Study Aids as Library Collection

by Tig Wartluft

With Spring around the corner — Punxsutawney Phil, what are you saying?! — ok, fine, let’s try this again. With Spring Semester in full gear, my focus moves from teaching the 1L research course in the Fall, to providing all the other patron and student support services that law librarians typically provide. In my case, we’ll provide a series of lectures that form our “prepare for practice” offerings to upcoming summer interns. Additionally, I work with students in several upper-level courses that require academic papers; and, this year, I’m working with our Assistant Dean for Academic and Student Affairs to expand the library’s holding of study aids.

<sarcasm> I know! I can’t believe I’m allowed to use dirty language like “study aids” on this blog either! And here I am daring to suggest that they be included in the library’s holdings at an academic institution. </sarcasm>

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Janet Lindenmuth,  CC BY 2.0 license

I’ve worked at and/or studied at schools that have taken wide-ranging approaches to this question. From schools that refuse to sully their academic library with base study materials, to schools that have a distinct academic support mini-collection fully within the library, to schools that have a separate academic support office/program that may or may not to work with the library at all. Even some of the highest ranked schools show evidence on their web pages of the struggle that surrounds study aids. For example, the Harvard Law School Library has this wording:

Nutshells, Examples & Explanat[i]ons, Understanding…

The Library has collected a number of the major study guide series such as the Nutshell series, Examples & Explanations, Understanding . . . check out the new study guide collection in the microforms room . . .

Commercial Study Tools:

The library does not collect commercial study tools (e.g. flashcards, Gilbert’s & Emanuel outlines), but many are available at the [bookstore].

http://asklib.law.harvard.edu/faq/115312 (emphasis added)

My view is:

Students are our patrons.

Students are here for academic study.

As a library, our purpose is to support our patrons.

Therefore, the library should support our students in pursuit of their academic study… i.e. the library should provide some material that is expressly aimed at assisting students with academic study, ie. study aids.

Fortunately, when I broached the idea of creating a study aid collection at the end of last semester, it was met with actual enthusiasm. I had recently run across Ben Paris’ article on Inside Higher Ed, Failing to Improve Critical Thinking (November 29, 2016). Paris’ article echoes numerous legal and education articles over the last few years lamenting, proving, and/or simply mentioning the shared view that today’s incoming law students have underdeveloped critical thinking skills. Whether the dip in incoming students’ skills is perceived or an actual dip that could be due to (1) a general erosion of these skills in a digital world, (2) to the national slump in law school applications and corresponding LSAT scores, or (3) simply due to our own limitations in recognizing change (Get off my lawn!). The problem presented is that there is a difference – maybe even a true deficit – between the skills apparent in our students and those expected by the faculty. We don’t have to agree that there is deficit or why it might exist; we only need to recognize that there is a difference between the critical thinking skills and study skills shown in our students and the faculty’s expectations of those skills. As long as there is a difference, the library can, and should, help to fill that gap by providing resources that help to improve the very gap in critical thinking skills that lawyers need. 

David Walker, in his 2013 article, A Third Place for the Law Library: Integrating Library Services with Academic Support Programs, posits three options for filling that gap: (1) a study-aid-oriented library collection; (2) integrating the library space with space used for academic support; (3) or whole-scale integration of the academic learning program with library space and personnel. My current project is simply getting the library to admit that we already have a small study aid collection and to expand that collection with intent and purpose with the support and input of the current academic support personnel. 

Earlier, I referenced some wording from the Harvard Law School Library to illustrate the difficulty librarians have with meshing the traditional concept of an academic research library with a pragmatic patron-centered approach to librarianship. My colleagues and I have had similar discussions: what study aids do we want to implicitly give our stamp of approval and which do we want to stay away from? How will we defend our choice to increase our study aid collection to professors who think that the library shouldn’t be in the business of dealing with classroom materials? In our case, we already have standing orders with the Nutshell series and Lexis’ Understanding series, as well as a full complement of hornbooks, concise hornbooks, and other supporting titles. My goal will be to expand the styles of explanation (audio, flash cards, flow charts, essay and multiple choice practice questions) and to increase the visibility of this collection so that more students know that these resources are available. 

I’ve already achieved the largest goal of this project by bringing the academic support program personnel on board. Communication between our departments can only increase the use of the collection, increase the chance that students who need the assistance can find it, and strengthen the services of both departments. If the students succeed, the school succeeds. If that success is in some part directly attributable to the library, it shows that we librarians are doing our job of supporting our students and faculty.

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