Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Designing a Law Library Learning Space

Barbara Fister over at InsideHigherEd recently discussed practices for designing learning spaces in libraries. Her post was informed by a new report published by Project Information Literacy called Planning and Designing Academic Library Learning Spaces.

The report involved interviewing 49 librarians, architects, and consultants involved in 22 library construction projects that were completed between 2011 and 2016. The research probes how these three parties negotiate their values and incorporate them into designs, what kinds of learning are these new and renovated spaces meant to support, and what best practices (and worst practices) might inform libraries embarking on a renovation. 

Fister noted a surprising finding that [s]tudents weren’t part of the discussion, or at least not in any depth, in a majority of these projects. Apart from gate counts and a focus group or survey here and there, studying student needs or asking their opinion wasn’t part of the planning process (though some libraries gave students a chance to try out furniture before it was purchased). Librarians were more likely to get ideas from other librarians through touring other libraries or going to conferences than from their own user community.

Ultimately, the major recommendations from the report are as follows:
  • We must do better to study students use of space before and after renovations. 
  • Librarians must be part of campus-wide conversations long before a renovation is approved, not simply told after decisions are made. 
  • Flexible spaces should be designed with the unique needs of the local community in mind, including both students and faculty- needs of today and those we can anticipate for the next few decades.
Like many of the libraries involved in the study, it seems that most law library planning decisions are based on some qualitative data - like gate counts and check-out stats. But these decisions are also often based on library trends across the country without truly taking into account the individual needs of the local community.

For example, if you are a law library at a regional law school that prides itself on practical education and has a low publishing requirement for tenure, should you spend large sums of money on specialized monographs that few will actually use?

Of course, we all want a wonderful archive of material, but should this particular law library at this particular law school be concerned with collecting vast amounts of esoteric print content?

Or should this law library be more concerned with creating spaces that facilitate and support practical education, like clinic space, while also creating stronger institutional lending partnerships with libraries that can act as a major archive?

On the flipside, if you are a law library that can and should act as a major archive, do you have a responsibility to share your resources (think HathiTrust)?

It's difficult to fully assess these things while working with limited information. Many law libraries do not have the ability to support meaningful research that provides the information necessary to make truly informed decisions at the local level. Certainly talking with students and faculty before renovations and ensuring that librarians are involved in the planning process are important components. So is understanding your local community in the broader scheme of library trends.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Law Schools "Obsessed With Smartness"

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article this week on colleges being "obsessed with smartness." The "pecking order" of higher education — and the ratings that we use to establish the quality of our colleges and universities — has come to depend almost entirely on acquiring smart students.... Colleges receive their place in the latest magazine rankings, in large part, based on their selectivity in admissions, and upon factors like retention and degree-completion rates. Guarding those rates leads us to select the best possible students — because, of course, they are the ones most easily retained and most likely to graduate.

The real purpose of a college education, by contrast, should be to develop smart students. Their development depends not on the quality of the entering class but on the quality of our teaching and the ability of our institutions to cultivate intellectual and affective skills. If our campuses were driven primarily by a desire to develop student talents, the quality of the incoming class would matter far less than it does now. Our concern would shift away from acquisition and toward development.

Like undergraduate institutions, law schools are doing the same thing. But law schools are squeezed at both ends. US News ranks law schools, in part, by incoming student credentials AND on bar passage rates after graduation. Thus law schools place a huge importance on incoming credentials - particularly a prospective student's LSAT score - to help determine the likelihood of bar passage. There is some correlation between LSAT and bar passage (not perfect but some).

As I've written before on this issue:
We already have issues with diversity in the legal field, and this sort of gatekeeping will continue to exacerbate the problem. This isn't because minorities or poor nonminority students are inherently stupid. It's because the current state of legal education and higher education, in general, advances students who have been supported [financially and other] and encouraged throughout their education with better schools and test prep, etc.... Instead of gatekeeping before law school, we should consider innovative ways of teaching during law school that will ensure success in the legal field on a broader scale. Of course there are other issues with the cost of legal education and making sure that students who take on the huge debt load for a JD degree can successfully take a bar exam, but that isn't done with LSAT score alone.

We have predictive analytics for nearly everything now - think Moneyball or Nate Silver - why haven't we adopted a more well-rounded approach to law school admissions? A well-rounded approach that also includes a human element. For any law school relying on LSAT as a sole (or nearly sole) predictor of success, it is adding to the economically biased admissions culture and making a professional degree all but unattainable for a large number of people.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Using Scrivener for Scholarship

A wonderful colleague who pumps out an admirable amount of scholarship recently turned me onto Scrivener.

Scrivener is great for its ability to organize research and act as a word-processing tool. It was originally created for writing novels or screenplays, but more and more law professors are adopting it.

The beauty of a tenure-track law librarian position is that it attempts to give law librarians full citizenship in a law school, which as any law librarian knows, is an uphill battle. My law school wasn't ready for it either, so they created a new tenure-track line for "law library faculty." This designation comes with the great responsibility to teach, research, and provide service akin to a "normal" tenure-track law faculty member. It also comes with the responsibility to provide all of the support that a law librarian gives.

All of this to say that anything that helps me write more and write faster is a friend of mine. Scrivener has been invaluable for that.

Scrivener allows you to personalize it for your own writing style. As I was also forewarned - WATCH THE INTERACTIVE TUTORIAL! There is a plethora of components that are customizable.

With that said, here's my method:

  • I start a blank project (this is helpful for folks not writing in the template areas):

  • Within the project, I add a document that is my outline and another that is my draft:
  • I then create folders for my research 
    • Main folders titled with my main headings and
    • Subfolders for each subpart

  • I then dump PDFs of all of my research into the designated folder

  • As I'm working, I split the screen between my draft and the relevant research

Rather than sifting through printouts of research trying to find relevant passages, all of my research is readily available. I can easily enter footnotes, and when my article is finished, it can be exported to Word for final formatting before submission. 

As mentioned, this is only one writer's way of using this customizable tool. 

If you still aren't sold on Scrivener, they will give you a 30-day free trial. As in 30 actual days of use - not just 30 calendar days. Try it. Watch the Tutorial. See how you can make it work for you. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

A Young Librarian in the Field: Digital Archivist

To go along with a recent blog post on practical considerations for a career is law librarianship, I thought I would highlight a type of librarian that is needed now more than ever.

Newsworks profiled a young librarian working as a digital archivist to highlight the librarian of the future. As mentioned in the article, several years ago, Forbes Magazine listed the advanced degrees with the worst job prospects—and a master's in library sciences was No. 1 on the list. Despite that gloomy prediction and some staid image problems, young librarians say their work is relevant in the 21st Century and is as needed now as it has ever been.

Jarrett Drake learned librarianship at the University of Michigan School of Information. He's Princeton University's first-ever digital archivist, which is a librarian who preserves things created on computing devices. His job is to figure out how to safeguard ones and zeros, and to do that, he gets help from a $10,000 machine called "FRED," a Forensic Recovery of Evidence Device. It looks like a big server with a dozen ports on the front. Beside the machine, Drake keeps a stack of cables, FireWires and USB cords to upload documents from just about any kind of computer. The F.B.I. and D.E.A. use the same kind of machine to detect computer crimes. Drake says his library work follows a similar forensic approach. He wants to collect without contaminating. Drake protects documents from bit rot and FRED stamps every file with a digital fingerprint.

Some of the science of the work is giving future library patrons access in some of the same ways that the original users interacted with and experienced the digital information.

This type of library work is increasingly important as technologies become outmoded at a faster pace. If we don't have digital archivists like Drake working to archive and protect digital content from bit rot, there is a real threat of losing out on vast amounts of important data.

To attract people to the profession, we'll need to overcome antiquated librarian stereotypes. "Shushing in the digital age will just get spit on your computer screen."

A librarian's work is arguably more important than ever. As noted, Google's search engine can't replace [us]; it just [thankfully] frees up information professionals to help with more complicated information needs.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Practical Considerations for Law Librarianship as Career

Is a career in law librarianship right for you? The Findlaw blog asked this question to highlight law librarianship as an alternative to a traditional legal career.

The post asks Like books? Like the law? Worried about the crushing debt of a J.D. or the soul-sucking hours of a young associate? Maybe it's time to consider being a law librarian. 

For law firm librarians, these are precise questions to consider. For academic law librarians, however, salvation from the crushing debt of a J.D. is generally out of the question (save for independent wealth or  an increasingly rare full scholarship). The majority of academic law librarian positions require both a J.D. and a Master's of Library Science (or similar variation).

Law firm librarian positions, on the other hand, generally require just the M.L.S. And with the cost-savings associated with avoiding the J.D. degree, the starting salary of $62,000 noted in the Findlaw post offers a decent cost-benefit analysis.

As noted in a recent AALL Spectrum article, that may not be the case for academic law librarians. To be a law librarian in the twenty first century (with the increasingly required JD), expect to have $100,000 to $180,000 in student loans, but do not expect your salary to keep pace with your debt ratio. According to an October 2015 New York Times article, the average law school graduate’s loan debt is $140,000. The American Bar Association puts the average school loan debt from those graduating from state law schools at a more modest $84,000. Master’s degrees in librarianship or information science are not necessarily a bargain either. Tuition alone for the information schools at Drexel, University of Texas, University of Washington, University of Illinois, and University of North Carolina ranges between $32,000 and $55,000 to complete the degree. 

Currently, newer law librarians can expect to make between $50,000 and $80,000 until they become senior managers, according to AALL’s Law Librarianship by the Numbers 2014 report

Aside from the monetary concerns, however, you'd be hard pressed to find a career with higher satisfaction. As noted in the Spectrum article, for the law librarians we spoke with, day-to-day job satisfaction was incredibly high. Getting paid to help others, confront intellectual challenges, and solve problems is rewarding.

Because the work of law librarians is so varied, it is intellectually stimulating and never gets boring.   Law librarians perform tasks such as researching, analyzing, and evaluating the quality, accuracy, and validity of sources; teaching and training; writing; managing; and procuring and classifying library materials.

For example, in roughly 3 hours this morning, I helped multiple professors with course management system issues; researched, retrieved, and organized a variety of cases on religious discrimination; received clarification on public performance rights for a documentary; prepared a monthly newsletter for the law library; prepped research instruction; and worked with my research assistants on faculty research. My work will be as varied tomorrow morning.

For anyone with an intellectually curious mind, you truly can't beat this profession.

But the other practical considerations can seem overwhelming at times. The strict hours and the need to relocate for work make balancing family a challenge. And ever-shrinking budgets with the call to do more with less money is a real concern.

Anna Russell & Ingrid Mattson, the authors of the AALL Spectrum article, would like to keep this conversation going. To that end, they request that you take a short, five-minute work/life balance survey at

Monday, January 30, 2017

Is .Gov Reputable?

During information-literacy instruction, librarians generally count on the .gov domain suffix to lead to reputable information. 

For example, this site on evaluating internet information plainly states:
Government. If you come across a site with this domain, then you're viewing a federal government site. All branches of the United States federal government use this domain. Information such as Census statistics, Congressional hearings, and Supreme Court rulings would be included in sites with this domain. The information is considered to be from a credible source.

And another site also states: 
You can trust sites with “.gov” addresses. You can also trust sites with “.edu” addresses if they’re produced by the educational institution. Personal pages of individuals at an educational institution may not be trustworthy, even though they have “.edu” addresses. The presence of “.org” in an address doesn’t guarantee that a site is reputable; there have been instances where phony “.org” sites were set up to mislead consumers. Also, some legitimate “.org” sites belong to organizations that promote a specific agenda; their content may be biased.

I'd wager that nearly any source on evaluating internet information has a similar statement. 

During the last few weeks, however, I've started to ask myself if this is still true. Do we find ourselves in a time when even .gov information should be evaluated for bias or in furtherance of a particular agenda? 

Or maybe this was always the case.

Either way, the popular rhetoric points to being hyper-vigilant about the information that we rely on and share with the world. No longer should we rely on certain domains to provide reputable information. We should all use our evaluation skills to vet any and all information.

Challenge accepted. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Law Librarians Filling Gaps in Law School Curricula

Many law librarians try to find creative ways to incorporate research into the law school curriculum. Some try to integrate fully into the 1L program to ensure that all law students get a proper legal-research foundation. Others may hit roadblocks taking that route and instead start law library administered legal research programs.

Whichever method you use to instill the importance of efficient and effective legal research, and aside from the importance of researching across the law school curriculum, there are a couple of gaps to note in student ability that have run consistent throughout my time as a teaching law librarian.

One is the understanding of the interplay between statutes and regulations. I regularly ask my students to explain it, and I've only had a few who could do it. If students don't understand that statutes enable administrative agencies to enforce the law and that administrative agencies create regulations that further the goals of enforcement, then how will students understand how to successfully research and analyze a complex issue on point?

During a recent session on federal statutory research, I asked a room full of 3Ls (who are about to graduate in May) to articulate this distinction. Only one could do it. Everyone else looked stunned.

Another consistent gap that I see is the lack of understanding of the civil trial process. I usually get more students who can name the parts of the civil trial process than the difference between statutes and regulations, but it's still rather abysmal. To that end, I created a full-length civil trial research course for spring 2017.

During our first session, in a room mostly made up of 3Ls, I did a pre-assessment on the parts of the civil trial process after introductions. The results of the pre-assessment were pretty awful. After we discussed the parts of the process, generally, the post-assessment results were much better.

For the next 14 weeks, we will talk about "best practices" for the particular part of the civil trial process, and I will show them how to find sample forms relevant to that part of the process. They will then complete an in-class exercise to put that knowledge into action. Their final project will be to create a packet of relevant forms based on the parts of the civil trial process dealing with a particular fact pattern.

When I consider what I think a law student should know upon graduation, these are just a couple of examples. Teaching law librarians would do well to fill these practical gaps in knowledge.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Find FREE Books with Google Chrome Library Extension

There's a cool new tool in the Library Extension for Google Chrome. Like many people (and even as a librarian), I often find myself clicking "purchase" on Amazon before checking with my local library for a book that I am interested in.

As mentioned on Lifehacker, Amazon may be convenient, but nothing beats free. After you install the Library Extension for Chrome, any searches that you do on Amazon will yield results from your local library, too. 

From Library Extension's website: Easily see what titles are available at your local library as you browse for books! As you browse books and e-books, the Library Extension can check your library's online catalog and display the availability of that item on the same page. If the book is available at your library, you'll know instantly – and have a quick, convenient link to reserve the title! 

The extension allows you to pick your favorite local libraries and add them to a list. Then, when you shop for books on Amazon (or other), the extension adds a box that will let you know if those books are available at your library.

It's a wonderfully ingenious extension, and it will be available for Firefox soon.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

AI & The Duty of Technological Competence

The use of artificial intelligence has many potential pitfalls regarding attorney professional responsibility rules. One such pitfall has to do with the duty of technological competence. 

As Robert Ambrogi points out over on Law Sites, there are now 26 states that have adopted the duty of technological competence for lawyers - first noted in Comment 8 to ABA Model Rule 1.1. 

The ABA version states: 
To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject. (Emphasis added.)

While the states may differ in the exact language of their rules, these rules will likely have an ongoing effect on a lawyer's duty to learn various aspects of ever-changing technology. 

Down the road, there may be a time when attorneys must know and understand how artificial intelligence works to be able to rely on technology to perform the more sophisticated functions of law practice. 

As lawyers begin to use ROSS, say, to perform legal research or even draft simple memos, it is not unreasonable to presume that a lawyer would need to understand how ROSS decided on a particular issue to have true algorithmic accountability. Because something like ROSS cannot be subject to the same professional responsibility rules as a living, breathing lawyer, it is up to the lawyer to maintain a duty of technological competence to understand and vet the work of the software. 

This is tricky because we are currently at a point where most algorithms are proprietary and there is little transparency about the results that are generated. It is unlikely that this competing issue with be resolved anytime soon. 

Until such time when the AI developers release the very decision trees for how an algorithm came to a particular result, law librarians will be helpful in teaching lawyers to understand the current state of AI technology. During our legal research instruction, we should offer pointers to lawyers on the results generated and how to spot possible issues, such as bias.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Ravel Law for Judicial Analytics

In December, the ABA Journal reported on a new judicial analytics tool by Ravel Law.

As mentioned, currently, the field of judicial analytics mainly focuses on individual judges and what their histories and tendencies are, so that lawyers will be able to make more informed decisions regarding litigation strategy. 

Ravel Law knew that the individual-judge strategy was cumbersome and limited. With that, Ravel Law launched Court Analytics, a comprehensive analytical tool that covers more than 400 federal and state courts. Court Analytics allows users to search through a jurisdiction, filtering out over 90 types of motions and topics. The tool analyzes case outcomes, language patterns and citation history, among other things, to give practitioners insight as to how courts and judges throughout a jurisdiction have ruled on certain types of motions or cases in the past. The tool also highlights the most-cited precedents and cases within a jurisdiction

Ravel Law intends for the analytics tool to be used to determine the best forum or whether the case should be filed in state or federal court. “You can look at the stats to see what are the best courts to file in. Are they plaintiff-friendly? Do they have experience in a certain area?” Lewis says.

There are also other creative uses of the analytics. For instance, users can hone in on specific fact patterns and case law to determine their likelihood of success within a given jurisdiction. If a lawyer wants to see every mesothelioma case within a certain court system where there was a successful motion for summary judgment, Court Analytics can identify common patterns amongst those cases, including the language the judges used in their decisions and what standard they applied, among other things.

As I prepare to teach a civil trial research course for the first time this spring, I absolutely plan to show my students the features of Court Analytics. I spend a class period discussing forum selection and venue, and Court Analytics will be a perfect companion to that lecture with hands-on application showing use of a very practical tool.

This is just the beginning when it comes to the possibilities of legal data mining. It's a perfect example of technology being used to make lawyers more efficient by taking a historically cumbersome process and making it as easy as a few clicks of a mouse.