Connecting with Alumni

In the fall of 2016, the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the Ross-Blakley Law Library will move from their current suburban locations in Tempe, Arizona, to the Arizona Center for Law and Society in the heart of downtown Phoenix. We are excited for the many opportunities this will bring: a beautiful new building, new urban location, and new proximity to the many College of Law alumni who work downtown in law firms, courts, and government agencies.  While the Law Library has always provided services for alumni including check-out privileges, photocopy services, and on-campus access to many of our databases, we hope to leverage our new proximity to the legal and political hub of the state to further connect with alumni.  With a little over a year left before the move, we have started planning how to do this. Below are a few ideas we are considering.

Alumni awareness
Marketing services and resources to alumni requires different formats than marketing to other user groups. One key aspect of this marketing is making sure alumni are aware of what the law library offers for them. Ways to achieve this include:

  • Utilize social media accounts. Connect with local law firms, government agencies, and courts through their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
  • Create library LinkedIn account. The ALL-SIS Task Force on Library Marketing and Outreach suggests creating a library presence on LinkedIn, since it is a more professional site than Facebook and Twitter. The Task Force reports in its white paper titled Marketing and Outreach in Law Libraries that many career services departments already use LinkedIn as a means of connecting alumni with potential employers and building the department’s professional relationships.
  • Create relationships with court and law firm librarians. Law firm and court librarians can refer the attorneys they work with to your resources and services when they align with attorney needs.

Alumni partnerships
Creating avenues for alumni to partner with the law library allows for sustained interaction and communication.

  • Plan events that involve alumni. We have sponsored a Legal Research Panel for the last two years which features 3-4 practicing attorneys in a variety of legal positions. Events like this connect alumni to the law library by creating a forum for library staff and alumni to interact as well as provide a networking opportunity for students.
  • Offer legal research instruction for alumni. Alumni value reference services, legal research workshops, or other library services that can help them navigate unfamiliar research tasks or prepare them to be “practice ready” researchers.

Alumni resources
Investing in products designed for alumni use gives alumni a reason to use the library’s resources. An example of such a product is the HeinOnline Alumni Access Program. This resource allows remote alumni access to the HeinOnline Law Journal Library as well as to Fastcase through the HeinOnline interface.

We would love to hear how other libraries connect with their alumni as well – please share your strategies in the comments!

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I Can See Clearly Now: The Benefits of Visual Aids in Teaching

In my last post, I pondered what should be taught in legal research classes beyond legal research. This month, I thought I’d look at how we present these topics in the classroom. If you surveyed the academic law library community, you would doubtless encounter a variety of teaching techniques (evidenced in the array of contributions to the RIPS-SIS Teach-In Kit over the years). From traditional lecture to problem-based learning to online learning, the legal research classroom can be arranged in many ways. Let’s assume that the majority of legal research classes involve at least some form of lecture; even if it doesn’t take up the entire class time, it is safe to say that the instructor uses some portion of the class session to present the topic of the day. What should that presentation look like?

March - visual aidsAt a minimum, make it visual. You hear people refer to themselves as visual learners all the time – they retain information better when a visual stimulus accompanies a lecture. In a traditional classroom environment, where the materials are presented in lecture format, accompanied by a pre- or post-lecture reading, two types of learning styles are best accommodated: the verbal learner, who learns best by reading the material (such as an assigned reading before class), and the aural learner, who learns best by listening. If you engage your students through the Socratic method or by having them present materials to the class in any fashion, a third learning style may also be satisfied – the oral learner, who learns best by speaking. Different theories of learning styles are out there, but generally, three additional learning styles remain: the visual learner, who learns best by seeing material presented through visual aids; the tactile learner, who learns best by physically examining the materials; and the closely-related kinesthetic learner, who learns best by interacting with the materials in ways that involve using their entire bodies. The optimal class setting should accommodate all of these learning styles.

brainNo matter the type of learner you’re teaching, studies have shown that all learning styles benefit from visual aids. In this environment, both halves of the brain are stimulated. The left half, which analyzes individual pieces of data, thrives in a traditional lecture environment. The right half can build connections between those bits of data (and thus conceptualize relationships between ideas being presented), but is best stimulated through visual aids. When you combine a lecture with a visual aid, you optimize brain function. In addition, it stimulates the memory, causing students to retain information from your lecture better as well.  (I should confess here that, as I am not a cognitive scientist, this is a simplified explanation of the studies I have read!)

Studies have shown that the more pictorial your visual aid is (i.e. more pictures than words), the better, but even words on a screen are better than no screen at all.  Not a fan of PowerPoint? Try KeyNote or Google Slides or Slidebean. Do you prefer apps? Try SlideShark or Haiku Deck. Do you want something that escapes from the linear format of slideshows? Try Prezi or mindmapping. Even if you just don’t like the distraction of having to remember to advance your slides in tandem with the delivery of your presentation, create a simple infographic to have on the screen behind you that covers the topic you’re teaching today.  Each method has its pros and cons, but the point is, use something.

As I said earlier, experts generally agree on six learning styles that an instructor should strive to accommodate. A spoken lecture caters to the aural learner, assigned readings cater to the verbal learner, and visual aids cater to the visual learner, but what about the others? In an ideal classroom, you can accommodate the other learning styles by making your classroom more interactive. Add an in-class exercise to get the students using the resources you’re teaching. This should cater to both the tactile and kinesthetic learners. If you have them work in groups, report their findings to the class, or even assign students to present materials to the class, you cater to the oral learners. Not to mention that this diversity grabs students’ attention by breaking up the monotony of a traditional stand-and-deliver methodology. If you’re fortunate enough to be teaching a class of your own where you have command of the ship, try this multi-modal teaching style. Or go even bolder – flip your classroom or experiment with problem-based learning. When it comes to the variety of ways you can engage your students in the classroom, this post could go on and on! But if you’re most comfortable with the lecture format, or you’re in a teaching setting – such as guest lecturing in another course – where you don’t necessarily have full command to do what you want, I encourage you to work visual aids into your lecture format. It benefits your students, and in the long run, I believe it will benefit you as well.

(I presented on this topic at the CALI Conference last summer. Materials from that presentation, including a bibliography, pros and cons of different presentation software, and examples of each, can be found here.)

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Moving across the country, or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the chaos

I just moved across the country, over 2000 miles, with some cats and all our household belongings. Actually, I came with the cats while my husband finished packing and came later with all of our things, which is the point of this story.

Not being a librarian, my husband did not do the packing and labeling the way I would have done it. For example, each box was not devoted to a single room. The first couple boxes were like Christmas in March: “Ooh, I forgot we had this.” The next few were frustrating: “Why are the CDs next to my jewelry box?” And then I began to see it – the pattern, the pattern of searching and finding that becomes so ingrained in a librarian that we don’t see it until someone points it out. In this case, it was my best friend, who was helping me unpack (and make tacos), who asked “How did you know the cheese grater would be in with the dictionary?”

The answer is instructive in terms of helping patrons find things. As librarians, we get used to the process, to what is next to each other thing. In any new research tool, we have those same moments that I had unpacking. First comes the excitement: “Ooh, I forgot their legislative histories were so detailed.” Then, a bit of a learning curve: “Why can’t I find committee reports?” And then we have that moment, that instant when the index and TOC make sense and we know how the resource works. We understand why certain things are next to each other, just like I knew that the cheese grater would be with the dictionary –since the dictionary stand was just outside the kitchen in our old house. I could think like my husband even though he did not organize everything the way I would have.

This is the skill that we need to instill in our patrons: the ability not to think like a lawyer necessarily, but to think like the legal writer or editor or indexer or web page designer. Skilled researchers have the ability to shift from where they think the relevant information is or should be to where the writer would have put the information or where the editor would have given the signposts to find the most pertinent items. Usually, key components of this approach involves planning research and being skeptical.

All legal research is the organization of chaotic bits of data into a coherent whole, but it is important for us to remember that not everyone knows how that chaos is laid out. Facing that challenge ourselves is a good way to connect with that inexperience, and we should investigate completely new resources on a regular basis so that we have to explore the unknown and think about why a book or database is laid out as it is. Make sure to enjoy the challenge of navigating as our patrons do every day, without the experience and know-how that we have. The joy of finding the perfect case, or the cheese grater, in an unexpected but, in the end, understandable place is a moment of research Zen to treasure.

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Winter Reading Roundup

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

Snow-filled street in Lexington, Kentucky.

Recently, it snowed in Lexington. While Lexington does in fact own a fleet of snowplows, 17 inches in one snow is a lot, and this followed a double-digit snowfall about two weeks previously. At one point midway through the storm, I took a picture of my street as I found it remarkable that I could only tell where the street was by the mailboxes sticking out of the snow (see photo). The end result of the impressive displays of winter weather was six full days of cancelled classes, providing a good lesson for law students on the concept of force majeure, and quite a bit of time to catch up on reading.

I noticed a recurring theme across several of the law library publications I perused over hot chocolate: preparing practice-ready graduates. Interestingly, a couple of the pieces argued that more focus on non-law aspects of practice would help bridge the gap between study and practice. In a post on this blog, Ashley Ahlbrand suggests that business skills would greatly benefit law students. (Of course, she also points out that instructors of legal research often lack the time to cover adequately even core research skills, so incorporating practice management into the 1L LRW curriculum presents its own challenges.)

Similarly, in a recent article in SpectrumChristine M. Stouffer examines some of the gaps between law school and practice and focuses on ways to close those gaps. She notes that although students learn the research basics, they receive little training on putting those basics into the context of performing “law firm tasks.” I found a couple of Stouffer’s suggestions intriguing. For instance, she highlights the benefits of collaboration and “team-based learning” in a flipped-classroom model. She mentions that some forms of flipped-classroom instruction involve assigning students to year-long work groups. In addition to the collaborative learning benefits, this structure mirrors the way many firms divide into practice groups.

Stouffer also advocates for experiential learning opportunities. One example is giving students “case files” from which they must extract the issues for their assignments. At teh University of Kentucky College of Law, we have done something like this. Our students’ major research assignments involve conducting and describing the research for their major writing projects. For each of these  joint assignments, we give them packets that include an “assigning memo,” a partial trial record or depositions (depending on the procedural stage of the problem), and various other documents that have included mock Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, security camera photos, etc. The students must then analyze and synthesize the facts of their problem, and it works quite well.

A couple of other suggestions I encountered in my readings also struck me as helpful in increasing students’ practice-readiness. In a recent post for this blog, Thomas Sneed extols the benefits of bringing practitioners into the classroom. At Kentucky, we do this as a mandatory panel during students’ free “noon hour” so as not to sacrifice limited instruction time. Speaking of the time issue, many students would be more practice ready if they received more research instruction. I found Nancy B. Talley’s article in LRSQ interesting as she suggests incorporating librarian-led research instruction into independent studies. This would give more students a second bite at the research apple, as only a limited number of students typically make time for advanced legal research.

As a final note, I did encounter good news about practice-readiness, at least in terms of legal research skills. Christina Elizabeth Peura suggests in her LRSQ article that the gap between study and practice may not be as wide as feared. Peura found that literature on the subject indicated a wider gap than did the results of a survey she conducted. She surmises that law schools may now be teaching “effective research” but may not be imparting “efficient research.” As part of Peura’s argument she notes that research becomes more efficient the more tools a student/attorney knows how to use. Thus, it may be that methods such as those described here have been leading to more practice-ready graduates, but giving librarians more time to use these methods with students may also lead to more practice-efficient graduates.

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Digital Rights Management: A Librarian’s Guide – Call for Contributions

RIPS Law Librarian Blog is pleased to share the following announcement from Catherine Lemmer and Carla Wale:

We are pleased to announce that we will be editing a new book titled Digital Rights Management: A Librarian’s Guide to be published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. as part of the Medical Library Association series. This book will be a comprehensive resource for all librarians seeking to manage the impact of digital rights management in the library environment.

Description of the Book

The role of libraries and librarians is evolving; we are moving from providing access to content in place to providing access to digital content through technology. As such, we are often pushing against the limits on the access and use of digital content established by an ever-evolving set of digital rights management schemes. Digital Rights Management: A Librarian’s Guide is intended to serve as a best practices guide for front-line librarians seeking guidance on how to best respond to the impact of digital rights management schemes on matters of collection development, staff, budget, service, and other library concerns. The book will cover basic principles and practices of digital rights management systems. Librarians seeking guidance on how to best address digital rights, prepare their libraries and staffs, and effectively advocate when digital rights management schemes impact the ability to serve patrons will find this book an invaluable resource.

Call for Submissions

 We are seeking authors for these and other related topics within the context of DRM:

  •  Define, explain DRM
  • Copyright law
  • DRM technologies
  • Best practices and policies
  • Effect on organizations – restructuring, changing workflows, adding new skill sets, etc.
  • Privacy
  • Negotiation and management
  • Social and economic impact
  • Advocacy
  • Other

Proposal Submissions Due:  March 31
Notification of Accepted Submissions: May 1
Final Submissions Due: August 1
Publication Date: Early 2016

To be considered, please submit your name, brief biography, previous scholarship, and a 200 word or less abstract of your proposed contribution via this short form. Please submit one form for each abstract you are proposing. Co-authors should submit one form. If you have any questions, feel free to contact the editors.

Catherine A. Lemmer, Editor & Carla P. Wale, Editor         

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Do you bring practicing attorneys into your classroom?

A few weeks ago, a local library association put out its call for proposals for an upcoming conference. The conference will focus on breaking down silos, and one point of emphasis is whether your library involves members of the community or local government in library instruction. As I was thinking of possible proposal topics, I realized my library does quite a bit of outreach to the profession and wondered how many other libraries bring in practicing attorneys (and other legal professionals) to provide their words of legal research wisdom.

At least three of our advanced legal research classes actively introduce practitioners into the classroom to provide real-life stories of best practices for legal research. These professionals have included e-discovery experts, current awareness gurus, and lawyers specializing in areas ranging from real estate to medical malpractice. We don’t always know what stories we will get, but the experiences have always been excellent. The students are engaged and ask great questions, and the attorneys enjoy the experience. If you have never reached out to the local legal community for assistance, you should consider tapping into this great resource. And I haven’t even mentioned the benefits we see from partnering with outside librarians.

The following tips can help things go as smoothly as possible.

Start Planning Early

My calendar starts to fill up weeks in advance, and I plan events as if everyone else is in a similar situation. I recommend reaching out to any potential guests as early as possible. The last time I made arrangements with local lawyers, I started contacting leads three months before the date. I then followed up with additional information periodically to provide topic information and to keep the date in the back of their minds. It helped me send subtle reminders while also keeping things on track.

Help with Every Logistic Imaginable

At least one of my communications always includes information about the logistics of getting to the law school. For someone who has seldom, if ever, been to your place of work, issues such as directions, parking, and the layout of the building could be a headache you can easily help them avoid. For most of us, I am sure parking is the biggest issue and may take the longest to get straightened out.

Let the Professionals and Students Dictate the Discussion

My best experience with an outside speaker involved the director of the Law Practice Management Program with the Georgia Bar Association. I gave our speaker some basic parameters but decided it would be interesting to leave the plan pretty open and see what happened. It ended up being completely different from what I expected and turned into a very enlightening hour for everyone. The speaker detailed the program’s robust consulting business with law firms of all sizes and the multitude of business-related issues most firms face. After the speaker left, the students spent the next hour bringing up questions about the discussion — so much so that we just could not move on to the next topic.

For your next classroom experience, don’t hesitate to reach out to those in the greater legal community to contribute. There is evidence that guest speakers are effective even in accounting classrooms. Certainly, if the accounting profession can do it, so can the law librarian community.

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How “real” is your virtual reference?

Like many other libraries, the library where I work has provided reference services via instant messaging chat for several years now. We started out with Meebo (clean, easy, FREE), and then had to move on to other tools when Meebo went the way of the dodo (thanks, Google!).

Currently, we’re using LibraryH3lp (and it looks like we’ve been using them since mid-2012!). Still clean, easy, not free (but not outrageously expensive, either). We have a chat widget embedded in our website, and anybody who can access the internet can start a chat session with us (during our regular reference hours).

I haven’t run the stats, but I’m guessing our numbers of chat reference interactions have gone up steadily since we started doing it. Since our hybrid program started in January, though, our chat reference has really taken off. Nearly half of our reference interactions in the past two months are classified as “virtual” (in our library, virtual includes telephone, email, and chat, but of these three, chat is by far the most heavily used).

As anybody who has answered reference questions via instant messaging knows, sometimes not having the patron there in person creates complications. It’s difficult to show a person how to find a specific database on Westlaw or Lexis. It’s hard to show a student how to check his or her grades on the school LMS. It’s not easy to explain through chat how the Bluebook’s Rule 18 interacts with all the other rules. Some things are just easier to communicate via spoken word.

This term, we’ve added another weapon to our arsenal of reference tools — video chat. We have two primary options open to us here: we can use Collaborate, which is a web conferencing tool embedded in our learning management system (thus all students have access to it) and Lync, which is Microsoft’s video chat tool (to which our school provides students with free access through Microsoft’s Student Advantage Program).

When we’re IM chatting with a student and realize that the reference interaction could benefit from more robust capabilities, we can ask the student to meet us in our Collaborate room, or, if the student prefers (and has downloaded the software), we can start a Lync session. Both of these tools allow us to have a video and audio chat with our student (assuming the student has a video cam — but even if the student does not, he or she can still see us), along with or instead of text chatting. This allows us to personalize our reference interactions more than a simple text-based chat does, which helps to increase the feeling of community, especially with our hybrid students.

Additionally, both tools allow us to share our screens with the student (or vice versa). This is incredibly handy for instruction on how to use legal research databases. On text-based chat, we might, for example, try to tell a student to “Go to WestlawNext, click on the “State Materials” tab in the ‘Browse’ section of the page, then click on Minnesota…,” but if we can show how to do these actions on a screen while describing it them, it’s easier both to explain and to understand.

Lync session screen shot

A Lync session where the reference librarian is text and video chatting while sharing her screen.

So far it seems to be working fairly well. Students appreciate it, and, while it’s more complicated than simple IM chat, it hasn’t been overly onerous for us or our students.

What are you doing to make your virtual reference services more “real”?

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