Calling New Bloggers! Submit Materials by 6/16

Calling all those interested in blogging!  The RIPS Law Librarian Blog is searching for next year’s cast of contributors (beginning August 2017). The current blogging year has been very successful with many wonderful posts and high readership, but a few of our current bloggers are ready to move on to other projects. imgres

Blogging is a great way to engage with the profession. We would love to have a mix of new and experienced librarians to contribute thoughts, advice, and ideas on the RIPS Law Librarian Blog. Ideally, we are looking for 4 new contributing bloggers to contribute roughly one blog post per month.

If you would like to be a regular contributor to the RIPS Law Librarian Blog, please send a brief bio, statement of interest, and a 300-500 word writing sample to Jamie Baker at Applications will be reviewed by the current blog editor and the RIPS-SIS Executive Board. Please submit materials by Friday, June 16.

If you have any questions about the blogging or submitting materials to be considered as a contributor, contact Jamie Baker at

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Getting Users Out Of Their Seats

by Erik Adams

In law firms we have struggled for years with how to get attorneys to stop relying on books, which are expensive to acquire, store, and maintain, and start using online resources. (Which are also expensive, but at least we aren’t the ones who have to acquire, store, and maintain them.) Recently, however, I had a problem new to my experience: an attorney who didn’t want to get out of his seat and use the print version.

This particular attorney wanted to read a section of the California Code. We offer several different ways to achieve this online via the firm’s intranet, and several of us have walked the attorney through the process multiple times. But in this particular instance, he wanted to look it up in the book. My firm has a complete copy of the California Codes in his location, but recently this office had been remodeled, and the attorney found he is on a different floor than the library. He could walk up one flight of very stylish stairs to the library, but that wasn’t nearly as convenient as when his office had been right next to the library.

CC0 License

Video game companies have wrestled for years with the problem of how to get gamers out of their chairs and into the world and to get more exercise. Nintendo had some success last year with the release of Pokemon Go, where the goals of the game could only be achieved by walking around your city, and by exploring new neighborhoods. Now, as electronic resources are taking over, I’m facing the exact same issue: how can I get attorneys out of their seats? Especially when, generally, that’s the best course of action?

Several years ago we made a game of training our class of summer associates. People could earn points throughout the summer, lured by the price of a Starbucks card, by performing various research tasks. For example, one could earn a point by having a librarian demonstrate how to solve a research problem using a website other than Lexis or Westlaw. We gave big points for using the books in the library, and for getting a librarian to help you with an inter-library loan. That worked reasonably well for summer associates, but my most recent incident was with a seasoned partner who is not so easily motivated, even by the lure of a Starbucks card.

Partially this is a problem of resource discovery, an issue that has been discussed to death. I hear it all the time from my attorneys: the intranet is confusing, the intranet doesn’t have the resources I need, the electronic version isn’t as convenient as the print. There are times when we feel that that best solution would be to redesign our intranet so that each attorney only saw one button, and it was a magical button that just opened what the attorney wants. Speaking as a computer programmer, I’m not sure how I would make this particular omniscient button work, but perhaps I’m suffering from a lack of ambition.

I’m curious how other libraries have dealt with this problem. I assume that the attorney who wants everything close at hand is not unique to my firm. I also assume that there are similar species of patrons at law schools: the student who doesn’t understand why some book isn’t available online, or a professor who is impatient when a book isn’t in the local institution’s collection. I invite suggestions on how to get these people to walk around, which would probably be good for everyone.

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The 2017 “5 Topics in 5 Days” Discussion: Critical Conversations about Social Justice

Join us May 22nd – 26th for our annual online five-day discussion, moderated and co-hosted by LISP-SIS, GLL-SIS, SR-SIS, and RIP-SIS. This year’s theme is critical conversations about social justice. Each day, we will discuss different issues relating to this theme and pose questions to generate discussion. Members are invited to share their experiences or post their own related questions.

To join us, go to:

  1. & sign in with your username and password
  2. Under the Community drop down menu, select My Communities
  3. Under the Communities drop down menu select All Communities
  4. Search for “Critical Conversations about Social Justice” and/or “5 topics in 5 days”
  5. If you are a member of the community, click the orange “Join” button.
  6. If you are not a member, click “Join this Community.”

The topics for each day are as follows:

Day 1: May 22

Law Library Inclusiveness / Moderator: Stefanie Pearlman

Day 2: May 23

Unconscious Bias & Microaggressions / Moderators: Nicole Dyszlewski & Rebecca Sherman

Day 3: May 24

Law Librarian’s Role in Social Discourse / Moderator: Stacy Etheridge

Day 4: May 25

Critical Thinking about Sources of Information / Moderator: Genevieve Tung

Day 5: May 26

Stereotyping in Law Libraries / Moderator: TBD

We hope you can join us! If you have any questions about this event or would like additional information on how to participate, please contact a member of the event planning team:

Nicole DyszlewskiRebecca Sherman

Rebecca Sherman

Stacy Etheredge

Stefanie Pearlman

Genevieve Tung

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Practice Makes Perfect: Assessment to Improve Student Learning and Instruction

by Ashley Ahlbrand

With the spring semester at an end and my summer online courses set to begin next week, I have assessment on the brain. As we know, law school is not traditionally an assessment-heavy institution, with the majority of substantive courses having one graded assessment (summative) at the end of the semester, in the form of a final exam or paper. Professors often include some formative assessment throughout the semester through, most commonly, the Socratic method, to gauge students’ analytical skills and understanding of the course materials.

If my law school experience is any indication, however, students are often called on infrequently through this method, especially if the course has a high enrollment; so it may be difficult for the instructor to know with any degree of certainty whether the student has mastered all course material until the final assessment. Recognizing this, the American Bar Association is calling on law schools to provide more regular assessment and feedback to students throughout their legal education so that they and we will have a better measurement of law student success (see Standards 314, 315).

I think the big question is: What assessments? What kind? How many? Entire books can be written on the subject, but here are some key considerations:

First off, course design should always begin at the end, with learning outcomes – what do you want students to have learned by the end of the course? Everything else – lectures, assessments, readings, etc. – should be planned around those learning outcomes.

Secondly, as alluded to earlier, courses should include both formative and summative assessments. Formative assessments are typically ungraded, low-stakes, providing students the opportunity to get their hands dirty and even make some mistakes, without fear of significant repercussions, such as grade impact. The Socratic method is a good example of formative assessment in law school substantive courses. Summative assessment is high-impact, graded assessment, typically at the end of the course, such as a final exam or seminar paper. Formative assessment allows students to build skills; summative assessment allows students to show what they have learned, bring it all together.

In terms of how many to offer, there’s really no right answer, but you certainly want to provide enough assessment that you can truly measure each student’s progress through the course, and provide them meaningful feedback to help them improve with each assessment.

Skills courses, such as Advanced Legal Research, already lend themselves to frequent assessment. Our regular ALR course has assignments due nearly every week, and a larger written assignment (memo) due at the end of the semester. Typically we include in-class exercises with our lectures for formative assessment. While it sometimes takes students a few weeks to get used to this format, in the end I believe most of them appreciate having frequent assessments and frequent feedback, because it takes some of the pressure off (they can mess up on one assignment without it grossly affecting their final grade) and we can definitively track student progress throughout the semester.

So, what is the point of this post? Up to now, nothing I have said is particularly new. As I make final preparations for my summer courses that begin next week, I find myself wondering if there is anything I should do differently? The combination of treasure hunt assignments and final memo has worked well in past semesters, but is that enough variety? Should I go out of my comfort zone more, or push my students out of theirs? Admittedly, these questions are also inspired by the course I took this semester through IU’s School of Education. It was an online course, with a variety of smaller and larger assessments due throughout the semester – weekly discussion board posts, a short reflection paper, and several group projects. This was a foundational, theory-based course, so it would have been very easy to make the assessments regurgitating papers. Instead, the group work challenged us to use our creativity to think about the concepts from the course. For one assignment, we created a diagram to show relationships between several theories; for another, we created a script, with characters debating a particular instructional design application (we used the characters from Alice in Wonderland); for our final project, we were asked to create an advertisement about instructional design, such as a brochure, a video, or a website (we made a website). My first reaction to these assignments was typically skeptical, but in the end, they were much more fun than a boring paper, and I learned quite a lot in the process.

Michael Hunter Schwartz, Sophie M. Sparrow, and Gerald F. Hess. Teaching Law By Design (2nd ed. 2017).

Should law school courses take the same route? Should I shake up my summer research courses by infusing a little more creativity? Perhaps. In Teaching Law by Design, the authors recommend using a variety of assessment styles, with suggestions such as diagrams and oral presentations, but recommend stating outright the purpose of the assessment (i.e. what learning outcome does it fulfill?) and how it will be scored (see generally, “Chapter 9: Assessing Student Learning”). As with all aspects of course design, every decision should have a purpose.

In the end, there is no one “right” structure for a course – it will always be context-dependent. For example, in last summer’s online Advanced Legal Research course, we tried having a weekly ungraded formative assessment, to give students a low-stakes environment to test their research skills, and found that some students were blowing it off for the same reason – it was low-stakes! If you find that to be the case, you can always create graded formative assessments that are still lower-stakes by making them worth significantly less than your summative assessment(s). As to whether to infuse creativity into your assessments… you’ll never know until you try, right? Make thoughtful, justified design decisions, offer variety in your assessments, and constantly reevaluate to see what works and what doesn’t. Within that framework, make it yours.

Recommended reading: Teaching Law by Design, by Michael Hunter Schwartz, Sophie M. Sparrow, and Gerald F. Hess (2nd ed.)

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Deadline Extended: 2016-2017 RIPS Committee Call!

The committee service volunteer survey due date has been extended until Wednesday, May 10th! Don’t hesitate to volunteer for one of our AMAZING ten committees here:

Current chair and committee charge information is available here: Current Committee Chairs. Feel free to reach out to the current chairs if you have questions about the particular committee.

If you have any questions for the Board, please do not hesitate to contact a Current Officers.

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The Opposite of Toy Story

By Christine Anne George
Toy Story

Image via Pixby

It’s that time of year again. The end of the spring semester. For students it means gearing up for finals. For library staff it means that every important thing that can break and/or jam will…at least twice. For me, it’s let-me-explain-how-academic-librarians-work time. Perhaps you’ve been there too. Inevitably at least one well-meaning person—at this point most likely a student but sometimes it’s an acquaintance—will ask what my summer plans are. After hearing my typical one-word response—work—there will be some form of a gasp followed by the obvious question.

“You mean the library’s open?”

It’s enough to make one want to compose an editorial: Yes, Virginia, there are summer hours… That being said, I can somewhat understand the surprise. Back when I was a student, I didn’t think too much about how school operated when I wasn’t on campus. It wasn’t that I necessarily thought that campus life became the opposite of Toy Story with everyone engaging in the #andyscoming challenge from the moment students leave campus in May until they return in August, but I didn’t give much thought to what happened when I wasn’t there. Wow are things different on the other side. There may not be as many students in the library, but that doesn’t mean that it’s slow. That’s usually the follow up to finding out that the library’s open in the summer.

“Well it must be nice and slow for you so you can relax.”

Ha! Ask any student how fast summer flies by—it’s the same for the librarians. While the summer might not be busy in the same way during the school year (unless your law school is year round like Dean Duane Strojny described in his post last week), things are still hopping. Summer is the time for projects that you can’t tackle during the school year…or finishing up the ones that you optimistically yet ever so foolishly thought you’d be able to accomplish during the Fall/winter break/Spring.

“You mean you’re not just at the reference desk?”

The glimmer of a silver lining with let-me-explain-how-academic-librarians-work time is that it’s a teachable moment to let the greater world know about academic libraries. The average patron most likely isn’t aware of all the work that makes a library go. They see librarians and paraprofessionals at service points like the reference and circulation desks, but that’s only a fraction of the library workload. The conversation is an opportunity to mention the programming you’re planning, the collection development you’re tackling, or the course that you’re developing. It’s an opportunity to let someone outside Library Land get a glimpse at how the sausage is made. Librarians don’t just answer questions at the reference desk or check books out. We don’t just shush people either. We are professionals who went to school—so much school—to get where we are today and build up the skill set that allows us to teach and support our law school community.

Just last week a student asked me about what I was doing for the summer. Once I let him know that we’d be open, I smiled and said, “Let me tell you about the institutional repository I’m working on.”

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2017 RIPS Penguin Adoption & Stuffed Penguin Giveaway

In accord with our annual tradition, 154323our Vice-Chair/Chair Elect Alyson Drake adopted a penguin on behalf of RIPS in honor of our beloved mascot, Puron. The adoption was made through the World Wildlife Fund on March 8th.

With this adoption, RIPS received a stuffed penguin to commemorate the occasion. This stuffed penguin will be given away to a lucky attendee of the RIPS-SIS Virtual Business Meeting and/or Meet & Greet. Please join us on Wednesday, June 21st at 1PM CST for our Business Meeting webinar and on Monday, July 17th from 4-5PM CST in ACC-Rm 14 for our Meet & Greet. Attendance at either or both events will give you a chance to win the stuffed penguin!


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