Skip to content

RIPS-SIS Meetings at AALL, San Antonio

June 30, 2014

Calling all RIPS-SIS members! Please join us for the following events:

  • Breakfast Business Meeting, Monday, July 14th at 7:15 am, Marriott Rivercenter Salon I.
  • All-Committee Meeting, Monday, July 14th from 5:30 to 6:30 pm, Marriott Rivercenter Salon J.
  • 3 great roundtables:
    1. RIPS-SIS Distance Education Roundtable, Sunday, July 13th at 11:45 am, HBGCC Room 218
    2. RIPS-SIS Patron Services Roundtable, Monday, July 14th at 11:45 am, HBGCC Room 207A
    3. RIPS-SIS/ALL-SIS Joint Research Roundtable, Tuesday, July 15th at 7:15 am, Marriott Riverwalk Alamo Ballroom Salon

Teaching Graduate Students

June 18, 2014

In my last post, I talked about my spring semester teaching experience. So what am I doing this summer?  Jumping right back into the classroom with a group different from the typical JD – our graduate students.

This is my second summer teaching an introductory legal research class to the JM students at our law school.  As a bit of background, the JM, or Juris Master, program is geared toward working professionals wanting to gain better insight into the various legal issues they come across in their jobs.  The students can tailor their curriculum to what best suits their needs and we are excited that our numbers have been strong.  For the first two years of the class, we have averaged around 20% of the JM students enrolling in this elective option.

With this class being taught in the summer, these students have already experienced at least one academic year in the program.  However, we have decided to keep the class basic, covering the topics of case law, statutory and regulatory research along with secondary sources, current awareness and the research options beyond WEXIS.  It is essentially a re-emphasis on the building blocks of what they have been hearing during their first year in the program.  It reminds me of first semester legal research for 1Ls broken down into even more fundamental terms.

I like to think of my teaching by examining what the students get out of the class and also what I learn from the experience.  For the graduate students, they get an opportunity to ask LOTS of questions about the basics of not only legal research but also our legal system.  I don’t mind if someone wants to get detailed about the concept behind a digest or how a bill becomes a law and then makes it into a code.  During the academic year, these graduate students are in regular classes with JDs and have indicated that they sometimes feel apprehensive about asking certain basic questions.  While I point out that there are no bad questions (and the JDs could also use the re-enforcement), I also have the time to delve deeper into these inquiries and don’t mind if it leads us down an unexpected path.

For me, it is a refreshing way to interact with the basic materials of our profession.  These non-traditional students do take me up on the offer to ask lots of questions.  I end up coming up with new and better ways to discuss black letter law, treatises or why the print version of the Code of Federal Regulations has different colored covers.  I usually teach specialized advanced legal research classes and this return to the basics is quite enjoyable.

So what about everyone else?  Do you have the occasion to teach non-traditional groups and if so, what do both you and the students get out of the opportunity?

The Patron Services Committee or My Obsession with Trashcans, Step stools, and Staplers

June 11, 2014

Editor’s Note:  This is a guest post from Jessica Randall Panella. Jessica is the Head of Access Services at the University of Connecticut Law Library. As Head of Access Services, she  oversees operations of the Access Services Department which includes the main desk, reserve operations, stacks management, continuations management and interlibrary loan. Jessica is a graduate of  Drexel University (MSLIS) and UConn (BA). 


It’s the little things that add up to make a big difference in patron services. For that reason, I am obsessed with trashcans, step stools, and staplers–but more on that later. This post is really about the Patron Services Committee.

The Patron Services Committee, or the P in RIPS, focuses on “ILL, Circulation, and other topics relating to services provided to the patron.”  After years of really only holding terrific roundtables at the Annual Meeting, the committee has been branching out over the past year. Using ideas from past roundtable discussions as a starting point, we created four subcommittees evaluating best practices, tool kits, and online roundtables. Julie Krishnaswami, a RIPS Member at Large, is also working with us to write an Access Services white paper.

Topics we are concentrating on include the following:

  • Customer Service
  • Innovative / Nontraditional Services
  • Service in an e-information world
  • Patron access to library space
  • The challenge of service when change is the new normal
  • Articulating value in patron services

Our hope is to grab all the little tidbits from the expertise of our members. It’s the little tips and ideas that can make a big difference. Sure, moving your service point or creating a new service is really helpful, but the small tricks that align with your organization’s mission and vision are really important as well.

So here are my ‘little’ big obsessions:


Trashcans migrate; so proper placement throughout your space is key. People are lazy, but if you find the proper location for your trash can, they’ll throw their stuff away. If you are reconsidering your food/drink policy, you also have to think trash. I aim to have a trash can and recycle bin in eyesight from almost anywhere someone would be sitting or walking. This requires coordination with the building maintenance staff, but with proper coordination, it works really well. Our cleaning crew has told me they prefer emptying more trashcans to the messes that are created by people not picking up after themselves.


Librarians are obsessed with staplers in general. There is conversation galore, and Jason Vance recently wrote an article in College and Research Libraries News about what he labels Staplercide.  However, I’ve found the secret to staplers, and I’m sharing it for the first time. First, buy the nicest staplers you can afford. Then, put staples in that are larger than you say they are. So for a stapler that staples ‘up to 30 pages,’ put in the 30-60 page staples. And for the stapler that staples ‘up to 60 pages,’ put in the 60-90 page staples. It increases the life of the stapler exponentially. It is also important to have a staff member who is really, really good at fixing an electronic stapler. If you follow these steps, virtually all of your stapler problems will be solved. You have to check them daily, but the grief is gone.

And, side tip — if you punch aluminum foil occasionally, it sharpens your hole punch’s blades. Or, at least it seems to do so.

Step Stools

Step stools are important too. I firmly believe that lack of step stools is a reason the collection doesn’t get used. The patron thinks, “Oh, the book is out of reach, and I can’t find a step stool. Oh well, I’ll use something else online.” I’ve watched it happen. Having step stools strategically placed in the stacks is very important.

However, I’m only one person with three little patron services obsessions. Through examining best practices, creating tool kits, writing a white paper on Access Services, and online roundtables, the RIPS Patron Services committees plans to highlight the ‘little’ and ‘not so little’ tips to improve your space and services.

Do you have any tips or tricks to share?  If so, please do so in the comments.



T-4 weeks. And counting.

June 4, 2014

The librarian in me was fascinated to note that there does not seem to be consensus on what the T stands for in T-(whatever). Might be time, might be test, or might be takeoff. There is an X- as well, possibly. And note that T- is pronounced ‘T minus.’

That aside, all of the above terms work in my concerns about what happens in four weeks – the official end of Westlaw Classic for law schools. You all have seen the notification by now:

The move is on….

As of Tuesday, July 01, 2014, WestlawNext will be your research platform and Westlaw Classic will no longer be accessible for your account.

We trust you will find WestlawNext a more powerful and efficient platform for your research. If you have any questions or need research help, please contact the Reference Attorneys at 1‑800‑733‑2889 (1‑800‑REF‑ATTY).

At least, I have seen it. And I admit, I did not do my due diligence. I stopped showing Westlaw Classic (I hadn’t been showing it much anyway), I concentrated on process (see my last rant for more on that and for equal opportunity Lexis criticism), and I didn’t question that I would be doing my students a serious disservice by accepting the limitation on my account to only include WestlawNext.

Until about ten days ago. The day I learned that although law schools will be losing access to Westlaw Classic, law firms and offices will not. The afternoon that a student, who is working all summer (and yes, that includes days in July and August) in a major prosecuting office still ONLY has access to Westlaw Classic. And, according to West, that office is going to continue to only have Westlaw Classic for the foreseeable future.

My student needs research help, and believe me, that student is not the only one. Process is great, and the student really did adapt quickly to using Westlaw Classic. But that was facilitated by the fact that I could send screenshots indicating where items were located. I could push information to that student to get the research on the right track. Why?

BECAUSE I COULD SEE THE SAME THING THE STUDENT WAS LOOKING AT. As of July 1, I will no longer be able to do this. At all. West suggests instead that students access ‘tutorial videos’ that will be available on how to use Westlaw Classic. I am super, super angry about this, in case the all caps did not tip you off. This is unacceptable. I don’t expect to have Westlaw Classic forever, but I do need it while lawyers are still using it in large offices.  I don’t need Westlaw Classic because I want to use it; I have actually become a convert to the cult of WestlawNext. I do need it, however, to be a good teacher and a good librarian. When West takes away my ability to help struggling, nervous, working, summer law externs, they make a potent enemy. I can show my students process on much more workable, stable, and available systems that are more economical anyway.

Fastcase and Casemaker – you will be my new BFFs. Sorry it took me so long to be a good friend.

Do any of you support West’s decision to terminate academic access to Westlaw Classic at this time?  If so, please share your thoughts on why it’s a good idea.


Calling New Bloggers!

June 2, 2014

It’s that time of year again — time to select bloggers for the coming year.  This past year brought varying viewpoints and some great advice.  We would love to have a mix of new and experienced librarians in all fields to contribute thoughts, advice, and ideas on the RIPS Law Librarian Blog.

If you would like to be a regular contributor to the RIPS Law Librarian Blog, please send a brief bio, statement of interest, and a 300-500 word writing sample to Michele Thomas at  Applications will be reviewed by the current blog editor, the in-coming editor, and the RIPS-SIS Executive Board. Please submit materials by by June 8th.

We have several spots open this year; so, please do consider seeking one of them. The world needs to hear your voice!

If you have any questions about blogging or submitting materials, contact Michele Thomas at or 501-324-9868.

Modeling Critical Thinking in Legal Research

May 16, 2014

Recently, I attended a seminar on teaching critical thinking led by Stephen D. Brookfield, a professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. I came away from the seminar with ideas and questions regarding how and why we might incorporate more critical thinking skills in legal research instruction.

What it means to think critically varies across disciplines. Dr. Brookfield offered four examples, three of which bear relevance to legal research and analysis.[1] The first comes from analytic and linguistic philosophy, in which critical thinking means finding and correcting logical fallacies, detailing arguments, attending to the use and misuse of language, and identifying evidence for inferences. This is certainly what most law school classes strive to teach along with the vocabulary and grammar of torts, contracts, and property. This kind of critical thinking is necessary for most typical legal research problems where you spot arguments, fill in holes, work with precedent, and build a logical superstructure of law.

Critical theory gives rise to a second genre of critical thinking in which the emphasis is on spotting power dynamics and questioning hegemonic norms, often in order to further social justice. This type of critical thinking is evident in questions of where legal information comes from, who controls it, and how it is made accessible.

The third variety of critical thinking comes from pragmatism, in which truth and beauty are sought because they work. In pragmatism, a critical thinker is one who is open to new ideas and perspectives that could improve their work and their actions. In legal research instruction, we encourage this kind of critical thinking in our students as they approach new research problems, struggle with difficult questions, and incorporate new technologies.

Dr. Brookfield pointed out that, regardless of definition or academic tradition, critical thinking is essentially a process of appraising assumptions, perceptions, and conclusions to determine if they can be trusted. This appraisal is done by identifying the assumptions and then testing them against established knowledge and alternative perspectives. The end goal of the appraisal process is to be able to take informed actions.

The most effective way to teach this process of critical thinking is to model it, to let the students observe you going through the sequence of events: (1) frame the issue; (2) look for assumptions; (3) check those assumptions for validity and accuracy; (4) reassess assumptions in light of alternative perspectives; and (5) act according to the knowledge and insight gained. I think (though perhaps not critically enough since I have not sought the perspectives of others) that many law librarians miss opportunities to model this kind of thinking even though most of us would likely say that the ability to think critically about information sources is key to effective research. In my experience, law librarians prefer having their demonstrations scripted and tested and perhaps even composed of static screenshots rather than live research so that nothing can go awry. I teach legal research almost exclusively online, and the desire – even need – to have everything run smoothly and without glitches is even more urgent than in the classroom. In an online presentation, there is little tolerance for a search that doesn’t work.

In showing our students only the smooth, successful, pre-planned research, we deny them the opportunity to watch us identify information needs, consider our options and assumptions, check our approaches to a research question, consult others for input, test for validity of our sources, and finally decide that we have (or have not) found the information we need. Letting our students and patrons observe more of our real-time research, with all its glitches and unexpected results and dead ends, would give them unparalleled opportunities to observe critical thinking in action.

To teach critical-theory-type critical thinking about the law, we could lead an investigation into the formation of laws and how they are published, organized, and made available. In a recently published chapter in the Boulder Statements on Legal Research Education: The Intersection of the Intellectual and Practical Skills entitled “Critical Information Theory: A New Foundation for Teaching Regulatory Research,” Julie Krishnaswami of Yale Law School’s Lillian Goldman Law Library offered a number of examples of administrative law research exercises intended to increase students’ awareness of how regulations are proposed, promulgated, communicated, and enforced. Statutes, legislative histories, and case law all strike me as areas ripe for similar critical thinking exercises.

Lastly, I think critical thinking could profitably be applied to the presentation of legal information. New directions in the visualization of legal information are quickly gaining attention, and there is so much that can be done to improve how legal information is communicated – with illustrations, flowcharts, typefaces, layouts, data-driven graphics, mapping, infographics, even courtroom displays. My guess is that most law students never stop to think about how laws and other information are communicated, and openness to new ideas and improvements in this area are sorely needed. How I would love to be able to emulate Stanford’s Institute of Design (called the “d. school”) in offering a class called Law by Design: Making Law People-Friendly.

Having given it some thought, I realize that legal research instruction is rich with possibilities for teaching all kinds of critical thinking skills. These skills could help our students be better lawyers, more thoughtful communicators, and perhaps even advocates for greater transparency in the law. I also think practicing and teaching these skills would help me become a more effective law librarian. As always, there is much to be done.


[1] The fourth type of critical thinking mentioned at the seminar comes from the natural sciences and is essentially the scientific method of hypothesis, testing, conclusion, the ability to reproduce results, and the requirement that all theories be potentially disprovable.

Law Librarians Assisting Law Journals

May 13, 2014

Law journals can benefit greatly from law librarian involvement in instruction and general guidance. One criticism of student-edited law journals is that students lack the knowledge to effectively edit and manage the journals. Librarians can assist in this area because as the students come and go, the librarians offer a more constant, stable knowledge base.

Librarian involvement can begin with prospective law journal students and extend well into their time on a journal.

Prospective law journal students generally take a scholarly writing course where they learn the ins and outs of writing a comment or casenote. Librarians can take an active role in the course by offering instruction on topic selection, preemption checking, and research geared toward scholarly articles. The librarians may also offer instruction on publishing strategies.

As an aside, I used the Law Review tab in Westlaw Classic extensively during this instruction. The Law Review tab has a nice, neat box for the Westlaw Classic resources specific to preemption checking and topic selection. Since Westlaw Classic will no longer be on academic accounts as of July 1, 2014, you may want to see this post on how to create custom pages on WestlawNext that work much like the tabs in Westlaw Classic.

Prospective law journal students learn valuable information during their scholarly writing course that lays the foundation for their time on a journal. Once the students are formal members of a journal, the librarian can offer an orientation session on how to use the law library for resource gathering during the cite-checking process. The librarian may also do an overview of The Bluebook.

Library instruction is just one part of the overall picture of working with a law journal. A librarian can also review articles chosen for publication and create a law journal library for source collection to facilitate cite-checking.

As many law journals start to contemplate an online-only environment, a librarian can also offer guidance on the proper method for archiving born-digital material. And a librarian can help the law journal members periodically review and revise their publication agreement.

There is a wealth of opportunity for librarians to assist law journals. For more information, please see:

Keele, B. J. & Pearse, M. (2012). How librarians can help improve law journal publishing . Law Library Journal, 104(3). 383-410.

How do you assist your law journals?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 173 other followers

%d bloggers like this: