Questions with Puron: Featured RIPS Member – Emily Donnellan

Compiled by: Jessica Almeida

Questions with Puron is a social media series launched by the RIPS PR & Recruitment Committee to highlight the diverse views and professional strategies of the constituents of Research Instruction and Patron Services Special Interest Section (RIPS-SIS). Twice per month, our beloved penguin mascot poses a series of questions to one of the many librarians who make up RIPS. Puron talked with Emily Donnellan, Branch Librarian for the U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Circuit.

Puron: Share your favorite new (or new-to-you) resource for 2020! [could be a website, database, secondary source, anything]

Emily: I had a reference question concerning foreign law on child abduction another Librarian, Shannon Lynch, shared the coolest database: It is exclusively for international child abduction law and you can sort by country, keyword, year, or article.

Puron: What’s something interesting about your work [in a government library or firm library, etc.] that most people outside the field wouldn’t know?

Emily: Before becoming a government librarian I didn’t realize how answering reference questions could affect legal opinions and interpretations. Working in an Academic Law Library previously I answered questions for faculty who were usually mulling over an area of law and advocating for a particular interpretation. The questions I get now are often on the fly – can we even do this?? – questions from law clerks and Judges. I used to think the law changed slowly and now I see it can change quickly.

Puron: What do you love about being a law librarian?

Emily: That every day I get to go on information scavenger hunts and learn something new. I love when I’m asked a difficult question and have learn (or quickly relearn) the law, share resources, and hopefully find the exact answer the patron was hoping for.   

Puron: What is your dream vacation destination for when it is safe to travel again?

Emily: To keep myself sane during COVID I watched all the episodes of Caribbean Life on Hulu. I’m basically an expert on the 2018/19 real estate market throughout the Caribbean now. When it’s safe (and my daughter gets a little older) I’d love to visit the Dominican Republic, St. Croix, or really anywhere with aquamarine water. 

Puron: What is your favorite book?

Emily: From 2011-2019 I was a YA Book Blogger at So, I’ve got a huge soft spot in my heart for YA. My current favorite reads are The Cruel Prince by Holly Black and House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig. My favorite adult novel in recent memory was My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan

Puron: What is your favorite app (or what app can’t you live without)?

Emily: I downloaded the app Planta a couple weeks ago and I’m loving it so far. During quarantine I bought a ton of plants and they kept dying. Planta lets you input your plant (with a picture) and tells you if it’s in optimal light, whether it needs to be repotted, and when it is time to water it. I’m hoping this brings my plants back from the brink!         

Puron: What is your favorite movie?

Emily: The Mummy with Brendan Frasier. Evie may be the reason I’m a librarian today.

We hope you enjoyed getting to know Emily. If you would like to hear from more members, join the conversation on our Twitter RIPS-SIS (@RIPS_SIS) or connect with us on Facebook The PR & Recruitment Committee will also be reaching out to select members for participation in this series. If you would like to be featured, or want to recommend someone, please email Emma Wood at

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That’s Not “et al.” Folks!

I recently attended the Virtual Symposium on Citation and the Law hosted by the Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale Law School and I could not be more fired up about legal citation.  Yeah, you read that right. I am fired up about legal citation!

The symposium was an excellent opportunity for individuals who work in this rapidly changing area to convene and share their ideas.  The papers were not available prior to the conference, as many are still works in progress, but some are available on SSRN (such as this excellent one written by my Director Bonnie Shucha on improving citation metrics accuracy).  As such, my only impressions going into the symposium were based on the catchy titles appearing on the schedule and my own knowledge of current events in legal citation metrics.  However, the panelists did an excellent job of discussing not only the work they are doing in this area, but also why it is so important.

As the Scholarly Communications Librarian at my library, a good chunk of my time is spent thinking about citations: creating citations; typing citations; checking citations…you get the idea.  I enjoy the orderly nature of citations, the necessary organization that goes along with a well-crafted citation.  In my head, they are a system for finding ideas, for improving discoverability on a level playing field.  Play by the rules, and your scholarship is accessible for anyone looking for it, right?  Well, no, actually not right. Not right at all, or I guess you could say, “Not right et al.”

During her presentation, Christine George spoke regarding the need to reform legal citation.  I’ve heard this several times in recent years: the system is archaic and Bluebook rules are arbitrary.  When I heard people in the past speak on this subject, it was mostly in terms of modernizing the system so that OUR faculty are better represented and THEIR ideas are more discoverable.  But Christine framed reform in terms of equality, or more precisely inequality.  To poorly paraphrase George’s argument, our current system of legal citation contributes to and magnifies the problem of less represented voices being lost or overlooked, while amplifying the voices of established scholars, primarily older white men.

Studies have shown that there are both a gender gap and color gap in citations, even in cases where all authors contributed to research and writing equally.  Even in cases where multiple authors are named alphabetically, there is a bias towards crediting the first named author.

One way that librarians contribute towards this bias is through the use of “et al.” I’ve fallen into this trap; in fact, in the past I’ve relished an instance where I can use et al. when adding works to our repository.  Unnecessary Latin lingo that will save me seconds of time? Heck yeah! But alas, heck no.  If we are working to amplify voices and make their scholarship more discoverable, then of course the least we can do is name all authors in citations.  It’s a small way to make a big difference for all authors, not just our institutional ones.

Abandoning et al. in legal citation is known as the Fair Citation Rule and many law reviews are adopting it.  Departure from Bluebook Rule 15.1 has become the policy for many law reviews, as seen in this post from the Washington Law Review, this style guide from the Denver Law Review, or this spreadsheet compiled by Penn Law professor David Hoffman showing the law reviews that have adopted the Fair Citation Rule.  As the liaison to our law reviews, I will be suggesting and encouraging the incoming editorial board to adopt the Fair Citation Rule. 

Most of the systems we rely on for modern legal citation were developed during a different time.  Not just before technology and search engines, but also when legal scholarship was created by a homogeneous group of people.  If we continue to follow the rules created to serve this homogeneous group, then we will be continuing a great disservice to modern scholarship, diverse authors, and the future of legal citation.  So, take the time to type out those names, and remember in the law, we never have to give up Latin lingo in toto.

Posted in Conference, Current Events, Issues in Law Librarianship, Law Reviews, Legal Ethics, Legal Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Call for Bloggers!

Calling all those interested in blogging!  

The RIPS Law Librarian Blog is searching for next year’s cast of contributors (beginning August 2021).

The current blogging year has been very successful with many wonderful posts and high readership, but a few of our current bloggers are ready to move on to other projects. 

We are looking for new contributing bloggers to contribute roughly one blog post per month.

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 Malikah Hall at Applications will be reviewed by the current blog editor and the RIPS-SIS Executive Board. 

Please submit materials by Friday, June 4, 2021.

If you have any questions about the blogging or submitting materials, please contact Malikah Hall at

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How to Stop Time Theft

Planning for classes is ALWAYS time consuming. Every year, I reorganize my course at least nominally, in addition to adjusting my strategies for presenting information. Other lecture topics are relatively static and don’t require much substantive updating; except when relying on screenshots as I do, I am forced to make updates where necessary which can lead a massive time commitment for relatively minor changes to the material. Then there are situations that are rare, but not as rare as I would like, when updates occur to the database itself forcing immediate changes or requiring updates to past lectures. This was exactly the situation I found myself in last week when on Monday I lectured about HeinOnline and harped over and over to my students about verifying they search in the appropriate tab, only to have HeinOnline announce this featured had been changed on that Thursday!

To make sure my students had the most up to date information (but mostly so that I wouldn’t look like a liar) I incorporated the new information into the following week’s lecture. Ultimately it took about 15 minutes to make the screenshots and include them in the PowerPoint. The problem is that as the semester progresses I’m running out of minutes, seemingly taken up by small tasks that pop up continuously. Another example includes meetings; while I’ve written about how great meetings can be, there is no doubt they take up a tremendous amount of our time, seemingly more now than prior to virtual working. Over the course of any given day I have between 2-4 hours of available time to focus on new or pressing work.

This is not to mention the time wasted from in-home distractions which come from the simple fact that I have three children under the age of 6, none of whom respect the sanctity of a home office! Even if these distractions don’t take up much of my available time, it is well established now that small distractions can cause massive slowdown in productivity, sapping the efficiency of my time spent. All of this is to say that over the course of a day, my time gets nickeled and dimed to the point that by the end of it, I feel like I have either simply stayed afloat while accomplishing nothing.

It has taken me quite some time to arrive at this realization (having ignored the myriad self-help articles) but sometimes it is better to just get what you can done rather than try to get everything you need (or want) done. Obviously this is not a good long term strategy, but there are some days that trying too hard can be counterproductive. Similarly, focusing on one task is way better than multitasking: again, multiple experts have expressed this but sometimes experience is the best teacher. There have been so many instance where I have felt pressure to get 10 jobs done that I try to get several done at once, leading me to forget a step or create a substandard product, which then requires extra attention. Finally, planning a head (not one of my fortes) has proven to be incredibly helpful, but you can’t be wedded to your plan: when I run into roadblocks or delays it is often more productive to jettison one thing for the benefit of the others.

While these are only some of the ever evolving strategies I have implemented, I am interested in how others have tried to mitigate time loss in your day to day lives. Feel free to reach out with any and all suggestions to include in a future post.

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Reflections on a Certificate in Higher Education Teaching

Last spring, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to pursue a certificate in higher education teaching. I had meant to draft a reflection piece afterward, but as with so many things last year, COVID and the resulting transition to remote learning meant this got put on hold. So here I am a year later, finally taking a moment to reflect on some of the lessons learned.

From the onset, I appreciated the opportunity to think critically about my teaching philosophy and pedagogy. The course allowed me to reflect deeply on my own experiences with teaching and learning, who I desire to be as a teacher, and how I can best achieve my instructional goals. And I wasn’t just thinking about these things in the abstract. Each week, I was asked to write about these and many other instructional ideas, from traditional approaches to teaching law and legal research, to how I could have better learned as a student, to what truly makes a successful teacher.

With respect to some of the topics examined, I studied and practiced how to best align assignments with intended learning outcomes, provide and make use of constructive feedback, approach lesson delivery, create lesson plans, support student development, incorporate active learning techniques, and more. Individually and alongside similarly situated groups (like those teaching other social sciences), I dug into the anatomy of a well-written assignment, shared why legal research (and information literacy generally!) is so important, drafted course materials, recorded myself teaching, analyzed others’ lessons, and provided and received meaningful feedback. As an additional benefit, the course allowed me the opportunity to put together a comprehensive teaching portfolio, complete with a written philosophy of librarianship and teaching, lesson plans and learning activities, assignments and grading criteria, and a course blueprint and syllabus.

Prior to the course, I hadn’t thought much about different types of analytical reasoning and how they contribute to student learning outcomes. But delving into deductive and inductive teaching approaches allowed me to recognize the value of each, to better identify some of the problems in more traditional law teaching approaches, and to view my discipline as a critical part of the solution. Fortunately, skills-based courses present an important opportunity to help students develop deductive reasoning skills alongside inductive reasoning skills, each of which are necessary for the practice of law, and the legal research classroom is one in which we are able to demonstrate such skills from the outset of one’s legal education.

Of course, given the nature of a practical, skills-based course, the importance of active learning techniques to student engagement and ultimately retention cannot be overstated. So, it was extremely beneficial to have the opportunity to dig into various types of active learning techniques. And since students can find legal research to be easy, boring, or unimportant, it was further helpful to think about different ways to get creative and make research FUN!

Sadly, I cannot say I studied the backward design framework as a law librarianship student, and I know there are many teaching librarians in the same boat. While the concept is straightforward, I found great value in getting additional practice and feedback in working backward from the AALL Principles & Standards for Legal Research Competency to develop various assignments.

In thinking about the larger, more philosophical takeaways, a few things come to mind. First, I realize that teaching is constant, and my learning never stops. There are always more ways to grow and improve, so the work of teaching is never “done.” And like legal research, teaching is a skill that must be practiced and improved over time. Second, I walk away with a recognition of the importance of seeking to become and remain a reflective practitioner. While an understanding of fundamental teaching and learning concepts and a comprehensive portfolio are obvious benefits from the course, I can’t help but recognize that the opportunity to think and reflect critically on so many of the issues and questions above is one extended to few new law teachers. For this opportunity, I am most grateful. Third, I take away that there are teaching and learning lessons all around us, in all areas of our lives, if we simply open our eyes to them. Indeed, there is an abundance of lessons we will gain from our students throughout the course of our careers. And finally, I appreciate that our profession naturally allows for a most beautiful symbiotic relationship. Teachers are students, and students are teachers. So, honestly… how lucky are we?!

Posted in Legal Research Instruction, Lifelong Learning, Teaching (general) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments