Working with summer research assistants: Has it changed for everyone?

Summer is almost here. Finals are nearing an end, and both students and faculty are, for the most part, heading away from the law school for the summer. The library is starting to get a bit quieter. But each summer brings a new batch of summer research assistants—those eager students ready to work on a new summer project for a faculty member. To whom should these reach out to for help? The librarians, of course. And law librarians do what they can to help these student researchers to be as successful as possible, but the logistics of doing so continue to get more difficult and require more outside the box thinking. This poses a big question: how should we handle summer research assistants?

When I started as a law librarian, the librarians played a key role in the onboarding of summer research assistants. After all of the human resource paperwork was completed, a library orientation was usually first on the agenda for these students. Numbers were strong, and the students seldom had schedule conflicts. The library could pick one or two session dates, and the students would be there. We would spend an hour going over some legal and general research tips beyond what could be learned in the first year of law school. We would wrap up by letting the students know we would be available for additional assistance. Many of those faces would return to the library again and again over the course of the summer.

Today, we are seeing a very different situation. Students are facing challenging economic conditions and may be waiting until the last minute to accept summer positions. Additionally, they seem to be more mobile; they are simply not staying around the law school for the summer. We are seeing more requests for distance training crossing multiple time zones. And the problems with scheduling training so that it would be convenient for more than one person at a time! The logistics of working with summer research assistants has transformed into a complex issue for my library, and I would assume others are seeing something similar.

At Emory Law, we are doing our best to adapt to this new summer environment. We have traditionally done several days of excellent, detailed sessions covering a wide range of topics. However, we are now planning to streamline our orientation sessions to the bare bones. While we are still doing in-person training, we are adding more online components for those students who can’t be present. LibGuides and short videos are currently on the table, and we are open to any other alternatives to get the message out. Finally, we are planning to use more electronic communication to work with the students. The majority of our students will not be local for the summer but will still need our help. Email, phone calls, and Skype sessions may not be the best way to communicate the nuances of research, but we will be using these methods more regularly in order to help our students in ways that suit their needs.

How is everyone else dealing with summer research assistants?  Are you changing your methods for working with these students?

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