Apply for a Research Grant by April 1

Apply for a Research Grant by April 1

AALL’s LexisNexis Research Grant Jury is accepting applications through April 1st for research grants from the AALL Research Fund (An Endowment Established by LexisNexis). The jury may allocate $5000 between one or more applicants seeking funding for research that advances AALL’s Research agenda.

Established in July 2000, the annual grant funds large or small research projects that create, disseminate, or use legal and law-related information. If you have an upcoming research project that you think may benefit from this grant, access the complete guidelines and apply. Grants will be awarded and announced by the end of April.

Posted in Empirical legal research | Tagged | Leave a comment

It’s More Than One Job

By Christine Anne George

Image via Pixaby

I’d like to start this post off with my most sincere apologies to the Academy. I’m an avid viewer of the Oscars, but Sunday was the first time in a long time that I haven’t stayed up to watch til the bitter end. I go to bed early and look at what happened. Obviously if my eyes had been glued to that screen while grumbling about my general dislike of mullet-style dresses (why can’t the mullet stay in the 80s where it belongs?!), Moonlight would have gotten the proper, unencumbered, oh-my-God-we-just-won celebratory moment it deserved. So, to the Academy, I offer my vow that with RIPS as my witness, I will never go to bed early again.

Once I woke on Monday morning to find that, alas, there was no EGOT to be had, I started to read up on Envelopegate. There were plenty of pieces and it seemed that everyone had an opinion. The more I read, the more I wanted to see a bit more compassion to Pricewaterhouse Cooper. In case you’re unfamiliar, PwC is in charge of the ballot counting and envelope handing outing for the Oscars. They are entrusted with the results. Sure there was a bit of controversy in 1993 (though I would like to state for the record that I never doubted that Mona Lisa Vito deserved that win), but we never had reason to doubt. Suddenly, one mistake and everyone breaks out a meme punchlineyou had one job.

I feel almost entirely certain that if I were to ask a group of law librarians who have regularly had to provide live instruction if something had ever gone terribly wrong, the number of hands that go up would be akin to those who have been personally victimized by Regina George (no relation). Anyone who has had to present or teach knows that things are bound to go sideways at the worst possible moment. Well, perhaps not Best-Picture-faux-winners-already-on-the-stage-and-holding-the-award worst possible moment, but it sure can feel like it. Especially when you’re standing alone staring out at a crowd of people. You may silently curse the internet for dropping off, the file that won’t open, the log in that just won’t work, and or the computer for its cruel coup d’état, but the show must go on.

In those moments, it’s our job to take the technological punch—because it’s usually technology that turns on us in those moments, not an envelope—and make it work. It may not be smooth and it certainly won’t be pretty, but somehow, someway, we still convey the information. Slides refuse to load? Sketch out what you need on the chalk board. Tea spills over your meticulously crafted notes? Do it from memory as best you can. Brought the wrong cables for the projector? Rinse and repeat.

To those in the audience or class, it might not seem like your best work or it might seem like a complete failure. They’re only seeing the last step of everything you did to get to that point. They don’t see the researching, the planning, the coordinating—really, all of the work that you did to get to that moment. And in that moment, it might look like you had one job to do and it didn’t go well. It’s disheartening to have all of that time and effort discounted. We may be our own harshest critics, but that doesn’t make outside judgment sting any less. Even the knowledge that everyone has terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days isn’t enough to shake it off. It looks like we had one job and we didn’t deliver.

So, as someone who has been, not exactly there, but there adjacent, PwC, I lift my tea mug to you in solidarity.

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Taking Charge of Your Changing Role

by Dean Duane Strojny

change-948008_960_720Two big changes are happening in my workplace world within the next few months. They do not seem linked, but read on and you will see the connection. First is the implementation of an online time clock for part-time and non-exempt employees. You see, even though the library has had a shareware type of electronic time clock since at least the mid-1990s, the rest of the institution had not moved past the paper, hand-written time cards. With the advent of our multiple locations years ago, requests for electronic time clock software as part of the implementation plan were made but technical hurdles prevented it. I am excited about this change, but it will be significant and certainly face bumps in the road to implementation. The best feature will be that all vacation and sick day requests from any type of employee will also funnel through this system. While I do like how I have perfected my signature, I am happy to do away with this paper-laden process.  Do you still have a paper system?  If not, what are the benefits to the electronic system your institution operates?

Second is the movement of the librarians into a significant support role for our faculty in the use of Blackboard as the preferred course management system. For years, we have been the largest user of TWEN in the country. We had staff on advisory boards. Our level of servicing faculty with these needs was extraordinary. When our IT department selected Blackboard a few years ago, the librarians were not part of the initial support system. Of course, it would just be a matter of time where the support structure would need an overhaul. Certainly, the IT staff has made an outstanding effort of setting up the system with its’ automatic enrollment of students and moving video make-up classes to a consistent reliable system.  Nevertheless, in the end, I am proud of the support the librarians have and will continue to make to full-time and adjunct faculty through instructional support. We are even fortunate enough to have someone on the library staff whose role is to help with distance education and instructional support. It makes sense that the librarians continue the role no matter which system the school utilizes. How does your institution provide instructional support?  What role do reference librarians take?

These two things remind me that change is constant. It is continual, and law librarians are facing some of the most significant changes since the dawn of online legal research databases, Lexis and Westlaw, in the early 1970s. Despite common perception, most librarians are adept at implementing change.  The charge for law librarians goes beyond the usual. Librarians are completely revamping their job descriptions. It is a definite state of change or be left behind. Lead or get out of the way. Move or be run over. You have heard this all before, but at this point in the game, I believe many of these statements are true. AALL has a new logo so maybe you need a new approach. What are you going to do to redefine what your role is at the library where you work? Think beyond repackaging although that might be a good first step. Then figure out what you need to do to reflect the new tasks and projects that are replacing the old. While there is certainly a place in our world for history and tradition, it is easy to see that it does not get much shelf space in our day-to-day work life.

Take some time to review both what you do at work and the skills you actually possess. You might be surprised to see that you are more progressive than you might think. Evolution of Service Models in the New Law Library is a nice blog post about some options you might want to explore when you assess your job. If you want something more basic, look at the University of Kent’s Employability Skills Exercise. It focuses more on management and organizational skills. Of course, there is a government website dedicated to career skills assessment. It might also help you realize there is something else you really want to be doing for a career. Forge ahead and make your job description a more accurate and effective portrayal of what the law librarian of 2017 is actually working on.

Posted in Customer Service, Faculty services, Issues in Law Librarianship, Time Management | Leave a comment

On the Value of Student Conferences

by Beau Steenken

Earlier this week I emerged from the annual occurrence that my wife refers to as “three weeks of hell every winter,” namely grading and student conferencing. I’ve posted before about how grading is not my favorite aspect of my job. It is time-consuming, mental-energy-consuming, and impossible to finish during work hours (leading to a temporary loss of work-life balance and resulting in my wife’s nickname for it). In short, it’s hard to sugar-coat grading as anything other than an awful necessity.

Holding student conferences is similarly time-consuming, mental-energy-consuming (at least for us introverts), and prone to causing work-life imbalance. (Some of my colleagues hold after-hours and/or weekend conferences to fit all their students into a week. I do not, but having student conferences take up significant portions of my work time for two weeks invariably causes me to bring other bits of work home.) And yet, I do not complain about student conferences the way I do about grading. The reason for this discrepancy is, I think, that I see student conferences as containing a great deal of value… value that I have not been able to convince myself is provided by marked up papers.


via Wikimedia Commons

At the heart of each of the two exercises lie the same goals (assuming that one does not take the cynical view that grades exist to aid firms in making hiring choices): extra instruction beyond the classroom, a diagnostic opportunity to identify flaws in understanding or technique, and–at least in our case as LRW is set up at UK Law–a chance for a not-so-subtle reminder that the student should not be leaving writing an appellate brief to the last minute. However, I firmly believe that each of these goals is much more effectively accomplished via a student conference than via notes written on an assignment (and not just because my handwriting is nigh on illegible).

In terms of extra-classroom instruction, you can’t beat one on one instruction time, even if it is only for 20 to 30 minutes. Over the past six years, I’ve taught 1L Legal Research sections ranging from 13 to 23 students, and I can categorically say the smaller class is a much more conducive vessel for effective research instruction. With the larger classes, I find that the students who really need help still get it, and the students who engage with the material at an advanced level still naturally draw my attention; but it becomes rather difficult to pay attention to everyone in the middle, especially as students in the middle tend to be quiet in class. Requiring everyone to attend a mandatory research conference allows for a partial correction of this phenomenon by mandating at least a modicum of individual instruction for each student. Conversely, while written comments can serve instructive purposes, the students already get extra-classroom written instruction through assigned readings, and it’s difficult to ask follow-up questions of static text.

In terms of diagnostic opportunities to identify flaws, anyone who has ever graded papers can probably attest that flaws become pretty obvious pretty quickly. However, noticing something is wrong in a paper is not the same as understanding why the student has erred. For the second (and much more important) question, the instantaneous feedback loop offered by conferences is much more probative than whatever static words the student chose to commit to paper. For instance, in one of the papers I graded last fall for my students’ smaller memo project, I noticed a particular student did not really understand federalism and parallel court structures. I did not know why or how to correct it, but I was able to identify that a problem existed. Upon conferencing with the student, however, it became clear to me that the student was confused because the student was from Canada. Furthermore, the Canadian version of federalism is different enough, while using similar terminology, to the extent that the student thought she understood what was going on in the U.S. but had subconsciously translated it all to Canadian analogs. I was then able to re-explain the U.S. system by pointing out its differences with the Canadian system (this happened at a follow-up meeting after I did some quick research on Foreign Law Guide’s Canada entry).This semester, the same student turned in one of the best research reports of the class.

Finally, student conferences are much more effective at ensuring students stay on track to complete their writing assignments in a reasonable time-frame than even the most alarmist grading comments on a paper. After all, a paper is easy to stuff in one’s bag or locker with the thought of returning to it later. It’s much more difficult to ignore one’s instructor making eye contact and reminding one that one still has work to do and that the clock is ticking.

For these reasons, I view mandatory student conferences as extremely beneficial to 1L legal research instruction, and I think it is easily worth overcoming feasibility challenges to hold them and to make them required for all students. Now, if only I could find a way to convince myself of the value of graded papers…

Posted in Legal Research Instruction, Teaching (general), Work/Life Balance | Tagged | Leave a comment

Law Library Diversity Fellowships

by Malikah Aquilah Hall

THE WORK OF DIVERSITY IN LIBRARIES BEGINS at the crossroad where superiority, inaction, and denial become intolerable. Yet in working toward true diversity, we work without the familiar construct of a mainstream. [This presents] us with questions that serve as teachable moments or paralyzing hurdles. Once at the crossroads, however, there are systematic strategies and operating principles for bringing significance, meaning, and action to this trend called diversity. – Sandra Rios Balderrama in This Trend Called Diversity, Library Trends 49(1), 194 (2000).

In Fall 2015, I was hired as the first Cornell University Diversity Fellow immediately upon graduating from a J.D./M.L.S. joint-degree program. While reading the Balderrama article referenced above and interviewing the next Diversity Fellowship candidates, I could not help but reflect on my time with Cornell. Specifically reflecting on how more opportunities like this fellowship are needed to create diversity and inclusion in law librarianship through immersion in the field.

The Cornell University Law Library Diversity Fellowship, the first of its kind in law librarianship, was created to provide opportunities for new law librarians from underrepresented groups. Cornell does not define “underrepresented” or “diversity” to the applicants. Instead, applicants are asked to define what diversity means to them. Some responses include belonging to a different nationality or religious background, being a member of the LGBTQ community, having experience working with or being a person with mental or physical disabilities, or being a person whose first language is something other than English. It is the brain child of Cornell’s Director, Femi Cadmus, to effectively recruit representatives that move the profession toward diversity and inclusion through tangible action.

The fellowship is essentially an immersion program: you learn by doing. You are required to teach (not co-teach!) twelve sessions of your own section of the first-year legal research and writing course and work at least eight hours a week at the reference work. Outside of these requirements, the program allows you explore different areas of law librarianship (technical and/or access services, collection development, administration etc.), with a concentration on your particular area of interest.

If the fellow chooses to stay on for the second year, they are given an opportunity to develop and instruct an upper-level advanced legal research course on a subject of their choosing. They can also work on their professional development skills via committee work, speaking engagements, and/or through publication. During my time with Cornell, I was able to create my own advanced legal research course that met the ABA experiential standard, accept a chair position for PEGA-SIS and the BCAALL, and speak at the annual meeting for our local AALL chapter ALLUNY.

Diversity fellowships help the profession to move toward true diversity and inclusion. Moreover, they also help to train and incubate the future of law librarianship through immersion. While some institutions may have certain constraints, these fellowships can be catered to a specific institution. At Cornell, the fellowship lasts up to two years. At a smaller institution or an institution with a limited budget, the fellowship could be the length of a semester or academic year. Perhaps your institution has a special project or goal they would like to accomplish – a diversity fellow could give a different or fresh perspective. There are so many program tailoring options available.

I am hopeful that other institutions will create similar fellowships to meet the charge of diversity and inclusion in the profession. Diverse representation and active experience help to move this profession forward. As I begin to transition out of the fellowship position, I can safely say that I feel more confident as a librarian. I am ready to actively contribute to the profession, and others deserve a similar opportunity. I challenge institutions to try to provide such an opportunity.

Posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Training | Tagged | Leave a comment

RIPS-SIS Virtual Business Meeting Survey

RIPS-SIS will be hosting a virtual business meeting in June. Details on the business meeting will be the subject of an upcoming post. The Board would still like to have an informal event at AALL in Austin, and has secured Monday, July 17, from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. as a meeting time. The Board would like your feedback on what kind of a meeting we might have, if we don’t need to spend our time on the business meeting. Please the brief three question survey to help us plan the event!

Posted in AALL Annoucements, RIPS events | Tagged | Leave a comment

“Hello” From Your RIPS Board

The Board and I can’t believe it is mid-February already! I hope everyone has been keeping track of all of the exciting things we have going on at RIPS but just in case something has slipped you by… I wanted to highlight a few committee updates and opportunities for our members:



  • The Legal Research Competency Committee has put out a call for the use of assessment in instruction. Share yours with Kerry Lohmeier at


  • Following comments from the 2016 RIPS Business Meeting, we have decided to do a virtual business meeting in 2017! More information will be posted on the Blog at the beginning of March. In the meantime, please stay tuned for a survey which will be posted to gather feedback on what our members will want our dedicated time to be used for at the annual meeting in July (no early morning business breakfast but we still want to get together and meet with our members)!
  • We are updating our website! There are still a few spots available on our Task Force. If you are interested in volunteering, e-mail Alyson Drake at


Please stay tuned for our next Board Blog Post where we will provide even more information, and updates, about exciting RIPS developments!

Katie Crandall
RIPS Chair

Posted in RIPS Teach-In Kit, RIPS-SIS Reports | Tagged | Leave a comment