Taking Action to Make Libraries Relevant to Today's Law Students

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Rosalie Sanderson examines follow up responses to her Chair's column in the last Newsletter

In my chair's column in the last newsletter, I mentioned a recent article in Chronicle Of Higher Education ("As Students Work Online, Reading Rooms Empty Out-Leading Some Campuses to Add Starbucks," Nov. 16, 2001). The article pointed out that "more and more students are entering libraries not through turnstiles but through phone lines and fiber-optic cables." The article focused on undergraduates, but I thought that it raised issues that might be important to law librarians. I asked for your help to identify measures you have taken in your own libraries to keep them relevant to law students in the electronic age. I'd like to share some of your many thoughtful and innovative responses.

You identified physical facilities, electronic resources and marketing as priorities, but made it clear that people, the librarians and staff who work in the library, are critical to the relevance issue. Herb Cihak of LSU stated it profoundly: "to be relevant library personnel need to be visible, credible, competent and available." Both Jim Heller of William and Mary and Pauline Aranas of Vanderbilt expressed a similar opinion, viewing the librarians' roles as teachers as primary in establishing the library as relevant to legal education and librarians as credible from the first day of law school. At both schools librarians teach legal research in the first year legal research program. They also do a lot of additional formal and informal teaching as well. Others who mentioned the importance of teaching to the library mission included Bob Berring of Boalt, Dick Danner of Duke, and Anne Klinefelter of UNC.

Although it is difficult to generalize, that is what I will try to do. In addition to teaching and personal librarian contact most of your responses fell into three categories: enhancing physical facilities to provide more creature comforts for students in the library, providing more web-based services and products, and marketing collections and services more creatively and aggressively. Barbara Gontrum at Maryland described perhaps the most innovative idea, that of assigning a librarian as a research resource to each law school course. The librarian's contact information and photo appear on the course web page. Librarian contacts for each course meeting the writing requirement prepare an information resources guide for the course. You may read more about this program in Lisa Wagenheim's article appearing in this issue of the newsletter.

Facilities. A number of libraries have taken steps to create comfortable facilities. Food and drink are often on students' minds, so William and Mary has a coffee/bagel /juice bar in the library lobby. LSU has a relaxed food and drink policy, and Duke gives entering law students spillproof cups. UNC renovated their facilities to provide comfortable furniture and better lighting. Many schools have leisure reading areas with popular magazines and/or novels. Northern Kentucky University and Duke both provide 24 hour access to library facilities for night owls.

Sue Burch reports that the University of Kentucky recently renovated their facilities to provide more flexibility for students. The library cut the size of their PC lab from 45 workstations to 14 in exchange for 5 additional public workstations throughout the library and 20 new IBM wireless laptops which students may check out at the circulation desk for up to 4 hours. The lab space was redesigned to include a lounge where students can relax or work together in small groups. Sue reports that students like the new arrangement and the flexibility to work in the lounge or anywhere in the library with the laptops. She reports that the Reference Desk traffic has increased because the lounges and study areas are located close to the desk, and students often leave their study groups to ask for assistance from the librarians.

Electronic Resources. Many librarians report that they are trying to provide better service to students who access the library remotely through improved instructional guides and links to electronic subscription services on their websites. Duke, the University of Washington, UNC, University of San Diego and many other schools have made it a top priority to create websites which provide outstanding instructional resources. Ruth Levor suggested that librarians emphasize the internet and online search strategy in reference contacts with students. She also suggested using the website as a point of service for interlibrary loan and document delivery by adding links to online forms. A number of schools provide email reference. Extending email reference services to live chat with the Reference Desk is another electronic opportunity for outreach.

Marketing and library promotion. William and Mary does a lot of library promotion, some of which has a public service aspect such as raising funds for bone marrow drives or cancer research. LSU has spearheaded similar public service promotions such as staffing the phone bank at a local public television station and preparing Easter baskets for inner-city pre-schoolers. While these promotions give the library visibility and help worthy causes, they have the added benefit of helping build collegiality among participating co-workers.

A number of schools, such as UNC promote the library and teach through well-planned orientation sessions for students and/or faculty at the beginning of each year. UNC and Duke also distribute mousepads with library logo and contact information for key services. UNC publishes information about current event law school events, as well as research tips on the web. Northern Kentucky University publishes an electronic newsletter "Quick Tips" with useful research news and tips.

Establishing official Student Advisory Groups was another innovative idea for promoting library services. These student groups can be very useful to libraries, not only to promote underused services, but also to learn about student information needs which are not being met by the library. These groups provide an official channel of communication and can be instrumental in alerting the library about difficult issues before they become problems.

It is clear from your responses that most schools have mounted a serious effort to make their collections and services available to students in ways that meet the needs of today's students onsite and offsite. Don't keep your good ideas to yourselves. Share your ideas, successes and problems with your colleagues. Let's become more effective by working together and using the listserv to share our experiences.