By Marguerite Most, Assistant Director for Research, Instruction, and Access at the Kathrine R. Everett Law Library, University of North Carolina
In her recent article "Creating Internet-Based Tutorials," Susan B. Ardis suggests that as
librarians deliver more information directly to users' desktops, teaching opportunities will
change. She calls the online tutorial a "just-in-time, on-demand" training format which can
be accessed remotely and at the user's convenience. In contrast, user training of the past
has involved research classes, individual appointments and "catch-as-catch-can"
opportunities at the reference desk or as we wander through the stacks. Ardis, who works
in the McKinney Engineering Library at the University of Texas - Austin, discusses the
advantages of online tutorials and walks the reader step by step through starting,
designing, and publicizing. She also cites the URLs of several tutorials developed at the
engineering library, including one designed to teach faculty and staff about copyright (1)|
This article reports on an online introductory legal research tutorial developed at the Kathrine R. Everett Law Library at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill. The tutorial was designed to introduce the library and its resources to undergraduate students and graduate students in other disciplines. Although the tutorial was developed in response to perceived needs within the UNC community, it offers a model for bibliographic instruction via the Internet that can be adopted by other libraries. The tutorial is accessible via the library's web site, or directly at http://library.law.unc.edu/tutorial/.
The Law Library has long had an active bibliographic instruction program for university students who need to learn the fundamentals of legal research. The University of North Carolina offers over 30 law-related courses in schools and departments outside the law school. Each fall and spring librarians teach introductory research classes and offer library tours to students in classes with a legal research component. Almost every semester law librarians introduce legal research to students enrolled in such diverse courses as: Mass Communications Law, Social Work and the Law, Planning Law, and School Law. In addition, students from courses such as Business Law, Health Law, and Constitutional History stop regularly for help at the reference desk.
Many of these students have never before set foot in a law library and for many of them, the introductory class with its accompanying library tour is their only introduction to the library. Their courses are sometimes taught by faculty with law backgrounds and sometimes not. The research assignments range from locating and reading several court cases to sophisticated research leading to lengthy term papers on their chosen topics. When the students enter the library, many "haven't a clue" how or where to begin.
To broaden outreach and to improve the instructional program, the Law Library applied last year for a UNC Chancellor's Instructional Technology Award. The principal grant writer and developer of the tutorial was Robert C. Vreeland, Reference/Electronics Services Librarian at the Law Library. Information about the awards, including the Request for Proposals is available at http://www.unc.edu/chan/itawards/.
Specific library goals in applying for the award included providing bibliographic instruction to a larger population within the university, allowing students to familiarize themselves with the rudiments of legal research before they arrive in the library, and making more effective use of staff time. The major components of the project include: a tutorial of sequentially organized web pages describing the fundamental concepts of legal research; an online multiple-choice examination; a glossary of basic legal terms; and a topical guide listing major print and online resources in several subject areas.
The tutorial opens with a brief explanation of legal citations, a link to a colored photograph of the cover of the 16th edition of the Bluebook, and a link to Peter Martin's citation primer from the Cornell Law School website. The user is then taken through an introduction to the structure of the government, with brief comments about each branch and links to additional resources such as the online version of "How Our Laws are Made." Primary and secondary resources are presented with short text written for non-lawyers; links to more detailed explanations are provided as well.
The multiple-choice exam allows students to assess their own progress and to review the tutorial, if necessary. The glossary is basic and defines terms already familiar to upper-level law students. Although in the beginning stages, the topical guide page links to noteworthy URLs in several subject areas where we regularly offer legal research introductory sessions. Links to maps and charts, designed to assist users in locating resources in the building, are provided as well. Like most web sites, this one is always under revision.
Faculty from several courses have referred students to the tutorial. In the immediate future, we plan to publicize the tutorial through a direct mailing to faculty teaching law-related courses and through an announcement in the campus libraries' newsletter. The law librarians of Chapel Hill invite you to explore our tutorial and to share with us your comments and suggestions.