Taking Legal Research Instruction to the Next Level with the National Legal Research Teach-In

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By Laura J. Ax-Fultz
January 28, 2014

What is the next level? Well, that depends on where you are now. If you are new to teaching legal research, the next level may be thoroughly preparing to teach your next class. If you are a veteran instructor, the next level may be contributing to the evolution of legal research instruction. If you are firmly in the middle, the next level may mean learning new instructional techniques, experimenting with flipped classrooms, learning new subjects, or positioning yourself as an expert in your library or your institution. Wherever you find yourself, the National Legal Research Teach-In can help you move to the next level.

What is the Teach-In?

The National Legal Research Teach-In, now entering its 22nd year, continues to be an innovative teaching resource for law librarians to share and borrow ideas. Teach-In, sponsored by the Research Instruction and Patron Services Special Interest Section (RIPS-SIS), was created in 1993. As described on its website, www.aallnet.org/sections/rips/teachin, the Teach-In’s purpose is “. . . to celebrate legal research instruction and to demonstrate the importance of involving more law librarians in teaching these skills.” The timing of the National Legal Research Teach-in corresponds to National Library Week, generally observed in the second full week of April. Law librarians can leverage the attention of the national observance with subject-specific material to highlight the value of the law library.

Another key purpose in the creation of the National Legal Research Teach-In was to provide a space for law librarians to position themselves as “highly competent and capable instructors” in their home institutions, “. . . as a proactive resource rather than as a reactive one.” Being a proactive, innovative law librarian is even more important today as libraries move toward increasingly digital collections and administrators question the value that law librarians provide to their institutions. As law library collections change and legal research instruction by law librarians is taken for granted, librarians must continually strive to remain cutting-edge innovators. Law librarians need to keep administrators fully focused on the value they and their libraries provide to the institution, both as a resource and as a provider of quality education, no matter the library type.

A review of Teach-in materials from the past two decades shows how legal research instruction has evolved and improved over the years. As instruction evolved, so did the materials that were contributed to the Teach-In. Law librarians teaching legal research contribute their instructional materials to the Teach-In, helping to create a shared repository of knowledge that evolves with developments in law libraries. Ongoing developments include the transition to digital-only primary resources, new teaching innovations and improvements, and academic law library responses to modifications in curricular requirements. One of the major changes to the Teach-In has been the format for the distribution of materials. The annual Teach-In Training Kit was, for many years, distributed as a print publication. In 2007, it was available in print and online. With the undeniable success of the 2007 publication being freely available online, the Teach-In moved to an online-only format in 2008. All of the materials since 2007 are now available at www.aallnet.org/sections/rips/teachin.

The innovators who contribute to the Teach-In repository represent all areas of librarianship. They include instructional and reference librarians from academic, law firm, court, and special libraries. Librarians contribute material that can be used as submitted or adapted for use in different settings. Librarians can completely transform material by selecting the best resources, styles, and formats from the repository, which may be combined with their own content to create uniquely customized instructional materials. They then, in turn, feel confident in contributing their own new resources to the Teach-In. This adaptation and reuse followed by submission of new material contributes to an evolutionary cycle of continual improvement in legal research instructional resources. Contributing to the Teach-In is especially valuable to tenure-track academic librarians. Each year’s Teach-In compilation is a peer-reviewed, edited publication and is suitable as a scholarly contribution for a tenure dossier.

What Does the Teach-In Offer?

The Teach-In should be the first place legal research instructors look to find trusted instructional resources. Law librarians who utilize the Teach-In are leveraging the knowledge of their professional peers to improve their own work. Those who may not have adequate institutional support or who are solo librarians will find that the Teach-In repository contains a wealth of quality teaching materials. Librarians who use the repository can take advantage of the new ideas being presented; benefit from the time savings of adapting materials rather than creating new materials; learn about new subjects and new teaching styles; and know that they are keeping pace with how legal research is being taught at other institutions. 

The scope of resources available varies in format and subject as well as in their breadth and depth of coverage. Formats include guides, quizzes, games, presentations, syllabi, full course materials, handouts, tutorials, and more. The 2013 National Legal Research Teach-In is a typical representation of broad subject coverage, with topics such as advanced legal research, advanced tax research, banking law, cost-effective legal research, health law, legislative research, administrative research, and administrative law. The content, format, and coverage of the repository will continue to be an innovative teaching resource as long as librarians are active participants in the evolution of legal research and are willing to submit contributions.

Share Your Ideas!

Think about your materials and how they can be used to inform and benefit the work of others. Did you try something new that turned out to be wildly successful? Tell us about it. Are you flipping your classroom? Show us what worked for you. Did you create a guide or tutorial that others are raving about? Please share it. Are you creating content for online courses? Show us how you delivered it. No contribution is too small if it can be beneficial to your peers. 

Contributions to the 2014 National Legal Research Teach-In can be emailed to Teach-In Committee Co-Chair Shawn Nevers at neverss@law.byu.edu. The deadline for contributions has been extended to February 21, 2014. Questions and submission inquiries can be directed to Teach-In Committee Co-Chair Gail Partin at gap6@psu.edu. The 2014 National Legal Research Teach-In will be accessible from the Teach-In homepage, www.aallnet.org/sections/rips/teachin, on March 10, just in time to prepare for National Library Week celebrations April 13-19.

Laura J. Ax-Fultz (LauraLawLibrarian@psu.edu), Access Services and Reference Librarian, the Penn State Dickinson School of Law, University Park, Pennsylvania