Law Librarians Adapting to Changing Users
Editor’s note: Post written by Jeff Woodmansee
Although we have long incorporated elements of teaching into our “toolkit” of skills as librarians, there is an increasing trend of academic law librarians having formal teaching duties inside traditional classrooms. In today’s rapidly changing information environment remaining relevant means librarians must understand our role (and ourselves) as library and information professionals. We have roles beyond those of traditional encounters at the Reference Desk. And whether we’re at the Reference Desk or inside a classroom, we must strive to understand the complex behavioral processes that information seekers experience during the search process.
Law librarians serve a variety of roles as legal information professionals, especially in today’s day and age of advanced software and online technologies. Still, in the end, our traditional functions as being the people best equipped to help others access the information our patrons need and providing them with the tools they need to perform efficient research themselves remain paramount to what we do. We must always appreciate the roles we serve within the library and the overall mission that library serves for its users, regardless of all of the new “outside the library walls” duties we have now incorporated into our more traditional daily routines.
Of course, with that comes a new responsibility to not remain static and merely wait for today’s patrons and our new students to seek us out. Instead, we must be able to evolve constantly as technology demands and users and their needs adapt accordingly over time. Today, while we concern ourselves most with how to best serve our primary users and patrons to serve their information-seeking needs, we are now serving a much more diverse group of users and find ourselves having to adapt to their constantly-changing needs.
It’s important to note that even with all of the formal change seen in academic law libraries, many information professionals, even those not in the academic setting, generally acquire some pedagogical teaching skills along the way in their education—or will need to pick up these communication skills in other ways to effectively assist the wide range of patrons headed their way. We know that a lot of what we do in this profession involves “mini-lessons” with our users, and to be successful at that, one must be adaptable to various user learning styles. Each user is unique, and we need to be able to adjust to meet those needs in the best manner possible. Though we may serve unique individual users, we can also become better at what we do by picking up on general trends displayed by users to be better prepared when common needs arise. This is even more important when adding so much online technology in the mix because we find that we’re not just demonstrating the process of how to navigate the library’s resources, but often having to teach basic computer software and online researching skills as well.
For further reading, please see the following:
Beatrice A. Tice, The Academic Law Library in the 21st Century: Still the Heart of the Law. School, 1 UC IRVINE L. REV. 159 (Mar. 2011), available at http://www.law.uci.edu/lawreview/Vol1No1Articles/Tice.pdf
Michael Rogers, Turning Books Into Bits: Libraries Face The Digital Future, MSNBC: The Practical Futurist (Sept. 2005), available at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8258453