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The AALL Spectrum® Blog is published by the American Association of Law Libraries. Submissions from AALL members and other members of the legal community are highly encouraged. Opinions and editorial views expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of AALL. AALL does not assume any responsibility for statements advanced by contributors. The previous Spectrum Blog was located at aallspectrum.wordpress.com.
4/24/2015 4:45:00 PM

Law Library Interns: How to Make Them Work for You


For aspiring law librarians, the most useful aspects of library school are often those that afford the opportunity for practical experience. In most instances, these opportunities take the form of internships. Sometimes done for pay, sometimes done for academic credit, and sometimes done just for the experience itself, internship opportunities allow aspiring law librarians to get a better sense of what sort of work they hope to do post-graduation. They also act as an excellent means of differentiating themselves from their job-seeking peers.

Those same internships create new opportunities for the law libraries themselves. Interns can benefit law libraries in a number of ways - they can bring a fresh perspective to a project that has stalled; they may be more familiar with new and developing technologies; they may have a skillset that is helpful but not duplicated on the full-time staff (e.g., foreign-language skills, a background in a particular legal practice area).

Done properly, both intern and law library can benefit greatly from these opportunities, either as a one-time occurrence, or as the beginning of an established intern program.  But doing it properly and avoiding common problems does take some planning, effort, and foresight.

This summer at AALL, this topic will be explored in far more depth as part of the Law Library Interns: How to Make Them Work for You program. Representatives from academic (Kelly Leong), government (Peter Roudik), and court (Daniel Cordova) law libraries will discuss their own successful internship programs and the growing pains they experienced making those programs succeed – including the identification of the most-common pitfalls of such programs.

I’ll be moderating and offering my own perspective as someone who had the chance to complete invaluable internships at the Peking University School of Transnational Law, Legal Research Center and the National Indian Law Library.

As a bit of a preview, here are some issues worth considering:

  • Do you have projects or assignments to work on that are suitable for your intern? 
If, for example, the intern knows that she only wants to work in technical services and has a background to support that, having her sit reference is less likely to result in a worthwhile experience for anyone involved. If she has a substantive expertise in an area of law, working on a cataloging project in that area or preparing a research guide would allow her to showcase that expertise while also resulting in high quality work that benefits the law library.

  • Can your existing staff provide guidance and the required supervision to the intern?
As tempting as it can be to think of interns as “warm bodies” to fill existing gaps in coverage, you should still keep in mind that the legal guidelines regarding internships and work, both at the federal and state levels. The U.S. Department of Labor has created a useful Fact Sheet with good basic information – Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act – including the six criteria that apply.

  • Have you had the opportunity to have a nuts-and-bolts talk with your intern before the internship begins?
Making sure the institution clearly communicates about things like deadlines, attire, and scheduling/punctuality are very important: good communication can go a long way to eliminating issues before they become problems. In some cases, established internship programs have competitive selection processes, but even less formal opportunities should use a phone call and email documentation to make sure the institution and the intern are on the same page.

These issues and others will be discussed in more depth, with examples from the speakers on how their own programs deal with them.

What issues have you come across, either from the perspective of the institution or as an intern yourself? Please share and discuss in the comments below!

Finally, if your institution is at all interested in possibly hosting an international internship or exchange, I encourage you to complete the Internships & International Exchanges Survey. It can be a very useful way to facilitate internships and exchanges across borders. International internships and exchanges can bring with them an additional layer of logistical challenges (e.g., passports, visas, international flights) but they can also be the most rewarding. Also, if you’ve actually completed an international internship or exchange and would be willing to write it up briefly for our website or a newsletter, the FCIL-SIS Internships & International Exchanges program would love to hear from you!

Posted By R. Martin Witt at 4/24/2015 4:45:00 PM  0 Comments
4/17/2015 3:35:42 PM

Mitigating User Issues with Print to Digital Title Conversion

Many organizations are converting titles that they have subscribed to in print for many years to digital formats.  Usually this move is a money-saver for organizations.  Sometimes it’s a matter of convenience.  Or in other situations needed titles may only be available in digital formats according to the publisher.  Depending on the type of law library, there will be a different decision making process.  In smaller firms the law librarian in partnership with the financial department head together make decisions on whether to convert titles to digital.  In larger firms there would likely be a bigger team making the decision and in academic or research libraries the director and a panel of librarians and possibly faculty would make such a decision. 

Once a decision has been made to convert from print to digital, several other things also need to take place.  First and foremost, there should be a policy for the actions that need to take place following the conversion.  There needs to be notice provided to library users that print titles have converted to digital and may no longer be updated.  In a small setting, this can be notice provided in an email or memo to users.  There also should be a warning or disclaimer on the print title itself that it has no longer been updated by a given date.  The warning should be immediately visible to the library user who picks up the volume, preferably on the spine of the print volume itself.  All library staff should be educated on which titles are current and which have converted to digital.  The library catalog also needs to be updated to reflect the conversion with specific dates.

Hand-in-hand with a policy on conversion, education needs to take place, conducted by library staff for users who may be unfamiliar with how to access the titles digitally.  In organizations where there are many users unfamiliar with the subject, giving several opportunities for library users to be present for the training is best.  Library staff also needs to prepare for the inevitable library user who has ignored notifications and is unfamiliar with accessing titles digitally and needs something from one of the digital titles quickly. 

With a dedicated policy and in-house education opportunities, the transition from print to digital can be relatively smooth.   

Jennifer Waite Haas, 2015. Law Librarian, Weiss Berzowski Brady LLP, Milwaukee, WI. jwh@wbb-law.com 

Posted By Jennifer Waite Haas at 4/17/2015 3:35:42 PM  0 Comments
8/3/2012 12:40:48 PM

B-6: Finding Your Inner Nancy Drew: Public Records Resources Online

Presenters: Jennifer McMahan and Bridget Gilhool

I was looking forward to this presentation since the moment I saw it on the schedule, lo these many months ago.  I teach a course in litigation and ADR research which includes a section on public records, and was hoping to see some new resources to show my students.  (I was not disappointed!)  That said, I think that just about any law librarian would benefit from this program. 

The most important point about “Finding Your Inner Nancy Drew” is that the presentation was incredibly useful.  Jennifer McMahon and Bridget Gilhool have done sessions like this many times in the past, and it showed in their vast knowledge of the subject, combined with real-world tips.  These included always checking any records website to gauge its accuracy (using yourself as an example search is a good way to do this).  Even the smallest tips can save a lot of time: when doing a basic Google search for public records, searching for “LastName, FirstName” instead of “FirstName LastName” is likely to yield many more useful results, as this is how many records are written. 

Another note is that although McMahan and Gilhool tried to focus on free resources, they did point out that some websites have changed from free to paid and then back to free again, so it is always best to check.  As well, when one has access to websites that summarize public records, it can be useful to start there, and then head to more specific databases to verify individual points.

The session was completely packed with information—six pages of useful links (handout available here), broken down into categories such as birth and death records, marriage and divorce records, and information on people who are licensed to drive, affiliated with a corporation, registered to vote, or have graduated from college.  (This last can be surprisingly tricky—college degrees are not a matter of public record.)

The presenters kept their talk interesting by using the websites to search for famous people and organizations: one of the lawyers in the Lizzie Borden murder trial (for a local connection), Laura Bush, and other political and pop culture celebrities made appearances.  In fact, I would have preferred even more examples like these, especially because they showed how one can dig deeper into some of the websites.

Overall, an excellent session that will be extremely useful to me in the coming months and years.  Highly recommended for any librarian who has ever needed to search public records.

Posted By Stephanie Ziegler at 8/3/2012 12:40:48 PM  0 Comments