Skip to content

2018 GPLLA Legal Research Course

March 13, 2018

Are you relatively new to legal research? Unfamiliar with some of the core sources or methods used when finding the law? Just looking to brush up your skills? We are pleased to announce the GPLLA Legal Research Course for 2018:

Dates: Tuesdays, April 4 – May 9
Time: 5:15-6:30 p.m.
Location: Online (live and recorded)
Registration: $50 for non-students / $25 for students (Register Here)

This 6-week introductory legal research course is geared towards professionals and students interested in learning the basics of legal research or needing a refresher. The course will be presented by instructors from various Philadelphia area law schools and firms. Topics to be covered include an introduction to the legal system, statutory research, researching case law, using secondary sources, researching administrative law, and using paid and free services to locate the law. Each session will cover both federal and Pennsylvania-specific materials, so participants will be able to start familiarizing themselves with researching in both jurisdictions after each session.

The course will be presented online live using Zoom, and participants will be able to access videos of each session and related materials on demand as well. Westlaw and Lexis Advance have agreed to supply temporary accounts to all participants for the duration of the course. Specific technical requirements will be emailed to participants closer to the course start date.

 Registration for the course is $50 for non-students and $25 for students. Payment may be submitted via check or PayPal. Specific payment instructions are included on the registration form, which may be accessed by clicking here.

 Feel free to share this announcement with anyone you think might benefit from taking this course, regardless of their affiliation with GPLLA. If you have any questions, please contact Ben Carlson (

Find more information about GPLLA at


For Future Reference

March 13, 2018

A recent library listserv discussion took up the issue of replacing lost or outdated print reference works. Respondents to the thread recommended digital resources instead of books in print, defending their choice by pointing to the fact that students simply do not consult print sources anymore. While I do not question this logic, I do wonder if there is a way we might actually get more students to turn the pages of dictionaries or encyclopedias, almanacs or handbooks. Most of these volumes, after all, will remain on our shelves for the foreseeable future and efficiently directing students to surrogate or related digital options through a LibGuide, for example, comes with its own set of challenges.

Just how can we possibly do this? For inspiration, we might turn to museum curation, and the work already done by many of our colleagues in special collections departments.

DSM labelWhile nearly every library creates temporary displays featuring books from its collections, relatively few in my experience present these items with accompanying descriptions. In many cases, a book can be judged by its cover, or the context of the display itself. Often, however, much remains unsaid and the casual viewer of a display is left to deduce a lot about a book, often one locked behind glass. We provide even fewer clues, outside of the online catalog record, about the books that remain on our shelves and never make that rare appearance in a library display. At least when a book is in a display case its title page or, if featured on a new arrivals shelf, its glossy cover help tell something of its story. In the stacks, however, the endless array of spines say little about our books’ actual contents.

Consider again the reference collection. How might a number of strategically placed descriptive book labels potentially impact users? Could labels help students who would rather browse the reference collection than approach a librarian for suggestions or consult a paper or digital bibliography on a subject? Could labels serve as landmarks to help librarians direct students to selected titles? I am not certain, but I have a strong sense they might.

Routledge Encyclopedia of PhilosophyThere is an art to writing good museum labels and a certain investment of time is required of anyone who would do it well. One advantage for libraries is that labels placed near standard works of reference on the shelf may remain in place much longer than they would for the limited lifetime of a museum exhibition. Furthermore, many book publishers already produce succinct descriptions or bulleted contents of their titles, which might be easily paraphrased or directly quoted to save time.

Reference books can be singled out for a label based on several criteria. Subject librarians are likely already familiar with works helpful for the most common assignments on campus. Additional titles might be labeled when they have no electronic equivalent or are classics in their field.

Of course such readers’ advisory labels might be created for different reasons, and to somewhat different effect, in other sections of the library. For now, I am interested in reviving a few reference tomes. Watch out general collection! If this works, you are next.

Demand Frequent Constructive Feedback, Don’t Just Wait for The Annual Appraisal

March 6, 2018

Information Age guru and futurist Marshall McLuhan pithily synthesized his early theorizing in a much-vaunted creative anthology The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. McLuhan proclaims on page 75, “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” While connections between McLuahanisms and libraries are most often made by way of information technology, this specific aphorism has more to do with librarians as people than the conglomeration of media we use in our everyday work.

We need to ask ourselves; do we agree we are looking at the present in a rear-view mirror when it comes to our professional life? It is easy to think of ourselves as walking backwards since we have a clearer view of our past than we do of our future, but McLuhan says we are looking “at the present” by means of a device that is designed to look behind us while driving a car. This would imply we are speeding along, and what gets reflected is constantly changing adumbrations with current meaning which remain in our peripheral vision until we take the time to really look.

Marshall McLuhan - The Medium is The Massage_0016

Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore (1967) The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects, 25. Produced by Jerome Agel. Corte Madera, CA: Ginko Press, 2001. Marshall McLuhan – The Medium is The Massage.pdf (PDFy mirror), 17. Uploaded July 27, 2014, Internet Archive. Accessed March 1, 2018,

Though, while many librarians have discovered that adaptability to an environment of constant flux is in our own best interest, if we want to remain relevant, how many of us really get to do anything more than respond daily to immediate tasks and needs? We’re often already saturated, and incessant disruption and change can contravene innovation, the development of projects, smooth workflows, and more than sufficient progress towards achieving objectives.

The key is suggested in the second half of the McLuhan quote. Although to “march backwards” does seem to imply proceeding blindly as it were, it is probably also meant to convey steady forward movement that is accomplished alongside and in sync with others, and perhaps more importantly since we are moving backwards the rear-view mirror gives us glimpses of the future not the past.

Either way, to interpret the here and now we need to vigilantly monitor the changes in our situation, and realize we are never alone even as we go progressively onward. A wonderful current example of this is how EDUCAUSE is picking up the pieces of NMC and has pledged to continue producing Horizon Reports. A real impediment is heel-draggers who simply commiserate as they impede the organizational trajectory with pessimism while things simply change around them and others try to rocket by.

Perhaps McLuhan’s diagnosis of the phenomenon of considering where we’re headed in relationship to the past and present is the silver lining to the customary performance review cycle, which is presumably culminating for many of us right now.  Real professional growth requires we take the time to celebrate successes and evaluate failures before moving onto the next thing. We also need to take time to assess with colleagues and supervisors along the way, not just once a year.

Otherwise the annual appraisal is dreaded, the mission statement is mere marketing, staff development becomes extracurricular, goals are nothing more than quickly forgotten new year’s resolutions, and the strategic plan is just a dust collecting showpiece. Besides, going “into the future” together is inherently more optimistic because each of us has glimmers to share during the journey, if we take the time to gaze regularly into our rear-view mirror.

A Quick and Easy Assessment Tool: Socrative

March 5, 2018

Assessment. What comes to mind when you heard that word? Dread? Fear? A vague sense of unease? We all know it’s important, and we all know it’s really hard to work into instruction, especially if it’s a one-shot session. For me, the dread I felt related to assessment was exactly that: the feeling that I needed to fit this really important and time consuming thing into the little time I had with each class. There is so much to cover, and taking time to do a pre-quiz and post-quiz, or any other in depth assessment, detracts from valuable time spent on information literacy concepts and skills. To alleviate this time crunch while still getting valuable feedback from students, I’ve started relying on quick and easy interactive tools like Socrative to gather assessment at the end of each one-shot instruction session. is a free (for non-premium access) classroom app that allows a user to create quizzes, exit tickets, and other interactive engagement techniques. Instructors have a teacher login to set up quizzes before class, then activate the quiz either before class or as needed during the class period. Students navigate to the Socrative student page, login with a room name, and answer a few questions to provide instant feedback to the instructor.

Because I try to spend as little of the class period as I can on assessment, I take the last two minutes of the class period to ask students to do one last thing before they head out. In my pre-class prep, I have already launched an assessment and activated a new room. At the end of the period, I ask students to enter the room name (I’ve found it easy to make the room the name of the class I’m working with, i.e. ENGL15), at which point the self-paced “quiz” begins.

I designed a basic quiz that works for the majority of my freshmen level classes. If I’m working with an upper level class, I create a quiz with more targeted questions. In the basic assessment, students first answer a Likert scale question about how well they understood the material presented. The next two responses are free type fields. They’re asked to give a response to one thing they learned during our session, and finally they wrap up with a short answer asking one thing they’d like to know more about. While I’d like to be more reflective on concepts covered during our instruction session, I’ve decided that for now, these quick and easy answers are useful for me to take into account for planning future classes.

One of the best parts about Socrative is how easy it is to get to the students’ feedback. After each student has answered their three questions, I end the room session and have the results emailed to me in an Excel spreadsheet. The feedback I’ve received from students has been helpful in learning what worked and what did not work, and is also interesting to look at with similar classes compared over the same semester. It helps me reflect on what I’m doing that goes over well, which is sometimes more related to my energy level on a particular day than how a concept was presented and reinforced.

Possibly because I don’t require them to use their names, the students are quite honest with me about their level of understanding. When I first started using Socrative, I thought I’d get a lot of nonsense responses, especially in the free type fields. I’m happy to say that rarely happens; most students are thoughtful while providing feedback. I’m also honest with them that their responses will help inform me what to talk about with classes like theirs in the future. This might be another reason that they are engaged and open with this quick assessment tool.

Of course, in an ideal world, we’d each be able to work with instructors to perform complete assessments before, during, and after library instruction. Reality doesn’t often allow that, though, which is why using an easy tool like Socrative is helpful in maintaining a grasp on assessment in library instruction.  


Library Instruction: A Guide for Introverts

March 1, 2018

If you are an introvert like me, you might dread the idea of having 30+ sets of eyes focused on you multiple times a day. Social interaction drains an introvert’s energy. Additionally, introverts tend to spend a lot of time processing new information internally. It can be nerve-racking to adapt a lesson on the spot to meet the differing needs of each class. I want to share the tips and tricks I use to help me manage my expectations, my energy levels, and my effectiveness as an instructor.

Before Class

Touch base with the professor. Ask the professor what they want their students to get out of the session and how responsive the class is. This information helps me prepare my learning goals and sets my expectations for how engaged the class will be during discussion or activities. There is nothing worse than having a great discussion laid out and then getting blank stares from the class. Knowing that might be the case ahead of time prevents a lot of anxiety and loss of stability in the moment.

Outline the lesson in detail. Writing down my step-by-step process keeps my focus on the learning outcomes, and having that solid foundation to fall back on gives me more confidence to solicit and apply ad-lib student input to the points I make. In my lesson plan, I include group activities that allow me to “rest” and process the session while the students engage in the activity. This gives me time to refocus and rebalance if necessary. I also have backup activities or more complex information on hand if time and the class dynamic seem open to that. In the case that a class is not responsive, I have backup examples, questions, or discussion points at the ready to keep the session flowing. (I actually rarely have had to use these since I find that focusing discussion and activities on elements that are directly applicable to the class or assignment makes students more willing to contribute.)

Practice the lesson. This includes how I want to phrase specific ideas (and writing keywords down on the lesson plan I take to class with me to jog my memory) and going through the motions of conducting a test library search to make sure the website is working the way I expect it to. Related to this:

Prepare for the unexpected as much as possible. I adapt my search demonstration to off-the-cuff student topics to keep the lesson relevant. This means I cannot practice with a pre-determined topic and go into class knowing to avoid, for example, a full-text article link that happens to be broken. Sometimes such an issue inconveniently arises just as I am explaining how easy full-text access is. However, I can prepare how to handle the situation and to retain focus on showing students how the resource works without overwhelming them, as well as who to contact when it does not work.

Drink water.

Go to the bathroom before class starts. Yes, really! This seems intuitive, but if I do not make it an actual step in my process, I forget to do it because of everything else I am thinking about in preparation for the instruction session. Nothing distracts me more than an insistent bladder, and the goal is to have the fewest factors on my mind while teaching.

During Class

Drink water. I have a water bottle with me and take sips during the built-in break times, or any time as needed. I had not anticipated how quickly my throat dries out while speaking!

Keep focused. I can be thrown off by a new or unexpected idea and spiral down the rabbit hole of examining that idea. But during class is not the time! I do not let a weird comment or interruption occupy my thoughts and instead fall back on my lesson plan to refocus the conversation and my attention on the learning outcome.

Be flexible. Outlining my lesson and preparing for the unexpected frees up mental space for me to answer questions, expand on student-provided examples, and customize the lesson on the fly. It is more helpful, useful, and relevant to the students to do so rather than stick to a rigid script that will not meet the needs of every class.

After Class

Drink water. Hydration is important!

Review feedback. I usually wait a few hours to a day before doing this so that I can process my own experience of the session before taking student experiences and potential modifications into account. This is also the time to ruminate over any weird comments or ideas that came up.

Pat myself on the back. I’m done! (For now.)

As you can see, most of the steps occur during the prep phase. Understanding why I am in front of that particular class, what my goals for that lesson are, and how I am going to achieve those goals provide the solid foundation I need to stay on target and be comfortable with flexibility. It is really about moving my internal information processing time into the prep stage where it is most effective instead of trying to fight a losing battle against my introversion while in front of a class.

Time and experience will make this process easier. In the six months I have been providing library instruction, I have already noticed an improvement in my comfort level in front of a class by embracing my introversion and taking the steps listed above.

I have two final thoughts to share:

Stay confident. You already have the skills to think through problems and conduct research. Any lesson you teach will help students become more information literate. If you try something in class and it does not work, just change or remove it for the next class. I learned very quickly that lesson planning, like many aspects of librarianship, is an iterative process, and that is okay.

You are not alone. The idea of seeking out another person to interact with and further draining your social energy after teaching these sessions seems counterintuitive, but chances are high you have a colleague, friend, or family member who shares the same experiences. Talking that out, confirming that you are not alone or weird (or an imposter) for being drained by a significant part of your job can help alleviate the stress from teaching as an introvert.

Review of “End of Days: An Encyclopedia of the Apocalypse in World Religions”

March 1, 2018

Back in 2012, when the impending date of destruction and doom of December 21, 2012 – based on the Mayan calendar not going beyond that particular date – lingered in our subconscious and played out on daily media, I often enjoyed the History Channel’s programming on apocalyptic events which could have spelled the demise of humanity and even our planet. Over-the-top, theatrical programs detailing the worst-case scenarios of solar flares, collisions with extraterrestrial bodies, deadly pandemics, violent volcanic eruptions, threat of nuclear annihilation and the overthrown of humanity by artificial intelligence were a nightly regular, even to the point that the History Channel had its own Armageddon Week, which I enthusiastically (maybe not the right choice of word) watched. When December 22, 2012 heralded its arrival with birds chirping, the sun still faithfully in the sky, and holiday shoppers scuttling for last-minute bargains, I emerged from my bunker bed, and I had to chuckle to myself. The History Channel would now have to re-do about ninety percent of its programming.

Regardless of the apocalypse not occurring on that particular date, or any other date predicted in the history of mankind, the notion that one day there may be no us and no Earth and the events leading up to that cataclysmic hour have been the topic of concern and discussion since the dawn of our modern species. Most world religions touch upon the end times and the demise of our planet, which is usually defined by exceptionally violent natural catastrophes and the final showdown between good and evil. It is of such poignant interest that the Collection Development and Evaluation Section (CODES) of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) named ABC-CLIO’s “End of Days: An Encyclopedia of the Apocalypse in World Religions” (ed. Wendell G. Johnson) as one of the most noteworthy reference publications of 2017. The unveiling of the 2018 Outstanding References Sources List on which this encyclopedia appears occurred at the ALA’s Midwinter Meeting held in Denver, Colorado, earlier this month. (

Intrigued, I investigated what this reference could contain. Was such a dismal reference source in high demand? I would have no qualms adding this to my own personal collection, as it looks very interesting. (Am I the only one who is really serious about that?) The encyclopedia covers a range of religions and philosophical views from various time periods, including the apocalypse as interpreted by the Judeo-Christian biblical figures Abraham, Enoch, Baruch, John, Peter, and Paul. For a more scientific approach to how everything will all end, there is discussion of cosmology, such as the theory of the universe ending in what is known as the Big Crunch. This encyclopedia references the religious views about eschatology as held by Roman Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Entries can be located about how the apocalypse has weaved its way into the mainstream, both past and present. In medieval times, it was Dante’s Inferno which kept its readers in dire fear of a never-ending afterlife marked with descending levels of cringe-worthy punishment based on the nature of an unfortunate soul’s actions in his or her time on Earth.  Today, stories occurring with the end times all but dominate pop culture: The Walking DeadLeft Behind, and The Hunger GamesThe Maze Runner, and The Divergent literature and movies series have amassed critical acclaim and blockbuster status. Cult leaders who proclaimed themselves to be sent by God (or whatever other name attributed to any given deity) to save as many souls as possible before the End Times are also touched upon in this reference. I immediately think of being back in high school in 1993 when David Koresh held down his fort in Waco, Texas in a violent standoff. His saga is a recent television mini-series on Paramount Network. Koresh and other individuals such as Jim Jones and Harold Camping are mentioned in this encyclopedia. (

After reading the reviews, I believe that “End of Days: An Encyclopedia of the Apocalypse in World Religions” would be a welcomed addition to any academic or public library. There is certainly no shortage of interest in the apocalypse; an interest which will not wane anytime soon. This reference is definitely going to take up a permanent residence in my personal library – or at least as long as the world is still here.

Happy Fair Use Week

February 28, 2018

Copyright resources from ARLIS/NA –

Taking account for the fundamental principles of copyright and the meaning of copyright ownership, a panel presented very current information, recommendations and future plans for digital materials in libraries, archives, museums and galleries. Interesting suggestion to include the MARC 542 field in individual records to describe the rights allowed. From several hundred ways to describe rights, DPLA has worked with others to narrow the field to twelve, giving specifics on what is/is not allowed. e.g. PDUS – public domain United States. Also news, the rolling date will begin in 2019 for works in public domain, adding a year from 1923, in one year increments. Risk assessments were reviewed including, for academic libraries operated under state systems, for sovereign immunity.