Apply Now for Annual Meeting Grants!

The Annual Meeting Grant Awards Jury will be awarding a number of grants for this year’s AALL Annual Meeting & Conference, July 14-17, 2018, in Baltimore, MD.

These grants cover registration costs for either the Annual Meeting or Workshops associated with the Annual Meeting. More information (including application forms and guidelines) is available here. The deadline to apply is April 1, 2018.

Posted in AALL Annoucements, RIPS Grants | Leave a comment

Legal Research and the Virtues*

by Paul Gatz

Legal research is often characterized as a skill. For instance, the AALL Principles and Standards for Legal Research Competency repeatedly refers to legal research skills, and Standards 303 and 302 of the ABA Standards for Approval of Law Skills identify legal research as one of many professional skills in which law schools are directed to prepare students to demonstrate competency. As a skill, legal research is a type of knowledge-how, like being able to ride a bicycle or grill a hamburger.

But that knowledge-how is built upon a substantive, “foundational knowledge of the legal system and legal information sources” (Principle I of the Principles and Standards). To develop the skill of legal research, one must have knowledge of “the full range of potential sources of information” (Principle I, Standard A), and the origin, dissemination, and authority of those sources within the legal system (Principle I, Standard B). This knowledge of sources and systems is a type of knowledge-that, like knowing 2+2=4 or that the earth revolves around the sun.

An understanding of legal research as incorporating two distinct types of knowledge is illuminating but incomplete, as legal research goes beyond what the researcher already knows. It is a form of inquiry, which presumes ignorance and uncertainty – precisely a lack of knowledge. A complete understanding of legal research recognizes the motivation of the researcher, which is instrumental in identifying the problem, striving for a resolution, and deciding on the acceptable outcome.


Learning and Labor. Not virtues, but still part of the process.

Any number of incentives or threats can motivate, but a truly expert researcher is driven by her own habits of mind, or tendencies of character, which lead her to seek out answers, spot oddities and inconsistencies, and demand excellence from herself and her work. Another word to describe the types of dispositions that push one toward excellence is virtue. More specifically, we may think of these dispositions as epistemic virtues, since they are related to our capacity to form new knowledge.

It is worth noting that there is a stream of scholarship in academic philosophy called virtue epistemology, which focuses on analyzing the theory of knowledge through the norms and values of the individuals and communities who create knowledge. Within this branch, epistemic virtues are characterized as “characteristics that promote intellectual flourishing, or which make for an excellent cognizer.” Wikipedia has helpfully compiled a list of the epistemic virtues, a few of which I have adopted (or adapted) as particularly valuable for the legal researcher.

  • Curiosity is perhaps the legal researcher’s chief virtue, as it provides the primary inner motivation to seek out knowledge and to learn something new – to pursue inquiry.
  • Intellectual honesty prevents the researcher from being satisfied with easy answers, guides him away from confirmation bias, and extracts honest and critical self-reflection.
  • Perseverance grants the researcher the patience and tenacity to continue in the face of strained eyes, opaque results, wasted leads, and all-around moments of despair.
  • Adaptability enables the researcher to change course in the light of new information and to navigate unfamiliar jurisdictions, sources, and databases.
  • Humanity gives the researcher insight into why this issue is important to her client – to empathize with the human needs and desires that have generated and maintained the laws and system of laws within which we work, and, in short, to care.

This, of course, is an incomplete taxonomy of the virtues relevant to legal research. Others may have suggestions as to additional ones. No researcher possesses them all, but rather partakes in different combinations and different amounts of the various virtues. These are, after all, subjective states, and each of us draws from our own inner experience of the research process in describing them.

Insofar as virtues are habits of mind that can be reduced neither to clear statements of general principles nor step-by-step chains of decision-making, Socrates’s question about whether virtue can be taught (See Plato’s Meno, mentioned in one of my previous posts) seems even more important to legal research pedagogy. As teachers of legal research, law librarians should devote time to thinking how to encourage these habits of minds in their students, and in ourselves.

[*] The title of this post was inspired by Shannon Vallor’s Technology and the Virtues, a book I sadly have yet to read, and probably should before I try to write any more about virtue. Her Twitter account, however, I can recommend with approval and knowledge.

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

ALA Midwinter Debriefing on 2/22

Join AALL Liaison to the ALA ACLTS MARC Advisory Committee, Jean Pajerek, for a quick debrief of the meetings she attended during ALA Midwinter.

Thursday, February 22
2:00 PM EST

Connect via Zoom (on phone or computer)

If you would like to be part of the conversation, kindly RSVP to Suzanne Graham ( by Monday, February 19th.

Anticipated topics (based on agendas) include:

Hosted by the TS-SIS Webinar Committee and the ALL-SIS Continuing Education Committee. Liaisons are able to attend the meetings thanks to the monetary support of the Special Interest Sections.

CC:DA agendas

MAC agenda

Posted in Issues in Librarianship (generally), RIPS events | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Librarians Belong at Ice Cream Socials Too

by Nicole Downing

Image via Pixabay

Working in a law school library, I interact with students all the time. They ask questions at the reference desk, schedule research appointments, and beg me to print a case brief when their technology backfires moments before class. I lead workshops and teach instructional sessions at their journal orientations or for their writing seminars. These are all interactions tied to my role as a reference librarian.

There are so many other ways to be involved with students at the law school outside of traditional library services. This post will focus on attending law school events. I know many librarians already participate in these opportunities, but I also know librarians can be an introverted crowd. For those not yet stepping outside the library walls, what I am proposing may go against your natural inclination. But it is worth a try to be involved, and there are plenty of options for getting started.

There are many events to attend to support students, and they can improve your relationship with the students and the reference services you offer. What are some opportunities for librarians to leave the library?

Speakers & Panels: Student groups are always sponsoring lunchtime speaker events with attorneys, judges, faculty, and the students themselves. Students want people to attend, just like we want students to attend our workshops! If it is a topic that interests you or a student you know is speaking, don’t miss the chance to attend.

Student Events: Students often plan larger-scale events, such as journal symposiums or moot court competitions. Attending a symposium can be a great way to support a journal you work with. Judging a moot court competition helps the students and allows you to interact with them in a different capacity.

Social Events: Social events come in all forms and can be hosted by many different law school departments. Ice cream socials, food truck festivals, coffee hours, and orientation welcome events are all opportunities to chat with the students. Plus, you can get some ice cream or a cup of coffee!

Alumni Events: Students are often invited to alumni receptions, and they can be incredibly intimidating events. If the event is open to you, attend with the goal of helping students navigate the waters.

Attending these events can lead to many rewarding benefits. The more students see your face, the more they come to recognize you. This means they are likely to think of you when they have a library-related problem you can help with.

It also allows you to engage as a member of the law school community. The library is your space, but one of the wonderful things about working in a law school library is the law school itself. Stepping outside the library allows you to improve perception of the library and librarians. It also gives you additional opportunities to market library services.

Finally, it can be great for the students. Librarians are generally considered friendly faces. We are significantly less intimidating than many faculty members, which can be incredibly helpful for a student floundering at a social event. You don’t need to monopolize their time, but you can engage them in conversation while they work up the courage to speak to a big-name attorney or professor they want to consult on their journal article. They’ll remember that bit of friendly conversation.

If you haven’t taken that step yet, attend a symposium or student-sponsored speaker event. They don’t require anything other than your presence! Work up to a social event or even an alumni event. As librarians, we’re an integral part of the law school system. It’s great to show our faces outside the library, even when we aren’t offering library services.

Posted in Reference Services | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Patron Services Committee Webinar on 2/22

RIPS-SIS’s Patron Services Committee is hosting a webinar on Thursday, February 22, 2018 from 11:00am-12:00pm CST on “Managing Student and Volunteer Workers.”  It is free to AALL members.  Register by February 19th here.


Student and volunteer workers are often indispensable parts of library operations. Managing part-time employees, particularly those who are new to law libraries, can present unique challenges and require a hands-on approach. This webinar will discuss how to effectively manage and bring out the best in your student and volunteer staff through the use of scheduling technologies, robust training programs, and other managerial tools. This program is designed for library supervisors, librarians, and other professionals who work with part-time library staff. Please contact us if you have a disability that may require live captioning services. It is the attendee’s responsibility to contact the director of education 10 days before the live webinar. If you are a non-member and do not have an AALL login, please create a profile before registering.

Attendees will learn:

  • methods to  design a student/volunteer worker training program
  • techniques to more efficiently manage student worker/volunteer worker staff

Panelist Information:


Rachel Gordon

Access and Collection Services
Duke Law Library

Rachel Gordon is the Head of Access and Collection Services at the Duke Law Library. She manages around 12 student assistants and 2 interns responsible for staffing the service desk, stacks maintenance, preservation, and other duties. She has presented at the AALL Annual Meeting, delivered an AALL webinar, and presented at several SEAALL conferences. She attended the AALL Management Institute, was an AALL Leadership Academy Fellow, received a Thomson Reuters – George A. Strait Minority Scholarship and an AALL Educational Scholarship, and co-authored the RIPS-SIS ILL Toolkit and an AALL Spectrum article.

Josh LaPorte
Circulation Supervisor
Thomas J. Meskill Library – UConn School of Law

Josh LaPorte, Circulation Supervisor at the Thomas J. Meskill Library at UConn School of Law, has over a decade of experience supervising student employees in academic libraries and has worked in virtually all functional areas of libraries. In his role at UConn, Josh manages the Information Desk, collection maintenance, stacks maintenance and planning, and performs substantial campus outreach. Josh serves as the Adviser to the UConn Law Diversity Committee, is an appointee to the UConn University Senate Diversity Committee, and is Treasurer of his union, University of Connecticut Professional Employees Association. Josh has also been very involved in law library professional organizations, including co-chairing the Law Librarians of New England Service Committee and serving as the 2018/19 Chair of the SR-SIS Standing Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Prior to UConn, Josh worked in a wide range of capacities at other academic libraries and for a library contractor, cataloging for a wide variety of client libraries in all formats.

Genevieve Tung
Reference Librarian
Rutgers Law Library

Genevieve Tung is a Reference Librarian and heads the Circulation department at the Rutgers Law Library in Camden, New Jersey. She teaches Advanced Legal Research and writes about delivering and expanding access to legal information. She is an active member of the American Association of Law Libraries and the Greater Philadelphia Law Library Association. Prior to joining the Rutgers faculty, she practiced as an intellectual property associate with Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP in New York, where she specialized in both patent litigation and all aspects of trademark prosecution and dispute resolution. She is a graduate of Barnard College, Fordham University School of Law, and the Drexel College of Computing and Informatics.


Nicole Dyszlewski
Research/Access Services Librarian
Roger Williams University School of Law Library

Posted in Customer Service, Issues in Law Librarianship, RIPS Committees | Leave a comment

Gratitude Check

by Christine Anne George

Image via Pixabay

When the Time’s Up movement began last month, I wondered how long it would take to reach library-land. I tracked the growing number of individuals and professions that were called out, growing more fatigued with each announcement but knowing that the moment must be coming. On January 31, shondaland posted #TimesUp on Harassing Your Public Librarian. Even though it is written from the perspective of a public librarian, there are parts of it that ring true for anyone who has worked a public service point. Then a few days ago the story broke about a cover-up in the National Archives. These are important pieces that need to be read and discussed. Conversations need to happen throughout the library and archives professions discussing sexual harassment and how we will deal with it. We need to talk more about the times when we feel vulnerable at the reference desk and know that we have colleagues who will respond to a request for an angel shot if need be.

I tried to write about it, but the words wouldn’t come. Not yet anyway. Instead I’ve decided to follow the example of a podcast I listen to and do a gratitude check. Far more palatable than Pollyanna’s glad game, the gratitude check is a reminder that even during these emotionally draining times, there are still good things out there. In that spirit here are a few things that I’m grateful for.

FeministLawProfs and LadyLawyerDiaries Twitter Accounts

During AALS in January, FeministLawPrfs had a series of tweets directed to men of the legal academy on how to combat sexism. (The tweets were compiled into a blog post.) The tweets were absolute fire and can apply to pretty much any academic profession. LadyLawyerDiaries is pure joy and the bio is the perfect summary: “A forum celebrating and promoting women in the law and their war stories. And occasionally outing stupid sexist stuff.” A prime example is the reaction to Lady Doritos.

The Joy of Knitting

About a month ago, Lauren Rad posted an epic thread on the history of knitting that has since been featured on the ABA for Law Students’ blog Before the Bar and Above the Law and led to the creation of the Legal Stitching Facebook group. I learned how to knit in college and am still in awe of the instant bond knitters seem to have with each other. I was lucky enough to be a part of a knitting group of librarians and administrators at a previous job and like to see how aspects of that community (swapping tips and showing works in progress) are apparent in the Facebook group. I also am in awe of some of the knitting projects people are posting. As someone who has never really gotten beyond scarves, some of those projects are a sight to behold.

Perhaps you noticed a theme with the things I’m grateful for—all are tied into social media. It’s nice to have the constant stream of news broken up by something that makes me smile. These are some heavy times we’re living in and a bit of self-care is necessary.

Posted in Current Events, Issues in Law Librarianship | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Teaching Librarians’ Role

by Dean Duane Strojny

A new course on the schedule often allows a new opportunity to have librarians reach out to students. This semester, the Research and Writing Department is debuting a new required writing course titled “Advocacy.” The course description states “[A]dvocacy will build on what students learned in Research & Writing, but instead of writing predictive documents such as in-firm memos, students will learn to write persuasive motions and briefs. And the class will culminate in oral advocacy.”

The schools unique curriculum has a large number of required courses, but some upper level courses were reduced in credits to make room for a stronger writing programs consisting of nine credits versus the old six. With a new department course comes the chance for librarians to participate in the course. Our faculty know the value of librarians’ bibliographic sessions. This is great. With the announced retirement of one of our librarians who would usually teach the course, I thought here is an occasion for me to teach since it has been a while. Here I am before the first class with a blank slate in front of me.

The course is taught at all campuses with a variety of writing faculty. For the first round of the course, though, everyone is using the shared syllabus and the same assignments. So far, so good for all of the librarians since we also have a shared outline of what we will cover during our week five bibliographic sessions. The topics are similar to what we used to cover in an old upper-level-writing class, but the new course is covering different types of writing and requiring an oral advocacy presentation as part of the class. Tweaking the old presentation is not enough.

Things need to be done differently this time. First, learning outcomes need to be determined and properly conveyed to the students. Second, the emphasis on electronic resources has changed greatly over the past few years, and my presentation needs to reflect that. Finally, assessment must be conducted in an appropriate way. Without any actual graded assignment based on my presentation, a self-guided assessment will likely be part of class.

As most of you know, the teaching role of academic librarians has become much more important in the last few years. Gone are the days of waiting for questions at a Reference Desk. While we still have an official desk, many times our reference librarians are working in tandem with circulation staff and involved in a number of less traditional projects. If you are staffing a desk, that does not mean you have nothing else to get done during that time. The goal of a teaching librarian should be to serve as a leader in the teaching arena. Learning outcomes, flipped classrooms, active learning, and assessments are part of our lingo. With multiple electronic-book platforms available for users, it is our job to make sure they are aware of how to access the wealth of information. In order to be successful researchers and ultimately productive lawyers, we need to make sure our roles in their academic careers do not go unnoticed.

So, settling back into the class preparation role, it is important to reflect on how that role has changed and how to ensure that the requirements of that role are being met. It could still be easy to substitute for an ill colleague or give a last minute presentation for a faculty member who forgot to plan. But to be successful as a teaching librarian, a new bag of tricks is required. Older handouts and lectures should be replaced with active worksheets and discussion points. An updated approach will make sure that the students are more prepared than ever in legal research, understanding more comprehensively its importance in their education and career. This will also ensure that they realize the important role of law librarians in the process. And that is what we need to accomplish each time we step into the classroom in today’s learning environment.

Posted in Information Literacy, Legal Research Instruction, Teaching (general) | Leave a comment