Could No News Be Good News?

By Christine Anne George

Image from Pixabay via CC0 license

Once upon a  time, back in library school, I decided that I needed to stay better informed so I started using Google Reader, a blog aggregator. I used it to follow a handful of law librarian and legal blogs. I’d log in, skim through the titles of the various posts, read a few posts, and feel a sense of accomplishment for staying current. Then I started to get involved in advocacy with an archives organization. I added a few more blogs. Then came the thesis which meant including more. Then I thought that the content was too heavy, so I put in some entertainment blogs. Then I got a job and needed to track faculty scholarship and was constantly looking for content for the library’s social media, so it was blogs on blogs on blogs. Then I found out that Google decided to break my heart and I had to find a new aggregator.

Ultimately I went with Feedly (reluctantly) and decided that I would do a bit of a culling because the number of blogs/news outlets I was following was getting a bit unwieldy. Only…I still need to keep up with what’s going on in law librarianship (law and generally), archives, law, and my research interest formerly known as my thesis topic. And, as you may have realized from previous posts, I’m a bit of a pop culture junkie, which meant there was no way I was giving those feeds up. I managed to cut a handful of blogs from my list, but most of those were defunct, so they didn’t really count.

Going through my Feedly became a chore. If I wasn’t good about keeping up with it, I would have tens of thousands of posts waiting for me. My quixotic dream of inbox zero got transferred to my Feedly. Sometimes I had to cheat and use the option to clear out anything older than a day just to make it somewhat manageable. It’s taken a few years for me to reach this point, but now I’ve come to terms and can say it: My Feedly is out of control. There’s too much information to compute. What’s worse is that it’s not even the only resource I use to keep up with what’s going on. I have my various lists on Twitter and daily emails like The Skimm and KnowItAALL, as well as alerts set up on a variety of platforms. My Facebook and Instagram, which I have tried to keep personal, have become less about cute babies and snarky memes and more about politics and news. Basically, any time I log in for computer or phone-screen time, I’m awash in news, news, and more news which now I’m on red alert while reading because some of it will be fake news. (If that term is now a trigger for you, please try my new coping mechanism which is to replace the two words with spin, which makes me think of the Spin Doctors, which gets Two Princes stuck in my head and makes me smile.) Now when it comes to keeping current, Hyperbole and a Half speaks to my soul—read all the news?

Though my information overload problem predates the election, it appears that there are plenty of people who are having their own problems with news consumption as of late. (Even the political cartoonists are commenting on the difficulty of news consumption.) With the knowledge that our media is biased and that we are called to be critical consumers of the news, how’s a law librarian supposed to deal? I’ve heard of friends who are cutting back on social media and unplugging a few hours before bed, but neither addresses the problem of just trying to keep up. It’s enough to make you throw your hands up and say, “Listen, Ethel, I think we’re fighting a losing game.” It’s impossible for one person to know everything, but where do you draw the line? Once you find a few trusted news sources and commentators? When you’ve reached the point of saturation? Or do you just trying to grab every news tidbit from the assembly line? How do you cope? Seriously inquiring…you know, for a friend.

Posted in Current Events, Issues in Law Librarianship, Social Media & Web 2.0 | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

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>


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]. (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.

Posted in Customer Service, Library Collections, Patron Services | Tagged | Leave a comment

RIPS-SIS 2017 Travel Grants for AALL Annual Meeting and AALL Management Institute

The Research Instruction and Patron Services Special Interest Section (RIPS-SIS) AALL Annual Meeting Grant is designed to assist individuals expenses related to attending the AALL Annual Meeting, taking place this year in Austin. Individuals who are chosen to receive the grant have the potential to make a significant contribution to law librarianship through involvement with AALL and RIPS-SIS. The grants are funded by RIPS-SIS and awarded by the RIPS-SIS Grants Committee.

Qualifications: Applicants must be AALL and RIPS-SIS members. In the event that circumstances prevent the use of the grant by the grant recipient, the grant shall revert back to RIPS-SIS. If a grant recipient receives an additional grant, the recipient must inform RIPS-SIS of the award and the amount, as RIPS-SIS reserves the right to withdraw the grant in this circumstance.

Grant Awards: Recipients will be awarded a grant that can be used for meeting registration or travel (hotel, airfare, bus, or train); receipts must be provided for reimbursement. The amount of the grant will vary depending on applicant worthiness and financial need. The amount will not exceed $1500. Grant recipients will also receive an appointment to a RIPS-SIS committee. In exchange for receiving the grant, recipients will be required to write an article for the RIPS-SIS blog.

Deadline: Completed applications and materials must be submitted through e-mail as a single message or zip file by 9 AM Central time on Friday March 31, 2017 to:

Marin Dell, RIPS-SIS Grants Committee Chair
Head of Electronic and Digital Services
Adjunct Professor of Law
Texas Tech University School of Law Library
1802 Hartford Avenue
Lubbuck, TX 79409

The AALL Management Institute Grant is designed to assist individuals with expenses to attend the AALL Management Institute held in Chicago. Individuals chosen to receive a grant have the potential to make a significant contribution to law librarianship through their involvement with AALL and the RIPS-SIS. The grants are funded by the RIPS-SIS.

Qualifications: Applicants must be AALL and RIPS-SIS members. In the event that circumstances prevent the use of the grant by a grant recipient, the grant shall revert back to RIPS-SIS. If a grant recipient receives an additional grant, the recipient must inform RIPS-SIS of the award and the amount, as RIPS-SIS reserves the right to withdraw the grant in this circumstance.

Grant Awards: Recipients will be awarded a grant up to $1,000 that can be used for meeting registration or travel (hotel, airfare, or bus/train tickets); receipts must be provided for reimbursement. In exchange for receiving grant funding, recipients will be required to serve on a RIPS-SIS committee and write an article for the RIPS-SIS blog.

Deadline: Completed applications and supporting materials must be e-mailed as a single email message or zip file by 9am Central time Friday, March 3, 2017 to:

Marin Dell, RIPS-SIS Grants Committee Chair
Head of Electronic and Digital Services
Adjunct Professor of Law
Texas Tech University School of Law Library
1802 Hartford Avenue
Lubbock, TX 79409

Applications for the Annual Meeting Grant and the Management Institute Grant can be found at:

RIPS-SIS Grants Committee
Marin Dell
Kristina J. Alayan
Susan Azyndar
Anne Guha
Deborah L. Heller
Cynthia Ziegler

Posted in AALL Annoucements, Annual meeting resources | Tagged | Leave a comment

Assessing Management Skills: Am I a Good Manager? Or a Bad Boss?

by Dean Duane Strojny

Within the course of three months I was told by different staff that I was both a micromanager and the best director to work for.  Now of course, the compliment was very well received. Not many people have a positive experience with their boss. Over the years, I have heard many stories about directors who avoid conflict, do not provide support, and generally are too busy with law faculty and administrators to pay any attention to their hard working support staff and librarians. I hope to never be in that category, but the micromanager accusation hit me hard. Over the years, with more duties added to my slate including overseeing departments outside of the library, I had hoped I moved away from micromanaging tendencies.

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The Harvard Business Review lists the following signs of micromanagers:

  • You’re never quite satisfied with deliverables.
  • You often feel frustrated because you would’ve gone about the task differently.
  • You laser in on the details and take great pride and /or pain in making corrections.
  • You constantly want to know where all your team members are and what they’re working on.
  • You ask for frequent updates on where things stand.
  • You prefer to be cc’d on emails.

HBR goes on to say:

Let’s face it. Paying attention to details and making sure the work is getting done are important. So it’s easy to chalk all of the above up to a necessary part of managing. But they aren’t necessary all the time. The problem with micromanagers is that they apply the same level of intensity, scrutiny and in-your-face approach to every task, whether warranted or not. The bottom line is: you need to stop. It’s harming your team’s morale and – ultimately – their productivity.

Everyone has some of the above tendencies. The challenge is how to control them.  Deliverables should be spelled out clearly. Directors need to participate by being available for questions, answering them promptly, and allowing staff to complete the job on their own terms. Unless a task needs to be done a specific way, let them determine how it is done. My most recent complaint to my Heads of Public Services was about our head count statistic form. Each of the four library locations had a slightly different form. One had a different time. My job in the last year has been to summarize this information for our President since we are having ongoing discussions on what our extended hours should be. The need for consistent forms reeled its ugly head, and I made that fact known. If I am to defend the hours and staffing, I need to compare apples to apples. Was this micromanaging? Another recent complaint came from someone who did not want to move to an online calendaring system and share their work calendar with me. They had not been supervised that way in the past and thought I just was being too nosey. Was this micromanaging? I share the details of my calendar with everyone in the library. Downward sharing is fine? Often expected? Yet upward sharing isn’t?

On the opposite end of the management spectrum is the uninvolved supervisor. Does your library director know you? Can they carry on at least a five minute conversation with you? My thought is that I need to know enough about at least the full-time staff to know that they are leading happy and healthy lives outside of the office because if that is the case, then I know they will be happier at work. If your mother is in a nursing home, I want to know how that is going. If your child is on a sports team and really enjoys it, that gives me some perspective on what motivates you.

In retrospect, I have come to terms that I am a decent supervisor with room for improvement. That is what I thought before I received recent feedback from staff. If nothing else, it made me re-evaluate things and assess my management skills. So, do not hesitate to let the boss know what you think. It really can be useful on both sides with you letting a little steam off and the director having a growth opportunity. If you are the boss, be open to constant improvement. It will benefit not only you but also your work environment.

Look at this article to gauge where you are concerning managing.

Posted in Library Statistics, Productivity, Writing (generally) | Tagged | Leave a comment

Bridging the Political Gap (or yawning chasm) in the Classroom

by Beau Steenken

At the beginning of the semester last fall, I wrote about the increased difficulty of teaching in politically turbulent times. This may be somewhat of an understatement, but the level of division in our society has not improved since then. And, unless you teach at a school with an identified political ideology that attracts students from one end of the political spectrum or the other,  chances are that the divisions writ large in our society are also present in your classroom. So, how do you teach a class that touches on legal or political issues (and pretty much all legal issues have been thoroughly politicized at this point) without alienating one half of your class or the other (or both)?

It’s a question that all teachers recognize as vitally important but for which effective answers are hard to come by. Earlier this week, I attended a “coffee talk” brain-storming session hosted by my university’s Center for the Enhancement of Learning & Teaching (CELT). One of the suggestions (offered by a professor of international relations) that came out of the discussion was to focus on outcomes and/or impacts of policies. I  like the suggestion for a couple of reasons. First, with the political divide as wide as it is, it can be difficult to separate issues in controversy from a knee-jerk, emotional response. By examining individual policies for their likely effects on their own without referencing the opposing policy, you may be able to conduct fruitful lessons without breaking into partisan groups.

For instance, in a few weeks I will begin teaching the 1Ls how to conduct administrative research. I introduce the major administrative publications, briefly describe the rule-making process, and explain how important it is for attorneys to be able to effectively research administrative materials, given the amount of delegation that currently occurs. I feel like I should probably tell them about the pending REINS Act that may greatly affect regulatory practice moving forward. Rather than compare deregulation to regulation as policies, I think I will have the students walk through the potential outcomes of the REINS Act. How would less regulation affect their legal research? On the one hand, there potentially will be fewer administrative materials for them to find. On the other hand, legislation may require much more interpretation with fewer concrete details provided by regulation. Thus, by focusing on practical impacts, I hope to remove some of the potential for partisanship from the conversation.

The second reason I like the outcomes-focused approach, is that it encourages students not only to think things through (a useful skill that may also be useful for other problems) but to think in terms of impact. It allows me to emphasize that attorneys should always be thinking of how legal decisions will impact their clients, which I think cannot be emphasized enough to law students.

However, even though I think this outcomes/impact based approach may help conduct classes without alienating students and also serve as a useful teaching tool, I’m not sure that I want to limit my goals to getting through class with both sides engaged. What I would really like is to end class with both sides engaged with each other. 

I coach my son’s YMCA-league basketball team. Last week, the YMCA held the pre-season coaches’ meeting, and the Y folks had put a quote from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on a board in the meeting room:

People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.

While Dr. King issued that statement during an earlier time of tumult, I was struck by how applicable it is to our current state of affairs. I think those of us engaged in legal academia who are training the future policy-makers of our country have a responsibility to try to foster communication among students of different backgrounds and political persuasions, so that maybe in the future the two sides will talk to each other instead of at each other. Of course, this is easier said than done. I admit that I do not really have a plan on how to accomplish this, though I have the beginnings of an idea about mandatory group work projects of large scale with assigned groups. (Of course, this is would require knowing how people self-align before assigning the groups… as I said, I’m still working on the idea.).

If anyone else has ideas or suggestions for bridging the political gap in the classroom, please share them!

Posted in Administrative Law, Current Events, Legal Research Instruction, Teaching (general) | Tagged | Leave a comment

Information Literacy Instruction May Not Be Enough

by Margaret Ambrose

Photo by Dimitris Kalogeropoylos on Flickr CC

Fake news is here to stay. Information professionals need to factor this reality into their strategic vision for the future because there is no turning back the clock on this one – Pandora’s Box is officially open.

Putting questions of how we reached this point aside – fellow RIPS Blogger, Paul Gatz, recently wrote a piece entitled Information Literacy Outside the Walls of the Library. It is an excellent piece and has actionable tips information literacy professionals can take to combat fake news through social media.

I agree with Gatz completely, but I also think more needs to be done. In this moment, more than just a principle of the profession hangs in the balance. The fake news phenomena represents a watershed moment for information professionals. The public needs information professionals in a way they never have before. We can either meet this need, or we pass up a golden opportunity.

To begin, what is the need? The need goes above and beyond calls for information literacy instruction. It is based in something librarians already do: curate materials – only this is curation on steroids. Librarians, as information professionals, need to seek out ways to be as savvy as our information competitors.

We will always have superior content on our side – as well as principles that click bait news sources can’t touch – ensuring access so that patrons who employ a modicum of information literacy skills can locate reliable, accurate content. But this may not be enough. We need to up our curation game by developing additional strategies for cutting through the noise for our patrons and also throw life lines out to the public to draw them back to the land of facts. This will entail aggressively pushing higher quality content out to our patron base in a way we have never done before or have done so on a limited basis. It might also entail additional strategies for anticipating patron information needs by monitoring trends in the news, including politics, pending cases, and viral videos on social media, ultimately curating online content that addresses these trends and does the information-literacy work for the patron.

We can start by analyzing the methods used by our information competitors and  by studying the fake news phenomena further.  Already at Cornell, the Collection Development Executive team has discussed the need to archive fake news (author’s credit to Thomas Mills for this information).  Understanding how information is consumed and accessed in this new paradigm is key to the survival and future flourishing of the profession.

As librarians and information professionals adapt to this new paradigm and begin to improve upon and even shape it, we may yet see a revival and an opportunity for librarians to secure the profession far into the future.

Posted in Information Literacy, Issues in Librarianship (generally) | Tagged | 2 Comments

Marketing the Library Catalog as a Useful Tool

by Erik Adams

When I’m not doing research instruction or providing patron services, I maintain my library’s web pages on our intranet and write software. Recently I have been updating our library catalog, which has forced me to think about the changing role of the catalog at our firm and how it fits in with our mission. Which, not coincidentally, is research instruction and other patron services. This means the catalog should have an important role, but as things stand it is falling short.


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I probably should do a survey of my patrons, though I suspect that if I asked my attorneys what they thought of the catalog the most common response would be “The library has a catalog?” This is partially the fault of poor placement on the firm’s intranet but also reveals a misperception of the role of the catalog: as the firm has shifted away from books to electronic resources, there is a perception that the catalog is less useful. The catalog is seen only as a tool for finding books, as opposed to a tool for finding sources of information. If you need to find a web page, you use Google.

This perception is unintentionally reinforced in our attorney training. Back in the days of the card catalog, an important part of teaching people how to do research would include an introduction to the card catalog and any local quirks: do we have separate main entry and subject catalogs, or is everything interfiled? Does the public have access to the shelf list? And so on. These were important parts of research instruction. But now when we orient new attorneys at our firm, showing them the catalog seems pointless when the collection is so small and so many volumes have a big orange sticker on them that says “SUPPLEMENTATION DISCONTINUED.”

(To be fair, many of those out of date books also have a green sticker that says “Also available online,” but that doesn’t catch the eye.)

Physical collections at many law firms are dramatically shrinking. At my firm and others, the number of works we have available online solidly outnumbers the number of physical volumes. Yet one of the most frequent reference requests we see is “is this title available online?” The attorney could answer the question themselves via the catalog, but it didn’t even occur to them. Though, they could be forgiven if they tried and failed; I have heard from friends at other firms and universities that their catalog did not handle online resources very well. In our library, the system supports adding a link with a short text description, but the link clearly plays second fiddle to title, author, publisher, and physical description. And, depending on how you run the search and review the results, you might not even see the link.

I’ve also heard complaints about online catalogs being hard to use. One university librarian I know told me that their catalog’s “basic search” and “advanced search” functions have different, non-overlapping options: there are search filters on the “basic search” screen that are not available on the “advanced search” screen, which meant that a single research session would bounce back and forth between the two. Even if the patron did think to use the catalog to find a website, they might not be able to find what they were looking for.

At the end of the day, one of the biggest problems we face is marketing. Even if the interface issues were resolved and the ability to present online resources were perfect, attorneys will think of the catalog as an automated version of something that used to be on 3 x 5 cards in little wooden drawers. The attorneys know that the physical collection is shrinking and reason by extension that the library catalog isn’t useful. If the effort we put into maintaining an accurate catalog is going to be worth it, the catalog must be marketed just like any other research tool.

Posted in Legal Research Instruction, Library Collections, Marketing | Tagged | 1 Comment