Introducing New Legal Research Classes into the Curriculum

By Guest Blogger Thomas Sneed

As a bit of background, my name is Thomas Sneed and I am the Associate Law Librarian for Research and Electronic Services at the MacMillan Law Library at the Emory University School of Law.  I am stepping in as a guest blogger, and wanted to thank everyone with the RIPS Law Librarian Blog for providing me with this opportunity.

To follow on Meg’s recent post and the goal of making school “worth it” for the students and Michelle’s comments on resources for a first time teacher, I wanted to talk about my library’s recent additions to the law school curriculum. Starting this fall semester, the MacMillan Law Library is increasing the Advanced Legal Research offerings from one spring class to four classes over the entire school year. These classes will include both the traditional ALR and new topics such as foreign & international and business & tax research.  The process of adding the classes has taken the better part of a year and we are using more librarians in the classroom teaching role. We may have more work on our plates, but we will be providing a wider variety of options to the students. With that in mind, what have I learned during this process?

1. Embrace the opportunity to market the library.  I view almost every interaction I have in the workplace as a chance to tout the great things being done by the library and the opportunity to engage with a group of students on a regular basis is no exception.  If they see a competent professional presenting them information that is useful for their future career, it is a plus for everyone involved.

2. Not all teachers will do things the same. I have tried to tell all of our librarian-teachers to make the class their own and they don’t have to do things like anyone else does. There are numerous ways to skin the proverbial cat. We want to have the same voice and teach the relevant material, but our methods can and should provide a different prospective.

3. Everyone has different levels of experience as a teacher. Some people are natural public speakers and conveyors of information, but for others it may be more of a challenge.  Be willing to accept the learning curve. At the MacMillan Law Library, we have one librarian who will be teaching for the first time in the spring semester. This librarian has taken the opportunity to reach out to faculty at our law school for tips on teaching, has conferenced with librarians at other schools, and plans to work on a conference presentation detailing the journey. It has proven to be a great learning experience and will benefit both the librarian and the students in the long run.

4. Adapt and change. The key is that we are providing a skill to the students that is “worth it.” We need to listen to our students and be willing to take things in a different direction if appropriate.  In prior classes, I have taken 10-15 minutes from the beginning of class to cover issues that may be a bit off topic but still useful (a discussion of local government sites, including property records, is always the among the favorites).  I may have an outline for the day, but some of the best results can come from an unexpected detour.

So what has everyone else learned from the teaching experience? Any comments or suggestions?

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