Questions with Puron: Featured RIPS Member – Emma Wood

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 Emma Wood, Associate Librarian at the UMass Dartmouth School of Law Library in Dartmouth, MA & the New RIPS Law Librarian Blog Editor!


Puron: What lead you to law libraries?

Emma: Call it happenstance or serendipity but I, like many others, fit into the category of accidental law librarian. I started my career in public libraries and I fell in love with serving the community.  There is something extremely gratifying about connecting a person with the piece of information that they need. After completing my MLS, I found a full-time position in the circulation department of the Carney Library at UMass Dartmouth. I stayed there for a few years getting familiar with academic librarianship.  Eventually a position opened up at the UMass Dartmouth Law Library across town.  The rest is history.

Puron: What’s a professional achievement you’re proud of?

Emma: The achievement I am most proud of is less of a tangible thing and more of a feeling.  I am so pleased with the welcoming, comfortable environment that we have created at the UMass Law Library for students. I think that we have succeeded in making the library inviting by reducing some of the preconceived notions about what a library should be. Everyone is welcome, conversation is encouraged, and we strive for excellent, personal service. I am also really proud of the fact that I have grown into law as an area of expertise.  I started with a passion for librarianship but no law focus, and I have managed to marry the two.

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

Emma: This past year has definitely given me an opportunity to think about this question! I have always wanted to visit Ireland and that remains true.  At the time of writing this, international travel is still a bit restricted. I love the show The Office so I would enjoy a visit to Scranton, PA to check out The Steamtown Mall, Poor Richard’s Pub, Cooper’s Seafood, and all of the other spots referenced in the show.  And of course, I wouldn’t turn down going somewhere warm and tropical.

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

Emma: I have come to rely upon all of the food delivery apps.  A comfort in the pandemic for me has been having my favorite foods show up at my front door.  It’s something that I will continue to use in the future, although hopefully not as often.

Puron: What’s is some good advice that you have received?

Emma: I am currently reading Lead from the Outside by Stacey Abrams so all of her encouragement and ideas to achieve goals are fresh on my mind.  I expected the book to be a bit more autobiographical, but it is an excellent self-help read.  Anyway, she has good advice about “daring to want more” where she suggests that you 1. identify what you want 2. ask yourself why you want it and 3. determine the path to get there.  Simple questions, but important for pushing yourself forward.


We hope you enjoyed getting to know Emma. 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 facebook.com/PuronRIPS/. 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 contact the committee.

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Questions with Puron: Featured RIPS Member – Shawn Nevers, Deputy Director, Howard W. Hunter Law Library, BYU Law School

Compiled by: Karin Johnsrud

Questions with Puron is an interview 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. For this installment, Puron talked with Shawn Nevers of the Howard W. Hunter Library at BYU Law School


Puron: What brought you to law libraries?

Shawn: The encouragement and example of law librarian mentors who helped me see that law librarianship was a profession where my love of research, scholarship, and teaching, and my desire to help others, could all thrive.

Puron: What’s a recent photo you took that makes you smile?

Shawn: My 10-year old daughter took this picture on a family hike in Grand Teton National Park. It makes me smile to think of her excitement in getting this picture, and all the great times we had on this vacation.

Puron: What’s a professional achievement you’re proud of?

Shawn: I’m proud of my article, The Shadow Code: Statutory Notes in the United States Code, that was recently published in Law Library Journal with my co-author, Julie Graves Krishnaswami. This article was several years in the making and it is extremely rewarding to hear that so many people have found it useful.

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

Shawn: I’m going to cheat and give you two. I still have not made it to Europe and would love to travel there, specifically to Germany where my wife lived as a missionary for our church several years ago. I’m also itching to get back to my quest of visiting all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums. I’m just over halfway there, but trips to Minnesota and Cleveland were casualties of COVID, so I’ve still got some work to do.

Puron: Do you have any advice for new or aspiring law librarians?

Shawn: Find time to write. This is much harder for some law librarians than others, but is extremely rewarding. Writing helps you think more deeply and clearly on a topic. As a new law librarian you might feel like you don’t have much to say, but I think you’ll be surprised at what an important contribution you can make. Find a place to workshop your writing, like the Boulder Conference on Legal Information: Scholarship and Teaching. I’ve been involved with Boulder for many years and it is a wonderfully supportive, encouraging, and helpful place to get feedback on your work. Plus, it’s a wonderful community of scholars that inspires me every time I attend.


We hope you enjoyed getting to know Shawn. 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 facebook.com/PuronRIPS/. 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 emma.wood@umassd.edu.

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The Power of Public Libraries

As a public university, my law library is open to the public. This usually means we get some attorneys or other legal professionals who prefer using the print reporters, and so come in to the library to request materials that they are able to navigate on their own. Additionally, we also get patrons who are not legal professionals and there to research law for their own individual cases. These patrons generally need more guidance on not only what resources are helpful and how to navigate them, but what exactly they are interpreting when reading citations, the differences between the resources themselves (e.g. statutory vs. caselaw) and ask more questions seeking to not only find relevant law to help them, but to make heads or tails of the often confusing and confounding legal materials they are only now beginning to explore. In many ways these patrons are like first year students, requiring education in every aspect of the legal profession, beginning at the basic levels. Unlike first year students, these patrons’ needs are far more pressing and they have far less time to learn the fundamentals.

When we were all in person, we were able to spend more time going over the nitty gritty details with them: how to navigate the statutory code; where to find this particular Supreme Court case or that particular appellate court case; how using some of these secondary sources can actually help them understand the material better. There were times that I would spend hours helping a patron simply be able to access the information at which point I had to inform her: we cannot provide legal advice and now that she had the resources she needed, the rest was up to her. While this may have been unwelcomed news to her and other patrons, at least they were appreciative that they had been able to get to even this point. Invariably these patrons were more comfortable with print, either preferring not to access materials through the computer, unwilling to learn how to navigate the digital databases, or simply not having access to technology outside of the library and wishing to spend their time in the substantive law, rather than learning a new technology in the small amount of time they had. While these were always more difficult patrons to help since the approach was fundamentally different, they were also very rewarding as it allowed more direct application of my knowledge toward the access to justice.

Unfortunately, while the pandemic has shut down physical access to everyone, it is these public patrons who have suffered the most, or so I believe; I have no way of knowing. I can still reach out to my own students or former students can contact me when they have research needs or questions that they need answering. The faculty have my email and communicate regularly. Even alumni and the attorneys in the area have a direct line of communication to the library. Yet over the last 16 months, we have received no requests or questions from public patrons, and certainly nothing from the patrons who eschewed using a computer for whatever reason. I say that I believe they have suffered most: their legal issues did not go away, and in the interim there must be additional people facing legal issues that we don’t even know about. Further and even more unfortunate, the public access to the law library can be a lifeline for the working poor who cannot afford an attorney, and it is those same people upon whom this pandemic has landed the hardest, in more ways than one.

I have always believed that the public library is the purest manifestation of the American dream: it is a place where every person can come and better themselves, where the community can come together for fun and advocacy, and where there is a real dedication to giving everyone access to information. This is even more true in a public law library, where there is the extended availability to provide access to justice. While we have endeavored to open access beyond our students and faculty patrons, we can only do so much and it is certainly not enough. We are currently planning advancing our coordination efforts with other public libraries in the area to widen the net of services offered, and to try and develop creative solutions to help all our patrons. Unfortunately the access to justice gap has widened by the dependence on technology during the pandemic and what that has meant for the aforementioned patrons. As part of the legal information profession and a public law library, one of the many lessons I will take from the pandemic and our operations is how better to provide access to not only information, but access to justice through one of the most powerful tools to do so: the library.

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Business Development vs. Competitive Intelligence

While many of us use the term “competitive intelligence” to refer to our business development research, there are some differences. It’s true that many law firms use competitive intelligence product in response to pitches and for attorneys to use in client/prospective client meetings, and many times it doesn’t go beyond that. But it can, and it should. And librarians are uniquely qualified to add strategic value to both types of research.

I rarely do in-depth competitive intelligence research. Most of my requests are for basic company information and talking points that can be used in a pitch to a prospective client. Anyone with the tools, and some research ability can pull a company report. And, if you know how to use Westlaw/Lexis/Bloomberg/Google, you can pull news about a specific company. But can you go further?

As librarians and researchers, we can take a bunch of news articles, company reports, and other information, and put together a package for different uses. The basic business development package might be just a company report and a list of officers. A deeper dive would add news articles, Secretary of State filings, and litigation. An even deeper dive could include social media posts. Librarians and researchers can cull through information, analyze the materials, and determine what should be included in the package that goes to the attorney.

For example, if the attorney is making a presentation to a potential client, basic information about the client might be enough. Even then, a librarian can add value by determining whether the “pre-made” company report pulled from a research service provides the needed information or if additional information is needed. Unless you only have 10 minutes notice, you should provide more than the basic information.

If the attorney is making the presentation to a single individual, or having lunch with a potential client (think back to the pre-COVID days), a researcher can add value by finding additional talking points. This kind of information can personalize a conversation, and take it beyond the “here’s what our law firm can do for you”. For example, maybe their children have a sport in common, or a school. We should do some additional research to try and make our attorney(s) stand out from the rest. All it takes is to review what you pull for the request, and find a nugget of information that can do that. Not to take anything away from Marketing departments who might do some basic business development research – my Marketing group is great, but they don’t do research – but law librarians are trained to do analysis (even if you don’t know you do it). It happens every time we do any research – we don’t send every case you find when researching a legal issue, we review/analyze the case to see if it’s helpful.

That analysis adds value to our work. It can give an attorney a competitive advantage during a business development pitch. So whether you call it business development or competitive intelligence, the end result is to get/have a competitive advantage that enables the attorney to land the client. True competitive intelligence goes deeper than basic business development research, but we can add value to both.

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Questions with Puron: Featured RIPS Member – Alissa Black-Dorward, Deputy Director, Maloney Library, Fordham Law School

Compiled by: Karin Johnsrud

Questions with Puron is an interview 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. For this installment, Puron talked with Alissa Black-Dorward of the Maloney Library at Fordham Law School


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


Alissa: There are many things I love about being a law librarian. Probably the best thing is being able to use my legal knowledge and skills to help people, like students and faculty, without the intense pressure of a law firm environment. I learned a lot about the law in law school and I learned quite a bit about lawyering skills like legal research, evaluating a case and interacting with clients as a practitioner. It is really nice to be able to pass on that knowledge to young attorneys, just starting out. The other thing I love about being a law librarian is the variety of jobs that we do on a day-to-day basis. On any given day, I might be at the reference desk, then work on acquisitions, then teach a class, then work on a project with other staff members. That type of variety really makes the day go fast and makes it interesting, as well as helping me build an interesting skill set.

Puron: Share your favorite new (or new-to-you) resource for 2020/2021! [could be a website, database, secondary source, anything]


Alissa: One of my favorite newish resources is the addition of tools on Westlaw and Lexis to find and assess experts. As a personal injury attorney, I used a lot of medical experts. Even though my firm had certain ones that we typically used, sometimes you needed one that could assess a novel issue. This type of tool would have been terrific. I teach it in advanced legal research because I think that the students probably haven’t even thought about the fact that they might be called upon to find an expert, let alone how they would go about finding and assessing one. This gives them a glimpse into that process.

Puron: Do you have any advice for new or aspiring law librarians?


Alissa: My advice is not to be overly focused on one type of librarianship early on in your career. I think it’s good to have an idea of what you generally want to be i.e. I think I’m more interested in reference. But I think it is a mistake to only focus on developing reference skills. You might initially think that you want to do reference but working a bit with technical services might open up completely new interests for you that will take in you a different direction, ultimately making you happier. So, leave those doors open early on. I also think having a good familiarity with what happens in all areas of the library, whether it be reference, technical services, circulation, or interlibrary loan suggests a general curiosity and love of librarianship that will stand you in good stead. That knowledge can be helpful in problem-solving. It is also a great way to form relationships with other librarians that don’t do exactly what you do – and you can learn a lot from them!

Puron: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?


Alissa: I like to paddle-board and canoe. I also enjoy working with my dogs. I have two terriers and I am training them to do competitive obedience. Because they are terriers and so independent and stubborn, I’ve been reading a lot about dog psychology and motivation, which has been really interesting. The dogs also love training and are always happy to work. I’m looking forward to getting them in the ring this fall.


What’s a recent photo you took that makes you smile? 

Caption: Blake says: I’m all ready to train – just waiting for you!
Blake says: I’m all ready to train – just waiting for you!

Caption: Blake says: I’m all ready to train – just waiting for you!


We hope you enjoyed getting to know Alissa. 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 facebook.com/PuronRIPS/. 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 emma.wood@umassd.edu.

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