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Last minute gift ideas? Book Recommendations from the PCL.

December 20, 2011 Leave a comment

As you are running around this holiday season, you may want to pick up one or two last-minute gifts.  Or maybe you want to snuggle up and enjoy a good book while it rains over the course of this week.  Here are the last of our suggestions for reading over the holiday break.

Professor Kate Irwin-Smiler recommends two authors for students and faculty to pick up and read for entertainment over the holidays.

  • James Patterson’s Alex Cross books. I cruised through these when I was on break in law school and there are a ton. Very short chapters & they go quickly. (18 so far!)
  • Philippa Gregory’s Cousins’ War books – The author of The Other Boleyn Girl has a historical fiction series based in England’s War of Roses (15th century). These books focus on the women involved in the English dynastic struggle between the Lancastrian and York houses. So far, there are three books – The White Queen [Available at ZSR], The Red Queen [Available at ZSR], and The Lady of the Rivers [Brand new, but already available at ZSR}, with more to come.

As a recent read, Dan Freehling recommends, Tangled Webs by James B. Stewart [Available at the High Point Public Library or through Interlibrary Loan (ILL)]. In an interview with Stewart published in  the New Yorker,  writes that “‘the broad public commitment to telling the truth under oath has been breaking down.’ Drawing on new interviews, full court transcripts, and hundreds of investigative notes that have remained private until now, Stewart meticulously and startlingly reconstructs the cases of Martha Stewart, Scooter Libby, Barry Bonds, and Bernard Madoff—and scrutinizes how lying by each of these figures affects the American justice system, and society as a whole.” For the full interview, see The Book Bench column from April 2011.

Professor Barbara Lentz also shares some favorites from her family.  Her husband recommends the title, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History [Available at ZSR]. And, Professor Lentz enjoyed reading cookbooks and essays after oneL exams, and along those lines strongly recommend Heat by Bill Buford [Available at ZSR], and Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential [Available at ZSR], which reminds Professor Lentz of being a line cook, kitchen serf and bartender in college. See the other titles Professor Lentz recommended in an earlier blog post, “More Wintery Reads: Recommendations from WFU Faculty.”

If you think we missed one of the most crucial books of the season, please drop us a line in the comments!

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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.

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July 8, 2011 2 comments

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