Day 3 of NaBloPoMo. Thought I’d write about questions I got today while on the reference desk. Really hope there are some … you never can tell with Sundays. I don’t think the first-year-students have anything due tomorrow, and I know the Law Review students had their papers due last Friday, so I don’t think I’ll be seeing any of them. (Just in case my boss is reading – I do have other things I’m working on if no patrons have questions!)

  • 2:30. Paralegal student wanting to know about the LSA (List of C.F.R. Sections Affected). Helped her find it, and then helped her navigate it to see if a specific section had been affected earlier this year (spoiler alert – it had!).
  • 3:10. Patron wondered if the library offered free PACER use to the public. We do not, but I looked up the PACER fees for her and we discussed PACER for a while. She said she thought the courthouse offered free PACER to the public (not sure she meant state or federal courthouse; am assuming federal), but that then she’d have to pay for printing. I suggested she ask the court librarian if she had the option to save documents she wanted and then email them to herself, thus avoiding the printing costs.
  • 3:20. Not a patron question, but noticed that a student was walking around, Starbucks in hand, wearing fluffy slippers. Idly wondered how long she had been/was planning on being here today.
  • 4:00. Went up to make some tea. Also am wearing cat-eye glasses and have my hair up in a bun-type-thing. If only I were wearing a cardigan, and shushing somebody, I’d be confirming everybody’s stereotype of a librarian in one fell swoop. (I note that it is exceedingly quiet today. Our first floor has an “open voice” policy, but it’s noiseless this afternoon).
  • 4:20. Patron asked where he could find the Minnesota Statutes Annotated. That’s hardly even a real question. I can point to them without getting up.
  • 4:44. Patron just asked me if public computer needed to be turned on. Me, puzzled by the question, “Is it currently on?” It wasn’t on. I turned it on. (I did not count this as a reference interaction.)
  • 5:52. I seriously think nobody else is going to ask me any questions. In the meanwhile, one of the things I’m doing is trying to create a schedule for the conference that I’m going to attend later on this month. The conference website is not interactive (I can’t create a personalized schedule based on the sessions I want to attend), and it’s hard to navigate. Furthermore, there’s about 5 sessions that I want to attend for each time slot. Trying to decide how to rank my choices – sessions that will be helpful to me in creating my own courses, vs. sessions that will help me assist our professors in designing their courses.
  • 7:00. 4:44 was my last patron. So, kind of a dead Sunday. You never can tell how it’s going to be.

In which I write about legal research

Minn. Stat. (2010)

Minn. Stat. (2010)

As one does. You know, sometimes.

I recently read an empirical research paper called, “Rebooting Legal Research in a Digital Age,”  which discusses the results of a survey asking new lawyers how they do legal research. This stuff is like catnip to me; I can’t resist these surveys. I’m always looking for insight into how better to teach students legal research skills, like the do-goody, suck-uppy librarian that I am.

So this survey looked at 190 new-ish attorneys (in practice five years or less). I can’t remember enough of my stats class to know if this is a sufficient pool of respondents. They found some interesting things, some of which we’ve heard before: associates think they need more legal research training in school; they do their research online, etc. Here were the parts that most jumped out at me:

Considering the significant amount of time that associates spend conducting online legal research, nearly half surveyed (49%) feel that legal research should be a larger part of the law school curriculum. And, eight in ten feel that there was at least one area of legal research that should have been given more time. Statutory research, administrative law, and public records searching topped the list for specific areas that deserved more time or exposure. A greater law school focus on online research would seem even more critical given that, as previously noted, associates believe employers expect them to have strong legal research skills, they spend the majority of their time in paid for legal research services, and many firms may not be offering professional development in this area.

I have some quibbles with some of their explanations for their findings:

There is wider use of Boolean queries over Natural Language searching as a search method, particularly among associates in practice two or more years (51% use Natural Language, 79% use Boolean with nearly half using both). That said, associates in practice less than two years favor Natural Language, and this trend is expected to continue as a result of Google exposure and the emergence of next-generation research platforms such as Lexis Advance® and WestlawNext®. Certainly, as this trend grows, there will likely be a debate about the effectiveness of research results using Boolean search query compared to Natural Language.

I am perfectly willing to accept that most people do not embrace Boolean searching the way that librarians do. But, could it not also be  the case that, as attorneys become more experienced as searchers, they find that Boolean (sometimes) works better, rather than that newer associates are necessarily younger and more used to Natural Language searching (which, after all, has been around for quite a while, even if it is much more ubiquitous – and, admittedly, better – now)?

And the concluding sentence to this paragraph is interesting – if Natural Language continues to improve, there very well may be a debate about the effectiveness of the two methods (well, it will be a short debate – if it improves enough, and it is easier to do, that’s the method people will use, period). However, at least for me, Boolean searching remains much more effective now, in both Lexis Advance® and WestlawNext®, even though these systems are diligently trying to get me to stop using it. Heck, Boolean is often more effective than Natural Language searching on Google. That’s why power searchers use it.

And I was perplexed by this part:

In general, [for statutory research,] small and large law firm associates both tend to take similar approaches but start out quite differently. Large law firm associates start by consulting an index or table of contents for federal statutes or a particular state, then go to case annotations in relevant statutes, and next link to related materials, ending with a citation validation program. In contrast, small law associates begin by formulating a Natural Language search in statutes, follow the same workflow of reviewing case annotations in statutes, linking to related materials, and concluding with a citation validation program. 20% of associates begin statutory research by running a search in an online case law database to find a case mentioning a relevant statute. One may hypothesize that the variation in research methods is a result of cost recovery. Large law firms typically charge clients for online research and consulting an index or table of contents is a free or inexpensive option. 

(Emphasis mine). If it’s “free or inexpensive,” shouldn’t everybody start their statutory research this way, regardless of whether they work for a small or large law firm (also, wouldn’t small law firms be even LESS willing to pay for the inefficiencies apparently created by not going to the TOC or index??)? I may be misunderstanding this paragraph.

I do think the differences in the way new associates versus not-so-new associates approach research is something to pay attention to – although I think it’s hard to make conclusions about why the differences exist. Is it because newer associates are younger, more “digital natives”? Is it because they are simply more inexperienced? Will their own research habits change as they become not-so-new associates?

And, of course, I need to pay heed to differences between the way I approach searching and the way students/associates do. Do they all need to become power searchers? I don’t know.

Someone told me it’s all happening at the zoo …

Assuming you’re still interested in the Technology Petting Zoo that I mentioned briefly yesterday, here’s the story of how it all happened, and what all went down . . .

I saw this tweet in late September:

(or maybe I saw this Facebook status, I can’t remember) and immediately thought we should do something similar at our library. Asked supervisor if it would be feasible, joined forces with our Educational Technologist (hereinafter “ET”*) to organize, and begged people to contribute their talents.

My idea was that most everybody working in the library has some expertise and interest, if not passion, for something technology-based that our students/faculty/staff could benefit from learning more about and experimenting with (yeah, I ended that sentence with a preposition. Deal.).

Generalized interest from my co-workers existed, I think, but was not overly high – although some were really excited about it, and helped out a lot (seriously, could not have pulled it off without several of them really pitching in on many different aspects). I think some were dubious about the whole thing, and/or wanted something more concrete from me and ET in terms of exactly what they would be doing. But I wasn’t really  sure. And I really wanted people to be informal about it, and to be eager and interested in what they were “demo’ing,” so I didn’t have much more of a plan than, “Show up with a device (or a piece of software, etc.). Talk about what you like about the it, and how a student/prof could use it in law school.”

We got enough librarians to buy into it so that we had a room with at least five people available to demonstrate something: iOS apps, Android apps, differences between browsers, Kindles, Word formatting (this may sound odd, but every year we have students writing briefs who are stymied by requirements that they begin every section with new page numbers), the new exam software, and special scanners and how they can assist you to create a paperless office.

I ended up being fairly pleased with the whole thing. I would have liked a greater turn-out, but we never had a day where nobody showed up (we held the zoo for two-hour shifts on three different days). And it’s beginning to dawn on me that I simply can’t anticipate students’ schedules and perceived busy-ness vs. their willingness to come in for things and talk with librarians (even when there’s free food!). As an unexpected benefit, when there were no real attendees, those of us demo’ing talked with each other about our interests, and learned things we might not have otherwise.

Next time (if there is a next time!), I’ve gotta do something about getting staff more fired up. And figure out a way to hook more students. It wasn’t advertising, I don’t think. We advertised everywhere, electronic and otherwise. It could’ve been timing – law review students had their articles due, so maybe other students had long papers due? Or maybe students were just as unsure what would go on at the zoo as my co-workers were. I’m not sure.

In somewhat-related work news, I am currently setting up meeting number 2 of the “Library Student Outreach Team” (a group of librarians meet with a group of students and try to learn how the library could better serve them), so I’ll try to get a better sense of timing/scheduling from the students then.

So that’s that! See you tomorrow!

*I realize that this abbreviation is more commonly used for “Extra Terrestrial.” No disrespect intended! Really!

Weekend round-up

Long weekend! Hot weather! Reflection time!

If you follow my blog, you’ll notice a lot of photo posts recently. There are a few reasons for this: (1) I take a lot of photos, and they make for an easy blog post, (2) I’ve gotten addicted to several iPhone photo apps, and (3) As mentioned earlier, I’m experimenting with IFTTT to see what I can automatically post from where.

IFTTT is this really cool application (stands for “if this, then that”) whereby you can essentially create kind of a mashup of other applications that you use. For example, if I add a certain tag to a photo I post on Instagram, I can have it automatically post that photo to my blog. I can have articles I’ve favorited on Google Reader automatically go into an Evernote notebook, to be saved for my weekly round-ups of interesting blog posts. And so on.

It’s not working quite as smoothly as I would have liked, and thus I’ve got a lot of random posts on my blog. But, oh well – constant beta and all that. I know I need to do a social media review ‘n’ purge, but, I also have six boxes of photos that I should shift through, not to mention the CDs that need to be assessed and gotten rid of,* so this is not going to happen any time soon.

I am grossly behind on both my Fashion Friday and my Saturday Evening Post posts; apologies to those of you who come here looking for that. Haven’t been feeling the clothes bug lately; not sure why. But here are some of the articles that caught my eye in the past few weeks:

  • Ecouterre, Coach Turns Vintage Leather Baseball Gloves Into Billfold Wallets. Okay, well, this would be an awesome Father’s Day present if we weren’t essentially talking about a $350 wallet.
  • New York Times Magazine, How Roland Barthes Gave Us the TV Recap. This is a really interesting article.

    Instead of just passively absorbing a series of broadcasts from Planet Media, consumers today participate directly in the creation of culture.

    To my mind, the thing that’s exploding into relevance in our era is not mass culture but the critique of mass culture — the Barthesian dissection of everything, no matter how trivial. This happens everywhere now, often in real time. And this critical analysis is often as vital and interesting and consumable as the culture it discusses.

  • RIPS Law Librarian Blog, What Do Law Librarians Do?. In case you’ve ever wondered:

    We tend to be humbly willing to do things that may seem at first glance to fall far outside of the job we signed up. We do all of this, not always because we have to, but sometimes, because we can see that it needs to be done, and we can see that if we do not do it, then no one else will.

  • Ecouterre, 10 Eco-Friendly (and Vegan!) Flip-Flops to Slip Into This Summer. Who doesn’t love flip-flops? Well, I mean, other than people at work who are driven mad by the constant thwip-thwopping noise they make. Some of these are really cute, though.

I finished my book review on In Chambers: Stories of Supreme Court Law Clerks and Their Justices. Look for it soon in a Law Library Journal near you!

* Shout out to the little scamps who rummaged through our cars early the other morning and ran off with a collection of our CDs! Thanks for doing the work for us, jerks!

Day in the life …

The Library Day in the Life Project is on Round 8! And here I am.

We’re supposed to start our LibDay blog posts with a reminder of who we are and for whom we work, so: I am a reference and instruction librarian at the Warren E. Burger Library at William Mitchell College of Law.

I actually started my Monday on Sunday night, with a final look at my RSS reader to schedule things of interest for my work alter ego to tweet. That’s also how my Monday morning – and pretty much every morning, actually – started.

I love Hootsuite because it allows me to go through my reader when it has accumulated a lot of posts, and I can schedule a whole slew of interesting things to tweet throughout the day. I feel like my tweets have more of a tendency to get lost in the Twitterverse if I make a bunch of tweets at once (or maybe I think they’re more likely to be ignored?). I consider it a pretty good day when I can have a tweet go out about every half hour during the work day.

This was my favorite tweet of the day:

It is not law-related. So sue me.

I then had an email exchange with a student whom I had helped last week. He was doing research on government entities and how the First Amendment might affect their presence on social media sites (i.e., to what extent can government entities control what citizens post on government Facebook sites?). Anyway, we found some law review articles last week, and I told him to come back and brief me on what he found, because the topic interested me. He sent me a pretty detailed email about the state of the limited public forum and how he thinks social media fits in within that concept. In turn, I found a few more resources he might want to check out, and I emailed those back to him. It was quite gratifying. I usually tell students to feel free to contact me with the results of their research when the topic personally interests me, but they hardly ever do. Which is fine, but it was still a nice surprise to hear from him.

I’m co-teaching a class this term – Internet Legal Research – so most of my work this term is related to that. Even though it’s only a one-credit, pass/fail class, we revamp it so much each time that we teach it that it ends up being more work than you’d think.

One of the new things we’ve added this time is online discussion forums related to the reading. I attended a teaching seminar a few months ago, and one of the things I distinctly remember from it is the idea that we shouldn’t waste time in class with what the students already understand or can learn outside of class. Therefore, if the students “get” the reading, don’t take up class time discussing it! So, we’ve developed (what we hope are) thought-provoking questions related to the readings, and the students talk about the ideas in the discussion forums. This also helps with students who may feel more comfortable discussing things in writing, where they have more time to reflect than they do in class. We haven’t quite worked out how we interact with the students on the forums. Not everything needs to be addressed, and I don’t want to stifle discussion, but I would like it to be more of an interactive back-and-forth than it really is right now.

Last week was one of “my” weeks to teach, so this week I’m the one who primarily grades the homework and makes sure everybody has responded to the Discussion Board. So a big chunk of my day was spent looking at the homework, which was due today at noon. I may talk more about this tomorrow.

I also did a little work on the newsletter for one of the professional librarian organizations of which I am a member. I’m the technical editor (or something like that), which means the substantive editors gather all the stuff, give it to me, and I fit it all in, using a publishing software. I did the bulk of it last week, but I don’t have all the articles yet, and had to make some changes from the draft that I have. There will be more of this this week, too.

Then I went home, but my day won’t officially be over until I go back to my RSS reader and schedule more tweets for tomorrow. The symmetry of book-ending my days like this is nice, don’t you think?

So! What did you all do today?

NaBloPoMo, Day 21: On Passion

Meh. I remain unimpressed with Ms. Lake’s NaBloPoMo prompts. Nothing against her – I’m sure she’s a lovely person – but my gut reaction to her prompts is to go on a rant about how the less privileged among us (and I’m pretty privileged!) just don’t have time and resources to worry overmuch about “passion projects” and the quality of our family time.

Okay! Having gotten that over with … well, no, I’m not really pursuing a passion project right now. I’m pursuing a career that I enjoy, but I don’t think I’d call it a “passion.”

I would say, though, that parts of my job – moments in the day, individual projects – are “fulfilling on many levels,” though. When I track down a tricky source for a prof, see a lightbulb go on in a patron’s head at the reference desk, really connect with the students in a class – that’s immensely gratifying. But it’s work, too, you know? It’s not all fervor and self-actualization, M-F, 9-5 (or 10:30-5, in my case).

I’m not entirely sure how Ricki Lake is defining “passion project,” but I think it’s the rare one among us who get to pursue our passions at that level (I believe here she is referring to a documentary that she produced). I will admit to being similarly lucky, however, in that I am able to be compensated for doing something that, for the most part, I find interesting, challenging, and, well, fun.