University of Michigan's Faculty Research Support Service

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University of Michigan’s Faculty Research Support Service

Stats suggest that the library’s support service improves faculty productivity

By Margaret A. Leary

 

The Michigan Law School has always been known for the high quality of its faculty’s publications, ranging from the creation of a new field of law to law review articles that have influenced the U.S. Supreme Court to case books that have changed the way core courses are taught. Some examples include:

  • Hessel Yntema, who founded the field of comparative law and the American Journal of Comparative Law in the 1940s
  • Yale Kamisar, who wrote articles that were the basis for the Supreme Court’s opinions in Miranda and Gideon
  • James Krier, whose casebook Property in 1981, now in its sixth edition, and Richard Lempert, whose casebook A Modern Approach to Evidence in 1977, now in its third edition, changed the casebook paradigm.

Michigan has also always had a superb, comprehensive law library and an equally good university library, which supported the law faculty’s early interest in interdisciplinary work. From 1910 to 1960, the Michigan Law Library staff focused entirely on building the collection. Only in the 1970s did the library turn to providing service directly to the faculty, while continuing to provide the essential collection to support research.

 

Research Service Get Rolled Out

The story of how collection building gradually took less of the library staff’s time so that they could turn to other activities is told in my 2002 article at 94 Law Libr. J. 395. In the 1970s the library began a document delivery service, called the “phone page” for its reliance on that instrument and the then-brand-new “answering machine.”

In 1984, the library began a faculty research service, based in the reference department. The original concept was that the dual-degreed reference librarians would share the research work because that would bring all of them into closer contact with the faculty and provide knowledge of faculty research that would assist those same librarians in collection development, which is another part of their job.

And just what is the “faculty research support service”? My 2003 article at 53 J. Legal Educ. 192 describes it more fully. In a nutshell, it is far more than answering quick reference question and far more than the standard “library liaison” program.

Lawyer–librarians hire, train, and supervise a team of J.D. students and conduct research projects at the request of law school faculty. Each project can take from 20 minutes to 20 hours. Topics range widely: up-to-the second current research, historical research, legal or non-legal. The faculty services librarian works closely with the faculty member and may collaborate with the faculty member’s personal research assistant. Examples of topics: historical social statistics, legislative histories, health statistics, ADA law, Supreme Court history, state statutory history, state legislative responses to Supreme Court decisions, and international criminal law.

Simple Change Has Significant Impact

In 2000, the library made a simple change that had a radical impact on the effectiveness of the faculty research service. We originally asked all reference librarians to do research for the faculty. We observed that some librarians liked the work, but others did not; as a result, some did the work more effectively than others. In 2000, we had one librarian take full responsibility for the service: hiring, training, and supervising students to do some of the work, but doing the most difficult herself. In a pinch, the four other librarians pitch in. Putting one person in charge tripled, and then quintupled, the number of projects completed each year.

Does the research service result in a more productive faculty? The table below suggests that it may. There is a correlation between the arrival of the service in the late 1980s and the improvement in the service in 2000, with greater faculty productivity. Is that the only cause? Perhaps not. Perhaps Michigan hired more motivated faculty; perhaps the institution encouraged or required more published research than in the past.  Perhaps research leaves were more generous, or the advent of LexisNexis and Westlaw made a difference. Perhaps the development of a law school administrative infrastructure over those 50 years freed faculty from tasks such as placement, development, admissions, class scheduling, and student counseling.

Certainly the availability of so much on the web and the annual expansion of databases available on campus since 2000 explains the drop in the number of documents delivered by the phone page service since then. In addition, the library has actively trained faculty assistants to find cases, articles, and other frequently used documents.

Beginning in the 1990s and continuing to this day, development of new acadmic programs added to the number of people considered faculty. The clinical program grew tremendously, and the legal practice program was added. The school also created categories of faculty with expertise in various practice areas and increased the number of adjuncts and faculty who were not here full-time. All these new faculty positions did not require a strong record of publication to ensure continued employment. We went from having 80 or so faculty in the early 1990s to about 160 by 2010.  My research considers only tenured and tenure track faculty, which makes possible accurate comparisons of productivity for the 50 years from 1960 (when all faculty were tenured or tenure-track) to 2009.

 

Table Demonstrates Productivity Gains

The table below correlates the productivity of this group with the number of documents delivered, and research projects carried out by, the library for selected years between 1960 and 2009. The document delivery service may have helped increase the average number of publications from the 1960s average of 1.6 to an average of 1.8 articles in 1985. Adding the research service resulted in more than doubling the average to 3.8 publications in 2000, the peak year. In 2009, the average was 2.9.

We can find no simple explanation for the year-to-year variations since 2000. It is not the number of untenured faculty seeking tenure, nor is it the number of visitors, or the number of our faculty visiting elsewhere. Nor can we explain the lack of a direct correlation between the number of research projects done one year and the number of publications that year or the next. Of course, many research projects are related to faculty activities (speeches, testimony, student or donor relations) that don’t result in a publication.

To claim that the increases in publication are solely the result of the library services would not be credible. But surely the use of well trained students to leverage the time and effort of the dual degreed librarians also leverages the research effort by faculty to some noticeable degree: faculty time moves from “doing the research” to analyzing and applying the results of the research. Overall, active library research collaboration with faculty leverages the law school’s large investment in the library and in its faculty.

The table below shows, for selected years, the number of tenured and tenure-track faculty, the total number of publications they produced, and the average per person, and gives the number of documents delivered by phone page and research projects completed by the faculty research service, in the years those services existed.

AVERAGE PUBLICATIONS PER FACULTY MEMBER, 1960-2009

with

Average, and Total, Number of documents delivered to faculty

and

 Average, and Total, Number of research projects completed for faculty

Includes only tenured and tenure-track faculty; excludes emeriti and all other categories.

 

Year

#  Profs

# Pubs

Ave # pubs

Ave # docs delivered

Total # docs delivered

Ave # research projects

Total # research projects

1960

39

63

1.6

 

 

 

 

1970

48

82

1.7

 

 

 

 

1980

45

76

1.7

 

 

 

 

1985

48

89

1.9

 

 

 

 

1990

51

118

2.3

129

6575

2.0

103

1995

49

137

2.8

138

6764

2.3

115

2000

51

195

3.8

199

10,159

5.9

303

2006

56

158

2.8

96

5370

10.5

591

2008

61

142

2.3

118

7188

7.6

464

2009

55

162

2.9

84

4594

8.7

480

 

Margaret A. Leary is the director of the University of Michigan Law Library.