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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
4/3/2015 10:16:21 PM

Biblioclasm*: ISIS Attacks Libraries

Biblioclasm: "the destruction of books, especially the Bible. — biblioclast, n."  


“During the first hours of any war the information that profoundly shocks the planet can be summed up in four words: The library is burning.”
Lucien X. Polastron, Books on Fire, 235 (2007).

We have all heard and seen the horrors of the recent conflict in Iraq and Syria. In addition to the abhorrent human suffering, it is estimated that more than 100,000 books and manuscripts have been burned by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) since last December. Given the scale of the human tragedy, the destruction of books is not likely to be what most “profoundly shocks the planet.” Yet, this heinous destruction should not go unnoticed. As described by the UNESCO Director-General: “[this] cultural cleansing . . .adds to the systematic destruction of heritage and the persecution of minorities, [and] seeks to wipe out the cultural diversity that is the soul of the Iraqi people.”

At about the same time as we watched video of the destruction of Mosul Museum in Iraq, the Mosul Library was also destroyed. Some have called this “one of the most devastating acts of destruction of library collections in human history.” On February 22nd, 2015, improvised incendiary devices were detonated in the Library causing fires that consumed over 8,000 rare books and manuscripts. Many of these works appeared on the UNESCO “rarities” list. Well-respected members of the Mosul community pleaded with ISIS militants not to destroy the library, but in the end were unable to prevent it.

This is not the first time that the Mosul Library has been destroyed. During the U.S. Invasion in 2003, mobs ransacked the library, but nearby residents protected much of the collection, hiding books in their homes. This time, however, ISIS has declared that any person attempting similar preservation efforts will face execution. Many Iraqis have evoked the adage “may the books be a sacrifice for the people” in the face of this adversity.

Among the materials lost were “manuscripts from the 18th century, Syriac books printed in Iraq’s first printing house in the 19th century, books from the Ottoman era, Iraqi newspapers from the early 20th century, and treasured antiques like an astrolabe and sand glass used by the ancient Arabs.” UNESCO reported the loss of law and philosophy texts. The library also contained materials on subjects traditionally censored in Iraq, such as Communism, socialism, and sex – housed in special rooms devoted to the private collections of as many as one hundred Iraqi founding families. Even the Library’s website has been suspended.

The destruction of the Mosul Library represents one of a series of attacks on libraries, bookstores, and university collections in Iraq and Syria. Some institutions having sustained particularly heavy damage include “the archives of a Sunni Muslim Library, the library of the 265-year-old Latin Church and Monastery of the Dominican Fathers, and the Mosul Museum Library with works dating back to 5000 BC.” Only months before the Mosul Library destruction, ISIS denounced Mosul University, which was closed and converted to barracks, “along with the colleges of law, fine arts, physical education, languages, social sciences and archaeology.” Each school, including the school of law, had its own library, which was looted. In the Mosul University Central Library, ISIS militants “constructed a huge pyre of scientific and cultural texts as university students watched in horror.”

While UNESCO specifically mentioned the loss of legal texts in Mosul, many relevant legal documents are preserved online through the Iraqi Local Governance Law Library, “including local laws, orders, decisions, and regulations now being published by provinces in monthly legal gazettes”. However, legal documents published before 2010 are not available there. The Iraq Legal Database, created in 2008, contains a wealth of additional information, including “approximately 30,000 legal texts and more than 7,000 laws, 4,000 ministerial decrees, 3,000 regulations, and 5,000 declarations passed since 1917.” However, the website does not appear to be accessible at this time.

Rebuilding or replacing a physical collection in a region currently a “self-declared ISIS caliphate” may well be impossible or simply result in more destruction. Organizations and foreign governments, are seeking to prevent further loss. Partially in response to the destruction caused by ISIS, the U.S. House of Representatives recently introduced H. R. 1493, “a bill to protect and preserve international cultural property at risk due to political instability, armed conflict, or natural or other disasters. . .” This bill aims to “coordinate and promote efforts to protect international cultural property” by increasing communication between relevant stakeholders and reducing the incentive to steal cultural property by reducing consumer demand for trafficked and illegally-traded artifacts.

Some international organizations are looking for ways to help mitigate the harm already done. The Community Research and Development Information Service (CORDIS) has embarked on an ambitious task called Project Mosul, reconstructing Mosul’s Cultural Artifacts in a four-dimensional virtual museum. Only two weeks after the destruction of the Mosul Library, “researchers from ITN-DCH, IAPP, and 4D-CH-WORLD” began the project, crowd-sourcing photographs of the artifacts and creating digital exhibits. “The team is [] calling on volunteers to help them to sort and tag pictures, process them, [and] take care of coding.” While a digital rendering cannot completely replace an original, at least items of cultural significance will be available in some form to future generations.

Similar digital reconstruction projects might provide hope for recreating some of the rare print volumes lost in Mosul and the surrounding areas. One Dominican Monk, Father Najeeb Micheel, has been photographing and digitizing early Christian texts in Iraq “with help from Father Stewart’s Hill Museum and Manuscript Library in Minnesota.” Unfortunately, he was forced to stop his work and flee ISIS with only one truck of books and artifacts from the 50,000-volume collection. Perhaps through a crowd-sourcing effort, more photographs and scanned images can be used to revive bits of the print materials that were lost.


© AJ Blechner, 2015. Reference/Outreach Librarian, University of Miami Law Library, Coral Gables, Florida. ablechner@law.miami.edu.

Posted By AJ Blechner at 4/3/2015 10:16:21 PM  0 Comments