Passing the torch

by Susan deMaine

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard. ~A.A. Milne

Dear readers,

Serving as editor of the RIPS Law Librarian Blog for the past two years has been both an honor and an opportunity for me to deepen my understanding of law librarians and our profession. I am leaving the editorship with a great appreciation for how caring, creative, and hard working law librarians are. We are dedicated to our students, our faculty, our attorneys, our public, and our colleagues, and we care very much about the future of our legal system.

I am excited about our future. Every day, we create, facilitate, and direct the flow of knowledge throughout the legal profession. Our jobs continually reach out into other areas as well, affecting business, education, health care, government, science…the list just goes on. Is it overwhelming as we try to manage everything? Sure. Is it exhilarating? Yes, that too.

I am struck by David Lankes oft-quoted words, “I have long contended that a room full of books is simply a closet but that an empty room with a librarian in it is a library.” Atlas of New Librarianship, at 16. This idea thrills and inspires me. The heart of a librarian’s work is more that just curation; it is creation. We create libraries through our actions, our mindful choices, our conversations, our guidance, our teaching, our analysis of knowledge and facilitation of its flow.

Thank you all for the opportunity to serve as the editor of this blog and to learn so much, not about working in a law library, but about creating a law library with my work. The blog is in excellent hands with Jamie Baker as the new editor, and I am looking forward to seeing what she creates.

Susan deMaine

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An Experiential Learning Primer

by Alyson Drake

Editor’s Note: This week’s post is by incoming RIPS-SIS Vice-Chair/Chair Elect Alyson Drake. Alyson is currently the Reference and Student Services Librarian and the Coordinator of the Excellence in Legal Research Program at the Texas Tech University School of Law Library. 

Experiential educationIt’s no secret that legal education is focused primarily on producing graduates who are “practice ready.” The ABA’s increased experiential learning requirement, requiring at least six hours of experiential courses for each student, is a direct response to the argument that new attorneys lack the necessary skills to act like a lawyer from day one on the job. With new attorneys reporting that they spend 35% of their time conducting legal research, it is no stretch to argue that legal education should devote more time and energy to experiential legal research education.

Our research courses have always focused on practical skills, but what else does it take to make a course experiential in nature? To qualify as experiential under Standard 303(a)(3), “a course must be primarily experiential in nature and must (i) integrate doctrine, theory, skills, and legal ethics, and engage students in performance of one or more of the professional skills identified in Standard 302,” one of which is legal research. The course must also “(ii) developing the concepts underlying the professional skills being taught; (iii) provide multiple opportunities for performance; and (iv) provide opportunities for self-evaluation.” In addition, experiential courses must be a simulation, a law clinic, or a field placement.

Of the three, it seems most likely that our courses would fit in the simulation category, which has its own set of requirements found in Standard 304(a). To qualify as a simulation, a course must “provide[] substantial experience not involving an actual client, that (1) is reasonably similar to the experience of a lawyer advising or representing a client or engaging in other lawyering tasks in a set of facts and circumstances devised or adopted by a faculty member, and (2) includes the following:
(i) direct supervision of the student’s performance by the faculty member;
(ii) opportunities for performance, feedback, and self-evaluation; and
(iii) a classroom instructional component.”

There is some clear overlap between the two sets of formal requirements, so here is a combined, easy-to-follow set of eight requirements your course must meet to qualify as an experiential simulation course:

  1. “[B]e primarily experiential in nature.”
  2. “[P]rovide[] substantial experience not involving a client, that is . . . reasonably similar to the experience of a lawyer . . . engaging in . . . lawyering tasks.”
  3. “[I]ntegrate doctrine, theory, skills, and legal ethics, and engage students in performance of one of the professional skills identified in Standard 302”, such as legal research.
  4. “[D]evelop the concepts underlying the professional skills being taught.”
  5. “[P]rovide multiple opportunities for performance.”
  6. “[P]rovide opportunities for self-evaluation.”
  7. Include “direct supervision of the student’s performance” by and feedback from a faculty member.
  8. Include a classroom instructional component.

It seems obvious to many law librarians that many of these criteria are easily met in most legal research courses, but keeping all eight requirements in mind as you design your course will make it easier to persuade your curriculum committee that your legal research course meets them, too. Demonstrating that legal research courses can be designated as experiential is just one more way we can show our value to our institutions.

For more on how to create an experiential legal research course, please stop by the RIPS-sponsored program in Chicago:  Leave Treasure Hunts to Pirates: Using Research Plans and Logs to Create Experiential Legal Research Courses, on Sunday, July 17th from 11:30am-12:30pm in Hyatt-Regency Ballroom B, or check out my forthcoming article, “The Need for Experiential Legal Research Education,” coming out in the November issue of Law Library Journal.


Posted in Legal Education Standards, Legal Research Instruction, Teaching (general), Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Save the date for the Alphabet Soup Reception


Photo by Meal Makeover Moms | Used under CC BY-ND 2.0

While in Chicago for AALL, please join us for a joint reception of the CS/OBS/RIPS/TS Special Interest Sections (a.k.a. the “Alphabet Soup Reception”) on Saturday, July 16th from 7pm – 9pm in the Hyatt-Crystal Ballroom B. Come enjoy hors d’oeurvres and drinks with old and new colleagues.

For questions regarding this reception, please contact Ashly Moye (

We extend our special thanks to Innovative Interfaces for their generous support in making this joint reception happen.

See you there!

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When A Conference Comes Along…You Must RIPS It!

by Katie Crandall

Editor’s Note: Katie Crandall writes our guest post this week. Katie is the RIPS-SIS Vice Chair and soon to be Chair. She is also the Assistant Director for Outreach at Florida State University’s College of Law Research Center. Many thanks to Katie for this post and her service to RIPS. 

There are so many things to be excited about for the 2016 Annual Meeting. From the legendary Justice Posner to our very own RIPS Roundtables, everywhere you turn events and speakers clamor for your attention. However, the truly can’t-miss events during this year’s conference are the great opportunities to interact with your fellow RIPS members! I have already mentioned our Distance Education, Patron Services, and Research Instruction Roundtables, but what else is there?


Win this penguin!

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so why not have breakfast at the RIPS-SIS business meeting and breakfast on Monday, July 18th, in Hyatt-Michigan AB from 7:30-8:30 am? Make sure to buy your ticket now so you don’t miss learning about the exciting things RIPS has been doing this past year (and how you might get involved in the upcoming year). Interested in getting a program sponsored for 2017? We have a committee for that. Want more educational opportunities? We have a committee for that! Need a penguin mascot for your office? Well, we don’t have a committee for that, but we do have an opportunity to win one! In honor of our annual penguin adoption, we will be giving away a stuffed penguin (possibly a cousin of Puron) at the breakfast. All you need to do is enter before the breakfast and arrive to see if you won the prize!

I know, I know…”but Katie, I hate breakfast and waking up. What else do you have for me?” Well, even though you won’t win a penguin, you can socialize with fellow RIPS members and friends from other SISs at the Joint Reception (commonly known as the Alphabet Soup Reception). This event is on Saturday, July 16th in Hyatt-Columbus A-D from 7:00-9:00 pm. Our SIS partners-in-crime will be CS-SIS, OBS-SIS, and TS-SIS. Many thanks to Innovative for sponsoring our fun!

That’s a couple fun ways to be involved with RIPS at this year’s Annual Meeting, but did you know you can get involved almost every day? All you need to do is to pepper your schedule with the many presentations and posters our dynamic members will be giving this year. We have a complete webpage dedicated to our member presentations here: If you are presenting and don’t see yourself listed, e-mail me ( and I will make sure you are added to the party.

So there you have it. Not one, not two, but numerous opportunities! Remember, it’s not too late to RIPS it real good this AALL 2016!**

** Thank you for your good humor with my multiple Devo puns **


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Ode to the Plastic Sign Holder

by Beau Steenken
new policy sign in plastic sign holder

Plastic sign holders are a great low-cost method for informing patrons of new policies, and sometimes our director even lets us splurge on color printing!

Law libraries spend a lot of money. Beyond the six figures (or more) that a library spends on maintaining its print collection and electronic subscriptions, money must be spent on shelving (and, in some instances, compact-shelving service agreements), furniture, lighting, librarian and staff salaries (not that I’m complaining), and other things that are not part of the collection themselves but enable library patrons to use the collection. In essence, then, law libraries sort of pay for the collection twice, once for the materials and once to render the materials usable. As such, I would like to highlight the one expenditure that I have found to be the most cost-efficient tool for increasing the usability of the library: the 8 1/2 x 11 inch plastic sign holder.

Readily available for under $10 at your nearest office supply store, plastic sign holders come in both portrait and landscape orientations, and once purchased offer unlimited flexibility in directing your patrons to the appropriate source or informing them of policy. For instance, at my law library we have three public-access computers. At various times, we have revised the code of conduct for their use. When we first instituted our initial policy, we invested $8 in the plastic sign holder and about $0.12 in a printout of the policy. Every time we have updated the policy, new signs have cost us $0.12, yet still look just as professional as the original. I challenge you to find something else your library spends money on with the same return on investment!

an event announcement in a plastic sign-holde

Sign holders excel at announcing the latest instances of recurring events.

Plastic sign holders are also a great way to communicate to native populations such as law students. Despite the fact that we post new information to our webpage, our Facebook page, our blog, and the student mailing lists, we notice that our students tend to take more notice of the information if it is physically (as opposed to digitally) in front of their noses. For this reason, we keep a couple of sign-holders ready for announcements, recruitment flyers, and the like.

Clearly sign-holders are great  when you have information to communicate, but what about when you have nothing new to say? Will they junk up the place with cheap plastic? No! You can always use them for inspirational messages, such as…

An inspirational sign saying "Do your best" in a sign-holder next to the circulation desk

Law students seem to find this sign comforting.


a sign reminding students of the end of the semester

Law students do not like this one as much, but it helps them focus.


a sign reading "Tick. Tock."

Ok, we got active complaints from law students about this one.

This last series of signs highlights my favorite aspect of plastic sign holders. Because of the extremely low-cost and impermanent nature of signs in plastic holders, you can use humor and creativity in your signage. While tongue-in-cheek messages would not be dignified enough for more permanent signage, plastic sign holders offer the freedom to occasionally lighten up the bleak monotony of the law school experience.

So here’s to the 8 1/2 x 11 inch plastic sign holder, the library expenditure that punches far beyond its weight!

Posted in Customer Service, Humor, Inspiration and Design Ideas, Library Displays, Library Displays, Inspiration and Design Ideas | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Does the U.S.C.A. “spark joy”?

by Erik Y. Adams

Like many people, I’ve been reading Marie Kondo’s charming book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Coincidentally, we’re going through another round of downsizing our print collection at my library. We’ve used all the usual metrics for deciding which books to keep and which to recycle (frequency of use, cost of maintenance, contract bundling, etc.) and are now faced with hard choices. Can the “konmari method” be of use as we try to decide what to put in the recycling bin?

For the two or three people in the world who have not heard of Ms. Kondo’s little green book, it can be briefly summarized as “throw away the stuff you don’t love”. Her focus is on the home, and she has a specific order for attacking the items that clutter our lives. But for all items she uses a single method and a single metric: when deciding whether to discard an item, you should take it in your hands and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” If the answer is yes, you should keep it; if not, you should thank the item for its contribution to your life, and send it on its way. (She’s very serious about thanking things for their service. To my American sensibilities this seem silly, but I’m a big fan of doing things exactly as recommended at least once, so I press on.)

There is a section devoted to books, and some of her advice will resonate with librarians. She flatly states that keeping a book that you have never read but think you might need “sometime” in the future is a form of self deception: “I’m afraid that from personal experience I can tell you right now, ‘sometime’ never comes.” She specifically mentions that this applies to old school textbooks; keeping a foreign language textbook because you think at some time you will want to brush up on English or German is a lie.

Ms. Kondo also recognizes that sometimes a person can make a mistake. You may discard a book only to realize later that you really do have a need for it. She recommends buying the book new but reading it immediately and feeling no regrets.

Any book that survives the filtering process will automatically be more valuable. The reason her method of tidying up is “life-changing” is because if you do it right, when you are done, you will only be surrounded by items that give you joy. On the bookshelf, she envisions a library that is a personal Hall of Fame: the books you read and refer to over and over. She states that there are very few books that people read multiple times, and when tidying is done, you will only have those books left.

In my house, this means that college copy of Plato’s Complete Dialogs is doomed for my local public library’s used book store, while Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men will live forever on my bookshelf and get read at least once a year, bringing a smile to my eye every time I see it sitting on the shelf.

Which brings us to the U.S.C.A. Like many law libraries, we have a full set of West’s United States Code Annotated and a full set of LexisNexis’s United States Code Service. Years ago, it made sense to have both as they were popular and the differences in content were occasionally useful. Even though we have access to both versions electronically, we have attorneys who insist that we keep at least one print copy. But the cost of keeping both is under scrutiny as we continue to trim the fat from our budget. In terms of usage, cost, and contract bundling, they are roughly equal. If we lived in an environment free of consequences, I would say discard both and force people to go electronic, but that would ruffle feathers. So we have to make a choice: which copy of the U.S. Code do we keep and which do we thank and retire?

IMG_2971If I were to follow Ms. Kondo’s method precisely, the first step would be to take all the books off the shelf and put them in a pile on the floor. She states that books on the shelf are dormant, and must be brought back to life to truly be judged. I think my attorneys might object to me making a mess, so instead I take the first two volumes from each set and place them on the floor in my office. I then take each volume in hand, and ask myself the key question: Does this spark joy?

Ms. Kondo says that this process takes practice. I’ve had some practice at home, and I think I know what this whole “spark joy” thing is about. With Plato and Terry Pratchett deciding, what to keep and what to discard became pretty simple. But, if I’m honest, none of the U.S. Code books or their ilk are particularly joyful for me. Maybe that’s because I shifted to electronic when researching the U.S. Code a long time ago. Strictly speaking, going by my internal joy meter, we should get rid of both. I haven’t decided if I want to pitch this methodology to my library partner, but I am sure it would be an interesting conversation.

Posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Issues in Librarianship (generally), Legal Research, Library Collections, Patron Services | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Shareholder Proposals as a Teaching Tool

by Susan Azyndar

Editor’s Note: Many thanks to Susan Azyndar for this excellent guest post. Susan is currently a reference librarian at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law and co-author of the 2015 article  A New Era: Integrating Today’s “Next Gen” Research Tools Ravel and Casetext in the Law School Classroom, published in the Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal. 

I teach a one-credit business and tax legal research class; it has no prerequisites aside from our first-year legal writing courses. Some of my students sign up because they are interested in business law, some are interested in tax law, and some are just interested in learning about research. I aim to consistently engage all students on all of our topics despite their varied interests. This year, I found a useful business research topic:  shareholder proposals.

Some of the key areas of shareholder activism raise issues that many students find important and compelling, e.g., environmental sustainability, diversity, political contributions, lobbying, and nondiscrimination policies. These sorts of social policy proposals are fairly common. For example, in the 2016 proxy season, 45% of shareholder proposals addressed social issues.

Finding Shareholder Proposals

Because of the constraints of my course, I designed the assignment to focus on finding shareholder proposals rather than on navigating the complex legal framework underlying the proposals, at least in any depth. Locating standard or exemplar language, whether for contracts or business filings, is a skill I emphasize along with the related steps of tweaking language to suit a client’s needs and making sure a given clause complies with applicable law.

My students, in the simulated role of working for in-house counsel at a major corporation, were tasked with finding shareholder proposals about environmental sustainability. We explored a few ways of locating this language:

  • Shareholder proposals are included in proxy statements, so they are searchable on EDGAR as well as through the more user-friendly EDGAR content on the major legal databases.
  • Corporations wanting to exclude shareholder proposals from their proxy statements request can file a request for a “no-action letter” with the SEC. No-action letters which often include the text of the proposal. If the SEC agrees to take no action (to not recommend enforcement), the corporation may exclude the proposal. No-action letters are available on the SEC website as well as through all three major legal databases.
  • Current awareness tools such as BNA’s Corporate Governance Report discuss related trends, provide context, and often mention specific companies involved (a good starting point for finding specific language).

More Complex Research Examples

The legal framework regulating shareholder actions presents many opportunities for more complex research assignments. Here are a few examples:

  • Corporations may exclude proposals that conflict with state laws. Can a corporation exclude a shareholder proposal regarding a nondiscrimination policy in North Carolina given that state’s recently enacted bathroom policy?
  • The Dodd-Frank Act authorized the SEC to adopt new rules permitting shareholders greater access to the corporate proxy statement to nominate directors. Ask students to research whether the SEC has acted on this statutory authority. The SEC did promulgate a new proxy access rule, but the D.C. Circuit vacated it, noting a number of procedural flawsSee Business Roundtable v. S.E.C., 647 F.3d 1144 (D.C. Cir. 2011). This research reinforces student understanding of administrative review, a skill that applies in many contexts outside of securities. Students may also consider how a lawyer might advise clients in light of this regulatory history.

If you’d like to delve more deeply into the world of shareholder proposals, I recommend reading Shareholder Democracy:  a Primer on Shareholder Activism and Participation by Lisa M. Fairfax. This relatively short and quick read will help you take advantage of students’ curiosity regarding social issues even if they are not deeply invested in learning about corporations and securities regulations.

Posted in Factual & Investigative Research, Legal Research, Legal Research Instruction, Legal Specialty Subjects, Teaching (general) | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment