Thinking About Process Over Platform in Research

This semester, I’ve struggled with whether I need to show different research platforms when I teach research. In the past, I’ve shown the different options available; lately, I have a bias I need to which I must admit.  For the last six months or so, I’ve had trouble showing students (and even professors) Lexis.  I hate to be partisan.  I hate to show Westlaw’s product without showing Lexis’ too.  But lately, I find myself making excuses as to why I can’t show Lexis Advance.

I can’t because Lexis Advance does not do the things that I want to do as a researcher.  Lexis Advance seldom allows for drilling down to information through a table of contents.  Students cannot see the contents of a resource I am discussing, even when I get to it through browse sources.  The searching (even after the update last week) is often clumsy.

Twice in the last week, I had patrons ask specifically how to do something in Lexis Advance.  In both cases, I showed them the best option and they said “I guess I should use Westlaw.”  One wanted to find state statutes by popular name.  Not possible on Lexis.  Today I couldn’t even find the U.S.C.S. Popular Name Table in Lexis Advance (I think it might be there, but I couldn’t tell).  The other wanted to see a list of the Florida Secondary Sources available in Lexis Advance.  Of course, one can go to Browse Sources, narrow to Secondary Sources, and then select Jurisdiction.  But it’s clumsy in Lexis.

And I so badly want to show Lexis Advance.  There are so many reasons to:  the price (often lower than Westlaw); the higher usage by small firms and solos; my intrinsic sense of fairness.  And there are a couple of amazing things in Lexis Advance.  Their grid view for Shepard’s is my favorite updating tool.  Lexis’ coverage of bar journals is also very good.  Much of the rest of Lexis Advance is not great for law school research.

So, do I need to show the different platforms? I am beginning to think I don’t.  This is nothing new – law librarians used to be able to teach research by giving students a list of legal resources to review.  That bibliographic instruction technique no longer works well when there are hundreds of thousands of documents.  Teaching about research process and information use is better for legal research now.  For more on this, see Michael Chiorazzi & Shaun Esposito, Commentaries on Hicks’ ‘Teaching Legal Bibliography’: With an Addendum by Robert Berring, 28 Legal Reference Services Q. 9 (2009).

All the systems will be different in a couple of years, so if students learn the process of using resources really well they should be able to use any resource.  That is better than showing them Westlaw and Lexis and Bloomberg and LoisLaw and Fastcase and…well, you get the idea.  In fact, showing all the platforms may lead not to student comfort with the resources but instead to student confusion.

Again, this is nothing earth shattering, but I am going to let go of my guilt for not demonstrating Lexis and redouble my effort to teach process to new legal researchers instead of focusing on platform.

How are you handling personal preferences in teaching various platforms?

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About Shawn Friend

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This entry was posted in Information Literacy, Issues in Librarianship (generally) and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Thinking About Process Over Platform in Research

  1. I have now taught Advanced Legal Research four times focusing on a single vendor platform (WestlawNext). I made this decision when it became too time-consuming to show all of the platforms my students were likely to encounter in practice (New and old wexis, Fastcase, Bloomberg Law, etc.). Of course, I still teach other tools – especially when they offer a contrast to WestlawNext. For example, we look at Congress.gov during the legislative history unit and Fastcase when we experiment with lower cost sources.

    I think it’s much more important for my students to master research skills that are transferable to many formats than master a platform that is likely to change even before they graduate. This decision to focus on a single platform has also freed up class time to cover the finer points of research process and for more in-class activities. It also makes giving feedback more time-efficient.

    I don’t feel guilty at all about not giving equal time to all of the vendor’s products- that’s not my job. I address this in the first class and explain why we don’t cover Lexis Advance to the extent that we cover WestlawNext. (I would consider using another platform as my default if it could do everything that I want to teach. Lexis Advance just isn’t there yet (e.g., it’s still missing indexes and advanced browsing functionality)).

  2. charlottedschneider says:

    Reblogged this on Charlotte D. Schneider's Blog and commented:
    Research skills are supposed to be fluid and adaptable to any given research platform or situation (like, when the power goes out). Always teach process; teach students to be fluid in their approaches to information because when they are not, then they’re going to get stuck in a rut, both research- and platform-wise, IMHO.

  3. Helen Frazer says:

    Your dilemma is mine, too. I now illustrate using online research resources by using each of the databases only for their strengths. I agree that process is the most important concept to teach. And if students, as attorneys, are going to be purchasing online research services, then they need to know what to look for while comparing services.

  4. Brittany says:

    Yes, I struggle with the same issue. I still show the students. I want them to see that I am struggling with the new platform too, and talk to them about providing feedback, calling help numbers. Hopefully changes will be made to Lexis Advance based on our continued feedback and our skills will improve through continued practice.

  5. Pingback: Research Process In The Databases | RIPS Law Librarian Blog

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