Assistance for Libraries, Librarians, (and others) Impacted by Recent Natural Disasters

by Brandon Wright Adler

In the aftermath of Hurricane’s Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and even the current wildfires of Northern California, some of us may be wondering if there is any way that we can assist those in need. Particularly any libraries that may be required to rebuild their collections – or just rebuild in general. Further, we may be wondering what the legal community, at large, has done to assist their patrons, customers, clientele, neighbors, and friends during these devastations. While, of course, I cannot cover everything in a short blog article, I can provide highlights and some much needed information so that those who are so inclined (and able) can assist where needed. This blog post certainly points out how to assist our patrons in this time of need, but it also equally focuses on how to assist each other, fellow librarians, as we cannot excel and remain the cornerstone for access to information needs for our patrons without bettering and assisting one another.

With the high costs of accessing legal databases these days, it is always nice to see some of those companies give back to their clientele. Even more, it is wonderful to see some of those companies give back in a tremendous time of need. For example, for Florida Bar members, Fastcase is offering a full three months of complimentary service to Bar Association members impacted by Hurricane Irma. This service lasts through December 20th and can be accessed from the Florida Bar Association website (the link on “Fastcase” will take patron users to the appropriate page). In addition, CLIO is offering their cloud-based practice management platform free of charge for three months to lawyers affected by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.[1] Specific to libraries in the disaster recovery areas, EBSCO is offering those libraries six months of free access to their disaster relief reference materials. In particular, there are two databases that they made wholly available to public libraries in impacted states and countries: Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery Reference Center and Home Improvement Reference Center.[2]

While reading a wonderful Library Journal article posted online titled, “Libraries from Puerto Rico to Florida Respond to Hurricane Irma,”[3] I found an excellent link created by the Florida Library Association. The Florida Libraries Rebuild Network link contains a two page spreadsheet. The first page is for Florida Libraries who are in need of certain assistance and the second page is for other libraries or businesses (located anywhere in the world) who are able to provide assistance. For either page, it seems that the organization adds all of their own information along with their specific need or their specific offer.[4] If you would like to donate money, the Florida Library Association also has a link to their Florida Libraries Disaster Relief Fund.[5] In addition, the Texas Library Association has set up a number of ways to provide assistance to Texas libraries impacted by Hurricane Harvey, including the Texas Library Disaster Relief Fund, a Texas Library Association coloring book of which the sales go directly to help fellow librarians who benefit from the Texas Library Disaster Relief Fund, or libraries/librarians may apply for a Disaster Relief Grant. Information for all of those resources can be accessed by going to the Texas Library Association’s Disaster Relief and Support for Libraries page.[6]

The American Library Association is supporting recovery and rebuilding efforts for libraries impacted by natural disasters in Mexico, the Caribbean Islands, and Puerto Rico through their ALA Disaster Relief Fund.[7] The link will take you to their “projects” page where you have an option of “scholarships” or “other.” Click “other” and you will see the disaster relief fund option. In partnership with the American Bar Association and FEMA, the Louisiana Civil Justice Center is the official Disaster legal Hotline for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Through this important hotline, callers impacted by the recent hurricanes can receive answers to legal questions, information on how to apply for and receive aid, and receive referrals to personal attorneys.[8]

Unfortunately, as the wildfires still blaze in Northern California we do not yet know the final extent of the damage of this natural disaster; however, there are still ways to help those in need. Facebook has developed specific “Crisis Response Centers” for the fires. If you want to help, you can let the Crisis Response Center Network know that you want to participate and how you may be able to assist. The Crisis Response Center also allows people to start a new fundraiser or donate to an already established fund. Keep in mind, you may have to search Facebook for the specific area that you are looking to assist, as the Crisis Response Center covers disasters worldwide.[9] Further, as with any of these disasters, if you would like to assist but are incapable of being on site, you can always visit the American Red Cross.[10] Moreover, and sadly, animals also suffer very harshly with any natural disaster, if you would like information on assisting the animals impacted by these disasters you can reach out to the ASPCA.[11]

Please feel free to add further information on how to assist in the comments section!


[1] The Florida Bar News, Hurricane Irma: The Florida Bar Shares Legal Resources and Information, (September 15, 2017).
[2] EBSCOpost, Hurricane Recovery and Libraries – How Information Can Help with Disaster Recovery, (September 25, 2017).
[3] Lisa Peet, Libraries from Puerto Rico to Florida Respond to Hurricane Irma, Library Journal (September 18, 2017).
[4] Florida Libraries Rebuild Network (last visited Oct. 15, 2017).
[5] Florida Library Association, (Last visited Oct. 15, 2017).
[6] Texas Library Association, Disaster Relief and Support for Libraries  (Last visited Oct. 15, 2017).
[7] American Library Association, (Last visited Oct. 15, 2017).
[8] Louisiana Civil Justice Center, Disaster Relief, (Last visited Oct. 15, 2017).
[9] Facebook, Crisis Response, (Last visited Oct. 15, 2017).
[10] American Red Cross,, (Last visited Oct. 15, 2017).
[11] ASPCA, The ASPCA’s Response to Hurricane Maria, (Oct. 10, 2017).
Posted in ABA, Access to Justice, Current Events, Issues in Law Librarianship, Issues in Librarianship (generally), Library Collections, Patron Services, Reference Services, Resources for the non-Academic, Work/Life Balance | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

AALL/LexisNexis Call for Papers


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Adventures on the WestPac Local Arrangements Committee

by Emily Siess Donnellan

Shortly after beginning my first librarian job, my new co-worker, Ning Han, told me that I would be on the local arrangements committee for the annual WestPac conference. The conference was going to be in Boise, and every law librarian in the area had been drafted for this committee. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I figured I would probably work a few hours at a registration desk. It wasn’t going to be a lot of work. I was wrong, so wrong.


As I write this, we have only a few, short, days before the conference begins (October 19th). This experience has left me thoroughly amazed by the attention to detail and moving pieces that go into making a conference successful. I confess, I never thought about the logos, pins, and printed maps that often come pre-stuffed for attendees in little tote bags. I now look at each piece of paper as someone’s hard work. I never thought twice about who put together the helpful restaurant guides to the area. I know now, that is the job of the local arrangement committee. They handle the administrative tasks so that attendees can have FUN in the host city.

I also never knew that the local arrangements committee (LAC) is responsible for choosing the food at the opening reception, ordering a cake, planning a nice sit-down meal during the second day of the conference, speaker gifts, scheduling library tours, invitations, arranging special tours that showcase Boise, and giving conference attendees ideas of things to do outside of conference hours. I moved to Boise a year ago this month, and serving on the LAC has helped me become better acquainted with the city. It has also helped me learn Boise’s strong selling points: Basque food, micro-brews, bike culture, and beautiful parks. All of which I’m now taking advantage of. Well, maybe not the biking, I still prefer walking and driving.

Another thing I’ve learned while serving on the LAC, like most committees, is that the work is never done. There is always a last minute detail that needs attending to. For example, right now I’m helping to create programs and donor boards. Luckily, I just learned that Office Depot does same-day pickup so that should be taken care of shortly.


Boise Downtown, ©ConcordiaLaw

By far my favorite thing about serving on the WestPac Local Arrangements Committee, though, has been the amazing team of Boise area law librarians; Alison Perry (Hawley-Troxell), Kim Kaine (Hawley-Troxell, Marketing Director), Stacy Etheredge (Univ. of Idaho), Michael Greenlee (Concordia) and especially our committee leader Ning Han (Concordia).  They have made an experience that could have been tremendously stressful, interesting and exciting instead. I can’t wait to see how it all comes together later this week.

I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished as a committee. I can’t wait for the attendees to arrive in Boise. I know that the weather will be mostly-nice, the food will be amazing, and you can’t beat the company of other law librarians!

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The Industrialization of Library Service

by Erik Adams

CC License

In anticipation of the firm’s move to Hudson Yards in 2018, Milbank is transitioning to a team-based legal support staff model, which is in widespread use throughout the industry. (Source: Above the Law, Biglaw Firm’s Move To New Office Means It’s Time For Some Buyouts).

It was recently reported in Above the Law and American Lawyer that the law firm of Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy is moving its offices in New York to a new building. As part of the move, the firm is reducing its staff and moving to a “team-based legal support staff model.” The articles I’ve read discussing this change make it sound that it is limited to legal secretaries, and that this is part of an industry-wide shift. There are obvious parallels with law firm libraries, and I wonder if these types of “team-based legal support staff” experiences can provide any insight into our own.

The idea, quite simply, is that rather than having a secretary assigned to one or more attorneys, he or she is part of a pool of secretaries. If an attorney requires secretarial help, they send the request to the pool, and whoever is available performs the work. In theory, this leads to greater efficiency, as you reduce the time a secretary is sitting on their hands while their attorney is in a deposition or otherwise engaged; everyone just takes work as it comes in.

Certain law firm administrative functions moved to that model years ago – technical support or word processing – but I’m not convinced this is an industry trend at the secretarial level. Without question, there has been a change of ratios – rather than just working for one attorney, most secretaries are assigned to three or more, depending on the support needs of the attorneys. I know of one firm that has a 5 to 1 ratio at a few secretarial desks.

I’ve not worked in a firm that used this model for secretarial staff but a friend of mine has. She told me that her firm tried it in one of its locations, and the change wasn’t popular – with the secretaries or attorneys. When I’ve talked about the idea with secretaries I know, most think it wouldn’t work well for one or or more of their attorneys. Some attorneys (mostly younger) would be OK with the “faceless secretarial machine,” but others want more personalized help and bring in enough money to the firm to demand it.

Drawing from trends in law firm libraries, I suspect that “team-based legal support” is the first step toward full blown outsourcing. If secretarial requests can be packaged in such a way that they can be handled by anyone, anywhere, there is no longer a need for the secretarial staff to be onsite, or even employed by the firm.

Which brings me back to libraries. Some law firm libraries have adopted a similar model, with mixed success. I know of one major law firm where research requests are sent to a central email address and are then automatically distributed to a librarian who is available to do the work. The algorithm that is used to assign work does not consider location of the attorney or the librarian, which means someone may be making the request in Los Angeles, but if there is a librarian in New York available to do the work, that’s where it will be done. It also does not consider any existing relationships or past history. The librarians hate it because it reduces the personal relationships they previously had with the attorneys.

I’m curious to read how things go at Milbank. Secretarial support, like library support, has been seen as a very personal and direct work relationship, but that may be changing. Whether we like it or not, there is a desire to see that same shift in law firm libraries.

Posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Legal Research | Tagged | 2 Comments

New App Friday – A Weekly Exploration of Apps

by Sarah Gotschall

Every Friday at 4:30, I wander into my coworker’s office for what we call “New App Friday.” For reasons lost to posterity, on April 14, 2017, I set up a recurring meeting in Outlook and strolled into Shaun Esposito’s office to announce that we would now discuss new apps on Friday at 4:30. Optimistically, I set up the meeting to recur for all time (no end date)! I can’t remember his initial response, but we are still meeting seven months later, so he must have been reasonably amenable (full disclosure – he was on sabbatical all summer…).

Meeting Purpose

In the last paragraph, I wrote that the reasons for the genesis of New App Friday were lost to posterity…but typing just now I had a flash of memory (this is really true)! After investigating the date I first installed an app, I am pretty sure I went to Shaun’s office on April 14 to share my joy over an exciting app I had installed the previous week (more on this later). Anyway, that is pretty much the purpose of our meetings – to share our experiences with new apps. Our general meeting format is to poke around on Google Play to find new apps we might like, install them, try them out, and critique them. We also generally discuss which apps we are currently using, check our Acorns app account balances, complain about wanting new phones (without wanting to pay for them), and discuss our Samsung Galaxy phone features and shortcomings.

New App Successes


The above mentioned new app that gave birth to New App Friday is the Acorns “automatically invest spare change” app. You link the app to your debit or credit card and each time you buy something it rounds the amount up to the nearest dollar and invests your change in…well, something or other (sometimes I don’t like to get bogged down in details). You can also set the app to invest a certain additional amount each week. Shaun installed the app too and now we check our balances each week. Last Friday my account balance was $589.66, and his was about half that. We both invest $5.00 a week extra but I use my debit card constantly while he still frequently uses squirrel pelts. According to the app, if I continue investing at my current rate, I will have $105,327.00 when I am 88! In forty years…


It is hard to believe that one would need a weekly app meeting to finally get around to installing Snapchat, but adults are busy, right? Once I installed it, I couldn’t figure out how to take funny pictures. Taking a picture was easy enough, but I couldn’t find the photo editing features to make it look funny. It took me way too long to realize that Snapchat has to first recognize a face before you take the picture for photographic hilarity to ensue.


The installation of Daylio, the “mood tracker and micro diary” app, was the result of an impromptu New App Non-Friday meeting at AALL. On the last day of the conference, I woke up in an inexplicably dark mood, feeling like a pedestrian-bus-collision victim, so when I ran into Shaun who was also looking worse for wear, we collapsed into chairs to lament our downtroddenness. Out of our anguish arose the idea to install a mood tracking app to….well, I am not sure what. Anyway, Daylio automatically pops up to inquire about your mood at preset intervals. You select your mood (the default choices are rad, good, meh, bad, and awful) and the activity you are currently engaged in (you create the activity categories). Then you can see how your mood changes over time and how your different activities affect your mood. Shockingly, I discovered that lying in bed reading the news on my phone puts me in a terrible mood! Who knew that reading the news these days depressed people, amirite?! You can also view your mood statistics for the day, week, month, or year. Apparently I was in a terrible mood last week during the several days I was in bed with gastrointestinal distress. Who knew!?

A big (not-technically-an-app) success was creating “Add to Home Screen” shortcut links to news and periodicals from our library catalog. When I click one of my shortcuts, I am prompted to sign in through the University’s remote access system. I started reading publications that I haven’t read for years such as Psychology Today and The Economist and ones I never actually read like Foreign Policy and Wired.

New App Failures

My new app failures are legion and largely forgotten because I have to uninstall apps all the time to make room for new apps due to limited space on my phone. One type of app that I keep installing and then deleting for lack of use are habit/productivity apps and photo editing apps. They seem cool and useful but I never actually use them. I have installed various list making apps but they never seem more useful than Evernote and Google Keep.


There are really too many new app successes for one blog post so maybe there will be a New App Friday follow up post in the future. I didn’t even get to our Geocaching app adventure (full disclosure – we couldn’t find the cache) and our failed Samsung Gear VR virtual reality headset experience. Do you use any apps that are of particular note? If so, please share in the comments.


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Can Legal Research Be Taught? Part 2: Varieties of Relevance

by Paul Gatz

In a previous post on this blog, I raised a question that many legal research instructors have perhaps wondered to themselves, in brief, silent moments of doubt and despair: can legal research actually be taught? This question arose from the following notions: (1) legal research involves finding relevant information; (2) in order to determine the relevance of a particular document, the researcher must already know something about the substance of that area of law (loosely termed the relevance paradox); and (3) since legal research instructors cannot teach all the substantive law needed to research any possible issue, we must figure out how to teach students so that they can teach themselves the subject matter knowledge they need to determine relevance for a particular issue. The post ended with a plea for legal research instructors to devote some thought to the idea of relevance in order to better understand how to more effectively cover this topic with our students.

A good first step in further developing our thinking on relevance is to be clear on what kind of relevance is important (or relevant!) for our purposes. Relevance is a concept that has received a fair amount of attention in the field of information science, generally, and information retrieval, in particular. In 1975, Tefko Saracevic reviewed the extant literature on relevance across several disciplines and developed a framework of five different views of relevance. His work, and that of Birger Hjorland, informs much of what follows.


Thompson Library, The Ohio State University

If you consider any sort of information retrieval system – a database, catalog, or index – the question of relevance relates to how the retrieval mechanism identifies relevant documents. This can be done through algorithm, controlled vocabulary, classification, etc. From the perspective of the instructor, this view of relevance may be helpful to discuss with students. Knowing a bit about how the system determines relevance (Saracevic’s systems relevance) is helpful for understanding the system, but it does not tell you whether a given document is actually relevant for a given problem – only that the system identifies it as relevant to your query.

Obviously, the person using the system must make a judgment about the relevance of the documents appearing in the system’s search results. This happens on an individual basis, as the user applies her knowledge, reasoning, and intuition to determine whether or not something is relevant. Students may find it interesting to hear about the factors the instructor considers when determining relevance (Saracevic calls this destination relevance; Hjorland’s user relevance is the same thing), but this does not necessarily translate into a set of universal practices that students can put to use in every situation. Students need to be able to draw upon more than just their individual instructor’s knowledge.

The expert user’s relevance determination may draw upon his knowledge of existing documents in this subject area. This knowledge may be represented in citation analyses and other bibliometric measures – a particular document that is highly cited by other well-cited documents may indicate the cited document’s relevance on a particular topic (Saracevic’s subject literature relevance). We can see ways in which this view of relevance can be rolled into the systems view of relevance (e.g. Ravel’s visualizations of case searches). But, however effective such quantitative measurements are at showing that a document is relevant, they cannot teach a student why that document is relevant.

In order to understand the “why” of a document’s relevance, the student must grasp the reasons why a given document occupies the role it does within the subject literature. Ultimately, this is a question of how knowledge in a particular discipline is created, disseminated, and organized (subject knowledge relevance). Knowledge of the content of a discipline is, of course, helpful in determining the relevance of a particular document, but an effective relevance determination relies upon a theory of what counts as knowledge, or, in legal practice, what counts as legally valid. If you understand that, you can make the connections between what you know, what the system is showing you, and what the subject literature says.

A lawyer cannot adequately determine the relevance of a document without knowing the difference between a case and a statute, where each is published, and how to make sure they are still good law. These are all questions of legal bibliography – things that should already be taught by legal research instructors – but they form a necessary substrate for judging the relevance of a case or other source. More than this, however, a lawyer’s relevance determination draws on her understanding of legal argumentation and authority, her ability to read a case or a statute, to interpret, analyze, and synthesize the law. These latter questions are generally of the sort treated in a legal writing or legal analysis course.

However, just because those ideas are discussed in a different course does not mean that they have no place in legal research instruction. On the contrary, legal research instructors should discuss the role that legal analysis and argument play in determining the relevance of legal documents. Likewise, to the extent that legal research is taught as part of an integrated legal research and writing class, the instructor must make the connections between legal bibliography, legal analysis, and legal research clear.

Legal research can be taught, but only to the extent that it is connected to deeper questions about what the law is, how it is created, and how it develops. Cultivation of that level of perspective promotes the understanding necessary to find the relevant information.


Birger Hjorland, The Foundation of the Concept of Relevance, 61 J. Am. Soc’y for Info. Sci. & Tech. 217, 225 (2010).

Tefko Saracevic, Relevance: A Review of and a Framework for the Thinking on the Notion in Information Science, 26 J. Am. Soc’y Info. Sci. 321 (1975).

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

Students Always Find the Wikipedia Shortcuts

by Nicole Downing

It was that time of year in Advanced Legal Research for a discussion of legislative history. During the lecture portion of the class, I devoted a good amount of time to a step-by-step process for locating a bill number when you start with a code section. After the students worked independently on an exercise using the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, we came back together to discuss. I was happy to hear the correct bill number from my students and asked one student to explain how she found it. Did she take me through the same process I had discussed 20 minutes earlier? No. She found the bill number on Wikipedia.

Wikimedia Commons License

Wikipedia. It continues to offer shortcuts to the various legal research processes we teach, but I don’t think I had realized quite how much it had encroached on legislative history research until I took a close look at the page for Sarbanes-Oxley. Sure enough, the infobox has gotten incredibly detailed.

I don’t prevent my students from using Google or Wikipedia in my class. In fact, I tell them to include their Google searches in their research logs. If they are using it, I want to see it. The goal is to teach them skills they will use in practice. In practice, they will often begin their research with a Google search. So I want to teach them how best to incorporate these searches in a more thorough, traditional research process. Use Google or Wikipedia to get an overview, a public law number, or a bill number, but be a critical user of the information you find over the free internet and continue your research in reliable legal databases.

With that in mind, I want to discuss a bit about what is going on with legislative history on Wikipedia. Legislative history information is contained in the infobox on the right-hand side of a law’s Wikipedia page. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act is a typical example of what you would see describing a law: the title, public law number, Statutes at Large citation, codification, and a list of legislative history notes. The list includes major steps in the legislative process: introduction of the bill, house and senate votes, and the presidential signing.

While the Sarbanes-Oxley Act’s infobox may be typical, it only scratches the surface of the information that can be in the infobox. Wikipedia provides templates for these infoboxes. Take a look at the one for US Legislation here or one more broadly labeled Legislation here. There is the potential to include a lot of detailed information, including the readings of the bill, conference committees, committee reports, amending laws, and supreme court case citations. All on a Wikipedia page for the law.

The sources linked are all free sources. For major steps in the legislative process (bills, votes, reports), links are often provided to government websites like FDSys,, the US Senate website, and the House of Representatives website. Some documents include links to PDFs from official publications (take a look at the public law for the Clean Air Act), while history notes may link to a non-government website (check out the Civil Rights Act of 1964 footnotes that cite to Hyperlinked references in the infobox may also link to other Wikipedia sites, like the name of a committee or the president who signed the bill.

A lot more could be said about the sources used for legislative history on Wikipedia pages, but it is enough, for now, to note that it is a mixed bag. You will find the information links to government websites, government documents, Wikipedia pages, random websites, or nothing at all.

These are things I can discuss with my students to enforce why it is only a starting place for legal research. I also remind them that even this seemingly detailed information is incomplete and that they will only find pages created for major laws. The law a student may be researching at some point down the road will probably be very important for their work, but it doesn’t mean it was important enough to rank a Wikipedia page. Then they will need to fall back on the process I lectured about during Week 3 of Advanced Legal Research, which brings us back to a recent RIPS Post on realizing the importance of legal research in hindsight.

Posted in Google, Legal Research, Legal Research Instruction, Legislative history | Tagged , | Leave a comment