Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Teaching Research With Library Scavenger Hunts

It's best to teach research by doing rather than telling. If you are only lecturing about research, students will become disengaged and restless. What you tell them will, generally, be lost on them.

Of course some discussion is needed regarding the types of resources available and how to vet out reputable sources, etc.... But the students will absorb the information better if they are made to go out and actually use the resources and find answers.

One of the age-old ways of doing this is through a library scavenger hunt. One professor recently noted in the Chronicle of Higher Education that this type of hands-on library exercise worked particularly well for him.

"I cut and pasted twenty six student-generated questions onto a Word document, divided my fourteen students into two groups and gave each group thirteen questions for each group to complete. I assigned each group a group leader who was supposed to direct discussion and a notetaker who was supposed to collate all the group’s findings. The groups were given an hour to roam around the library, speak to librarians, find out where resources such as microfilm were, and find various research guides on the Internet. After the hour, they all got up in front of the class as a group to present their findings for the last fifty minutes of class. Students were  also to report on their research process that led them to these answers and how reliable their sources were. I also indicated that each member of the group needed to understand what every term of their answer meant (e.g. What is an annotated bibliography). Additionally, [after the exercise] our discussions went into a lot greater depth than I expected—we discussed different ways of defining primary and secondary sources, as well as disciplinary differences in terms of writing style."

It's not surprising that the students felt more engaged and energized and the discussions went into greater depth. It's because the students were actively doing instead of passively listening. They understood the research issues better because they had actually encountered them.

As some of the commenters noted, a professor considering this type of exercise should confer with the librarians. "This kind of exercise works best if the instructor consults with a librarian well in advance. A librarian can help to design the assignment, make sure that the required resources are readily available to students, and make sure that whoever is staffing the reference desk that day has been briefed on the assignment. All of this will make the assignment go more smoothly."

Monday, January 26, 2015

AALL Releases The Economic Value of Law Libraries

In October 2013 the American Association of Law Libraries issued a Request for Proposal seeking consultants to deliver a report on the economic value of law libraries.

The time has come for the release of the final report on the Economic Value of Law Libraries by the Economic Value of Law Libraries Special Committee.

Dewey B. Strategic has a breakdown of the highlights of the report:

Qualitative Information

1. Employ both formal and informal communications regularly.

2. Provide context with qualitative data.

3. Use testimonials to highlight the impact of delivered services.

4. Tailor the value message to stakeholder preferences.

Quantitative Information and Analysis

1. Go beyond the mere measurement of activities and utilize methods that measure and demonstrate success or impact on organizational services.

2. When reporting metrics related to specific library activities, report them in the context of the larger frame of importance to the organization.

3. Define the measurements within your organization used to demonstrate value to their stakeholders (clients, elected officials, board of trustees) and adjust library metrics accordingly.

4. Identify the external resources used by stakeholders to evaluate organizational success and especially law library success. Adapt internal processes as appropriate.

5. Identify current formal valuation methodologies used within your organization. Evaluate the applicability of that method for use by the law library and adjust the related processes accordingly.

Communication

1. Determine your stakeholder’s information delivery preferences, including distribution channels through a collaborative process with the stakeholder.

2. Create a schedule of reporting that fits into the strategic planning and decision making cycle of the organization to ensure that critical library data is delivered in a relevant timeframe.

3. Refrain from using library jargon when sharing qualitative data.

4. Find or make opportunities to present the information in formal meeting settings.

5. Determine the communication styles that match organizational preferences and get comfortable with different communication styles that can be easily adjusted to formal and informal settings as well as stakeholder preferences.

Comprehensive Best Practices

1. Form strong interpersonal relationships with stakeholders.

2. Employ short, frequent communication through existing channels as defined by stakeholder preferences.

3. Create templates that highlight the key considerations for current strategic initiatives in both narrative and numerical formats.

4. Adjust information delivery to meet a mix of demands and expectations.

5. Define foundational library services and emerging service opportunities within your organizations through a collaborative strategic process with stakeholders.

6. Embrace the leadership responsibilities and expectations of the management and director role.

Although the report is helpful, it doesn't offer the kind of concrete evidence of the economic value of law libraries that most of us were expecting. As Dewey B. Strategic mentions, this is basically "a collection of rubrics and best practices for a 'do-it-yourself' project."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Library Perception & Sustainability

The Internet Guide for the Legal Researcher Newsletter is a wonderful compilation of information about how to research specific areas of law, new sites to be aware of (both federal and state), and alerts about subject-specific materials in the news (intellectual property, First Amendment, social media, libraries, and court cases, for example).

A subscription to the Internet Guide for the Legal Researcher is available through NELLCO.

One of the news clips about libraries in the current issue deals with library perception and sustainability. In an article in 23(6) El Profesional de la Informacion 603 (Nov. 2014), LluĂ­s Anglada, the director of the Department of Libraries, Information and Documentation of the Consortium of University Services of Catalonia uses equations that suppose a quantifiable relationship between the value of libraries, their cost and use, the perception of libraries, and "dysfunctions."

From the abstract:
The evolution of libraries through three stages –modernization, automation and digitization- is analysed. A formula is presented to evaluate the importance of libraries to our society, and it is applied both retrospectively and futuristically, extrapolating a 2030 scenario. The conclusion is that if the current generation of librarians does not introduce radical changes in the role of libraries, their future is seriously threatened.

As noted from the author, "[t]his paper aims to present a reflective exercise on the factors that make libraries interesting and attractive to the society that funds and sustains them."

Ultimately the paper addresses who sustains libraries and why?

"Libraries are sustained by people through institutions and society in general because they believe, feel, intuit or think that libraries are important to them, because they have a positive perception of them. With the aforementioned studies seeking to show the added value of libraries, we can influence the rational thinking of citizens but changing their perception of libraries requires that we address their emotions. But, are libraries really important to people? And how about the professionals who work in and out of them? Yes, we represent a unique point of view regarding information. We are not interested in the results (to get information), but in the process (to help people to find and use it). We do not want just any information (the most used) or only some users (those who can best use it): a library (the organization, not the building) seeks to collect and preserve all information for all and forever (Gorman, 2007). The library is closer to the people than to the document, because it seeks to put information at the service of people by providing tools and skills to be citizens (not lackeys) in a world where access to and use of information can be key elements of success or social exclusion. We believe that society (still) needs the functions performed by libraries (and librarians), but does this make them immediately sustainable? The answer is no. And it will remain so unless we can soon establish a new stereotype of ‘library’ in people’s minds, one that is not based on the physicality of the buildings or books, but focuses on the role of support and assistance in the difficult process of using information and transforming it into knowledge. The creation of perceptions of a library and librarian that are associated with assistance regarding information is a contribution that has not yet been made."

This is an insightful article that quantifies library sustainability through 2030. Anglada's predictions seem likely to occur unless librarians can change public perception.

We know that this is an uphill battle. It's become a "running joke" in libraryland when librarians compare how many times we've been asked what we will do when the world no longer needs books. From a librarian's perspective that question seems almost silly because librarians know that books are still, generally, the most reliable form of information. And there are a lot of factors that keep books "safe" in our eyes. But the public doesn't perceive information that way, and libraries have a lot to lose if we can't change public perception.

image: http://pixabay.com/p-155991/?no_redirect

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Librarians Should Know These 4 Technologies

The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) posted a great article about 4 technology trends that every librarian needs to know.

1. Augmented reality: Augmented Reality, or AR, is technology that provides digital overlays to reality that add information. Google’s Glass eyewear is perhaps the most commonly known example of this technology, but AR applications exist for smart phones as well - like QR codes!

2. Discovery: One of the most essential tools libraries offers to researchers is the research database -- the many products created to amass all the publications a researcher might want to look at, with search interfaces for each. Discovery has evolved from being primarily independent “ponds” of data -- separate databases, each individually maintained and with its own unique interface -- to being collected in oceans of bibliographic records and full-text articles. We started the “ocean” phase with federated search (often called metasearch), in which multiple independent databases were searched at the same time, and then a set of results returned. We have recently seen the emergence of web-scale discovery systems, vast single indexes of the content from myriad smaller database tools. The trend we are seeing now is the move to streams of information, tailored dynamically, in a context-aware way, to the information need of the researcher.

3. Large-Scale Text: A handful of projects over the past decade have involved the mass digitization of books. Google’s project is perhaps the best known, but others have been undertaken by Microsoft, the Internet Archive, and at smaller scales by library consortia or individual libraries. The recent availability of large collections of scanned, digitized, and OCR processed books has led to several interesting and groundbreaking changes. The first is the largest collection of digitized books, the HathiTrust, which now holds almost 12.5 million volumes total, 4.5 million of them in the public domain. Now that a significant number of open-access and public domain books exists, libraries can begin to assess the ongoing needs for immediate access to their physical collections. In most cases, a digital copy serves researchers’ needs. This means that libraries can coordinate storage for single copies of many titles, for long-term preservation and access to the original, but provide digital access to the text from the HathiTrust. Farther down the road, improved search engines can find books that match abstract criteria (as search engines become more adept at discerning characteristics of text, and not just identifying words on the page).

4. Open Hardware: The theme of “open” runs through these technologies. Perhaps the most intriguing is the rise of open hardware – that is, commodity-priced computer chips that can be easily programmed and networked together to bring low-cost computing power into the library. Parallel to open-source software (software that is available freely, for modification and adaptation), open-source hardware is on the verge of changing computing in general.

I agree with CILIP that libraries and librarians need to be on the front end of understanding and utilizing these newer technologies. These will be just a few of the technologies that will continue to transform information organization, seeking, and retrieval.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Librarians From Curators To Navigators & Collaborators

Libraries are in a state of transition. As mentioned in previous posts, with the constant innovation taking place, our role as librarian is also changing.

Barbara Fister put it best when she noted "T. Scott Plutchak wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association a couple of years ago that the great age of libraries has passed, but if we’re paying attention we may see a great age of librarians. We will shift from paying most of our attention to the care and feeding of collections and buildings (not to mention trying to coax people into those buildings to use the collections) and will instead will provide specialized services to scholar-collaborators as they create knowledge. Or we'll become irrelevant."

In so many words, this is what I mean when I say that librarians will shift from the curators of print collections to the curators and navigators of electronic collections.

And Fister goes on to discuss how librarians must collaborate if we want to continue advancing in our new role. As she mentions, the current system is hindering librarians as collaborators: "That article you need? We spent $40 getting a copy for your personal use (and technically only for 24 hours).That interlibrary loan service you depend on? We won’t be able to borrow books unless another library buys a copy that can be loaned. There’s no guarantee that will happen in future. Should we put our money in providing access to a catalog of ebooks that you can choose from? That may be more efficient than relying on other libraries or guessing what you might want ahead of time, but the price is volatile and the package won’t include all of the books you want. Did you read that agreement you just signed that gives your copyright to a commercial publisher to whom your society outsources its publication program? I didn’t think so. You’re busy and you returned the corrected proofs weeks ago, so naturally the agreement seems like some last-minute red tape. This is the kind of craziness we deal with daily. The system has grown very strange and very few people are aware of the costs and limitations of how we do things now."

Generally librarians are aware of the complexities of the system that we are working under, but it's not enough to merely be aware - we have to advocate for change. Librarians need library administrators who are willing to listen and understand these issues and take a stand if need be. We need to work with publishers to get broader access rights to lend material through document delivery and interlibrary loan. We have to collaborate with other libraries to make sure that books are purchased to share or risk losing access to the book altogether.

These are interesting times in libraryland, but we are up to the challenge!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Many Law Schools Lower Admissions Standards

InsideHigherEd has an enlightening article discussing the issues surrounding law schools lowering admissions standards.

As the article notes, "[e]nrollment at ABA-accredited law schools is the lowest it has been since 1973, even though there are 53 more law schools open now, according to Moody's Investors Service. As the number of students going to law school drops dramatically, law schools are increasingly competing for students with lower undergraduate grades and LSAT scores. Professors who study legal education worry that schools are enrolling more and more students who have not proved they can graduate law school. Equally concerning is that law schools are admitting and then graduating students who might not be able to pass the bar exam."

In fact, "five years ago, no American Bar Association-accredited law school had an entering class with a median LSAT score of less than 145. Now, seven law schools do, according to Jerome M. Organ, a professor at University of St. Thomas School of Law who studies the legal market. That means at least half the first-year students at seven law schools scored a 144 on the LSAT or lower."

And why is this a problem? A "145 is considered a symbolic line by legal education experts and school administrators." Studies show that law students that fell below that 145 mark on the LSAT will have a tougher time passing the bar exam.

The other issue with lower admissions standards is that "[s][tudents with lower LSAT scores pay more to attend law school than students with higher scores. Organ found two-thirds of students with scores below 150 are paying more than $30,000 a year for law school, but they may not pass the bar and have "limited employment opportunities through which to recoup their investment in a legal education." The average student who scored 155 or higher pays less than $30,000 a year, attends a better-regarded law school and has better chances after graduating."

So these students are making a risky bet on both time and money in their law-school investments. But it's not only a problem for the students. "It is also bad for law schools if their students graduate but fail to pass the bar, a sign that schools may be passing students through without preparing them for actually being a lawyer." And ABA accreditation standards are tied to bar-passage rates.

There is some debate over the usefulness of the LSAT as an overall predictor of success. "It’s meant to predict first-year performance, but it is used as an imperfect way of predicting graduation and bar passage rates." And some law school are starting to use a wider-range of performance criteria to determine admittance and ultimate success.

What most legal education experts to agree on is that this population of students "is going to require more ... support mechanisms in school. And it also will mean that the curriculum will have to be adapted to the different character of the students, and it may mean that more intensive support for bar passage will have to be provided.”

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Attorney Is A Great Career For The Brain

For all of the pain and suffering that goes into the practice of law, there is some great news from the folks at the Wall Street Journal. There is a new study out that reports that practicing law has great long-term benefits for the brain.

"A new study in the journal Neurology finds that intellectually complex jobs, such as social worker, graphic designer or architect, are associated with better thinking skills later in life. The research, from Scotland’s University of Edinburgh, tested 1,066 individuals, all born in 1936 and mostly retired, on memory, processing speed and general cognitive ability. Researchers gave the participants, all around 70 years old at the time, a variety of tests. To assess memory, for example, individuals were asked to repeat information after a delay, according to Alan Gow, one of the study’s authors. To gauge general cognitive ability, they completed patterns. Individuals whose jobs involved analyzing or synthesizing data, such as architects and civil engineers, tended to have better cognitive performance. The same went for those who did complicated work involving people — instructing, negotiating with or mentoring others. Lawyers, social workers, surgeons and probation officers are all considered complex roles."

Lawyers spend so much of their time working, often well into their senior years. It's wonderful to see that the natural byproduct of all of this work is the retention of cognitive ability at 70+ years of age.

"The findings are in line with the 'use it or lose it' theory, according to Gow, an assistant professor of psychology at Heriot-Watt University who began the research at the University of Edinburgh. The more you tackle tough problems, the less likely it is that cognitive muscle will decline over time."

If you are ever having a rough go at lawyering, remember that it can be seen as a strenuous form of exercise - exercising the cognitive muscle - while it might not feel good while you're doing it, the long-term benefits are immeasurable.

image: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/00/Brain_power.jpg

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Call For Papers

AALL/LexisNexis has issued its annual Call for Papers.

Submissions in the Open, New Member and Short Divisions must be submitted by March 2, 2015. Articles in the Student Division must be received by May 15, 2015.

The winner in the Open, New Member, and Student Divisions will receive $650, and the Short Form Division winner will receive $300, all generously donated by LexisNexis, plus the opportunity to present their winning papers at a program during the 2015 AALL Annual Meeting in Philadelphia.

Winning papers in the Open, New Member, and Student Divisions are also considered for publication in Law Library Journal.  Papers in the Short Form division will be forwarded to the Editorial Director of AALL Spectrum for publication consideration.

Additionally, The Legal Information Review is a new journal that is currently accepting submissions for its first issue due later this year. Please see their website for more information.

These are great professional development opportunities. Start working on your manuscripts today!

Monday, January 12, 2015

When Google Isn't Enough

Google is amazing. Most of us use it daily to find all types of information. But sometimes Google doesn't give us the answer we are looking for because our search query may be too specialized.

Lifehacker posted an awesome guide to online resources that give specialized answers.
  • Wolfram Alpha: Can tell you about median salaries in a given field, or perform key financial calculations. You can even estimate your blood alcohol content. The site is excellent at in-depth research and calculations that go beyond web search results.
  • The Wayback Machine: It crawls websites and saves a snapshot of the sites it visits. You can view any site in its archive as it appeared in the past. It's not completely comprehensive (an almost impossible task), but you can view years worth of history for major sites.
  • Topsy: It can filter Twitter data by time range, collects videos, photos, or links, and even analyzes sentiment. It can even determine which accounts have the most influence on a topic. 
The guide also mentions using forums like Reddit to get answers and how to find quality sources (like asking a librarian).

Another post on Lifehacker shows a neat-o Google URL trick to find in-depth articles.

Alex Chitu at Google Operating System recently discovered that Google has a section for 'in-depth articles,' from which it features longer posts from sites like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Wired, The Economist, and more. It only seems to work in the US, and it only pops up sometimes—but you can manually bring it up by adding this to the end of your search URL:

&tbs=ida:1&gl=us

Friday, January 9, 2015

Law Student Research Skills Upon Graduation

The Legal Writing Prof's Blog recently commented on a new law review article by Patrick Meyer of Detroit Mercy: Law Firm Legal Research Requirements and the Legal Academy Beyond Carnegie, 35 Whittier L. Rev. 419 (2014).

Meyer conducted a study to determine the research skills that law firms were looking for in new graduates.

It's interesting that one of the main flaws that law firms noted was the law students' eagerness to jump into the expensive databases for research when a much more cost effective book was available at the firm. As one respondent put it, “PLEASE teach them to be cost-aware . . . and not just dive into expensive research as if it were Google!”

Meyer ultimately proposes requiring an advanced legal research course and “taking steps to infuse research training throughout the curriculum, as the Carnegie Report recommends for lawyering skills.”

Meyer's solutions are absolutely on point. Law schools need to focus on teaching legal research across the law school curriculum so that graduates are effective legal researchers from any angle. Upon graduation law students must know how to start legal research from a case file. They should be able to issue spot and utilize an efficient research strategy that incorporates the ability to research in a wide-variety of resources.

This can hardly be done in just the first-year legal research & writing course. Students need as much practice as possible in the law school setting to truly become advanced legal researchers upon graduation.