Skip to content

Service with a Smile, or Why Librarianship is Not Dying

August 29, 2014

In the chaos that always comes with the beginning of another school year, I, like so many colleagues across the country, find myself drowning in work. To-do lists only seem to get longer, never shorter, and much of the work that takes up my days is work that I did not anticipate, that seeks me out unexpectedly and takes me away from my planned to-do list. In all honesty, this is something that I actually cherish about my job: the unexpected. I have to laugh every time a non-librarian remarks that my job must be boring. I think we can all agree that it’s quite the opposite – on any given day, you really don’t know what will come through the door!

The Evolving Job

Reflecting on the chaos I have witnessed in this brief start to the semester, I marvel at how faculty service has grown over the years. From resource finders and research assistants to guest lecturers and trainers of student research assistants, our relationship with faculty continues to mature. Today, our relationship is even more complex; not only do we still perform all the services that have come before, but we have ventured into ever varied roles for faculty.

My job title, for instance, is Educational Technology Librarian. In addition to exploring technologies that can enhance library services, I am equally responsible for assisting faculty with technology that can enhance their curricula. This service can take many forms (although I like to differentiate myself from IT; I am really no help if your computer has a virus, and my solution when programs aren’t working is just to restart the machine!); in my first two years on the job, this has primarily involved the creation of research guides tailored to specific courses, but suddenly this year, faculty interest has expanded.

Our university has relied on a home-grown learning management system (LMS) for several years now, but we will be moving to a third-party service, Canvas, in a couple of years. Faculty are encouraged to make the transition early, and many of our faculty jumped on board, right before the start of the semester. Enter me. In the first two weeks of the school year, I have been bombarded with questions from faculty and faculty secretaries about how this new system works. Naturally, I am happy to oblige and am frankly thrilled that they are finally realizing the world of service I can provide them; but secretly, I don’t know much more about this new LMS than they do! My knowledge is mostly home-grown, playing around with my test site and learning from a fellow librarian who has taught with Canvas before. But I come up to their offices and we troubleshoot until we figure it out; if we can’t, I call the university IT department for higher-level support.

Service: The Role that Never Changes

Like many universities, we have an office on campus dedicated to learning technologies, staffed with professionals who are tasked with knowing all there is to know about these technologies and providing regular training sessions and one-on-one support for these technologies. To keep myself abreast of the technologies our faculty might be interested in, I attend nearly every training session they offer, but certainly these learning technologies staff members are more knowledgeable about these technologies than I. So why would faculty come to me for support? First of all, I am not all the way across campus and can provide immediate support. Second, I am familiar with the law school environment and curricula, so I have better knowledge of what features our faculty will use in their courses. These needs can often be vastly different from those of the undergrad faculty the campus learning technologies office usually sees. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I am here to help them whenever they need it and for however long it takes. I am not going to cut them off at 5 o’clock because it’s quitting time. I’m a librarian – I don’t have a quitting time! I am here to serve our patrons, and I would consider it a disservice to cut someone off because a certain hour has passed.

Everything Changes, Everything Stays the Same

And that really gets to the heart of my realization. In library school, we were told over and over again that libraries are dying. The more optimistic professors would say that we’re not dead, but our job is completely different now. With all due respect, I think both points are wrong. Yes, the job has changed, as jobs inevitably will, but I believe the basic principles are the same. We’re all familiar with S.R. Ranganathan’s five laws of library science:

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his [or her] book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.

These principles still ring true today, however modified. Books are for use, and so are research guides and online course pages. Every reader his or her book…or CALI lesson…or database. Every book…or tablet…or LibGuide its reader/user. Save the time of the reader (whether for research assistance or technology assistance). And the library is definitely a growing organism. So yes, my friends believe I spend my days answering research questions, shelving books, and/or shushing people, but in reality, the job is so much more. Dying? Not from my vantage point. Different? Yes and no. Different materials, different technologies, same spirit of service.

Getting the Most from your Google Search

August 26, 2014

The 2012 Ross-Blakley Law Library student survey revealed that 57% of the student body at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law begins their research by conducting a Google search. Truthfully, I also frequently use Google to conduct my own research. It can be both an efficient and accurate search tool if you know how to utilize its features. Below are a few tips to help you get the best results out of your Google searches.

Advanced Search

The Google Advanced Search template allows you to use syntax tools to craft a better question with Boolean operators and provides filters (such as date and language) to narrow the search results. It also gives you the ability to limit your search to a single type of document, such as a PDF file or PowerPoint presentation, by utilizing the “file type” drop-down menu.

Search Specific Types of Websites

You can limit your Google search to certain types of websites, such as educational institutions with the “.edu” extension or government websites with the “.gov” extension. There are two ways to do this:

  1. Inurl: term
    • This will return results from any website with that term in the URL, e.g. inurl: gov.
  2. Site: term
    • This will return results from the specific site or type of site indicated, e.g. site: or site: edu.

Search for Academic Content with Google Scholar

Google Scholar contains a variety of academic content including journal articles, conference papers, theses, dissertations, and technical reports, as well as state and federal court cases. While much of the academic content is not available in full-text for free, searching Google Scholar is a valuable way to conduct an initial search across a broad range of topics to identify relevant scholarly content. Google Scholar also has a “Cited by” notation under each result that gives information on the number of other resources in the Google Scholar database that cite that result, as well as a “Related articles” feature that lists articles on the same topic as a particular search result.

Manipulating Displayed Search Results

Google displays search results by relevance, relying on an algorithm of over 200 factors to determine relevancy. However, you can manipulate your search results in a variety of other ways. First, the “Search within results” feature listed at the bottom of each page of search results allows you to search for additional terms within your result list. Additionally, you can choose just to view “Images” or “News” or utilize the “Search tools” button at the type of the page to narrow results by currency (past hour, past 24 hours, etc.) or reading level (basic, intermediate, and advanced).

Ngram Viewer

The Google Ngram Viewer is a phrase-usage graphing tool that charts the yearly count of selected n-grams (letter combinations),  words, and phrases as found in millions of books digitized by Google. It provides a visual representation of how words or phrases have been used over time (currently the date range is from 1500 to 2008). This is a great scholarly tool but also a lot of fun for experimenting! (Hint: try conducting an Ngram search for “wonder woman.”)

Happy (research) trails!

Embedded Librarianship

August 22, 2014

Embedded librarianship is a trending topic in the law library world. What exactly is embedded librarianship? According to Kroski’s Law Librarianship in the Digital Age, embedded librarianship is: “Intentionally building strong, collaborative work relationships with communities in our organizations” (Striepe & Talley 14). I think the role of the law librarian inherently lends itself to embedded librarianship. Academic law librarians collaboratively work with faculty, students, marketing, and IT on a daily basis. However, it is vital for law librarians to evolve and remain forever embedded within our organizations in order to prove our value and increase our job security.

There are various ways academic law librarians can become embedded within their institution. Becoming embedded relates to the overarching concept of law libraries becoming a service rather than a space. Librarians need to find ways of reaching out to their users instead of waiting for their users to come to the library. Librarians can do this by moving away from the stacks and into the highly populated areas of their institutions. They can host office hours in the student center, café, and study rooms to reach out to students and faculty who may not come to the reference desk otherwise. This would enable students and faculty to become more comfortable with librarians and more likely to approach them to ask questions. Similarly, librarians could perform roving reference by walking around the library with an iPad and seek to help users who might need some assistance. Librarians can also go to faculty offices and offer technology training, iPad app help, or other useful services.

Law librarians also need to assert their role in the classroom. One important way to embed is to gain time in the classroom interacting with students and faculty. Librarians can hold information sessions on a particular topics such as technology resources. They can also create research guides, tutorials, webinars, wikis, and become involved online through students’ TWEN pages.

Additionally, law librarians can collaborate with marketing, student and career services to increase their value within the institution. With help from marketing, the law library can promote their services. The library can also reach out to students through social media. Additionally, law librarians can work with student services in making sure there is a librarian representative present at all organizational fairs and other law school events. Finally, librarians can collaborate with career services in providing law students with information and help finding jobs and internships. Therefore, while academic law librarians are inherently embedded, they need to remain innovative in increasing their institutional value through constant collaboration and outreach.

Just Do…Reference

August 19, 2014

First, a disclaimer: I am a child of the Eighties. I owned a pair of parachute pants (1st grade), watched The Challenger explode on live t.v. from my classroom (2nd grade), and—due to a misfortunate coincidence of nomenclature—suffered through the “Bo Knows” ad campaign featuring Bos Jackson and Didley (5th & 6th grades). I bring this up because, to me, two other marketing campaigns of my youth symbolize the tension that is the trickiest part of providing reference service in a law library.

The two campaigns are Nike’s “Just Do It” ads and Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug slogan “Just Say No.” First of all, it strikes me as funny that two of the three slogans from my youth that still reverberate around my head (I still can’t escape the “Bo Knows” thing as more than one of my colleagues share long memories and penchants for bons mots) feature such contradictory messages. On the one hand, “Just Do It” tells you to not worry about sacrifices but to just do what needs to be done. On the other hand, “Just Say No” insists that some things are dangerous, not worth the benefit, and should be flatly refused. Second, what strikes me as even more funny is how each of these sentiments clearly applies to providing legal reference.

At U.K., my colleagues and I provide reference services to faculty, students, and the public. Overall, we pride ourselves on being as helpful as humanly possible when answering reference requests (a pride that is hardly unique within the profession). Consequently, our attitude veers towards “Just Do It” for things as simple as scanning a historic statute to fax to a small-town law office to things as complicated as spending hours looking through historical archives to track down the origin of a single citation for a faculty member. However, as a reference librarian, the tricky part arises when “Just Doing It” veers close to the blurry line between providing research support and practicing law. Actions that could amount to the practice of law are where “Just Say No” comes into the picture.

Of course, what actually constitutes the practice of law may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but in Kentucky the definition (found in Kentucky Supreme Court Rule 3.020) includes “any service rendered involving legal knowledge.” A rather broad definition like this really limits what a reference librarian can do to assist patrons, particularly public pro se patrons. Other parts of the definition allow an interpretation in which it does not apply to hypothetical, academic-type work, so our faculty and students typically receive unimpeded reference service. I, like many of my colleagues in the profession, became a law reference librarian in part because I like helping people. Therefore, I find it very difficult telling patrons that I can’t help them any further than showing them a source and explaining how the index works, even when I know the exact terms they should be looking up. However, suggesting search terms would be applying legal knowledge which would cross over into practicing law. Thus, I find myself consciously reminding myself to “Just Say No,” even when my knee-jerk inclination is to “Just Do It.”

Introducing our 2014-15 blog contributors

August 13, 2014

We have a fantastic line-up of nine bloggers for the upcoming year. These librarians bring a range of experiences and outlooks to the blog, and I look forward to reading their contributions. Please allow me to introduce them.

Ashley Ahlbrand, Assistant Librarian for Education Technologies, Indiana University Maurer School of Law

Ashley is a new contributor to the RIPS-SIS blog. As the Educational Technology Librarian at IU Maurer School of Law since 2012, she oversees the law library’s social media presence and supports faculty in implementing new technologies in their curricula. Ashley received her J.D. from William and Mary School of Law and her M.L.S.from Indiana University. Her research interests thus far have included state constitutional research and library use of social media.

Jamie Baker, Reference Librarian & Scholarly Writing Professor, Thomas M. Cooley Law School

Jamie has been with Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s Brennan Law Library since March 2010. She teaches legal research sessions to law students in Research & Writing, Advanced Research & Writing, Scholarly Writing, Moot Court, Estate Planning, and Pretrial Skills. Jamie is the liaison to five law school faculty, the Thomas M. Cooley Law Review, and Thomas M. Cooley Journal of Practical & Clinical Law. She also sits on the library’s collection development team. Since January 2012, Jamie has been an adjunct professor of Scholarly Writing at Cooley. Jamie is also a member of the Michigan bar, and when she is not busy with her reference librarian duties, she performs pro bono legal representation.

Janelle Beitz, Research and Instruction Librarian, William Mitchell College of Law

Janelle, a new contributor, is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School, where she was an editor of the Law Review, and of the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs. She clerked at the Minnesota Court of Appeals, practiced law at a mid-sized law firm in Minneapolis, and worked at Thomson Reuters before returning to school to obtain her library degree. She now works as a research and instructional librarian at William Mitchell College of Law. Her interests include, but are not limited to: the First Amendment, social media, technology, tea, teaching, and photography. Last but not least, she enjoys a good cupcake!

Lindsey Ann Carpino, Knowledge Management Analyst, Sidley Austin Chicago

Lindsey is new to the RIPS-SIS blog.She is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago School of Law and received her M.L.I.S. from the University of Illinois. Lindsey became interested in law librarianship while in law school, where she staffed the reference desk as a Reference Fellow. Upon graduating from law school, she began (and still continues) teaching in two paralegal programs, one on campus and one online. While in library school, she also served as a Reference Associate at the Pritzker Legal Research Center at Northwestern University. Now at Sidley Austin, Lindsey works primarily on organizing new collaboration sites for various practice groups with documents, research tools, and other related material.

Shawn Friend, Head of Reference, Florida Coastal University

Shawn is a returning blogger who is currently the head of reference Florida Coastal’s Law Library. She has her J.D. from Arizona State University (1994) and Masters in Library Science from the University of Arizona (2005) and feels conflicted about rooting for either one.  She teaches advanced legal research classes.  She worked in public libraries before returning to the law library and is a member of the Arizona State Bar.

Catherine Lemmer, Head of Information Services, Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Catherine has been has been with the Ruth Lilly Law Library at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law since 2010. Prior to academic law librarianship, Catherine was the project manager for Evergreen Indiana, a pilot project that developed into a state-wide 100+ library consortium using Evergreen, an open-source ILS. Prior to librarianship, she practiced law as a corporate and financial institutions attorney in Chicago, Illinois. Catherine is the current editorial director of AALL Spectrum and was recently elected as an Member-at-Large of the RIPS-SIS Executive Board. She is a graduate of Lawrence University (B.A.), University of Wisconsin School of Law (J.D.), and University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science (M.S.L.I.S.).

Tara Mospan, Reference Librarian, Arizona State University

Tara Mospan has been with ASU’s Ross-Blakley Law Library since 2011. She received her B.A. from Scripps College in 2006, after which she taught for two years as a Teach for America corps member.  In 2011, Tara earned her J.D. from the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, and she earned her Masters of Arts in Information Resources and Library Science from the University of Arizona in 2013. Tara currently serves as the Vice President of the Arizona Association of Law Libraries. Her research interests include curriculum design, legal research instruction, and indigenous peoples and Indian law.

Thomas Sneed, Associate Law Librarian for Research and Electronic Services, Emory University

Thomas returns to the blog as a regular contributor for a second year; he was also a guest blogger during the 2012-2013 academic year. He has been a librarian at Emory’s MacMillan Law Library at since August 2011. Prior to Emory, he worked as a reference librarian at the Moritz Law Library at Ohio State and practiced law in Kentucky. Thomas has experience teaching introductory and advanced legal research and has been a regular contributor to the ALL-SIS Newsletter with his column entitled, “The Collaborative Law Librarian.” He is a graduate of the University of Evansville (B.A.), the University of Kentucky College of Law (J.D.), and Kent State University (M.L.I.S.). He is also earning an M.B.A. program at the Emory Goizueta Business School.

Beau Steenken, Instructional Services Librarian, University of Kentucky

This is Beau’s first year as a contributor to the blog. In addition to the usual library duties, Beau coordinates the research portion of UK’s LRW course. Before coming to UK, he obtained a J.D. and an M.S.I.S. from the University of Texas and an LL.M. in Public International Law from the University of Nottingham. Beyond law and books, Beau’s interests include archery, bourbon (not at the same time as archery), history, and miniature schnauzers.

Here’s a to great year of blogging!

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?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 176 other followers

%d bloggers like this: