On the Brink of the Abyss; Planning for Library Services after the Plunge

by Beau Steenken

Though I have written about politically-related topics a time or two on this blog, this week’s title does not refer to North Korea, Syria , Russia, or France. No, the title refers to something much more certain and imminent: the total evacuation of the University of Kentucky College of Law for a complete building renovation. We will be exiled to temporary housing (an old seminary building that U.K. purchased when the seminary decided to transition to online-only education) for a period of at least two years. During this exile, the vast majority of our collection will be sent to storage literally in a cave (this is Kentucky we are talking about after all). Furthermore, the law library’s physical presence in exile will be reduced to an area with a circulation ILL desk (there won’t really be a collection to circulate), a reference desk, two public access computers, a single four-seat table, and a scattering of bookshelves for the handful of heavily used titles we’re managing to take with us. Beyond this official “library,” we will have a large communal office partitioned to provide work spaces for our six librarians (4 reference & 2 tech services… everybody but our director, really) so that students and faculty will at least be able to find a reference librarian when needed. Our exile is set to begin in less than a month.

Needless to say, my colleagues and I are feeling a tad amount of stress about this looming challenge. Yet, we’ve managed to make some plans about how to conduct necessary library services in less than ideal circumstances. During the exile, we will still teach legal research classes, both for 1Ls and upper-level students, and we will still offer reference services to faculty, students, and the public. The only service that will really be going away is circulation, and it’s not so much going away as morphing into an extremely robust ILL service. However, even the services we continue to offer will necessarily have to be changed to accommodate our changed environment.

In terms of teaching, the biggest change relates to the number of print books available. (Luckily, finding classrooms for our classes falls on our Associate Dean, so we managed to avoid at least some stress.) At U.K. we still teach print resources the first few weeks of class as a foundation to aid students in recognizing what Westlaw/Lexis throw at them. Typically, we have the students visit the library to complete their in-class exercises, where we have multiple sets of digests and codes available. That will not work so well in our temporary space. We are managing to take two sets of the Kentucky Revised Statutes with us, as well as a copy of the Kentucky Digest and Kentucky Digest 2d, so at least we’ll still be able to teach print. That’s not a lot of books for our students to share, though, so visits to the library (not that there’ll be space anyway) will be replaced by taking bookcarts to the classroom. Also, rather than split my students into groups, I think I’m going to have to have the whole class work on the exercise collectively via the use of an overhead projector. It’s less than ideal, but I think I can make it work.

In terms of reference services, we think our biggest challenge is going to be making sure our users know where they can get the reference service they need, though, of course, we are more concerned about some user groups than others. For instance we feel confident that our faculty (especially being faced with greater need for ILL materials with our collection boxed up) will think to email us when faced with a research problem.

Students may remember to email us too, though we are a bit worried about being out of sight and out of mind. Right now, the library is pretty much the only public space in the law school for students to study, so they all walk right by us. That will not be the case in the temporary digs. Our plan for mitigating this effect is to go semi-nomad and send a reference librarian with a tablet to hover in whatever public areas are students end up occupying next year.

The biggest challenge may be in continuing to reach our public patrons. We’ll put notices up on our website, but we get a lot of walk-ins, so we’re not sure the website will reach everyone. Also, because construction will be ongoing on our old building, we’re not sure about the durability or efficacy of putting physical signs up. Thus, we’re attempting a word of mouth campaign. First, we’re alerting all the other librarians on campus where they can send people. Second, we’re going to try to go to local bar events/local library association events to try to spread the word. Finally, we’ve been verbally mentioning it to every public patron who enters the library.

Will these steps be effective? We really do not know, having never done it before. If anybody has other suggestions, please send them along.  I imagine issues will arise that we have not anticipated, but we’ll have to adapt on the fly to those. I’m trying to talk myself into the fact that this won’t be so bad, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s this sort of “not so bad.

Posted in Legal Research Instruction, Patron Services, Planning, Reference Services | Leave a comment

Giving Effective Feedback

by Maggie Ambrose

Photo by Alan Levine on Flickr CC

This past year I’ve experimented with feedback for students while teaching the research component to 1Ls.  I will admit I had some failures as well as successes, and as this year comes to an end I’ve been trying to analyze what I’ve learned and think about a game plan moving forward.

I was therefore happy to stumble across the recent article Why Giving Effective Feedback is Trickier Than it Seems. One gem from this article that I think is particularly worthy of note is the pitfall of trying to close all education gaps with one round of feedback. This is a mistake that many educators make, particularly when teaching 1Ls who come to the table with a wide range of skills, abilities, and previous experiences.

Interestingly enough, while it is important to continuously differentiate feedback and meet each student where they are, it is also important to promote equity in thinking and not fall into the trap of focusing on the technical shortfalls of the student who falls or lags behind.

The article ends with a keen insight that ideas are what drive people to learn, and not technicalities. While this article is largely geared to teaching younger students writing, many of the takeaways are still applicable in legal research instruction, though less evident.

Research is a tricky subject to teach because a lot of it is technical ability. It is a challenge to get students excited about the research process and even harder to give feedback on the skill. Students need to learn in a way that is timely and relates to a specific activity that is more than just a set of instructions they can follow to receive a grade or complete an in-class problem.

When it comes to feedback, the challenge is to frame the skills they need to learn in terms of ideas.  Ideas that will drive and motivate them to learn what they need to know beyond that of merely completing an assignment.

To that end, two of my colleagues are using various tactics that are inspired. This past year Malikah Hall taught a course where students received feedback from a local attorney. Having someone from the ‘real world’ who fills the role of someone who might one day be a senior attorney at their law firm reviewing their work is powerful. It brings home to the students the idea that their work product will eventually be judged by members of their intended profession in a way that has real world consequences.

Another of my colleagues, Thomas Mills, puts time limits on his assignment, which is a form of self-identifiable feedback for students. It makes the students aware that the idea is not only to ‘find’ the answer but to do so efficiently. Time is money, and if they can’t complete an assignment in the allotted time, then they need to sharpen and gain more tools for their research toolbox.

While presenting some difficulties, it is by no means impossible to link the technical skills of legal research to larger ideas that will help move students forward. Experimentation is key, and legal research instructors may find that they have the ability to drive legal education forward in increasingly innovative ways.

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The Moribund World of Current Awareness

by Erik Adams

Why hasn’t the artificial intelligence revolution come to current awareness in the legal industry?

When I started at my current law firm in 2002, current awareness was in a technological transition. Publishers of daily and weekly newsletters were starting to offer email versions in addition to print, almost as a novelty. We began to offer electronic delivery to attorneys as an alternative that offered a few advantages, chief among them not having to wait for a magazine while it sat in another attorney’s in box, because you had the misfortune to be lower down on the routing list. That, and being able to read the news on a Blackberry. 15 years later that transition is almost complete: we route very few print publications, and the number of email newsletters has exploded. If anything, we’ve gone too far in that direction, and I often hear from attorneys that they get too many emails.

The next big innovation came in the form of products like Manzama and Lexis Newsdesk, which use complex Boolean queries and keywords to generate custom made news feeds. Some attorneys love these services, but I know of at least one firm who has dedicated a librarian’s time to setting up these services for attorneys who don’t want to take the time to customize the news feed themselves. And the vast majority of attorneys prefer to have the news delivered via email, rather than going to the trouble of visiting a web site and reading in a browser. Blackberries have been replaced mostly been replaced with iPhones and Galaxies, but the attorneys still want the news in their hand, delivered from a variety of sources into the email app.

And there, technological innovation has stalled.

Which gets me back to my question: why isn’t AI being applied to the problem of news organization and distribution? We hear a lot about how Ravel Law, Lex Machina, and CARA have applied AI to difficult and time consuming legal research tasks in an effort to make them easy and quick. But the boring task of filtering a day’s news into something interesting and relevant has largely gone untreated.

Facebook recently announced that it is using AI to combat the problem of fake news, developing a system that will automatically flag articles with misleading or inaccurate information. And spam filters have employed Baysian style learning for decades. It seems to me that information overload is a similar problem: there are articles that should be promoted, and articles that should be withheld. If we’re not going to employ armies of librarians to do this job (and we certainly aren’t doing that at my firm), then perhaps someone can create an army of bots to do it for us.

I know enough about artificial intelligence to know that smart systems have to be trained, so I offer a simple plan to train a system. First, start with the articles from a well known, intelligently edited legal newsletter – for example, BNA’s Bankruptcy Law Reporter. Use this as the seed for “good” information. If a large sample of bad, non-bankruptcy news is needed, use any of BNA’s other newsletters. Any of the major vendors could do this. Why haven’t they, yet?

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April Update from the RIPS Exec Board

Hello from your RIPS Executive Board!  We are gearing up for our June Virtual Business Meeting.  Both the Executive Board and our amazing RIPS Committees have been working on a number of wonderful projects this year, and we can’t wait to share all the goings-on with you.  Mark your calendars now!  The business meeting will be held on June 21st at 1:00PM CST.  Follow our Twitter account for sneak peaks at some of the projects our committees will be sharing details about during the business meeting.

We know the value of seeing each other in person, so we are still holding an in-person “RIPS Meet n’ Greet” on Monday, July 17th from 4:00-5:00PM.  It’ll give us a chance to share ideas and catch up with old friends.  In our survey asking what you’d like to do in Austin, the majority of people were hoping for topic-specific tables where you can discuss topics of interest to RIPS members.  Members suggested topics including:  teaching and assessment; student academic success support/bar exam support & other innovative staffing initiatives; reference and collection development; and patron services.   We’ll also have a few open tables for those of you who just want to chat!

To incentivize you to attend both the virtual meeting and the meet n’ greet, we’ll be holding a giveaway.  Look out for more details on that from our PR Committee in the coming weeks!

Hope to see you online and in Austin!

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Exciting news! You asked—we listened! Our annual business meeting will be, for the first time ever, held virtually this year!

Join us on June 21st at 1 PM CST for a RIPS webinar and hear reports from all of the RIPS Committees, updates from your Board, and exciting information about our meet-up in July.

That’s right—just because we are having our meeting virtually, that doesn’t mean we don’t still plan to see everyone in Austin! On Monday, July 17th, from 4-5 PM in ACC-Room 14 we will be having a “RIPS-SIS Meet & Greet” for our members. More details about our exciting June Webinar and July event to come!

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Ready, set, go! Summer Preparedness for Law Students

by Ashley Ahlbrand

As the spring semester draws to a close, and law students prepare to embark on their summer jobs, law schools often offer “prepare to practice” programming, whether in the form of Lexis/Westlaw/Bloomberg reps offering trainings on practitioner-focused products, career services offering sessions on professionalism and networking, or law libraries offering research refreshers. At our library, we offer a series of “Jumpstart” sessions that range from general overviews of legal research topics to jurisdiction- or discipline-specific sessions, upon request. Although voluntary, these are traditionally quite popular, especially among 1Ls, but determining what to cover and what to emphasize always proves a challenge.

In the first-year curriculum, the law librarians at my library provide guest lectures in the Legal Research & Writing program, limited to case law research, statutory research, and a few prominent types of secondary sources; in short, the basics. Because our primary audience for Jumpstart also tends to be 1Ls, we typically begin with a review of cases, statutes, and secondary sources; then briefly discuss regulations, court rules, legislative history, and general legal-research-process advice. Sessions end with practical pointers, such as being sure to learn what resources are available through their summer employer, what resources they’ll still have access to through the law library over the summer, where the nearest law library is to their summer employer (and their access to it), and most importantly, our law library’s contact information, should they get stumped!

Sessions are only one hour long, so this is billed as an overview. We encourage students who know what type of work they’ll be doing to request specialized Jumpstart sessions, which tend to be particularly popular with upper-class students. These specialized sessions tend to focus on specific disciplines, such as tax law or intellectual property research. These latter specialized Jumpstart sessions are relatively new for us. Traditionally, we would add ask students when they signed up for the overview sessions where they would be working and what they would be doing for the summer; out sessions would then end with us addressing those particular topics, tasks, and jurisdictions specifically. The problem was, first, that some students did not have summer jobs lined up yet, and were thus sitting through portions of the Jumpstart session that were irrelevant to them, and second, that these particular topics, tasks, or jurisdictions really needed their own hour-long session to do them justice; fifteen minutes at the end was inadequate to provide any meaningful instruction.

One thing that is often hard to determine is timing — last year we offered several more sessions, all during the noon hour (the school’s lunch break, when no classes meet), and ended up with several empty or nearly-empty sessions. This year we offered four initial sessions, two at noon and two at other times of the day. We have enough signed up for these general sessions this year that we have opened up two additional sessions to accommodate the wait lists. What makes one year more popular than the last? Is it timing? Is it other law school events (although we schedule to avoid those)? Is it just something about the culture of that particular 1L class? It’s hard to say, but we typically survey the students immediately following the Jumpstart sessions and again in the Fall, and in both instances the sessions prove popular. We implemented this new version of Jumpstart two years ago, and I have been particularly pleased to see the rise in upper-class students interested, particularly in the specialized sessions.

I know many of you offer this type of programming for your students as well, and I would love to know what other topics you cover? Do you discuss data security or other technology topics? Ethics and client confidentiality practices? Time management techniques? Something else entirely? I would also love to hear from court or firm librarians, both as to topics you cover in trainings for summer associates, as well as topics you would suggest that academic librarians cover to better train students to be effective researchers in their summer positions. We all want to see our students succeed, and this is an area where we are definitely strongest together. Thank you in advance for sharing!

Posted in Legal Research, practice ready | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Community Defining Information in a Personalized World

by Tig Wartluft

The other morning during breakfast I watched this Vox video about satirists versus more traditional media coverage and noticed that some of the clips were by a professor at my university (Sophia McClennen, School of International Affairs (SIA)). This caught my attention because SIA shares a building with the law school. So this professor, who didn’t look familiar to me, was included in a video receiving national attention and I hadn’t heard any buzz about it. It’s not that I think that I should know everything that’s going on in the University, but this professor’s office is in the same building and on the same floor as mine… maybe 100-150 feet further down the hall! No idea.

Additionally, this past weekend I was invited to participate in a one-day ‘summer bootcamp’ for our students, hosted by our school’s career services office. As this occurred over the weekend, I’m certain that without the invitation, I would have not known that the event even existed.

These two events have made me start to think about digital communication and personalization.


CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Marina Noordegraaf

But probably from the other side of what we’re used to. We’re accustomed to seeing news stories and papers about the benefits of personalization: Amazon’s shopping suggestions, Facebook’s targeted ads, etc. We can personalize our musical listening experience (Spotify, Pandora), our consumed media (Feedly, YouTube, Netflix), our shopping (Amazon), and even our digital social interactions (Facebook, LinkedIn). Each of these services has been marketed as a way for us, individually, to deal with information overload. We only have to pay attention to the music we want to hear, the items we want to buy, and even the news we want to see. Personalization and individualization have been touted as ways that empower each of us to attempt to control the overwhelming torrents of information available to us in digital form.

There are definite benefits like how these digital resources have allowed individuals who are not geographically near each other to create social networks and groups. I am able to keep in touch with, and interact with, friends around the globe because of the power of these digital services. I can interact with people who I’ve never met in real life and consider them friends. But there’s a flip side.

How do we create community and form a society when all our tools promote individuality and the supreme importance of the personality? I remember events from my childhood that entered the society’s memory, as a collective: the final episode of MASH, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and President Reagan being shot. These events were incorporated into our society’s memory because nearly everyone was exposed to them. Probably because there were fewer TV networks and no internet. More recent disasters have also entered societal memory; however, I feel that those memories aren’t as pervasive nor did they (in my opinion) build as forceful of a societal memory because of the various ways people interacted with the story – more networks, more spin, more choices in coverage, and additional choices (cable TV channels, the internet) to avoid the news coverage entirely.

With the constant information overload and deepening personalization, how do we develop smaller societies and communities, like the community of my University, or even of my building? If only the biggest news stories are able to blanket the multitude of ways we individually consume information, how do we create a shared society, a shared sense of identity for our school, our campus, our institution?

When I was in library school, the graduate student government was dealing with a form of this question. At issue was how to disseminate all the information of which students needed to be cognizant, without overloading them. The school at the time had moved all communication to email – an efficient format over the older route of information dissemination via posting fliers to a bulletin board. However, the school had found that if students received too many emails, they simply dealt with the overload by ignoring all emails from the school. So there was a limit put in place that all announcements and information were to be bundled together into only two emails per week. This meant that each of those emails could be very, very long. Most students didn’t scroll though those emails, only glancing at the top few items before determining that the entire email didn’t pertain to them and ignoring the rest of the, probably important, announcements. The grad student government was investigating what communication styles might work – too many individual emails didn’t work, fewer longer emails also didn’t work.

My recent experiences have brought this issue back into my thoughts. It used to be that a society’s memory and personality came from shared experiences. Whether that society was the entire country, a town, or an individual school, there was a culture unique to that community. As it becomes easier for each individual to find and participate in personalized groups, it gets increasingly more difficult to develop and create societies based solely upon geographically localized populations. Career Services was able to email only the students and individuals they thought would be interested in their event; last month I did the same thing when I only emailed our 2Ls and 3Ls about the Library’s “prepare to practice” seminar series. Targeted marketing likely prevented students from being overloaded with emails and may have led to more students actually reading these emails. But at the same time, it seems that we’ve made working together as a school even harder because it is increasing difficult to serendipitously discover information outside of our well-curated, personalized-information streams.

As a graduate student government, we failed to find a solution; I’m not sure that anyone has found a good solution to balance the desire for consumption of personalized information with the need for some information to be blanketed across an entire group. So how do we create a chance for a group to create shared memory based on a shared experience or knowledge base? How can we harness the individuality of personalized information streams to build community within a group (like the students at a school) whose main similarity isn’t any one specific interest, but rather a temporary geographical proximity? I don’t have that answer, but it is an issue that we as librarians have to think about as we serve our community. Please leave a comment with any thoughts on topic.

Posted in Current Events, Issues in Law Librarianship, Issues in Librarianship (generally), Marketing | Tagged | Leave a comment