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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.
2/12/2015 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
2/6/2015 11:38:58 AM

What Makes a Special Library, Special?

I am currently co-teaching the “Special Libraries” class offered by the University of Missouri-Columbia (MU) and the University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO) in the Information Science and Learning Technologies (SISLT) program this spring semester. Special Libraries a hybrid class of face-to-face class meetings, online discussion via Blackboard and outside classes or site visits scheduled at a variety of special libraries throughout the state of Nebraska.

A unique aspect of this class is the opportunity to meet, learn from, and “talk shop” with librarians who work in special libraries. The site visits create awareness among the students to library opportunities beyond public and academic libraries, and can be the “ah-hah” moment for some students who are looking to merge previous work experience or education with librarianship. This spring semester my class and I will visit a number of special libraries including; corrections, law, medical, newspaper, engineering, music, tribal, special collections within two large academic libraries, community college libraries, and two different genealogy collections. So the big question is: what makes a special library – special?

The second big discussion, not so much a question is; what competencies should librarians at special libraries have? For this class, we use the Competencies for Information Professionals of the 21st Century from the Special Libraries Association (SLA) https://www.sla.org/about-sla/competencies/ The competencies are divided into three broad categories: Professional Competencies, Personal Competencies, and Core Competencies; also included in the document are numerous Applied Scenarios for each category to illustrate how the competency is demonstrated in the work environment.

Each time I teach Special Libraries, I am asked how the competencies for law librarians compare to other special library competencies such as those for music librarians or archival librarians. In a nutshell: we all work in a library environment, assist patrons with information needs and oversee library collections. Each type of special library association has an expectation of what specific skills and competencies are necessary for librarians to best serve their patrons. There is overlap among the lists of competencies for information professionals or librarians; visit the American Library Association (ALA) website to review the list of competencies by professional organizations, including the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL); http://www.ala.org/educationcareers/careers/corecomp/corecompspecial/knowledgecompetencies

My goal by May 1st, the last Special Libraries class for the semester, is that the students have visited and interacted with different types of libraries. These visits should create an appreciation for the role of special libraries in education, and the community the library serves. It should introduce the students to librarians who passionately promote and communicate the importance of information - that happens to be housed in a special library collection. Most importantly, I hope the students see an opportunity to change the world with the information shared by our special libraries.

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Marcia L. Dority Baker is the Access Services Librarian at the University of Nebraska College of Law, Schmid Law Library in Lincoln, Nebraska. She can be reached via email; mdoritybaker@unl.edu

Posted By Marcia Dority Baker at 2/6/2015 11:38:58 AM  0 Comments