Motivating and Managing Lazy Desk Workers

by Emily Siess Donnellan

Look, not all of my desk workers are lazy and unmotivated, but some of them are. In August, our circulation manager took a new position. This meant that many of her duties fell to me as the Public Services Librarian, including managing our student workers. I had a good working relationship with the student workers, and I thought managing ten of them would be a breeze. I was wrong.

Law students require more nagging than I thought. Time sheets coming due? Time for nagging. Books need shelving? More nagging. Patron counts need to be done, guess who is nagging? Me! It got to the point that nagging became nearly my entire day. I felt like I was constantly harping on the students. Worse, they thought that too. I had become the micro-manager I promised myself I would never be.

I knew something needed to change but didn’t know what. I’m a new librarian, and this is only my second experience managing personnel, the other being at my family’s restaurant. I thought about why that experience had worked and this one wasn’t. What was different about the restaurant and the circulation desk? It came down to the fact that I knew those employees. I’d been involved in hiring the majority of them, and they knew me. That relationship worked because of mutual respect.

I took a page from that experience and took the time to get to know each circulation assistant. I set aside the first few minutes of their shifts to talk to them about their day, how their classes were going, what they hoped to accomplish, and what they’d been doing before law school. We have many non-traditional students that had full careers before beginning law school. Through this experience, the students became individuals instead of an unruly desk worker collective. I started to learn their eccentricities and strengths.

By getting to know the circulation assistants I was able to give students targeted projects. I knew one student was good at making posters and manipulating online images, so I tasked her with making signs for displays. Another student had a prior job doing data entry, so I asked him to input statistics that we formerly kept on paper and have since migrated online.


CC License

Did this completely solve all of my problems? No. But it allowed me to make headway. It gave the circulation assistants more varied projects and began to build a bridge of mutual respect between the student workers and myself. I still have to nag a little bit, but my nagging has turned from grating to simple e-mails reminding students about time sheets and project deadlines. I’m hoping over time that even these e-mails will become unnecessary as we establish a new work-flow and better communication.

Posted in Customer Service, Patron Services, Productivity, Training | Tagged , | Leave a comment

More Than Basic Civics

by Erik Adams

CC License

A few years ago I participated in a panel discussion before a group of law school librarians. The panelists, who were all law firm librarians, discussed what they wished that summer associates and recent graduates did better. My complaint (then and now) was that this group of attorneys-to-be lacked a deep understanding of our system of government. I don’t mean that attorneys don’t know the difference between the three branches of government; thanks to “School House Rock” (and more modern efforts) basic civics seems well covered. But I frequently find myself walking attorneys through some new area of law, like the trial attorney who has asked for a primer on securities law. Their practice has been so focused that they haven’t had to think about the difference between administrative proceedings and judicial ones, or how statutes are enacted versus regulations are promulgated, or the occasionally odd paths our laws take. Not confronted by these issues, and disinterested in going outside of what they need for work, they find themselves in unfamiliar ground and in need of help.

I was reminded of this recently when I was asked for a legislative history of California Code of Civil Procedure section 1030. The earliest versions of this law date from 1872, when California first enacted its Code of Civil Procedure. But versions of it existed all the way back to 1851 (just after California became a state) and even further back to New York Code section 303. Like many states, California borrowed a lot of New York’s code rather than create one from scratch.

As a librarian, I’m excited when I uncover one of these little pieces of history and have the opportunity to learn something about how our laws came into existence. I wound up spending an hour reading the history of the Field Code, including articles from states like Montana and South Dakota debating whether it was time to systematically review and expunge the remnants of it. But my attorney isn’t interested in that; they just want to understand why foreign corporations warrant special treatment with regard to attorney fees. And the things that interest me the most (i.e. the history of a state law and how it is connected to ) isn’t particularly important to the attorney who just wants to know how to respond to a motion.

When I took a class in U.S. government years ago, on the first day the teacher announced that, from his perspective, this was a challenging class to teach. Not because of the subject matter but because he assumed that most of the students were there to fulfill a requirement and not really interested in politics. Which meant that his job was twice as hard, because in addition to teaching us how laws were made, enforced, and interpreted, he also had to work extra hard to make it interesting.

That attitude has stayed with me. I feel that it often isn’t enough to merely answer the question, especially when there is an interesting or unusual aspect to be teased out. So, part of my job is to not just answer the question but to make the answer is interesting to the attorney. I honestly believe that if I can share some of the enthusiasm for a well researched answer, the attorney will have a better understanding and be able to to their job better.

Posted in Inspiration and Design Ideas, Issues in Law Librarianship | Leave a comment

Ravel Law Visualization Tools First Coming to Shepard’s Results

by Sarah Gotschall

Last week when the librarians at my school met with our Lexis representatives, we asked when the recently purchased Ravel Law visualization technology would be incorporated into Lexis Advance. They didn’t make any promises on the time frame but said that the technology would first be incorporated into the Shepard’s results view. I was surprised because I hadn’t even thought of that, assuming LexisNexis would use the technology in the same way Ravel Law had – in the search results view. Quickly enthusiastic, I tried to imagine what it would look like.

Before pondering how the new view might look, let’s take a look at the current Ravel Law and Shepard’s graphical views.

Ravel Law View of Search Results

Below is a Ravel Law screen shot of the results of the search “concealed carry” in all federal and state cases. Instead of displaying a list of cases like other services, Ravel Law displays search results in a citation map which is organized by date on the X axis and by court on the Y axis.  Each circle represents a single case and the lines between cases show how they are connected through citation. The more a case is cited, the larger the circle. This ingenious graphical view helps a user to quickly make sense of search results. In this example, you can see that “concealed carry” was mainly a state law issue until approximately 2008 when suddenly a number of federal cases culminated in an important (the big circle!) 2010 United States Supreme Court case, McDonald v. City of Chi., 561 U.S. 742, 130 S. Ct. 3020 (2010).

Concealed Carry 3

Ravel Law View of a Single Case

Ravel Law provides the same citation map view for a single case. This graphical view shows all the cases that cite McDonald and how those cases are connected to each other.

Shepard's McDonald By Court

Shepard’s Results Graphical View – Appellate History

The current Shepard’s graphical view of appellate history is already very similar to the Ravel Law citation map, arranged by court on the Y axis and by date on the X axis.

Shepard's McDonald Appellate

Shepard’s Results Graphical View – Citing References

The current graphical view of the citing references for a case provides a very quick and useful overview of analysis, court, and date.

Shepard's McDonald

What Will It Look Like?!?

What will it look like when the Ravel Law visualization tools are incorporated into Shepard’s results?!? Well, I could be wrong, but it seems like the people at LexisNexis already know how to create a citation map with a court Y axis and a date X axis, as shown by the current Shepard’s appellate history graphical view. They didn’t need to purchase Ravel Law for that!

So that leaves incorporating a citation map into the citing references view. We already know what a Ravel Law citation map for a single case looks like, so we could start there and then add in the info from the citing references graphical view – analysis, jurisdiction, and date. We color the case circles analyses colors and create the option to filter by specific jurisdiction and specific analysis. Even though the date is on the X axis, there could still be an option to filter to a specific date range. (And, of course, there is no reason to exclude the additional filters that are available in the non-graphical view of Shepard’s results – publication status, depth of treatment, and headnotes.)


Shepard's McDonald By Court Colors 2

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Revamping a Dry Class Topic

by Nicole Downing

CC License

I guest lectured in a fellow librarian’s Advanced Legal Research (ALR) course last semester while he was at a conference. My topic for the class was “Finding People and Companies.” I put together my lesson with the help of an extensive collection of past class lectures. The class went as planned – I covered the basic resources and the students completed an in-class exercise. However, after the lecture, I felt like the students hadn’t been that interested in the topic. Not all lectures have the students on the edge of their seats. But Company Research? A necessary skill for the buzz-worthy topic of competitive intelligence and the complicated process of due diligence? There had to be a more exciting and compelling way to teach it in my upcoming ALR course.

In the midst of course planning over the summer, I attended the AALL Annual Meeting. What caught my eye were a few different program sessions on competitive intelligence. I decided to attend the sessions with the goal of improving my class session on company research.

I got more than I had hoped for! I attended two sessions on the topic, one more focused on teaching skills and the other focused on finding skills. In “Due Diligence and Competitive Intelligence: The ‘New’ Practice-Ready Skills,” presenters Kathleen Agno, Susan Catterall, and Matthew Morrison explained the need for practice skills in the area of business development for new lawyers. Catterall and Morrison discussed research courses that devote a significant portion of time to these skills. In “Identifying Competitive Intelligence in Public Filings: 30 Ways to Find the What, Where, Why, and How,” presenters Carolyn Hersch, Agnes Mattis, and Christoper Walunas provided an in-depth look at how SEC filings act as a research tool for competitive intelligence.

Between the two program sessions, I had a wealth of new knowledge and resources that I could use to enhance my own teaching on the topic. The sessions also persuaded me that these skills deserved more time and focus than I could provide in a single class session. I reworked my syllabus to devote two class sessions and a graded assignment to company research.

Instead of editing my old slides, I started fresh armed with notes and recordings from the sessions I had attended. I identified objectives for company research and the skills I would be assessing. Then I got to work streamlining the course work discussed into two class sessions for a total of about 3 hours of teaching. The first class session placed company research in a practical setting with a discussion of competitive intelligence and due diligence research and what your research goals would be for each. The second class session focused on the different sources of the information available to meet those goals.

I designed a company client pitch for their assessment, based off a past assignment used in the Advanced Legal Research: Corporate and Transactional course taught at my law school. I thought the assignment would be a nice way to break up the monotony of research memos, which are the main type of graded assignments the students receive in my ALR class.

The client pitch allowed me to test multiple skills from the company research classes, such as locating company structure, company reports, and industry reports. It also allowed me to assess skills from my other practice-focused classes, such as finding people, litigation analytics, court records, and news. As Catterall mentioned, the real challenge for the students is to synthesize the vast amount of information available into a short company profile and use their analytical skills to create a pitch from their knowledge of the company and the law firm.

This experience has allowed me to think more broadly about how useful conference sessions can be. While I was not designing a full research course on this topic like that modeled in “Due Diligence and Competitive Intelligence” or undertaking extensive company research like the firm librarians in “Identifying Competitive Intelligence in Public Filings,” I was able to use information from both sessions to enhance how I taught one topic in my ALR class.

Posted in competitive intelligence, practice ready, Teaching (general) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

RIPS-SIS Leadership Academy Grant

RIPS-SIS is offering grants to attend the Leadership Academy this spring outside Chicago. Anyone who has applied to attend the Leadership Academy is welcome to apply for a grant, although preference will be given to members of RIPS-SIS. The final award of the grant money is contingent on acceptance into the Leadership Academy.

Please complete the RIPS Leadership Academy App 2018, a personal statement, and one letter of recommendation and email a single attachment back to the Chair of the RIPS-SIS Grants Committee, Amy Lipford, by 5PM EST on Wednesday December 20, 2017. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to the Grants Committee with questions.

On behalf of the RIPS-SIS Grants Committee,

Amy Lipford, Chair
Katy Badeaux, Vice Chair
Deborah Heller
Whitney Curtis
Michelle Murray
Jill Sturgeon
R. Martin Witt
Dan Brackman

Posted in AALL Annoucements, RIPS events, RIPS Grants | Leave a comment

The Use and Abuse of Social Media in the Post-Truth Era

by Paul Gatz

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a post on this blog urging librarians to take information literacy outside the walls of the library and into the world of social media, where misinformation and outright falsehoods – which may be gathered under the now-skunked term “fake news” – run rampant. The ability to distinguish good information from bad is a solution to the problem of fake news that must be adopted by the individual user. Another solution would be to attempt to police those who originate the fake news. Yet another would look into the medium through which fake news is disseminated – the social media networks themselves.

Neil Postman wrote, “Nothing is more obvious than that a new technology changes the structure of our discourse.” [51] The printing press, the radio, and the television all irreversibly changed the ways in which we communicate, how we understand truth, authority, and credibility. The people who lived through those changes had to adapt to the new conditions, to find new standards for establishing truth and new norms for acknowledging authority and credibility. Social media has brought us into the midst of a new discourse-changing moment. If we are going to adapt, we must understand how this new medium is affecting our discourse.

It seems appropriate to focus on Facebook, since it has the greatest number of users, 68% of whom get news on the site. Facebook gives each of us an unprecedentedly enormous platform for sharing our thoughts, for gaining insight into the lives of others, and for joining in a truly global community. No two people use the platform in the same way, but we may draw out some common features of social media discourse based on the structure of the platform.

To begin with, when you post something to Facebook, you are addressing an audience larger and more varied than any you would otherwise generally address. Your Facebook friends likely vary by background, belief, and degree and type of relationship to you. This will have an effect on how and what you post – unless it does not. A certain number of people either do not care about what their audience thinks or feels or have deluded themselves into thinking that all of their friends think the same way they do. Other people, confronted with the possibility of sharing thoughts or experiences with casual acquaintances or professional colleagues, will simply refrain from posting anything personal or political to Facebook. Finally, others will so carefully calibrate their Facebook posts that they achieve the non-offensive pabulum of a practiced politician.

Of course, posting is not the sole means of communicating on Facebook. You can also comment on others’ posts or like or “react” to posts. That communicates to the poster that you are engaged with his or her ideas or empathize with the thoughts or feelings expressed in the post. This can also communicate certain things to your other friends, as occasionally something that you like will pop up in your other friends’ Newsfeeds – even if they are not friends of the person whose post you originally liked. This means that posts that strike an emotional chord or generate a great deal of debate will receive a signal boost. This amplification of emotional or provocative posts clearly privileges some voices over others and, together with the happy-chemical kick that comes from someone liking, reacting, or commenting on your posts, incentivizes the proliferation of these types of content as well.

20171106_091237-1Finally, although Facebook would like to pretend that it provides the platform for a global community, it has in many ways provides a more fragmented experience of the world. Not only do no two people use the platform the same way, but no two Newsfeeds are the same. Not only is your Facebook world limited to those people with whom you are friends, but those people who are your friends do not even experience the same Facebook you do. In a way, this is no different than the idea that no one else experiences the world exactly the same way you do. But precisely this analogy gives the lie to the idea that Facebook operates as any sort of community or public sphere. If anything, it only allows us to retreat further into our own heads, surrounded by shadows of our family, friends, colleagues, and others, each as fragmented as our own.

The discussions we have on Facebook are equally fragmented, the interlocutors limited to only those in your social circle or your friends’, the opportunities for agreement sabotaged by provocative and emotionally-charged posts, and the articulation of positions mangled by self-censorship and self-admiration. Facebook is simply not designed to promote rational, civic-minded discourse.

That is not to say that Facebook cannot be changed in order to accommodate this sort of discourse, nor that we cannot ourselves adapt to the space of discourse that Facebook offers. Information literacy is merely one piece of this puzzle. As Margaret Ambrose noted in another RIPS post, librarians must go beyond information literacy instruction to form a better understanding of “how information is consumed and accessed in this new paradigm.”

Many have re-purposed Winston Churchill’s quip on how “we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us” to apply to technology as well as architecture. We should actively work to develop an awareness of how our technology shapes us and, when the resulting forms appear disturbing and dangerous, work to re-shape that technology to better suit the world we hope to create.

Work Cited

Neil Postman, Building a Bridge to the 18th Century (2000).

Posted in Information Literacy, Social Media & Web 2.0, Technology | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Haunting

by Christine Anne George

It was a dark and stormy night in the library as three 1Ls crept along a hallway in ninth floor storage area and let themselves into a dusty study room.

“This isn’t a good idea,” Sarah said for what felt like the umpteenth time. “We should have started earlier.”

“Well we didn’t,” Mary retorted. “Memos are due in twelve hours and this is our only option.”

“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” Winnifred sighed. She looked over at the picture of a gruff looking justice on the wall of the abandoned ninth floor storage room whose most prominent feature were his eyebrows. “Others have and succeeded, right, Eyebrows?”

The portrait stared back at the three 1Ls. Granted he always looked exasperated, but it seemed more pronounced. Every year a few desperate 1Ls came here to find out if the urban legend was true. This year was no different.

“Let’s get it set up,” Winnifred said, opening up her bag. She pulled out a copy of the Bluebook and laid it gently on the floor before sitting down.

Sarah produced a volume from the General Index of New York Jurisprudence. “I heard the Librarian liked legal encyclopedias best,” she whispered defensively. “They said we have to annoy her first so obviously I want to do something to make her happy.”

Mary laid out a few sachets of tea and sat down. “Ready.” She took out her cell phone and started dialing.

Sarah took out a sandwich container and opened it as Mary loudly said, “No, it’s fine. I’m in the library. I can talk.”

Eyebrows’ frame rattled against the wall as a wind whipped through the room. Mary lost cell service and her battery died. The food container snapped shut and then flew into the garbage can.

“Now,” Winnifred ordered.

“Boolean searches are best,” the three 1Ls chanted together. “Boolean searches are best. Boolean searches are best.”

There was a loud crack of thunder and the lights blinked out. When they returned, there was a spectral figure in front of Eyebrows, her cardigan floating around her like a cape. The Librarian. “So nice to hear of an appreciation for Boo-lean,” she cackled. Then she turned. “Did you miss me, Eyebrows? One night a year is never enough.” She turned back to the dumbstruck 1Ls. “It’s the night before the first memo. I assume you summoned me because your memos are already submitted and you have a hankering to talk subject headings.”

Mary laughed nervously. “No, uh, we were hoping that we could ask you for some help with our memos.”

“Didn’t you go to the reference desk?”

The 1Ls were silent.

“Surely you’ve taken advantage of the trainings that have been offered.”

Again, the response was silence.

“Each year I swear it will be the last, but I cannot turn away those who express a love for a good Boolean search.” The Librarian’s eyes narrowed and she seemed to grow to three times her size. “Unless those were just words. What is a Boolean search?”

“T-terms and connectors,” Winnifred stammered.

“I brought an index,” Sarah blurted. “For New York Jurisprudence.”

The Librarian’s form shrank back to normal-sized. “Legal encyclopedia’s are my favorite secondary source.”

“Mine too,” Mary said quickly. “Obviously.”

“Alright. I’ll offer you the same deal I do any 1L who summons me. I will help you with your legal research. In return you are to attend every research training the library offers and you are to bring a friend.” She looked at each of the law students in turn. “A friend who is not in this room.”

They nodded.

“Swear on Eyebrows.” The Librarian pointed to the portrait.

“We swear,” the 1Ls said solemnly.

“Very well. We’ll start with research plans…”


Mildred jumped when her phone rang. She looked around, confused. Had she fallen asleep at her desk? She was planning research sessions to help the 1Ls with their upcoming memos. The draft of the email was up on her screen along with the sign up calendar. She must have fallen asleep. The phone rang again, bringing her back to the present. She reached over and grabbed the receiver. “Hello?”

“It’s Julia. Did you send out the email yet? I had another student at the reference desk who insisting on starting with Google. We’ve got to put something about that in there. Why do you sound like you just woke up?”

“I must have fallen asleep.” Mildred leaned back in her chair. “I had the weirdest—” She nearly toppled from her chair when she spotted something on her wall, something that hadn’t been there before. It was a picture of a gruff looking judge who had an extremely prominent facial feature. “Eyebrows,” Mildred whispered.

Happy Halloween!


Posted in Holidays, Legal Research, Legal Research Instruction, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment