No…Nope…Still No…

By Christine Anne George
locked computer

Image from Pixaby

Not that long ago I participated in a workshop that brought together historians and archivists. While it was a very interesting exchange, there was one thing that was abundantly clear—the historians had a bit of resentment towards archivists because at some point, an archivist had blocked their access to materials they wanted to view. As a researcher, I completely understand the frustration. If I know that a document exists and not being able to see it could set back my research, I’m going to be less than pleased. However, as an archivist, I know that there are often larger issues at play—donor agreements, institutional restrictions, and even laws—that tie the archivists’ hands. As much as an archivist may want to assist a researcher, if there is a restriction in place, for whatever reason, the archivist has no choice but to deny access.

When I try to draw distinctions between archivists and librarians I always mention access. Archivists are the gatekeepers of history, charged with keeping the items of record. Librarians are conduits of information, championing opening access. In the simplest of terms, if a researcher wants access to something, librarians are more likely to say yes and archivists are more likely to say no.* But I was recently reminded of a particular instance where law librarians aren’t all that different from archivists.

You’ve been there. That moment you’re helping a pro se patron, an alum, a university faculty member, whoever. This is the person who wants access to whatever database. (My experience is usually of the Westlaw or Lexis variety.) Though every librarian instinct is screaming against it, you have to tell that patron that you’re sorry but you cannot give them access. Yes you understand that it is important for their research, but you still can’t. Perhaps you mention that there are contracts that limit access to the law school community. Then you quickly amend that to say the current law school community. No, you can’t make an exception. No, not even if they ask nicely. Certainly not if they take that tone. Well, actually, even if they let up on the tone, it’s still no. Yes they are free to speak to whomever they would like to from alumni affairs to the director, but there’s nothing you can do. You offer alternatives. Perhaps another database that has looser restrictions. Maybe the boo—ok no, not the books. No, you’re fairly certain no other librarian said that it was ok, but nice try. You know because you were the librarian they spoke to last week. No, your sole purpose in life is not to derail their research…

Librarians are not information hoarders. Librarians are information sharers to the nth degree. If anything, we’re information over-sharers. We want everyone to know. We make displays. We make guides. We post to social media. We give presentations. We will even interject into conversations we overhear to help give information—no? Just me? Ok. The point is that from the librarian side, it’s easy to see that if we are denying access, there has to be a reason, and the reason isn’t that denying access brings joy (at least I’m fairly certain it wouldn’t be for the most part). The reason may not be apparent, but it exists. From the patron side, it’s less clear. Librarians can do their best to explain the various restrictions—maybe put those presentation and guide skills to use—but it comes back to the archivists vs. researcher stand-off.

Maybe someday we’ll reach the point where all information is free and there aren’t proprietary databases. I won’t be holding my breath because I know what the likelihood of that is, but it’s nice to dream. Until that day, it looks like archivists aren’t the only ones uttering the dreaded, “I’m sorry, but…”

*I know that there are plenty of archivists championing opening up archives so that more people will be able to access collections and don’t want to get into that debate. I’m talking broad stroke generalizations here

Posted in Customer Service, Open Access, Patron Services, Reference Services | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Be Our Guest…at the first-ever RIPS Virtual Annual Meeting

Hello all,

The RIPS Executive Board is looking forward to hosting the first RIPS virtual annual meeting, and we hope that you will be able to join us on Wednesday, June 21st at 12:00 pm EST/1:00 pm CST.  We will have reports from all of our hard-working committees on the projects they’ve been working on over the past year and the Executive Board will report on some of our endeavors over the past year.

To register for the meeting, please go here:

Just fill in the information requested, and you’ll be all set to go. You’ll get reminders the day before and an hour before the meeting.

Remember, if you attend, you’ll be entered for a chance to win the cutest plush penguin! And you’ll get a second entry if you join us at the RIPS Meet n’ Greet on Monday, July 17th from 4:00-5:00pm in Austin!

We really hope you’ll be able to join us, but we will also be recording the meeting so you’ll be able to watch later if you register and then aren’t able to attend for some reason. Please be in touch with a member of the Executive Board if you have any questions.

Alyson Drake
RIPS Vice Chair

Posted in RIPS events | Tagged | Leave a comment

Effective Law Library Staff In-Services

by Dean Duane Strojny

It is that time of the year where a lot of libraries may be looking at the calendar and realize that the annual staff in-service date is not too far off. As an organizer of dozens of in-services over the years, I can tell you there are some key components to making them fun, effective, informative, and interesting.

In 2002 when we hosted an ABA inspection for our additional campuses across Michigan, I was asked “How will you develop a community with the library across multiple locations?” My quick answer was, “Of course we’ll have in-services and since we have three breaks a year, well do one every break!” That began the long road of in-services that spanned the bridge of creative possibilities. We liked the Olympic theme so much we used it twice. There was the Survivor one, another based on TV Guide, a series of three in one year covering “Who, Why, and How,” and one dealing with employee wellness. Through it all, I would be remiss to say that I couldn’t have done it without a very creative associate director. We would hash out content and creative approaches to so many ideas (some of those listed above).

We have had guest speakers from a silver medal Olympian to the president of a national insurance company. Someone spoke to us about organizing our offices and someone spoke to us about how law school financial aid works. We gave presentations on our budget that actually included numbers. The IT Department visited a few times to give insight into technology. At our height, we would let people sign up for classes (three choices over three different hours of the day). That one was tough to coordinate, but I think most of the employees liked the variety.

In 2012, we added a campus in Florida, so our challenge was to bridge the gap between there and Michigan. During one of our in-services that year, we acknowledged the first day of a new Florida employee. There was a lot of video conferencing. During one in-service team-building exercise, each small group had an iPad or laptop so at least one member of their team was from Florida. Challenging, yes, but always interesting from an administrative perspective.

Here are some of the planning and implementation tips for that long litany of programming:

  1. Start planning early. We usually began discussing the next in-service a week or two after the last one finished. Since one occurred every four months, two to three months of planning seemed like a lot to us. We talked weekly so that helped speed up the timeline. Bring in others early, especially if you want them to help present or coordinate events the day of the event.
  2. Think outside the box.

    A WMU-Cooley Law School In-service Event

    No topic or theme was too outrageous. We made towers out of marshmallows and spaghetti. I was taped to the wall. Teams had to do scavenger hunts. I constantly reminded staff the primary goal was to get to know your colleagues from across the campuses. If you learned something to take to your desk the next day, that was a plus.

  3. Use either a place in the law school away from the library or go off campus. We often meet in our main classroom spaces. We used a movie theater. We volunteered at Toys for Tots (in multiple cities at the same time). We toured a local courthouse. A group went to Dave and Buster’s. If you have funding, there are a lot of options. If not, consider the meeting room at your local public library or the clubhouse of an apartment complex. The typical locations where kids have birthday parties can be very quiet on weekdays and provide the break from the usual workplace.
  4. Plan to have an icebreaker. A lot of people don’t like these, but they do help set the tone for the day. This isn’t an ordinary work day. We want staff to interact in a different way. I like The New Encyclopedia of Icebreakers and The Encyclopedia of Group Activities. There are a lot of others as well as quite a few web sites with ideas to be had for free.
  5. Have some substantive content. Presenting information is important even if the topic doesn’t appeal to everyone. This can help pull together a theme or push an agenda item. We had someone speak about our new Professionalism Program and the library staff became the first group on campus to endorse it as a department. Our discussion about how a prospective student is recruited and enrolled gave everyone a great perspective of what happens in Admissions. The take away doesn’t need to be something to use at your desk, but rather helps give a greater perspective of how the school operates and the mission we serve.
  6. Use experts at the law school or university. Our law school president spoke. Our vice president of finance spoke.  A faculty member led staff through a mock class. The career services director spoke. The chairman of our board spoke. The founder of our law school spoke. We had great speakers with little cost other than a meal. This creates a great sense of camaraderie between library staff and other departments at the school.
  7. Seek feedback. We always had evaluations. Of course, we never please everyone. The criticism of food drove me crazy, so we eventually took that off the evaluations. Hey, it was a free meal and we always had options that could accommodate every possible need. We also provided snacks galore during the course of the day. Plenty of fruit and yogurt, as well as the usual cookies and brownies appeals to everyone. Some people regularly said it was a waste of their time. They were busy. Remember, though, what your goal is: building community is number one. You want to be successful so evaluations help you learn from missteps.

With some thought and planning, an in-service can be a very useful event. Involving others in the planning can also give the person you least expect to lead an opportunity to shine. We have assigned tasks to groups, assigned tasks to individuals, and asked for volunteers. All approaches have worked well with the caveat that you cannot please everyone. When our staff was nearly 100 people, it was quite an undertaking. We invited permanent part-time staff, part-time reference librarians, and often, student employees. Now that we are a smaller group and our associate director has left, I have been forced to rethink the in-service concept. In the past we had special department in-services, librarian in-services, support staff in-services, and optional in-services. Today, with less staff, it is still important to have a goal when planning for an in-service. For me, that has not changed; build community by getting to know your colleagues and hopefully take something back to your desk for tomorrow.

Posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Planning, Training | Tagged | Leave a comment

RIPS Seeking Volunteer: Co-Webmaster

Are you interested in getting more involved with RIPS-SIS? Have a knack for website development? Want to work next to our amazing webmaster, Maribel Nash, to help make improvements during the 2017-2018 year? Then I have a position for you!

We are currently seeking a volunteer to be “Co-Webmaster” with Maribel. Our Vice Chair, Alyson Drake, has been working with the Website Task Force, and we have some exciting web improvements coming up this year. We will be talking about the website at our Business Meeting on June 21st at 1 CST (save the date), so stay tuned.

If you are interested in this position, e-mail by Friday, May 26th, including information about relevant experience, if any.

Posted in Inspiration and Design Ideas, RIPS Committees | Tagged | Leave a comment

Bad Research or Competing Philosophies of Statutory Interpretation: Sally Yates vs. Ted Cruz

by Margaret Ambrose

Last Monday, on May 8th, 2017, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates squared off with Texas Senator Ted Cruz about her decision not to enforce President Trump’s initial attempt at a travel ban.

This tense exchange was duly noted by both liberal and conservative news outlets. Of specific interest to those in the legal community was the article on Above the Law: Let’s Rewatch Sally Yates Posterizing Ted Cruz: Ted Cruz walked in woefully unprepared.  A beatdown ensued. In this post, I am not going to pick a winner and loser. Instead I will focus on what interested me as a legal research instructor and reference librarian about the exchange and the Above the Law article specifically: competing philosophies of statutory interpretation.

According to the article, Cruz ran “off [into] the ditch” because “hardcore devotees like Cruz don’t just use textualism, they live it,” and Cruz according to the article, made the mistake of thinking he could “hang [his] hat on any two or three words at random and wave it around like it’s the Eleventh Commandment.” This is of course in reference to the moment where Cruz cited 8 U.S. Code § 1182, only to have Yates cite an additional provision of the INA, before relaying that her main concern at the time was not limited to a mere statutory interpretation of the INA but that her concern was more fundamental: whether Trump’s travel ban was constitutional.

This is an interesting exchange and should be noted by members of the legal research profession. It touches on a very basic learning objective for any legal research class.  Specifically, it has to do with statutory research, and the need to not merely use the search bar in legal research platforms to find isolated sections of the code only. Law students typically come to the table without knowing how important it is to take the time to do the research to gain an understanding of the statutory scheme enacted by a legislature, rather than focusing only on particular sections of the code in isolation. Taking a step back even further, it is equally important to understand how a statute interacts with other law (e.g. the Constitution, regulations, cases, other statutes).

Conversely, this issue is not limited to students but also to public patrons seeking information who are trying to either represent themselves or understand the legal arguments that are being bandied about as part of a national conversation.  They too come to the table thinking the answers will be spelled out clearly in the text of a particular case or isolated statute. That is what makes them laymen, as most lawyers know that the answer to almost any question is: “maybe… it depends.”

Again the point is not to declare that Ted Cruz was wrong and Sally Yates was right in her interpretation because she had a superior understanding of the statutory scheme and how it interacted with the Constitution. Or that Yates was wrong and Cruz was right because the law was nebulous so as to make it a partisan move for Yates not to wait for the courts’ interpretation. The point of this post is to identify points where something that should not be overly political (i.e. legal research instruction), may at times not be so high above the fray as legal research librarians might like to think. When this is the case, is there a duty to correct a student or a patron who reaches a conclusion based on what some might conclude is incomplete research (i.e. not taking the time to understand the entire statutory framework), or is it more a matter of a competing philosophy of statutory interpretation that relies on textualism?

Either way, if there is a duty to correct or not correct, the aim is to do so with as little bias as possible, which in many cases may be easier said than done.

Posted in Access to Justice, Current Events, Issues in Law Librarianship, Legal Research | Leave a comment

RIPS-SIS Bylaws Revision Project: Review & Comment

RIPS Members—

As you may know, our RIPS virtual annual meeting on June 21st at 1:00pm CST is fast approaching.  One agenda item is to vote on our newly revised RIPS-SIS bylaws.  We’ve made a number of changes, from adding an antidiscrimination article to adapting to a more technology-focused world (i.e. omitting any references to paper ballots!).

Please Review the new bylaws and be ready to vote on their adoption at the virtual business meeting.  You can compare them to our current bylaws and please feel free to be in touch with the Board with any questions you might have!

Look out next week for information on registering for the Annual Meeting!

The RIPS Board

Posted in Notes from the Chair, RIPS events | Leave a comment

On Sabbaticals and Term-Limits

by Beau Steenken

Today marks a beginning and an end for me. On the one hand, today is the first day of my first ever research sabbatical. (U.K. considers librarians to be 12-month faculty, so I’m splitting my sabbatical and taking it over the course of the next two summers.) On the other hand, today’s post will be the last I make for the RIPS Law Librarian Blog, as RIPS-SIS provides for a 3 term limit for bloggers, and I have reached the end of my third year blogging. It occurs to me that the goals behind the two policies (namely, the provision of sabbaticals for librarians and the limit on blogging tenure) are remarkably similar. Both policies aim to increase the spread of information, and both policies also seek to aid the professional development of participants. As such, I thought that I would say a few words about each.

First, I’d like to talk a little bit about the value of sabbaticals for reference librarians. I know that not all institutions provide the possibility of sabbaticals for librarians, as it is a practice mostly tied to tenure-track positions. Even for those of us librarians who do enjoy tenure, though, a sabbatical might seem like another step entirely. After all, our primary professional goal is to provide a functioning library, and that becomes more difficult if librarians periodically start disappearing for six months at a time (or in my case twice in short succession for three months at a time). Yet, I do think there is great value in taking a sabbatical if you have the opportunity. A sabbatical lets one take on a major research project that would ordinarily be precluded by the day-to-day activities of running a library. While it’s possible to publish while performing full-librarian duties, it is difficult to manage anything beyond a certain scope, and even then, not without substantial supplemental writing during non-work hours. A research sabbatical alleviates this pressure.

Implicit in my view of sabbaticals as valuable for librarians, I suppose, is the premise that it is a good thing for librarians to engage in scholarly works of a large scope. I think that there are two primary reasons why engaging in such works is beneficial to us as professionals. First, by undertaking and completing the type of scholarship our regular users (i.e. law faculty members) produce, a librarian will be better able to relate to the experiences of those users. There’s really no substitute for experience, and I feel like going through an entire research project from beginning to end will help me to assist faculty research projects with a better understanding of the process in the future. (Granted, I’m on my first day here, but this is what I am anticipating, at any rate.)

Second, I think librarians should push themselves to grow professionally. Much of our job tends to be routine, cyclical, or seasonal, and I fear that it is easy to become comfortable and complacent (especially if you have tenure). A sabbatical shakes things up somewhat and does put pressure on one to produce something of note. (I will have to pay back six months salary if my sabbatical ends without a publication.) While many things contribute to professional growth, I think pushing one’s self outside of one’s traditional comfort zone is essential to true growth. Thus, I do think sabbaticals can be a boon to our profession.

Of course, this is predicated on having wonderful colleagues who are willing to pick up the slack caused by an extended absence. Thanks, Jim, Tina, Franklin, Patty, Michel, Amelia, and Nicole!

While research sabbaticals lead to the spreading of ideas and professional development, so too does the term limit policy here at the RIPS Law Librarian Blog. I have enjoyed using this platform for my various musings over the last three years, but it is essential to encourage new voices. The term limits guarantee a constant renewal of the blog and the refreshing injection of new ideas. Furthermore, they represent opportunities for perhaps some newer librarians to push themselves beyond their current comfort zones and to grow professionally. If you’re considering joining the blog, I encourage you to send your application materials to Jamie, as it has been a wonderful experience!

Good-bye, dear readers; it’s been fun!

Posted in Career, Issues in Law Librarianship, Issues in Librarianship (generally), RIPS blog, Writing (generally) | 1 Comment