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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.
2/17/2015 1:57:18 PM

A Different View: Teaching Basic Legal Research to Library Students

This semester I have the pleasure of teaching Basic Legal Research to several graduate level Masters of Library and Information Science students in a mixed mode course offered at St. John’s University.  In taking up this course, however, I have found that teaching basic legal research to library students presents a whole different set of challenges, issues, and problems (as opposed to teaching legal research to law students) that are not necessarily addressed by the law library community.  Some of the challenges involved are endemic to education in the 21st century as a whole: things like, teaching methodologies; how to integrate technology in the classroom; how to keep students engaged; how to get students to participate in online classes; drafting effective assessments; and meeting course objectives and goals.  However, other challenges are distinct to this type of class.  In this case, the most difficult obstacle being--How do you structure a class when you have some students with no experience and others with an outright expertise in the law?  This large discrepancy in students’ background levels is quite common in today’s economy and occurs when you have a class where some students are barred attorneys with J.D.’s , some have had experience as paralegals or with state agencies, while yet others have no experience with the law whatsoever.  

Almost a month into the semester, I have no real answers to this challenge only a few small insights. First, interestingly enough, there is little in the way of materials and guidance that is specifically designed for legal research instruction for library students, even though 22 American Library Association accredited schools offer law library concentrations.  Second, because basic legal research at the library school level appears to be more about process, research materials for law students are helpful but need to consistently be altered in order to incorporate information science methodologies and strategies.  Third, tiered lesson plans seem to work best where introductory level students are given a basic foundation but extra information, tips and/or tricks are included (but not tested) for advanced students in order to keep them interested and engaged. Last, basic-level students should be given access to multiple reference materials for supplementary or recommended readings in order to help make things like definitions, citation, and basic legal concepts more accessible.

Taryn L. Rucinski
Branch Librarian, Southern District of New York Libraries
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
taryn_rucinski@ca2.uscourts.gov 

Posted By Taryn Rucinski at 2/17/2015 1:57:18 PM  0 Comments
2/12/2015 6:00:00 PM

Members Making a Difference

As someone relatively new to the profession, I am often amazed by the charitable work done by librarians and our professional organizations. Last year the Social Responsibility Special Interest Section raised $480 at the AALL Annual Meeting to support the Solar Heating Project. This initiative was created to help “Native American families who are struggling to pay their heating bills and replace[] ‘dirty’ electricity created from coal-fired power plants with clean solar energy.” In addition, the SR-SIS collected 378 books and $595 for the “Transitions Program of San Antonio Independent School District, which serves homeless students, students in foster care, and at-risk youth.” Finally, the SR-SIS donated toiletries collected from members staying in hotels at the Annual Meeting for the San Antonio’s Family Violence Prevention Services.

I began to wonder what other projects were out there going unnoticed. Were AALL chapters, caucuses, and special interest sections engaging in charitable activities that we all should be aware of? After some inquiry, I found a tradition of service that does the AALL membership proud. Several regional sections including the Chicago Association of Law Libraries, Law Librarians of New England, and New Jersey Law Librarians Association even have committees devoted specifically to community service work. I’d like to thank everyone who provided details about their efforts, and share some of the work these organizations are doing. Here are some of the charitable activities I discovered:

The Black Caucus also has a very active community service subcommittee. This past year they organized a fundraiser for San Antonio Youth during the AALL annual conference. BCAALL invited an SA Youth representative to attend the annual banquet, where donations were formally presented to the organization. Members donated hundreds of dollars both on the night of the event and online. They also collected in kind donations of school supplies, backpacks, markers, pencils, pencil sharpeners, crayons, pens, highlighters, notebooks, folders, tablets, glue, and a host of other items.

Several chapters are finding opportunities to combine charity with member engagement, generating creative ways to give back to their communities. The Chicago Association of Law Libraries organized a team to participate in "Run for Their Lives," a 5K race to benefit PAWS. They hope to organize another team to participate in a similar event this summer. In the Mid-America Association of Law Libraries 1Ls do a service project each year during Orientation as a way to get to know each other and do something positive in their community. This year, MAALL is also launching a new Books to Action Program, where members read the same book on a social issue, and then perform a service project related to the book’s theme. The WestPac Local Arrangements Committee focused on environmental issues deciding to go “green” at their 2014 conference by making environmentally-friendly purchasing decisions and mobilizing their membership to recycle.

Several projects will offer resources and training to public librarians on legal research subjects. The Southern California Association of Law Libraries Public Access to Legal Information Committee will provide sessions on legal research for non-law librarians in 2015, partnering with the City of Temecula Public Library. The Law Librarians of New England plan to launch a web portal in 201 5 to help connect public librarians with support by providing research tutorials, best practices and resources. The LLNE service committee will create new content to be featured on this new digital platform.

There are also a few organizations that work with youth to encourage an interest in the legal profession. The Southern California Association of Law Libraries created an Inner City Youth Internship Program, providing “employment opportunities to qualified inner city high school students in private, public and academic libraries as well as other related institutions.” In March the Dallas Association of Law Librarians will volunteer at the Texas High School Mock Trial Competition to support local high school students with an interest in law. Additionally, the Colorado Association of Law Libraries raises funds each year for a scholarship offered to help a library student pursuing their degree.

We should be proud of the work librarians and our professional groups are doing to give back to the community. Why not try a new project this year? Have a project completed in 2014 or coming up in 2015 that deserves a mention? Share it in the comments section!

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

Posted By AJ Blechner at 2/12/2015 6:00:00 PM  0 Comments
2/13/2015 2:05:00 PM

Power to the People: Redesigning websites that are user-friendly

For the past year, the University of Wisconsin Law Library has been working on redesigning our website. Designing any website is a challenge, but a library page presents its own unique set of problems. We aren’t necessarily selling anything, but we do want to ‘sell’ our patrons on the best resources for them. We don’t need images or color to get the important links and information across to students, staff or lawyers. However, without a nice site, a user is less likely to find our site…well, useful. If the page is dull, the information on it is less likely to be found or utilized.

 Usability was our number one priority during the redesign. A library’s website should reflect the library’s own values, of which service and use are always near the top. However, as we continued to work on the site, we came to realize that many visitors may ‘judge a book by its cover’ and only peruse the site for a few seconds before deciding to look elsewhere for information. So our goal became two-fold: design a site that visitors would want to stay on long enough to locate the numerous resources and help that we can provide.

Our previous site was heavy on useful links and information, but also heavy on text and outdated colors. Most users felt like they were visiting a whole different site than one that was affiliated with the UW Law School. We wanted to synch up with the law school’s site and display some of the more unique features of the library and services that librarians provide. We decided on an image carousel at the top of the page. While not all web designers or librarians like the idea of a carousel, it worked for our purpose of highlighting different areas and services of the library and had the added bonus of matching up more closely with the law school’s site.

We removed most of the text from the main page, aiming for a more stream-lined look that still kept all the relevant information. The background changed colors from yellow to white and we used some ideas from the University’s main library page as well. Finding a balance between the law school page and the library page was tough, but in the end I felt we found a good compromise.   

One of our last steps, but  one of the most important, was to have students and staff test the page. We readied a list of 10 questions to ask students at they navigated the site. Some sample questions were ‘find the SSRN database listing’ or ‘locate a map of the fifth floor’. These questions were designed to make sure that the visitor felt comfortable in our redesigned web architecture, and we had placed the most important information on the top-most page, or one click away.

The user testing was incredibly helpful. Not only did it help us fix a few small but important design flaws, but it also showed us where most non-library users gravitate when using library resources. Nearly any question where the user was asked to find something on the site, they would use the search bar at the top of the page. Finding a map, a person or a database all received the same response: type the name into the search box and see what happens. For me, it really drove the point home that Google has changed how we find information. Keyword searching is becoming not just the king, but the dictator for life when it comes to online searches.

Our new site, with some tweaks, has been live for about one month now. We still have a long wish list of changes we want to change at some point (Lightbox videos! An app suggestion shelf! Better home page for our Libguides!) but overall the response has been very positive. We have heard largely good things, and if I hear nothing, I take it as a good sign. If you have any suggestions for the page or a story to share about your web design experience, let me (and everyone) know about it.   

Posted By Kristopher Turner at 2/13/2015 2:05:00 PM  0 Comments