Librarians are natural teachers. In the process of helping library users formulate research strategies, identify information sources, and discuss methods of accessing resources, librarians educate those they assist. Like most good teachers, the librarian's goal is to show library users how to become as self-sufficient as possible to ensure that intellectual pursuit and creativity are not frustrated. Often, however, the most important lesson researchers learn is how valuable librarians can be. In academic environments, it is a natural occurrence for librarians to be teachers and for libraries to serve as gateways for further self-reliance through ideas and the skills acquired to explore those ideas.
Teaching Legal Writing Skills
Seven librarians at the Alyne Queener Massey Law Library have law degrees and hold Lecturer in Law appointments in the Law School. These librarians serve as the Legal Research Instructors in the required first-year legal writing course. They are assigned to a section of students with whom they meet and help to develop the requisite skills for effective legal writing and for future academic and professional work. As research instructors, these librarians lecture, develop sample exercises, and create weekly, graded assignments. While the legal writing course is required of all first-year law students, many students also elect to take an Advanced Legal Research course as second- or third-year students. When Advanced Legal Research is offered, the librarians participate in offering more specialized instruction in a unique area of the law, such as securities or taxation. Furthermore, the writing requirement of all students, as well as the notes and comments written by students for the various Law School journals, also provide for informal instructional opportunities.
Teaching Search Techniques
One of the biggest challenges currently facing legal research instructors is finding the best method to integrate the teaching of traditional print materials with newer electronic resources. Some print resources are still easier to use and more helpful than their electronic counterparts. Some important resources are available in only one format. While many students grew up using electronic databases and searching the Internet, there is no guarantee that those students were taught or discovered the most efficient, effective means to locate relevant material online. In the case of new law students, they also lack the context to know how legal resources relate to one another within the Anglo-American legal system. Moreover, law students are often trying to formulate search queries without fully knowing the language of the law. Their instructor librarians initiate these new students into the wide, changing world of legal information.
There are multiple benefits of the Legal Research program. Each librarian has close contact with a small group of students. Students learn important research skills while forming close relationships with their instructors. Students learn to view librarians not only as mentors and teachers but also as information resources. Teaching legal research also forces the instructors to keep current with legal trends as well as changes in legal publishing and legal information resources. Keeping current makes the law librarians better researchers themselves as law faculty members call upon them for help.
To produce well-written, persuasive legal documents, law students must learn how to find the law that applies in specific situations. The Vanderbilt University Law School relies upon the law librarians to share their expertise in how to "find the law." Teaching legal research is exhausting, time-consuming work, but it is also one of the most satisfying aspects of practicing librarianship at the law school.
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