Vol. 20, No. 4 (Summer 1998)

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RIPS Law Librarian
vol. 20, no. 4
Summer 1998

Message From The Chair
Kory D. Staheli  

Its hard to believe that my year as Chair will soon be over.  The time has gone by quickly, but the experience has been rewarding, and I am pleased to report that we have been able to accomplish most of what we set out to.  My first goal for the year was to get a RIPS web page up and functioning. Thanks to the hard work of Bobbie Studwell and her committee, that goal has become a reality. Those of you who haven't visited the site yet should do so.  It looks terrific, and contains some very helpful information. The URL is http:www.aallnet.org/sis/ripssis/. One of the agenda items for the RIPS Executive Board Meeting in Anaheim is the future of the web page and how we can use it to better serve our members.  If you would like to have input on this topic, please contact a member of the Board.

A second goal was to attract new members to the SIS by keeping RIPS in the public view through effective publicity.  Kristin Gerdy our Public Relations and Recruitment Committee Chair, and Gail Partin, Board Liaison, have worked hard to help us meet this goal.  Hopefully you read about the SIS during the year in the Special Interest Section News of the AALL Spectrum.  Likewise, the Legal Research Teach-in once again provided us with great publicity.  An additional measure we will be using in Anaheim to generate interest in RIPS is the embroidered stickers I discussed briefly in the last issue of this newsletter. These simple stickers, containing only the letters R-I-P-S, will be handed out to SIS members and non-members alike, along with a request that they be worn on convention name tags where they can be clearly seen. Hopefully these stickers will get people talking about RIPS, and maybe even result in a few  new members.

A third goal was to continue developing and sponsoring quality programs of interest to RIPS members.  Under the effective leadership of Kelly Browne, Program Committee Chair, this goal has clearly been met. Thanks to all members of the Program Committee for a very successful year.

A fourth goal was to carry on the excellent work started by the Research Instruction Caucus, particularly with regard to their working draft "Core Legal Research Competencies: A Compendium of Skills and Values as Defined in the ABA's MacCrate Report".  Darcy Kirk, Research Instruction Committee Chair, and her committee have made some progress in formulating recommendations on issues relating to the document, however, this is a huge task that will require further work from the Committee at least through the coming year.

A final goal was to be more responsive to member needs and concerns particularly in the area of patron services.  Mark Silverman, Patron Services Committee Chair, has done a super job helping us meet this goal by organizing round table discussions to be held at the annual meeting in Anaheim.  These round tables are listed in the index of the preliminary program, and also later in this newsletter.  Please make a note of the round tables you are interested in attending now, since the RIPS Business Meeting is not scheduled until after the round tables are over, and there will not be another opportunity for reminders.  Gail Partin's superb work in providing us with a more substantive RIPS Newsletter has also contributed to our efforts to respond to member needs.  Thanks Gail for a job well done.

I continue to be amazed by the dedication of members of this SIS, and would like to thank everyone who worked on projects during the year.  I would particularly like to thank those of you I have not mentioned, but who worked quietly behind the scenes throughout the year.  We couldn't have accomplished all we have without you.  I look forward to seeing many of you in Anaheim, and to being rejuvenated once again by our common enthusiasm for this wonderful profession.  

By Bobbie Studwell  

Why Design a Web Page?

Experience is a great teacher.   Developing your own reference/research web page will not only teach you some basic web design elements, but it will also help refine your reference skills.  With some pre-planning, the entire site will probably only take you five to ten hours to develop. Oh, come on, you say?  Why should I? 

One key reason is to share your expertise with other reference librarians and researchers.  Over the years, many of you have developed skills in a variety of subject areas.  Some of you have been faculty research liaisons and others have worked with research specialists in your firm.  Your level of expertise may seem trivial to you, but your recommendations for key starting and stopping points for specialized research topics are bound to help someone just stumbling into some new (to them) subject area. 

Another good reason to consider designing a web page is to refine your subject area expertise.  If you don't feel like an expert now, after using your web page to "teach" someone else about a topic you're likely to become an expert. 

One final reason, among many others,  is to get your creative juices going.  Do you feel like you'll scream if you have to answer that same research question for the hundredth time?  Get out of that rut and go do something about it.  Go ask your favorite computer technician about web design software tools they'd recommend and ask them to train you.  You could also click on Netscape Navigator Gold's menu options and teach yourself (there's even a Wizard and canned templates to guide you through each step).  Click on File; New Document; Blank on Netscape's opening screen to get started.  If you insist on seeing and editing the HTML code, most of these easy to use Web editors provide that too.  In the Netscape Composer, click on View; View Document Source.

Okay, you say, I'm game, but what about the content of my page?  How do I create this beast?  Content is key to any Web page you'll produce.  Most of the advice you'll get from the professionals centers around giving your potential users good information and thinking about several key elements; audience/purpose, scope/organization, content/format, and feedback.  There's one more to consider as well; marketing your page.

On any given day, a number of web surfers could visit your page.  Your page will either immediately engage them or they will quickly move on.  By designing your page with a target audience in mind - even if you are unsure of exactly who will take a look - you are bound to capture the attention of those using your page to get the benefit of your reference advice or those who want to solve a problem.  Are you providing information for librarians, students, attorneys, judges, lay people, or someone else?  Some of these groups will need more explanation, annotated comments, and/or links to related sites than others.

Scope Organization
A site that tries to be all things to all readers and is too broad in its scope is likely to prove unwieldy.  The web designer should narrow or broaden a topic based on the needs of the prospective audience.  A page designed for lay people might cover a broad topic like constitutional law very generally and could be organized to provide links and pointers to other sites that go beyond a novice level.  A site designed for attorneys on a topic like homicide is more likely to require recent citations to cases dealing with the various elements of the crime in a particular state.  The site is also more likely to need constant updating.

As you begin to design your page you'll discover that some sub-topics need more explanation and coverage than others.  In addition, your readers will appreciate seeing a quick listing of the sub-topics you've covered without having to surf through screen after screen of information.  Therefore, many designers resolve this problem by giving readers a choice of entry points into the information provided on the first page.  They often supply a list of sub-topics.  They may break this information out into separate pages they create and hyperlink to them.  They may also link to documents created by other web authors.  In other words, they create a series of documents that are all linked back to the beginning page; the focus of the target reader's attention. 

This also allows the designer to meet the information needs of readers who need an overview to brush up on a topic and who then want to quickly move into more substantive sub-topics.  The designer can meet both needs by providing an overview (or a hyperlink to another document presenting the overview) and links to other more comprehensive information.  As the page designer you can set this information out in a way that is likely to catch and keep the attention of readers.

There are a number of ways you can retrieve information about how readers are using your web page.  Counters and log files are one way.  Guest books and messages to the Webmaster (whose e-mail address is included somewhere on the first page) are another.  You can also ask for input.  If you provide a survey form once every few months, you're likely to get readers' comments about the design and the usefulness of the information you've provided.

Probably one of the most difficult tasks you'll encounter is letting people know your site exists.  You can wait for a Web crawler to index your site or you can be more proactive.  Visit the search engine sites and seek out their "add URL section" so you can add your URL to their site.  Check out the major indexers; AltaVista, Excite, HotBot, InfoSeek, Lycos, Open Text, and Web Crawler, or other favorites. 

You can also design your page to make it relevant to search engines trolling the web for new information to add to their indexes.  By using larger fonts for your topics and sub-topics, you're likely to increase the chance that those words will be matched against users' search queries.  Again, many of the design tools, like Netscape Navigator Gold, allow you to do this easily. 

Finally, you can also incorporate metadata elements into your site that provide your indexing terms for your site.  You, as the designer, create and submit a web-generated form that insures your site is accurately indexed and retrieved by the search engines.  Use your software design tools to do this or see www.ukoln.ac.uk/metadata/dcdot/ and www.ub.lu.se/metadata/dc_creator.html for more information.

Final Thoughts 
If you've waded through most of this article, then you're probably interested in creating a web page.  The design process is truly the easy part nowadays.  Decisions about content are what makes or breaks your web page.  If you don't know what reference topic to write about, go browse a few web pages and see what others have done.  I'll lay odds that you can create something more useful than what you find out there now!

Bobbie Studwell is Associate Dean of Library and Information Services, Thomas M. Cooley Law School.  

Report from the Sixth Annual Innovative Users Group Conference
by Celeste Feather   

At least 131 representatives from law libraries attended the 1998 Innovative Users Group conference in Nashville, Tennessee, the first weekend of May.  Most academic law libraries in this country now are online system clients of Innovative Interfaces, Inc., and the number of private and government law library clients is growing.  Total conference registration exceeded 900 this year, and the conference programs spanned three full days plus an additional day for new users of the system.  If you are seeking educational programs that are of direct benefit to your work and are a user of the Innopac system, you might consider attending this conference.

The programs this year included a healthy component of public services topics, and the number of conference attendees from public service positions continues to expand each year.  One of the most popular sessions focused on a staff training program to assure knowledge of core competencies on an Innopac system.  Another session on technobabble was useful for everyone to pick up some additional knowledge about terminology that we hear frequently and aren't quite sure what it means.  There were sessions about advanced uses of the course reserve module, strategies for printing customized reports from an Innopac system, circulation tasks that have been enhanced by outside programming that interfaces with Innopac, and a holds function forum.

Another program focused on usability and communication in public catalog design, which was of particular interest to those developing a Web catalog.  Presentations on the interlibrary loan module, circulation statistics, and unlocking Innopac catalog secrets for patrons also drew large audiences.  A special luncheon for law library users sponsored by the Innovative Law Users Group drew a crowd of nearly 100 conference attendees.  Jerry Kline, President and CEO of Innovative Interfaces, Inc., addressed the law library users at that lunch.

If you are seeking educational programs that are of direct benefit to your work and are a user of the Innopac system, you might consider attending this conference next year in Oakland, California.  This year's meeting certainly was full of quality programming and helpful informational sharing.  Preliminary 1999 conference information is available at the IUG website.  

Celeste Feather is the Access Services Librarian at Georgetown University Law Library.     

I'm not spending time in Anaheim! Alternative Professional Development & Training Opportunities
by Duane Strojny

Well, it has finally happened.  For the first time in ten years I will not be attending the annual convention of AALL.  It's not that I haven't thought about skipping the meeting before.  In 1996, I was there for only two days.  Last year, we attended as a family.  This year, however, as we wait for our second child, who is due in the middle of July, it's really not that practical for me to leave home for a week.  There are a lot of benefits.  Mail won't pile up at the office.  I can access e- mail in the normal way.  There won't be distractions such as the Exhibit Hall or vendor sponsored events to prevent me from conducting my day to day business.  I can work some extra hours at the Reference Desk.  But maybe one of the best benefits is that I have taken a little time to review other types of professional development opportunities available to librarians and will actually be trying a few new things this year.

It is important to keep an open mind when looking at things that come across your desk.  There are things sponsored by non-law librarian groups that contain useful information.  Networking with non-law librarians is very useful.

Look at programs and training in how it relates to your work processes and general job responsibilities.  Things do not always have to be law related!  The rapid changes in technology alone have created many types of educational opportunities.  Here are some of the possibilities you may want to consider.

First, there are other national librarian organizations that offer great conventions.  Our library is sending someone to the Special Libraries Association Annual Meeting in Indianapolis this year.  We also are sending someone to ALA and NASIG.  Check out the web sites for these organizations to determine if the programming is applicable to you.

Just because you are not traveling to Anaheim, does not mean you should not try to learn new skills or enhance existing ones.  There are also regional meetings to attend.  I'll be going to my first regional AALL meeting in October.  Sponsored by CALL, MALL, MichALL, ORALL, and LLAW, the meeting brings together some of the great programming of AALL along with the ability of more local people attending the gathering.  I know that in 1996 the Northeast Regional Meeting in Toronto was a very successful event.  What about taking a look at specialty programs that run a day or two? Depending on your budget, you could fly to one or search out something within driving distance.  I recently attended a leadership conference in Boston sponsored by ACRL.  Two of our librarians just came back from a day long conference on metadata that was here in Lansing. 

There are numerous types of programming sponsored by local or state library groups.  If nothing else, at least try to get to some of your local library association programming.  If you are lucky, you have an AALL chapter in your city or nearby.  Take advantage of their low cost  programming for learning new things and the ever important networking with other law librarians.   SFALL used to have a full day seminar once a year (they are less regular now, but the one in 1996 had a librarian from Harvard presenting information about the European Economic Community) and I know that is what MichALL currently does on an annual basis. There may be some other type of local library group that has regular meetings with programming as well.  One interesting, free program that I recently attended was given by the  Library of Michigan (our state library).  There was a roundtable of services available to the public and a tour of the collection.  It was geared towards local librarians who could then refer their patrons to the Library of Michigan for appropriate assistance.  If you are not spending a fortune to attend a national convention, the dollar goes a lot farther.

Even national conventions being held nearby are more affordable if travel expenses are kept down.  Also, there is some reciprocity for AALL members to attend at membership rates of other organizations.  Our librarian attending the SLA convention is attending at a SLA membership rate thereby saving us over $100 on registration.  Next year, the ACRL National Meeting is in Detroit.  Just an hour away in the car makes this an interesting opportunity.

In summary, it looks like there will be plenty to do while not attending the annual convention this year.  The opportunities to try different professional development programs are endless.  I recommend that if you are staying close to home this summer you might want to check out something new as well.  Just because you are not traveling to Anaheim, does not mean you should not try to learn new skills or enhance existing ones.

Duane A. Strojny is Associate Director for Library and Information Services, Thomas M. Cooley Law School.