Saturday, April 9, 2016

Accessing the Potential of Graduate Students

Yesterday I attended a conference that was jointly hosted by LLNE and ABLL at Northeastern University School of Law. The focus of the conference was "Access to Government Information," but I noticed a second theme throughout the day: strong partnerships.

The LLNE/ABLL spring conference was my first as a graduate student, and my strongest take-away from the day has to be the power of strong partnerships to produce successful results. The conference itself was obviously a collaboration of LLNE and ABLL, but this theme also came up consistently during the day's events.

I think that the most important step in forming a strong and healthy partnership is to recognize one's own limits, and then to identify how the other party's strengths can fill the gap. We heard an example of this strategy from Dan Jackson from the NuLawLab when he described his partnership with game designers and law librarians to build a game for self-representative litigants. Susan Drisko Zago also spoke about aligning law librarians with public librarians to serve rural populations in northern New Hampshire. Beryl Lipton and Pam Wilmot shared how their respective groups, MuckRock and Common Cause, work together to improve access to government information. Helen Lacoutre from BC Law told us about the Federal Depository Program at her library.

One of the most ambitious partnerships is perhaps Harvard Law's agreement with Ravel Law to make all U.S. case law freely available online (Free the Law). With regard to this relationship, Adam Ziegler spoke about another aspect of strong partnerships: the importance of setting guidelines should either party fail to meet their obligations.

Sarah Glassmeyer, in her spirited keynote address "Hot Messes, Dumpster Fires and the Role of Law Librarians in the 21st Century," described a few successful partnerships as well, such as the mutually beneficial arrangement for Lexis to publish state government information. This model of contracting with a corporate publisher has resulted in better information access for citizens of those states.

After Sarah presented her research and spoke about future efforts to improve access, one suggestion stood out to me in particular. A follow-up question and its subsequent discussion brought up the idea of working through AALL to have one librarian from each state collect information how their state publishes government information. This would likely be a time consuming project, but the results would be valuable for future efforts to synchronize and improve access across the nation.

AALL could certainly be an important partner for a project like this, but I can think of another resource. Simmons SLIS students, until this semester, were required to complete either an internship or a research project. I imagine that even without the credit requirement, many students will choose to pursue research opportunities as part of their graduate program. Researchers should look to grad students as partners; this relationship would provide a unique and meaningful experience for the student. Additionally, these opportunities could inspire future librarians to seek similar partnerships, bridging the gap between students and the professionals who will soon be our peers.

Encouraging students to attend conferences is a great first step in forging these relationships, because it builds awareness of current developments in the field of librarianship. Prior to this conference, I had not heard of most of these initiatives surrounding access to government information access; today I feel encouraged that these partnerships exist and motivated to become more engaged. I am optimistic about the future of legal librarianship and so grateful for the opportunity to join this conversation.

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