RIPS-SIS Publication Award

RIPS-SIS Publication Award

DEADLINE: May 7, 2018

The Publication Award honors RIPS-SIS members for contributions to law librarianship through publication, particularly in the area of research instruction and patron services. Eligible materials must be published during the prior calendar year. Materials can be published in any format, print or non-print and in any publication. Materials can include significant in-house materials.  Any aspect of law librarianship may be addressed, although preference is given to materials discussing research instruction or patron services. Awards may not be presented in a given year at the discretion of the Committee if it feels that no articles meet the required criteria.

The material must be authored by an active RIPS-SIS member. For co-authored works, at least one author must be an active member of RIPS-SIS. Nominated articles for each year’s award must have been published in the previous calendar year, i.e., published in 2017 for the 2018 award. Materials may have appeared in any format (paper or electronic) and in any publication including AALL publications, chapter newsletters, non-AALL publications, or in-house publications. Preference will be given to articles related to research instruction or patron services.

Materials are evaluated on:

  • Relevance of topic to RIP-SIS members;
  • Quality of writing or presentation;
  • Effectiveness of communication technique; and
  • Quality of research (if required).


E-mail articles to the RIPS-SIS Grant Chair Amy Lipford ( along with a brief explanation by the nominator of why he/she thinks the publication should be given the award, no later than Monday, May 7, 2018. Materials may be submitted for consideration by any AALL member, including the authors.

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RIPS-SIS Service Award

RIPS-SIS Service Award

DEADLINE: May 7, 2018

The RIPS-SIS Service Award honors a RIPS-SIS member who has made outstanding contributions to RIPS-SIS in areas of section activity and professional service. Awards may not be presented in a given year at the discretion of the Committee.

Nominees must be an active or retired member of RIPS-SIS. Current RIPS-SIS Executive Board members are ineligible for nomination. Nominees may excel in one or more of the following areas:

  • Excellent leadership in RIPS-SIS, at meetings, and in committees;
  • Special and notable service to RIPS-SIS, such as participation in special projects;
  • Participation in RIPS-SIS education programs and public speaking activities;
  • Mentoring activities which encourage others in RIPS-SIS.

The above is not intended to be an exhaustive list of criteria. Individuals whose contributions to RIPS-SIS take other forms may also be nominated and considered for the award.

SUBMISSION PROCEDURE: E-mail materials to the Committee Chair Amy Lipford (  Any RIPS-SIS member may nominate themselves or another member. The deadline is May 7, 2018. Nominations must include:

A letter of nomination, including the candidate’s full name, title, and institution name/address. If the candidate is retired, include name, home address, and most recent former employer;

  1. A narrative supporting the nomination, including a discussion of the candidate’s contributions to RIPS-SIS;
  2. A curriculum vitae of the candidate; and

The name, e-mail, address, and phone number of the nominating party.

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2nd Time Around: Teaching Legal Research Again

by Paul Gatz

This past week I taught the last class of my Advanced Legal Research course, completing my second time teaching the course, and my mind turned, as it occasionally does, to a set of papers I found in a filing cabinet in my office during my first few weeks in this job. I have tried, in vain, to identify the author of these papers and to discern whether he or she intended to use them for a now-abandoned writing project or left them in the office to serve as instruction and guidance for his or her successor. Regardless, on this particular occasion, a few pages of handwritten text from this collection seemed particular apposite to my own situation. I’ve typed them up and have chosen to post them to this blog, in hopes that others may find them as illuminating as I have and that perhaps the mystery author may come forth to claim them. – PJG

We all know the quip about stepping into the same river twice, and although Heraclitus gave us much richer fodder for thought than just this [1], I found this turn of phrase coming to mind frequently over the course of this past semester. Perhaps similar thoughts have crossed your mind as well, if, like me, you have taught a course once, and then, having taught it a second time, felt an uncanny [2] sense that you are teaching a completely different course than you did the first time.

Of course, in the time since I taught the course the first time, many things have changed. Obviously, I have a completely different set of students, the different personalities, experiences, and knowledge naturally giving rise to a completely different in-class dynamic. This change is especially notable in a class such as legal research, where in-class assignments lead to numerous discussions and opportunities for student participation. But, although different, this semester’s students are just as engaged, discerning, and curious.


A red pickup truck.

The content of the course has changed slightly, of course – as wedded as legal research is to technology, how could it not? But those changes are easy enough to incorporate. Rather, it is the older material that I feel like I am having trouble connecting with. I put the course together myself, beginning work on it nearly two years ago. I created slides with detailed notes and assignments and exercises for active learning [3]. Although I have altered these materials in slight ways to account for changes in technology and resources and to improve deficiencies that I noted during my first time teaching, the original materials are now remote. Divorced from the intentions, thought processes, and designs that I possessed when creating them, they are now little more than words and pictures on a page. It is as if they were created by someone else.

For I myself have changed in the intervening year. By refraining from making serious revisions to the previous year’s materials I save time in preparation, but, in the classroom, my voice becomes robotic as I follow a script by rote and, although it may only be in my imagination, I see the attention of my students wander. After a few class meetings like this, I have arrived at a solution. I must re-write my notes. The slides can be reused, as can the assignments, but I now devote more preparation time to re-thinking how I cover the main points, planning out their organization and the metaphors and arguments I use to communicate them. This takes a bit more time, but the material is then fresh in my mind. My voice becomes my own again as the lecture better reflects my current understanding.

Still, I remain not-at-home in the classroom. Something has changed that is not simply due to flat repetition. Age brings experience and knowledge but also distances one from the perspective of those who lack that same experience and knowledge. The obvious danger is that the instructor, in attaining expert-level knowledge, makes unfounded assumptions about what students already know about that field, overlooking the basic principles and frameworks that they need to be able to think critically about more complex topics and apply those principles to real-life situations. But I think the greater, perhaps less obvious, danger of this distance from the students’ experience is an attenuation of empathy for their perspective.

To the extent I have been successful as an instructor, I credit it to drawing upon my own memories of classroom experience as a law student – recreating strategies and approaches that I found helpful and avoiding those that I found counterproductive to my own learning. However, my memories of those times continue to fade, and I fear that I have forgotten how to be a student. Perhaps it is best to let such things fade, to move on and find other wells to draw from to improve my teaching [4].

Or maybe I need to find a way to be a student again. Confront a topic on which I am ignorant. Put myself in a position where I must rely on a teacher to supplement my own learning process. Observe myself and the instructor in the frustration of confusion and the revelation of discovery. Perhaps it is not good to let those experiences fade, perhaps it is best to find ways to remain a student and not let that perspective be lost in that of the teacher…[5]

[1] The author is not wrong. Based on the existing fragments of his work, the sage of Ephesus is surely one of the most changeable and paradoxical of the pre-Socratics.

[2] Based on the rest of the author’s writings, I suspect he or she has chosen this word carefully, although I could not say for sure how precisely we are to take its meaning.

[3] There are a number of activities instructors can use to facilitate active learning in the classroom.

[4] I’ve written about similar feelings in a previous post.

[5] Ellipsis in original.

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Register Today: Legal Research Competency Webinar on 5/30

Designing and Implementing Research Competency Assessment

This webinar will address the Principles and Standards for Legal Research Competency and how they can enhance teaching and evaluating law students. Presenters will introduce and discuss the PSLRC and its uses in teaching and training, creating and using assessments in legal research courses, and designing and using rubrics for assessments.

 Date/Time: May 30, 1 – 2 Pm Eastern

Registration Link: 

 Presenters: Susan Azyndar, Theresa Tarves, and Anupama Pal

Brief bios:

Susan Azyndar is a reference librarian at the Moritz Law Library at The Ohio State University. She teaches Legal Writing and Analysis I and an advanced course on business and tax research.

Theresa Tarves is the Associate Director of the law library at Penn State Law and a Professor of Legal Research. She teaches Legal Research Tools and Strategies, a required first-year research course.

Anupama Pal is a legal information librarian and lecturer in law at Boston College Law School. She teaches advanced legal research.

Posted in Continuing Education, Inspiration and Design Ideas, Legal Research Instruction | Leave a comment

Which RIPS Committee is Right for You?

Committees are the heart of RIPS-SIS and we need YOU to volunteer for them, to keep coming up with interesting new ideas for initiatives, and to continue the work on some of our longstanding projects. The RIPS Committee Volunteer Survey will be distributed on Wednesday, April 25th.

In the meantime, start thinking about which committee(s) you would like to serve on in 2018-2019. We’ve put together these blurbs to help you identify which committee is right for you!

Volunteer for the Legal Research Teach-In Kit Committee if:

✅ You want to help compile and share excellent resources designed by individual librarians

✅ You are interested in the broad spectrum of teaching materials created by librarians from firm, government, and academic settings

✅ You’ve ever used the Teach-In Kit to help you prepare for teaching a class or workshop and would like to give something back

✅ You’d like to help empower librarians around the country by shining the spotlight on them as competent and capable instructors


Volunteer for the Grants Committee if:

✅ You want to learn about the best and brightest members of RIP-SIS

✅ You are passionate about supporting fellow RIP-SIS members attending AALL conferences and succeeding in their professional goals

✅ You want to be involved in a committee whose primary time commitment is in the spring


Volunteer for the Program Committee if:

✅ You have a desire to help shape the programming opportunities for RIPS-SIS members

✅ You enjoy providing feedback to colleagues on their program proposals


Volunteer for the Online Training Committee if:

✅ You have creative ideas for online training programs for the RIPS membership

✅ You’d like to work with other RIPS committees to facilitate webinars and other online training programs for the RIPS membership
✅ You’re passionate about distance education (or want to learn more about it)


Volunteer for the Nominations Committee if:

✅ You want to help identify future leaders who are dedicated to the SIS and best qualified to guide the organization

✅ You are interested in helping select who will serve on the RIPS executive board next year


Volunteer for the Promotions & Recruitment Committee if:

✅ You enjoy outreach and finding new ways to get members interested in research instruction

✅ You get excited about designing marketing materials for #AALLAnnual

✅ You can’t wait to #livetweet and share all the ways @RIPS_SIS contributes


Volunteer for the Patron Services Committee if:

✅ You care about access services, circulation, ILL, or with generally helping patrons get the resources they need;

✅ You’d like to share best practices, new ideas, and brainstorm solutions with other librarians; and

✅ You want opportunities to write, create webinars, presentations, toolkits, and other avenues to preserve and share our collective knowledge.


Volunteer for the Research Instruction Committee if:

✅ You love to read and review the latest and greatest books on teaching and legal research;

✅ You enjoy collaborating with fellow instructors of all backgrounds to generate material useful to librarians in all instructional situations;

✅ You’re excited to brainstorm with colleagues at AALL roundtables and share the efforts on the RIPS Blog.


Volunteer for the Legal Research Competency Committee if:

✅ You want to compile and generate content to help members learn more about and assess legal research competency;

✅ You’d enjoy creating webinars on the PSLRC and assessing legal research competency;

✅ You’d like to help develop and maintain a legal research competency website.


Volunteer for the brand-new Scholarship Committee if:

✅ You’re passionate about law librarianship-related scholarship

✅ You want to help promote RIPS members’ written contributions to our profession

✅ You’d enjoy connecting law librarians with writing partners who have similar interests

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The End of Technical Services

by Dean Duane Strojny

In July 2014, our Technical Services department had 13 full-time employees. Today, there are 5 with a looming retirement that I am hoping to be able to replace. The work related to physical paper materials is certainly less than what it used to be, but I am sure it is not 66% less. Plus, management of electronic resources and maintenance of a robust, user-friendly online catalog takes work. In many instances, technical services tasks of today are just more technical and take a specialized skill set that is not easily replaced. Absence of the staff to complete the work means a backlog is created and at some point the work may never get done. This ultimately affects the users; reference librarians, faculty, students, and general library patrons. Will we actually move forward without a full time cataloger?

RIPS blog cartsWho will do the work? What will the skill set be for a future Technical Services Librarian? Is a Technical Services Department still necessary? These are logical questions, but it seems like no one has definite answers. The outsourcing of some tasks can bring about mediocre results where work has to be minimally acceptable compared to not even being done at all. More trendy tasks move up on the priority list.

We may find some of the answers in competency lists. AALL, ALA, and ACRL all have them. Maybe traditional public services librarians need to have more than a basic understanding of how to use an online catalog. Take a look at what our professional organizations are saying about skills librarians should have. Many of them have verbs such as arrangement, access, cataloging, organizing and managing attached to them. Do you possess any of these skills? Should we all have some working knowledge of the competencies?



6.1 Ensures the optimal arrangement of and access to the library’s resources to meet the needs of users.

6.2 Improves the power and scope of library services through resource sharing.

6.3 Selects and implements an appropriate level of descriptive cataloging, classification, and subject analysis to meet the needs of the institution and the nature of its legal materials.

6.4 Creates, selects, and manages catalog records according to national standards and accepted practices.

6.5 Selects, implements, and continually improves an integrated library system appropriate to the needs of the institution’s users.

ALA’s Core Competences of Librarianship (Approved and adopted as policy by the ALA Council, January 27th 2009)

A person graduating from an ALA-accredited master’s program in library and information studies should know and, where appropriate, be able to employ:

3. Organization of Recorded Knowledge and Information

3A. The principles involved in the organization and representation of recorded knowledge and information.

3B. The developmental, descriptive, and evaluative skills needed to organize recorded knowledge and information resources.

3C. The systems of cataloging, metadata, indexing, and classification standards and methods used to organize recorded knowledge and information.

 There is no doubt that librarians today need to have a wide range of skills. The ability to organize materials of any format in a searchable database is something that institutions often take for granted. I have long been an advocate of making technical services librarians member of web page committees, students services departments, and basically involved anywhere the school needs to get information organized in a fashion where others need to find it. Most often that request to utilize our best professionals in the work that can best serve the organization has fallen upon deaf ears. Recently, however, our Information Technology Department has suggested someone from the Library serve as a liaison to faculty and IT in helping organize how our new Learning Management System should be laid out. Unfortunately, with so few left in the Technical Services Department, I am not sure we can pull off that request. Or, is this an opportunity to good to pass up on no matter what other work goes on the back burner?

No full time cataloger? It is just not an option. I will continue the battle to preserve the Technical Services Department and all the value they bring to our institution and ultimately to legal education and research.

Posted in Issues in Law Librarianship | Tagged | 2 Comments

How Do We Engage with Ideas that Make Us Uncomfortable?

by Lora Johns

Imagine a patron comes to you at the reference desk. They want to write a term paper, an op-ed, maybe even an amicus brief, and they need research help. The topic is race. Specifically, their thesis is that Black people should not be treated as the equals of Whites. Your patron wants you to help find authority to back up this position.

You could substitute women’s rights, immigration, gun control, or any other issue currently suffering from excessive polarization in this country. Imagine that you’re a Black librarian (or a woman, or an immigrant, or the victim of gun violence).

What do you say?

How much can we be expected to maintain “professional” detachment from ideas that seem less like abstractions and more like aggressions?

We walk an unsteady line when we discuss these topics with our patrons. If it were a field sobriety test, we’d all get locked up for the night. On the one hand, we are trained to keep our minds open when patrons come to us for help. The library is supposed to be a judgment-free zone. On the other, we cannot feign immunity to incendiary comments and ideas.

The idea of the “devil’s advocate” as a salutary figure dates back to the 17th century Roman Catholic Church. Their advocatus diaboli made the case against canonizing new saints, just to make sure that the candidate was truly worthy. Today, we still like the idea of having someone to rigorously test every claim and make sure it stands up to scrutiny.

Yet politics and polarization have made playing the devil’s advocate an emotionally charged game. Students regularly protest campus speakers who espouse ideas they consider racist, Islamophobic, or otherwise dangerous to the wellbeing—some would argue the very lives—of marginalized people.

Especially at law schools, it’s easy to see how increasingly polarized political views can make debating certain ideas feel less like discussing mere abstractions and more like weathering personal attacks. Words can wound—physically as well as psychologically. Stress and trauma measurably affect the body, even when there’s no physical contact involved.

People disagree on the correct remedy to the problem of speech that makes students feel unsafe. A crucial part of the equation is how safe the potentially threatened students feel on the campus in general. Is the environment full of microaggressions, or are there lots of support systems? At law schools, pervasive mental health problems might make tolerating threatening viewpoints harder than it otherwise would be. But at the same time, being a lawyer means learning to persevere even when your opponents are flinging arguments at you—some less civilly than others—with which you vehemently disagree.

Law librarians are not so different from litigators in that respect. We face the problem much less often than if we went to court every day, but it still takes a toll on us to remain positive when faced with opinions that cut against our deepest beliefs and identities.

So when we are faced with a patron whose mind we might desperately want to change, what do we do? We need not (and should not) act as automatons, squelching our own contrary opinions to help the patron find the information they want. But we can’t proselytize against their views, either. Quite apart from being terribly unprofessional, it would make the patron unlikely ever to consult the library again—and even unlikelier to ever change their mind.

What we can do is meet people where they are. If someone is staunchly anti-abortion, exhorting them to read the NARAL Pro-Choice America blog will not help anyone. What will help us all is exposing them to the widest range of high-quality information—scholarly, peer-reviewed literature from many relevant disciplines, by authors from diverse populations with multiple conclusions. We can and should lead our patrons down a research path that does not simply echo their preconceived notions (or ours). The key is to make room for as many ideas as possible, without forcing any agenda or privileging any one viewpoint.

I write from a place of relative privilege. I’m White and middle class. I grew up with sexism, but not racism or poverty. It is fairly easy for me to say that we should engage with repugnant ideas at whatever level we and our patrons can handle. But for many of my colleagues, the emotional labor this requires is enormous—they may be confronted with information requests that threaten or degrade their very existence. It will feel like violence.

The most important thing we can do for ourselves is to reframe our own thinking about ideas—to defang them by uncoupling their existence from our emotional reaction to them. Cognitive behavioral therapy, even self-directed, can dramatically reduce the anxiety we feel around offensive ideas. It is simple, but it is not easy.

The most important thing we can do for our patrons is to meet them where they are, but challenge them to broaden their minds. By engaging with controversial ideas calmly, we can be role models for how not to let hotly contested issues devolve into bullying, finger-pointing, and emotional turmoil. We can lead by example and hope that our patrons will take note and follow suit.

Posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Legal Research | Leave a comment