Research Librarians and Law Student Scholarship:

A question for law students who wrote law review pieces while in school: When you were doing your research, did you ask your school library's research librarians for help, either on (1) specific matters (e.g., how can I track down this unpublished document?) or on (2) big-picture items (e.g., can you give me some advice about my research plan?)?

If not, why not? If yes, what good advice did they give you? I'm trying to come up with good advice to give to law students about taking advantage (in the best possible sense of the term) of their reference librarians. Thanks!

Mark Lyon (mail) (www):
I did consult with our librarians to obtain some materials from another library, but only after finding that the books seemed relevant to my article based on other citations to them that I uncovered in my research.

I did not request general assistance with my research, as I felt reasonably competent to plan my search for information on my own, knew my subject area, and didn't find myself in need of a generalist to guide me in locating resources. If anything, I found too much information on my own.

It is entirely likely that I was not fully aware of the best manner in which to utilize the research librarians at my school. I was writing for another school's journal, was not a member of my school's Law Review, and generally approached the entire process with little external input.

I did ask several professors to assist by reviewing and commenting, but waited until too close to the submission deadline and could not get more than general input from them on the direction of the article. I would have appreciated some external resource from someone with experience on the process itself - planning, researching, writing, editing, working with law review editors, and even presenting the topic at a symposium.
6.6.2007 8:30pm
The only practical assistance I received concerned how, and more importantly, where--beyond the obvious to law student resources--(e.g., CLI, ILP, IFLP) to conduct a preemption check. For more substantive assistance, I found professors to be more useful.
6.6.2007 9:04pm
guy in the veal calf office (mail) (www):
I second Mark's post-- I didn't use the research librarian except to order books of site because I didn't think they could help me in actual research. In fact I used Westlaw's 1-800 number more for research.
6.6.2007 9:35pm
Stephen C. Carlson (www):
No. But I already had taken George Mason's Legal Research and Writing course, which explained pretty well how to research in a law library.
6.6.2007 9:35pm
ptleahy (mail):
Although it varies with each law school, the reference librarians should be a bit more proactive with law review members. The reference librarians should hit the law review members at law review orientation and let them know what services are available. The reference librarians are good at research, law professors are good at discussing the issues and the law.

I've been around for a long time and most law students (even law review members) are pretty novice legal researchers. They may think they know everything about legal research, but they don't. Legal research is one of those skills that you forget how to do if you don't do it on a regular basis. In addition, many people establish bad habits when doing legal research (all-you-can eat Westlaw and Lexis are big culprits in establishing these bad habits).
6.6.2007 9:56pm
07 JD:
Law schools have research librarians?
6.6.2007 10:07pm
BCLS '07:
At orientation for the Law Review, one of the reference librarians gave a useful speech and a set of handouts dealing with various research-related issues. The most helpful advice, as I recall, had to do with preemption-checking.

I also went to the reference librarians a fair amount when writing my Note, always with pretty specific requests for help. For example, they were extremely helpful with tracking down some of the more unusual unpublished documents that I wanted to consult.
6.6.2007 10:51pm
CLS '07:
I did not use the librarians, primarily because the professor advising me was much more knowledgeable about which sources were best for my note.
6.7.2007 12:41am
The River Temoc (mail):
I didn't use research librarians. But this was because most of my sources were non-legal (either political science or economic) and what legal ones I used were very easy to find online. As for feedback on my research design, that's what professors in the area of my research interests were for.
6.7.2007 12:53am
Stanford Grad:
I did not use the librarians until my 3L year. I wish I'd used them a lot earlier. I needed to find some old government documents; I'd expected a trip to San Francisco or (god forbid) Sacramento to find them. Turns out they were in the library. Paul and Erica were extremely helpful. Tell students to ask the librarians even stupid questions. Works well to get familiar with the strengths of the librarians and gain a comfort level for the big questions.
6.7.2007 3:02am
M.E. Lopez (mail):
I didn't use the research librarians either, but that's because I worked in the library as an R.A.

Seemed kinda silly to admit I couldn't do my own job.
6.7.2007 4:09am
andy (mail) (www):
I called 1-800-WESTLAW each time I had the slightest question. I generally did not seek out authorities that were not available online.
6.7.2007 4:11am
Jim Harper (mail) (www):
I didn't know there were research librarians.
6.7.2007 8:33am
TheCrankyProfessor (mail) (www):
Teaching undergraduates to use reference/research librarians is one of the hardest things I have to do. They seem to think that these people are just there at the desk to tell them where the rest rooms are!

1. Librarians have been hired to sit behind the desk because they are professional researchers. They may well know even more than your professor about the resources, even if your professor designed the assignment.
2. Many of them (surely almost all of them) are better users of specialized online resources than students are - they're certainly more experienced. Where does that 800 number ring?
3. Reference librarians are frequently people with graduate degrees in interesting fields who either decided not to teach or who failed to find a tenure track job. They almost always broadly informed, since they're the kind of people who like to sit around and read books when people aren't asking them questions. My institution has one who reads 10 or 12 languages. He's doing Yiddish for fun right now.

and, at the very least
4. Librarians are someone to bounce a question off of. Most writers could stand to run a thesis statement past someone else and see if they understand it.

Oh, well.
6.7.2007 10:13am
Ubertrout (mail) (www):
I used research librarians extensively, and I'm happy I did. Especially when you're just starting out they're extremely helpful, and they'll point you to sources you wouldn't be aware of. The more technical/detailed your questions, the less they'll be able to help, but they still may surprise you. And it doesn't hurt to ask.
6.7.2007 11:18am
Zathras (mail):
I got the help of a research librarian only once, when I needed some advice on researching German law. This particular research librarian was fluent in German and was familiar with a lot of the German legal structure, so his help was invaluable.
6.7.2007 11:27am
Maid Marian (mail):
I head a team of research librarians at a top law school. I was sad to see so many commenters who didn't use librarians b/c they didn't think they could help, or didn't know about them at all (really?!) Or relied exclusively on 1800Westlaw (yikes!). As Cranky Professor alluded to, most research librarians at law schools have J.D.s and master's degrees in library or information science - and sometimes additional other degrees. Many have practiced law, as well. Students (faculty, too!) who learn that using a librarian will lead them faster to higher quality results have a real advantage over those who don't bother to ask.

One specific thing students might want to know is that many law libraries offer individual research consultations by appointment for students working on major research projects. (Check your library's website, or ask at your reference desk.) At my school this year, research librarians met with well over 100 individual students about their papers - each for about an hour. The student provides the topic in advance, allowing the librarian to spend the consultation time on the best sources and methods for the specific topic. Many, many students come back to us with reports about how helpful the consultation was, and how happy they were with how their papers turned out.
6.7.2007 12:24pm
GW law student:
I wrote a paper on veterans law (a somewhat arcane area). I need data about the rates of pro se representation in federal courts. One of the research librarians at GW was very helpful in tracking down the information for me. A very good (and probably underutilized) resource at the school.
6.7.2007 1:00pm
traubb (mail):
I echo Maid Marian's comments. Every year I contact the new editorial boards of our journals and offer to do training during their orientation for new members. Law Review was the first to accept and it has been a part of orientation each year. I usually do a one-hour class on Legislative History research since that is often needed for source checking and 1Ls don't cover it in LR&W. I also make sure to introduce databases such as HeinOnline and JStor so they know they exist, and point out the wealth of resources available through both the Law Library and Main Library (non-legal) websites. Doing the Law Review training means coming in on a weekend, but I think it's well worth the effort. Other journals have begun to ask for some orientation and training as well, although it's not as formal or consistent as Law Review.

While we offer to consult with students about research, many often ignore us thinking they can get what they need from Lexis, Westlaw, and Google. Doctrinal faculty teaching "paper" courses or supervising independent study / directed research could help in several ways. First off, they can make the quality of research an important factor in grading. They then could strongly suggest that students consult with a research librarian about their project. I've had many students referred to me that way, either while taking a course or while working as research assistants. Finally, we tell professors "Don't cancel that class!". If you need to be out one day, ask a reference / research librarian to give a lesson on research relevant to the course (e.g. administrative law research) and/or directly related to the papers in progress. In one small seminar I was given all the paper topics in advance and was able to give each student something to take away from the class relevant to his/her paper, in addition to general research instruction.

In academia, the law librarian's goal is the same as the faculty's: to prepare students to be the best lawyers they can be by teaching them the skills they will need.
6.7.2007 1:30pm
Thaddeus Pope (mail):
I regularly consulted with law reference librarians back when I was at Georgetown in the mid-1990s. I asked about everything from tracking down specific leads to getting feedback on the overall research strategy.

Since my research was related to law and bioethics, I also consulted the librarians at Georgetown's National Reference Center for Bioethics Literature. As many students are writing in interdisciplinary areas and may be at universities with specialty libraries, you should encourage them to seek help there too.
6.7.2007 2:04pm
RefDesk (mail):
I'm a reference librarian at a well-regarded law school and work closely with a number of journals, but since I'm not the head of anything I hope everyone will forgive my remaining anonymous as I respond to a few things other commenters have written.

First, in response to those doing notes on multidisciplinary topics and thinking that perhaps the law library's not the best place to go, please allow me to point out that multidisciplinary research is where a lot of faculty are going as well, and it's our job to keep up with them. In other words, we'll be able to assist with a wide range of resources outside the legal ones, but to do so from a legal perspective. We've also become pretty good at figuring out Bluebook citations to nontraditional sources.

Second, while many of us may not offer quite as organized a structure as Maid Marian, a librarian at any school will be happy to make an appointment with a notewriter at any point during the process, from picking a topic to tracking down the last few sources for the citecheckers.

Third, while we can't compare with the professors on the substance of the sources in their fields, we're very good on which of those sources are likely to be available to you and in what time frame. We also will cooperate with each other to get you over some of those practical hurdles.

The great frustration for librarians is to be left on the sidelines. I assure you that if you ask us to participate in your notewriting process, you'll be glad you did.
6.7.2007 2:59pm