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Three Proposals for Academic Law Libraries

Over the last 70 years, CALL and the Chicago legal academic libraries have been integral in adapting library services to changing legal environments so that a law student today will be a successful lawyer tomorrow. There is no doubt that CALL will continue to be a valuable and innovative presence in the Chicago legal community through the collaborative efforts of all the member institutions. It is this spirit of collaboration, and after interactions with fellow librarians, faculty, and students, that I describe three library services that would be valuable additions to all academic libraries in their missions to produce successful lawyers. Whether these proposals are tentatively practiced, formally adopted, or ignored completely, I present them here for consideration.

Number 1: Law Library Orientation

Most law school libraries, including the Chicago area law school libraries, provide training, online tutorials, library tours, or online orientations, but no libraries offer a comprehensive, mandatory library orientation (similar to the law school orientation) to new students. Too often, these methods introduce law students to the physical space, general reference and circulation services, and computer access, but miss many of the finer details about how to use the law library. For instance, one of the great misunderstandings about reserve collections is that they will not as a matter of policy contain assigned course books. Similarly, the different processes between requesting material from another university library (sorry to leave you out, John Marshall) rather than a non-institution library are not obvious to new students. Lastly (but not finally, for there are many more scenarios), circulation policies for different collections (e.g. reserves vs. reference vs. non-circulating vs. circulating) are various enough that confusion is understandable. These and many other problems would be solved very quickly by providing (or requiring) 2-3 hours for comprehensive library orientation, ideally before classes begin.

Of course, even 2-3 hours of new students’ time is valuable, but they will never have more of it than during their first couple of weeks. Introducing the informal, yet most common, issues of the library will invariably pay dividends early on when confusion and uncertainty are at their peak. An orientation designed to cover library services, from the substantive to the mundane, would considerably aid students in working more efficiently and confidently.[1] To add a library spin to a common refrain: an orientation in time saves nine (minutes of students’ time)!

Number 2: Roaming (Roving) Reference

Reports of the reference desk’s demise have been greatly exaggerated! While reexamination of library services is necessary in the constantly changing information environment, the typical stationary reference desk remains the norm. In many cases, public libraries have been at the forefront of developing roaming reference,[2] but very little has been done in the law library setting. This trend is perplexing since a law student’s time is incredibly valuable and meeting a student where she is would save her minutes within the course of a day. The added convenience of regular availability throughout the library, coupled with the promptness for resolving questions, frees up the student’s time and mental focus for other matters.

While this does not sound like much, students who visit the reference desk on a regular basis (members of a law journal, student assistants, tutors, etc.) could arguably save hours of time over the course of a semester, time that would be more valuable when used elsewhere.[3] Of course each library will be constrained by staff, resources, and ability to design effective roaming services, but it is another venue for law librarians to demonstrate our tremendous value to academic and professional researchers.

Number 3: Have Some Fun!

Attorney wellness and happiness have become serious issues in the legal profession in recent years.[4] The profession (and public’s) view of attorneys is something that all entering law students are aware of. This perception is not altogether healthy for study habits, let alone the mental and emotional impact on already stressed students.[5] Organizations like the ABA, AALL, and their local chapters (including the Chicago Bar Association and CALL) have begun to shift their own attentions to professional wellness. Law libraries are no different, and rightly so: if the library is a place for students to develop successful study and research habits, it should also be a place that promotes successful wellness habits. To that end various libraries are introducing more creativity and fun into the library resources to break up the day to day grind of studying. These practices vary from providing community puzzles, coloring books, designing entertaining displays, presenting entertaining programming, and much more.[6]

Some of these suggestions may seem obvious or silly, but the success of CALL has been based on member libraries becoming the laboratories for new and exciting policies, where the most successful efforts are spread and shared throughout CALL institutions. It is through this continuous planning and assessment that CALL has been so vibrant for 70 years and why it will continue to be so for decades more to come.

[1] Marian C. Rice, A Good and Happy Lawyer, 40 L. Prac., July/Aug. 2014, at 16.

[2] Matt Enis, Meet the Tabletarians, 140 Lib. J., Jan. 2015, at 39, 41.

[3] Christine P. Bartholomew, Time: An Empirical Analysis of Law Student Time Management Deficiencies, 81 U. Cin. L. Rev. 897, 937 (2013).

[4] Jenna Cho, Why Are Lawyers So Unhappy?, Above the Law (Aug. 1, 2016, 2:32 PM), http://abovethelaw.com/2016/08/why-are-lawyers-so-unhappy/.

[5] Renwei Chung, What You’ll Wish You Had Known Before Starting Law School – Your Schedule, Before the Bar (Feb. 03, 2016), http://abaforlawstudents.com/2016/02/03/what-youll-wish-you-had-known-before-starting-law-school-your-schedule/.

[6] Sonia Smith, Five Puzzles and Counting, McGill Law Library Blog (Nov. 4, 2016), https://blogs.library.mcgill.ca/lawlibrary/five-puzzles-and-counting/.

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