Secondary Sources: Should they really be first?

by Christina Glon

Another semester’s over, and I’m another semester wiser. This academic  year, Emory Law tried something radically different in our JM program. Lucky for me, I had the opportunity to represent the library in this new endeavor. Allow me to introduce you to “ARC” (also known as LAW 590 – Analysis, Research and Communication for Non-Lawyers), our new 2-credit hour required first-semester course for all incoming Juris Master students.

The JM program has been around at Emory for more than a few years now, and, as with any program, it is in a constant state of development. As all good administrations are wont to do, our administration often solicits student feedback and adjusts accordingly.  Enter: the library. Beginning in the summer of 2013, a pattern appeared in the feedback. The students began saying things like, “We love Professor Sneed’s Introduction to Legal Research [for graduate students] class,” and “Professor Sneed’s research class answered so many questions I’ve had during law school,” and “This should be a required class for the JMs,” and finally, “This should be the first class JM students take.” After hearing the feedback from three summers’ worth of students, the JM curriculum committee decided to take Thomas Sneed’s 1-credit summer class and combine it with legal writing to create a brand new 2-credit introductory class required for all incoming JM students that could be co-taught by both library and writing faculty. For a few reasons, Thomas opted to hand off his role in the new class to me.

I began collaborating with the legal writing instructor to create Emory’s first ARC class. The plan was to incorporate all of the great things from Thomas’s Introduction to Legal Research class with the traditional first semester legal writing class to create a class specifically geared to this unique law school population. Since it was the success of Thomas’s class that triggered this curriculum shift, I wanted to stay as true to his syllabus as possible. Naturally, I planned to stick with our tried-and-true course map of teaching primary vs. secondary and persuasive vs. mandatory authority, then move on to cases, statutes, regs, and secondary sources—in that order.  What could possibly go wrong? Well…

While I was busy creating my lesson plans for research, the writing professor was busy creating the open memo scenario. I could teach case law research as she taught analysis and application skills. I could teach secondary sources as she introduced the issues.  And so on and so forth. Except there was one little glitch—the sample scenario (and thus the required case law) included an issue influenced by the Restatements on Torts. How do you teach restatements to first semester non-lawyers? How do you teach the concept of “very persuasive but not mandatory except sometimes” when the students are still struggling to figure out what a “tort” even is? In my opinion, this was a poor choice for a memo scenario. In her opinion, I should teach secondary sources first. We both weighed in on the other professor’s area of expertise and we both dug in. Not good. Not good at all. In our defense, this was in the very early stages of the collaboration, and we were both feeling our way through this process. Also (spoiler alert), there is a happy ending and we both laugh about it now. But, before we knew it, we were involved in a stare-down. And I blinked first. Fine. I’ll start with secondary sources.

I re-worked my semester and decided the students would need a checklist to keep things straight as we progressed through this course. So, I created the following “Process of Legal Research” list:

  1. Identify the Issue(s) Presented.
  2. Consider reading an Overview of the issue(s) involved (using Secondary Sources).
  3. Find and read the Law (Primary Sources).
  4. Confirm the law is up-to-date and still “good law” (using Citators).
  5. Construct your legal analysis/argument.

Step 1 is the Analysis, Steps 2-4 are the Research, and Step 5 is the Communication that will comprise this ARC class. The legal writing professor will teach Steps 1 and 5 and I will teach Steps 2, 3, and 4. Simple as that.

The semester went on as planned, and the students got through it. They struggled with some things, and we struggled with other things, but we all made it through and the semester was deemed a success by everyone involved. Then, a short break for Christmas, and we do it all again with the next group of new JMs.

As you would expect, we tweaked several things for the second time around. The writing professor decided that the open-memo was too difficult for the students to do from scratch, so she filled in some of the blanks for them. In particular, she removed the requirement to discuss the issue influenced by the restatements. In her new scenario, the parties agreed to follow the rule provided in the restatements. With that, I was free to move back to my original plan of teaching secondary sources last. Which I promptly did.  Easier writing assignment? Check. More traditional legal research instruction? Check. Let the new semester begin!

Another semester over, another semester wiser. As I am reflecting on this semester and planning for the fall, I can’t help but wonder, should secondary sources really be first? I mean, this semester went fine, but the first semester of ARC did have a nice flow to it.  “Don’t reinvent the wheel – find a secondary source,” was a nice mantra. As the students read cases in Westlaw or statutes in Lexis, they actually understood the annotations. They knew the difference between an ALR, a treatise, and a law review article (not to mention the value of each source). They could actually click the links and understand how beneficial the right secondary source really could be. And why not take a “non-traditional” approach to a non-traditional class? Isn’t this precisely why we take risks and try new things? To see what works and what doesn’t? Finally, regardless of the order of topics, the students still struggle to piece it all together. But honestly, that’s just the way legal research is. You have to start somewhere and spend some time in the foggy grey areas before it all starts to click together. Maybe, just maybe, knowing there are secondary sources out there to help with the transition from “completely lost” to “hey, I totally get it” is a good thing to start with.

I am proud to say that for Fall of 2016, the incoming JM students are going to learn early on the value of secondary sources, even if they don’t quite understand the difference between case law and statutes. The truth is, they will have challenges no matter where you start and I really believe that our first semester of ARC was actually a bit more successful than our second semester. Was that because we started with secondary sources? The bottom line is, you have to start somewhere, so why not with secondary sources? As it turns out, it might not be a bad place to start after all.

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

You Have a Better Chance of Finding Waldo, Part II

by Christine Anne George

Two years ago, I gave a presentation about archivists in pop culture. (Spoiler alert: the name of the presentation, “You Have a Better Chance of Finding Waldo,” was the TL;DR (or I guess it should be TL;DL since it was a presentation) summation.) I found one exception to the dearth of archivists in pop culture—an instance of an archivist being mentioned on prime time major network programming.* There’s an episode of Modern Family that featured comically skewed, adult versions of the three Dunphy kids. Grown-up Alex explained she was an archivist, and not an exorcist as Haley thought. Unfortunately, Alex mispronounced it as “ark-EYE-vist” and turned out to be a crazy cat lady. Not really a win for the profession, but a mention is a mention.

unknown librarian

Most-recognized law librarian on television: Identity Unknown

Since then, I’m always on the lookout for mention of archivists. I hadn’t really thought about law librarians until a few days ago when I was watching the backdoor pilot for the upcoming show Chicago Justice. I watched as an Assistant State Attorney and his team scrambled to put together a case. Even though it didn’t necessarily fit the plot line (there was a lot of emphasis on interviews and analyzing surveillance footage), I kept wondering, where’s the law librarian with all this? Or if not the law librarian, then the law library? The question stuck with me after that show, and I started to think about all the other lawyer shows on TV. Bit of a disclaimer here—I tend to avoid legal dramas, so I wound up relying on viewing habits of others. Where’s the law librarian on any of the Law & Orders? The one I thought for sure must have a law librarian was How to Get Away with Murder because that at least is set in a law school, but friends who are avid viewers told me there isn’t one.

Why does this matter? Television is an early introduction into careers. During our formative years, it can provide a glimpse into jobs that we might not be aware of. Depictions of those careers on television and in other media create preconceived notions for the general public. Doctors run around yelling, “Stat!” while lawyers spend all their time arguing in a courtroom. There are more to the jobs than what’s shown on screen, but the day-to-day drudgery hardly makes for good television. Sure, there are subject matter consultants, but getting things exactly right isn’t really expected. For the people who have careers featured on television, there’s the annoyance of having to explain that what they do isn’t what so-and-so does on that show. For all the annoyance, though, at least there is some frame of reference. Trying to explain to friends and family what I do leads to a lot of smiling and nodding of their part. My sister once admitted she just tells people who ask that I put away books. Sometimes paper.

Is it necessary to have elementary school kids announcing on career days that they want to be law librarians? Personally, I think that would be pretty awesome, but, no, that’s not the point. It matters because it’s acknowledgement. With all the press coverage questioning whether libraries, and by extension librarians, are necessary, cultural depictions of our careers would provide a reminder that we exist and are an essential if behind-the-scenes part of law school and legal practice. During my presentation about archivists, I raised the point that it’s really hard to advocate for something if you have to spend time explaining what it is you do.

I won’t be holding my breath in anticipation for a major law librarian character on television that will allow me to point and say, “This! This is what I do!” I’m realistic. But just in case I ever happen to run into a network executive, I’ve got a great pitch for a series about an academic law librarian who works reference.

*Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer doesn’t count no matter what anyone says. He was a librarian who used archives to save the world.

Posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Marketing | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

“Can I check out the Ping-Pong paddles?” Unique yet popular items that patrons crave

by Kris Turner

Obviously, the most common requests in law libraries revolve around serious research. Be it books, databases, microfilm, or whatever format, law libraries are saturated with critical tools for study. But law students often require a break in their studies with something unique, relaxing or – dare I say – even fun.


Image via

As finals began winding down, I noticed an uptick in the number of law students checking out one of our more unique circulation items – a standup, or fit desk. Students were able to take the fit desk anywhere in the library and work in a more comfortable fashion. Word got around quickly, and soon it was being used daily by a few health-conscious students.

Our other heavily-used but nontraditional item are the ping-pong paddles. In the law school atrium, there is a ping-pong table that allows students to blow off steam without leaving the building. The library checks out the paddles and balls to the students, and voila! instant stress relief. I should note that we hardly ever lose any balls, and never any paddles…after all, we know who has them checked out!


Image courtesy the New Yorker via PrawfsBlawg

We market our nontraditional items via our digital sign, which has helped increase circulation. UW also has a collection of law-related DVDs that are heavily used on the breaks and are sometimes shown in classes. I enjoy creating digital signage to advertise these items, as they give students a much-needed break and they almost certainly would not be aware of it without a little publicity. Added bonus: the students are always impressed that we own a few in-demand TV shows and movies. We have not seen a major drop-off (yet) due to streaming services, but that is something we are keeping in mind as we go forward.

The wire

A sample digital sign for one of our more popular DVDs

UW is far from the only library that circulates items beyond books, nor do we have the most extensive unique collection. Yale Law Library has an extensive list of fun things to check out, ranging from slankets to sleds to board games and much more. Other schools, such as Georgetown and Stanford, have a bevy of techy tools for students to check out, which I imagine has saved many a student in a moment of sheer technological need.

Are there any unique items that your law library checks out? Is there something that you would love to allow students to check out but you’re still working on overcoming some obstacle? Tell us about them in the comments!

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Calling New Bloggers!

Calling all those interested in blogging!  The RIPS Law Librarian Blog is searching for next year’s cast of contributors (beginning August 2016). The current blogging year has been very successful with many posts and great coverage, but a few of our current bloggers are ready to move on to other projects. imgres

We would love to have a mix of new and experienced librarians to contribute thoughts, advice, and ideas on the RIPS Law Librarian Blog.

If you would like to be a regular contributor to the RIPS Law Librarian Blog, please send a brief bio, statement of interest, and a 300-500 word writing sample to Jamie Baker at Applications will be reviewed by the current blog editor, the in-coming editor, and the RIPS-SIS Executive Board. Please submit materials by May 30.

If you have any questions about the blogging or submitting materials to be considered as a contributor, contact Jamie Baker at

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The Seasons of Law Librarianship

by Maggie Ambrose

Photo credit: Cornell Law School

In Ithaca, we are known for our winters.  After weeks and months of gray skies, it is easy to forget the few months every year when we are blessed with sun-filled days, blue skies, cherry blossoms, and emerald green grass.

I like to think the icy, slush-filled months make me appreciate the gold-filled months more, and I’m not sure if I would ever be able to acclimate to living in a place where there are no seasons (although if you ask me in February I might give a different answer).


Photo credit: Cornell Law School

There are analogies to be drawn between the changing seasons and law librarianship in both the work cycle and the profession itself.  In terms of the work cycle, with the end of the semester in sight, spring is the time to collect and begin planting the seeds of the ideas stored up over the long winter months. Random thoughts and ideas for improvements and projects you didn’t have time to execute fully while running the marathon during the rest of the year are now gathered, and decisions are made on which seeds should be planted so as to maximize the harvest later on.

The collection and selection of ideas continues over the summer during the conference season. You not only collect seeds for the coming year but also get to see the fruits of your labor when you present your projects to others. You work within the community to compare notes and make additional improvements. It is a season of both celebration and reinvention, and the rejuvenation you feel helps get you through another long winter.


Photo credit: the yes man | Used under CC BY 2.0

It is also one of the most important times of the year, for without a productive summer, the winter months are all the harder. This is of course another way to emphasize the importance of the conference season. As a student, I didn’t always see the value of spending what little money I had to travel to conferences. I am writing this piece in part to impress upon those just entering the field to understand how important this time of year is for career development and the profession as a whole.


Photo credit: Cornell Law School

This brings me to how the analogy extends to the profession as a whole.  As a new(ish) law librarian, it can at times appear daunting (if not downright alarming) to see article after article about how the profession is either: 1) dying or 2) not dying. Yes, even the articles about how the profession is actually thriving are cause for concern considering the sheer number or them (i.e. “the lady doth protest too much” or “no smoke without fire”).

Taking the long view, perhaps the best response is that the profession as a whole is weathering a particularly nasty storm in a long winter. But that does not mean spring and summer will not come to the profession. Taking the analogy one step further, while spring and summer will inevitably come, the ability of the profession to weather this particular storm (and future winters) depends greatly on the spring and summer months, and the preparation and the seeding of new crops to get the profession through harder times.


Photo credit: TumblingRun | Used under CC BY-ND-NC 2.0

Thus, we must certainly revel in the spring and the summer months, but we cannot afford to be lazy grasshoppers. As inevitable as the changing of the seasons are, so too it is inevitable that the profession is bound to go through harsh winters and must necessarily prove its relevance through hard work and innovation.


Photo credit: Evan Kane | Used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Come to this conference season with the work ethic of a farmer that knows a hard winter is just around the corner, and of course, don’t forget your business cards!

Posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making Lemons into Lemonade: Libraries and the Challenge of the Website Transition

by Ashley Ahlbrand

At the beginning of the spring semester, our school transitioned to a new website with a more modern look but a much more rigid architecture. As often happens with new website launches, there were obstacles to overcome throughout – 404 errors to fix, a new navigation to learn, resources to update – but the library in particular was hit pretty hard, with significant aspects of our old website simply not transferring at all. As upsetting as this was – we were bombarded with complaints within minutes of the website launch – rather than throw a fit to the administration, we did what libraries do best: assessed the situation, came up with creative and cost-effective solutions, and moved forward.  For this post, I thought I would describe some of the issues we faced and how we’ve addressed them, in the hopes that this might be helpful to any other libraries either facing a similar transition or looking for a solution of their own.

Where we started:

On the old site, the library pages had a multi-column structure, organized so that, at a glance, the user could see the entire top-level organization of the site. The didn’t alter the top-level organization for the most part, but the architecture of the new site forces all content into a one column layout so that the user is required to scroll down the page to find the various categories of content. The purpose of this design is to make the site mobile friendly, but it also made navigation considerably more difficult.

With issues to fix all across the law school’s site, it was several weeks before we received content manager training so that we could begin fixing the errors in the library site. In that time, I went through the entire site, page by page, and made a list of everything that was missing or failed to work, so that we’d be ready to move once our training was complete. In all, my list was four pages long. Once content manager access was granted, I fixed all the errors I could within the limitations of the new website, added a quick links list at the top of the page for easier navigation, and we moved on to the portions of the old website that simply didn’t transfer. That’s where we started getting creative.

Online resources:

In the old site, our databases were managed on the back-end of the library website in a program that didn’t transfer when the website moved; thus, when the new site launched in January, we suddenly had no online resources. When the online resources were finally restored in the website, the navigation was fraught with problems, and we received complaints from professors, students, alumni, and users outside the law school. We knew the resources were virtually unusable in their new format, and with only one webmaster scrambling to fix all of the problems across the entire law school site, we knew waiting wasn’t an option – our patrons need these resources now. Instead, we decided to rebuild our online resources in LibGuides. Ultimately, this allowed us to reconsider how these resources are organized and categorized, how best to describe their content, and how best to display the resources for ease of use. Our Electronic Services Librarian worked and reworked the new online resources list for the better part of the semester, and our patrons have been very pleased with the results.

Faculty bibliography:

We maintain a bibliography for all current, former, and emeritus law faculty, and these pages – numbering well over a hundred – failed to make the transition as well. We faced the task of rebuilding these pages from the raw HTML files, and once again saw this as an opportunity to rethink their design. I’ll be honest, in four years working here, I had never used the bibliography, and I had never had anyone ask to see it…until it wasn’t available.  We had several students over the course of the semester ask to see the bibliographies of various faculty members, and were only able to help them because the librarian in charge of maintaining the bibliographies had the good sense to keep a paper copy. She and I worked to redesign the bibliographies and transition them to – you guessed it – LibGuides. We are nearing the end of that transition now. In their new format, each faculty member’s guide begins with a chronological listing of all publications (as it was in its old form), but now also includes separate pages for the faculty member’s books, book chapters, book reviews, and articles. I am also able to link to the faculty members’ profiles on SSRN, HeinOnline, Google Scholar, and our digital repository.

Library blog:

Our blog, incorporated into the architecture of the old site, also failed to transition. This issue has not yet been fixed, but we are told that the webmaster can still access it. Rather than squeeze it into the new website, our intent is to let it live externally and link to it instead (as we now do for the faculty bibliography, the digital repository, and the electronic resources). As a WordPress blog, we foresee no problems with this solution and hope to have the blog up and running again this summer.

Looking forward:

Our summer project with the website will be to rethink the actual text we have throughout. Although it all worked in the old site, something about the new architecture makes many of our wordier pages seem awkward, and some still have navigation issues. I’m not sure we’ll ever be totally satisfied with the new website, but with a little creativity and the willingness to see opportunityIMG_1990 where others see disaster, I believe we can make it workable and user-friendly.

Librarians: rolling with the punches since the dawn of time.

Have you faced similar website challenges and have solutions to share?  Feel free to comment!

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Got Photographs?

by Cynthia Condit

I’m always looking for great photographs to use for various publications I create, whether for a blog post, a PowerPoint presentation, a newsletter, social media, etc. Right now my list includes over 45 (I know, a bit ridiculous) websites that provide free photos, most under the CC0 1.0 license. This means I can use the photos for personal or commercial use in any way I wish. Frequently, attribution is not required either, but I always include it because I’m grateful for access to great photos. Many of the sites were started by photographers who had hard drives full of photographs and decided to share them.  Today I’m sharing a few of my favorite free photograph websites.


Offers a collection of free high resolution photos by Ryan McGuire that may be used for personal or commercial projects. New photos are added weekly. A “magic auto search” option and list of categories facilitate searching. Here are a couple sample photos from this site:

grat-alum-man        grat-nature


Offers over 630,000 free stock photos, vector drawings, and art illustrations available free for personal or commercial use and no attribution required. This site is very easy to search by media type, orientation, color, size, and categories. You can also search using AND, OR, NOT, and ().  Here are some examples of the wide variety of artwork available:

pixabay-two-fish           pixabay-wordle

pixabay-blue-gorilla-graphic                  pixabay-binary-code-jpg


There are currently over 10,000 images available, with at least 1500 new, hand-picked photos added each month. Free for personal or commercial use and no attribution required. The site offers a search box and popular search categories. Samples include:

pex-blue-abstract       pex-man-frame


This site has a wide range of free photographs for “bloggers, website owners, small businesses, free lancers, and social media ninjas.”  Use the search box, click the #tag under photos, or browse the categories.  Samples include:

kab-happy-coffee        kab-rusty-nails

Provides high quality, high resolution images free to use as you wish and no attribution required. Use the search box and sort by date, trending, downloaded, and favorites.  Examples:

It’s awesome that so many owners of photographs have waived their interest in their photographs so that we can use them without restrictions. But do remember to read the “fine print” on all websites and keep in mind that depicted content may still be protected by trademarks, publicity, or privacy rights. While attribution to the photographer and website is generally not required, it is always appreciated. Now go create something!

Posted in Marketing, Social Media & Web 2.0, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment