addressing the Problem of Link and Reference Rot in Legal Citations, Jonathan Zittrain, Kendra Albert, and Lawrence Lessig provide some perspective on just how big the problem is. They found that half of the links provided in Supreme Court opinions and over 70% of links cited to in the Harvard Law Review “do not produce the information originally cited.”  As Zittrain puts it in an April 2014 interview with NPR, this is “extraordinarily bad for the long-term maintenance of the information we need…to understand the law.”  As legal writers need to support their conclusions with fixed content, it is vital that they take steps to preserve content as it exists in particular moment in time and make it readily available. Continue reading

Posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Issues in Librarianship (generally), Legal Writing, Writing (generally) | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Knowledge Management within an Academic Setting

Knowledge management or KM is a trending topic within the law library world. While KM is typically implemented within a law firm, it can also be used within a law school or government law library. How can we apply this topic as academic librarians? First, let me start off by describing KM. KM is a sharing of knowledge through the use of a database. According to Law Librarianship in the Digital Age, KM is: “The leveraging of the organization’s collective wisdom (know-how) by creating systems and processes to support and facilitate the identification, capture, dissemination and use of the organization’s knowledge to meet its business objectives.” Stephen A. Lastres & Don MacLeod, “Knowledge Management,” in Law Librarianship in the Digital Age (Ellyssa Kroski, ed., 2014), at 390. Continue reading

Posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Library Statistics, Planning, Productivity, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment