New Services for Students and Faculty: Course Resource Pages and Library Liaisons

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by Lisa Wagenheim

Research Librarian and Instructor of Legal Research

Thurgood Marshall Law Library, University of Maryland School of Law

As information becomes increasingly accessible in electronic formats, libraries are experiencing significant waning in their patron populations. As we all know, this trend holds especially true for academic law libraries. The constant development of legal databases, government websites, and other online resources has sharply reduced the number of law students who make use of the library and its services. In efforts to halt this trend, academic law librarians have been discussing how to get the students to return to their law libraries.

The librarians in the Thurgood Marshall Law Library at the University of Maryland have been discussing these same issues. Our discussions have covered a wide range of possibilities, such as specific changes to the library environment as well as increased visibility through enhanced services. Instead of changing the law library environment, we decided to enhance the services that we provide to the faculty and students. We began by implementing two new services at the beginning of this Spring semester. First, we began a course liaison program which entailed assigning a librarian to each course taught at the law school. Second, we developed course research pages for all courses that satisfy the law school's advanced writing requirement. Making both of these new services available to students was facilitated by the law school's implementation of Blackboard for all classes.

The purpose of the course liaison program is to encourage students to use the library services by attaching a familiar face to the library. The course liaison program has benefited from the participation of public, technical and electronic services librarians. The course liaison assignments were done through the Blackboard system as all courses have a Blackboard page containing, at a minimum, a course syllabus and an assigned librarian. The Blackboard pages include biographical information and a photograph of the liaison as well as a link to the library liaison's e-mail address. In many instances, the librarian assigned to the course is the same person who serves as library liaison to the faculty member.

In addition to the library liaison program, course research pages for all courses that satisfy the advanced writing requirement were developed by library staff for Blackboard. The pages contain web links, links to commercial databases with passwords, and a bibliography of key print sources relevant to the subject matter of the course. The pages are divided into six major categories, which include: links to primary materials; links to agencies and non-governmental organizations; links to subscription databases; a brief print bibliography; additional resources (including pathfinders, relevant CALI lessons, and law list-servs); and links to relevant Westlaw and Lexis databases. Prior to creating the pages, the librarians contacted the individual professors and requested class syllabi, class descriptions, and any suggestions in an effort to tailor the resource pages to the relevant subjects.

While these are relatively new developments, the response from the students and faculty has been very positive. When the librarians first contacted many of the professors, they expressed excitement for the course research pages and several professors offered citations to relevant sources. An enthusiastic professor is good publicity for the library because she can encourage the students to use the services as a part of the class. A couple of the professors also requested that the liaison librarians visit their classes to introduce themselves. We have also publicized these services by writing several articles in the bi-weekly Library News and sending e-mails to the entire law school community explaining our new programs.

The statistics on the Blackboard server provide evidence that the students are using the course research pages. We randomly sampled three of the course research pages to determine if the students were using them. The courses selected were Judicial Function (a course focusing on the Maryland Court of Appeals), Children, Parents and the Law, and Law and Film. In the Judicial Function course, 15 different students used the resource page for a total of 38 times. The Children and the Law course had 97 hits by 19 different students. Finally, the most overwhelming numbers came from students in the Law and Film seminar. 12 students used the course research page for a total of 801 times. Even though the course research pages are in the early stages, it appears that students are making significant use of them.

The exposure created by the course liaison program and the course research pages has benefited the library and the librarians. Students have been sending emails and visiting the research suite to get research assistance from their liaisons. The librarians have enjoyed this increase in business from the law students as well. At this early stage, the librarians hope that as the students become more aware of the enhanced services, they will begin to utilize the library and the librarians' expertise more often.