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Posts Tagged ‘reference librarian’

Breaking Bad (Habits)

I sometimes think there’s a cottage industry of criticizing student research habits, but to solve a problem you have to diagnose it first. You can’t steer students right until you know where they’re going wrong. An article reporting how students do – or don’t do – research has been gaining a lot of attention in academic circles in the last few weeks. The study underlying the article examined research patterns among Illinois undergraduates, focusing not on how they say they do research, but on how they actually do the research. Anthropologists observed students while researching and discussed the research with them afterward. The results have alarmed many in library and information literacy circles. Why?

  • Students relied heavily on Google. This in itself isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but they were also using Google poorly. Rather than restricting themselves to sections like Google Scholar or Google Books, they used the basic interface that searches everything. Even when they used scholarly resources, students used “google-like” searching rather than using the tools and techniques the databases require for good results.
  • Students didn’t select the right scholarly resources for their information need – using databases that don’t provide current articles when they were specifically looking for something current, for example.
  • Perhaps most alarmingly, students failed to seek assistance from professional researchers who are at their disposal: librarians.

You may be wondering why I mention this. After all: you’re not an undergrad and very few of you are from Illinois. But it’s probably the case that the research patterns observed in this study reflect your undergraduate experience to some degree, and we’re all products of our past. It’s also true that as a student at Wake Forest School of Law you have a leg up: you are not trapped by your past research habits!

You have access to an experienced and well-trained library staff. Your research professor is a great place to start, whether you need help with a topic you’re covering in class, or with some research you’re doing for another purpose. But you’re not limited to their help; ask for information about what you can check out, or what’s on reserve, from the staff at the Circulation Desk. Ask substantive research questions from a librarian, staff or student assistant at the Reference Desk. And know that – while you may never encounter them – there is a “hidden” staff called the Technical Services department. They’re the ones who make sure books are on the shelves and links in the catalog work.

You have access to the best research systems for legal research, and that goes beyond Lexis and Westlaw. Databases like BNA and CCH are tailored to areas of law represented by these publishers; they have secondary sources like treatises and “looseleafs” that don’t appear on Lexis and Westlaw. You also have access to specialized databases like ProQuest Congressional (great for legislative history), Treaties & International Agreements Online (just what it sounds like!), and RIA Checkpoint (fantastic for tax)… not to mention all the subject-specific resources available through the Z. Smith Reynolds Library! You have so much at your fingertips, and librarians can help you learn to use each of these, and more.

As a 1L, you’re given explicit and detailed instruction in research techniques that go far beyond Googling, and as upper level students you can get even more specific research instruction in areas like Tax and Administrative law, as well as a broad Advanced Legal Research class. You should walk out of any of these classes knowing how to think about research, how to select the right tools, and how to use tools to get the information you need. You should also have picked up some habits like keeping good notes to track your research.

If all of this is old news to you – congratulations! Keep up the good work. But if you’ve gotten this far with bad research habits, don’t worry. Research is a skill, and it takes practice. You can learn good habits. If you’re not sure where to start, you have to flail around! Ask for help – a quick email, call or stop by the library may be all it takes to get you off on the right track.

#New PCL: The Finale

August 26, 2011 3 comments

Welcome to all of our new and returning students!  It’s hard to believe that everyone is already back and that summer is over, but we’re excited to welcome our largest class of 1Ls ever!  I’d like to say it has been a quiet summer without you, but alas, I cannot.  It has been quite a busy summer around here with lots of construction and changes within the library.

On the 2nd floor (main floor of the library) four new offices were constructed on the back wall where carrels once resided.  Our Reference Librarians (Eggert, Irwin-Smiler and our newest addition, Liz Johnson) now have office space there and are eager to have you stop by to see their new digs.   Angie Hobbs now has a new office in the Reference area, and six new offices were constructed on the third floor for our Law School Faculty.

For our students, we have created a number of new casual seating areas with electrical outlets available.  There are many new reading nooks’ where you can even turn on a lamp and get super cozy with your Torts textbook, or some other exciting reading material.


                 

We have also have created a computer charging station just behind the Rotunda in the library where you can plug in your computer and lock it down while you go grab a Starbucks mid-afternoon wake-up coffee.  Additionally,we still have a great many carrels available for study, 8 of which may be checked out by students doing research for a ‘paper class’, working as a Research Assistant, or writing a journal article.

Some other changes you may notice (if you were here last year), is that we have added 2 more study tables just off the Rotunda of the library.  We have made electrical power available in many more locations with the addition of electric outlets, and/or power strips.

Lastly, we are in the process of relocating the Catalog computers on the Ground, 1st and 3rd floors.  The 3rd floor is complete with a Kiosk beside the copier/printer for easy access.  The Ground and 1st floors Kiosks will be similarly located near the elevator and copier/printers. We hope this will promote easier access to our catalog for all you bibliophiles out there!

You can look back at our changes on  Twitter (#newpcl), but we’d really love for you to stop by, take a look and check out our new space.

                       

Dictionary Fun for the Word Nerd: Everybody Researches

August 8, 2011 Leave a comment

If you watch legal shows on television, you would think that lawyers spend their time either arguing with other lawyers in court or chasing after attractive co-workers in the office.  Even if you are only starting out in law school, you know better than this.  While there are certainly exciting and satisfying courtroom moments, the majority of your time, particularly as a new associate, is likely to be spent in writing, reviewing documents, and RESEARCHING.  Lawyers in big firms research, solo practitioners research, corporate counsel and law clerks research.  Because legal research is such a universal theme to the practice of law, The Demon’s Advocate will be featuring at least one post per month on new or unusual ways to conduct legal research, or about legal research materials.

This post takes a new look at a familiar resource, the dictionary.  While most of you are likely to have used the print and or online versions of Black’s Law Dictionary, there are some free online legal dictionaries worth your time, as well as some interesting non-legal  dictionaries to expand your mind and your research. This post will review some of the more traditional dictionary offerings, and a future post will describe some dictionary innovations.

Law.com’s offering, known as the  Real Life Dictionary of the Law bills itself as an easy-to-read and user-friendly “guide to legal terms.”  It is unquestionably versatile, allowing you not only to browse for the word or to run a search for it, but also providing the option to search definitions for your word.  This last feature proves helpful when you can remember the general areas of the law the word falls under or other similar concepts but cannot recall the word itself. (Take from someone who has passed the age of 40, this happens.)

Have you ever tried to explain a legal term to a family member or significant other without success? If so, next time you might want to try Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary.  Nolo Press has been bringing the law to the non-lawyer for years via print “how to” legal books, and now via Nolo.com.  Whether you consider them famous or infamous for their DIY approach to the law, their dictionary is a useful look at legal terms for the non-professional audience.

The Free Dictionary does have a legal option, but the feature I most enjoy is that it not only provides a definition of the word you are searching, but also has an audio pronunciation of the word.  For example, if you are a politician, and want to use the work chutzpah, but are not sure how to pronounce it, you could type the word (or a near spelling and it will offer you options), and you will get both a definition and a graphic of a speaker to click in order to hear the pronunciation.  Depending on the word, you may have both a British and an American option for pronunciation.

If this sampler of dictionaries has not sated your interest, you might want to investigate the University of Washington Gallagher Law Library’s dictionary research guide.   The guide is written by law librarians,  so the focus is on law dictionaries, including those for foreign and international law and for specialized legal  fields.  However, recognizing that law does not exist in a vacuum, it also includes some of the most popular general dictionaries as well as some basic law guides and glossaries for those not in the legal profession.  If you use this guide, do be aware that, while you have access to all free linked material mentioned, the call numbers provided are for the Gallagher library and so may refer to books not available in the PCL or that are in a slightly different location.  If you have questions about any of the titles, please contact one  of the reference librarians, staff, or students, or check the PCL catalog for information specific to our library.

PCL Welcomes New Librarian

May 31, 2011 Leave a comment

As you have heard, there will be some construction in the library and relocation of the library staff.  In addition to the physical changes, the PCL is thrilled to welcome the addition of Professor Liz Johnson as our new reference librarian.   She  is now part of the reference team and, just as the other Reference Librarians, will be teaching as part of the LAWR program.

Before joining us, Professor Johnson worked at the Charlotte School of Law as the Electronic Resources and Reference Librarian.   Her office is room 2214, behind the Reference Desk, right next to Professor Irwin-Smiler.  To learn more about Professor Johnson you can visit her Linkedin profile at http://www.linkedin.com/pub/liz-johnson/12/ab2/264