Several CS-SIS members (myself included!) took part in the TS-SIS sponsored session “Data, Stats, Go: Navigating the Intersections of Cataloging, E-Resource, and Web Analytics Reporting” for AALL’s 2020 annual conference live stream programming last week. In case you missed it, or had issues with the live stream, attendees can now watch the recording on-demand by visiting:

Select “handouts” to access the slides PDF as well as a 2-page handout at the end of the file, and choose “on-demand recording” to watch the video. The content of this session included a wide range of examples showing the types of data we are all collecting for our institutions, and organization represented included both law firm and academic libraries. Several platforms were shared about, and their data types compared including repositories, integrated library systems, websites, ticketing, and more.

We broke down our data-driven discussion into three major parts:

  1. The Landscape (WHERE you pull your data from, and analytics versus statistic)
  2. The [Pain] Points (WHAT you are gathering, with an emphasis on process vs. technology pain points)
  3. The Life of the Story (WHY you are reporting, WHO you share it with, and HOW you visualize it)

The live session featured interactive polling for each section of the presentation, and an “ugly origami” exercise where participants were asked to write on and fold a single sheet of paper to create a symbol of their statistics (…the catch was not knowing exactly what you were doing in advance)! We had fun literally visualizing how ugly our stats truly are when we don’t think about what, why, and how we collect our data in advance. We shared our favorite tools for leveling up stats visualization, and encouraged attendees to think more critically and creatively about their library’s data.

Whether you watched the session live, plan to re-watch it later, or only have time to read this blog post, we encourage you to use this set of questions as a guide for using your data to tell more meaningful and powerful stories about your users, services, and resources:

  • What stories to you need to tell using data?
  • What systems can you get that data from?
  • Does the data actually represent what you think it does?
  • What tools could you use, if any, to visualize or report it?
  • What impact or result do you want your data to have?
  • How could you improve the usefulness of your data moving forward?
    • What data do you wish you had tracked?
    • What data do you track that you no longer need?
    • Do you need changes to your procedures?
  • What unintended issues could your changes introduce to other data tracked?

Thank you to everyone who attended. Now, data, stats, go…!

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In March, I wrote a post for this blog on how to use Zoom. Since Covid-19 still has us all stuck at home, why not learn more about Zoom?  In this blog post, I will show you how to use Zoom’s polling feature.


Before the meeting.

First, sign into the Zoom website—not the client.*

Next, you need to check your account settings to make sure polls are enabled. Go to the settings page

Then scroll down to polling and, if it’s not on, turn it on.

With polling enabled, we can then create a meeting, here I have already created a meeting called “Learning about polls.”

Next, click into that meeting’s page—I’ll click on the blue text “Learning about polls.”

Once you are on the new meeting page, scroll to the bottom and you will see a box that informs you “You have not created any poll yet.” Adjacent to this message hit the add button.

This launches the “Add a Poll” dialog box.

Here we can create the poll questions. From this box, you will enter a title for your poll, choose whether participants will answer the poll anonymously (i.e. the system will not collect the participant’s answers), and enter poll questions. This poll contains two questions. One question is set to a single choice and the other to multiple choice. Once you’re done entering questions, hit save. You can create multiple polls for use within a single meeting.

In preparation for my meeting, I created three polls using the various settings available in the Zoom poll creation tool. Next up, we’ll use these polls within a zoom meeting.

During the Meeting

To help with this meeting I enlisted the aid of several law librarians.** The purpose of the meeting was to take some trivial polls and to get some photos to use in this blog post; we accomplished all of our goals.***

As soon as everyone logged in to the zoom, I launched the polls by selecting them from the polling button which appears when you hover over the Zoom window.

Then after everyone responded to each poll, I shared the results.  The second question on the first poll is a multiple-choice so participants were able to select as many answers as they wanted. Also note, as host, I could not respond to the polls.


After the Meeting

Zoom allows you to later download poll results. Here’s how:

Log into your zoom account, then go to Reports and select Meeting.

Next select Poll Report and adjust the date range to show the meeting for which you want the poll reports.

After that, check the box for your meeting and hit Generate. Doing so will bring you to the Report Queue from which you can download your poll results.

Zoom gives poll results in a CSV file format. Here is a peek at my poll results after I adjusted the width of the columns. We can tell the results between the first poll and the second. Although all meeting attendees had identified themselves in some way, my poll results unexpectedly list many attendees as Guest. The second poll remained completely anonymous.


* Thanks to Nicole Dyszlewski for pointing this out.
** Thanks to Mandy Lee, Mike Muehe, Rachel Weiss, and again Nicole Dyszlewski.
*** Thanks to Mandy Lee for the screenshots.


Guest post by Amanda Watson, Director of the O’Quinn Law Library and Assistant Professor of Law.

On June 3 and June 5, CS-SIS organized two talks on Controlled Digital Lending (CDL). The first focused on technology and the second on copyright. I hosted both panels and want to thank the panelists and all the librarians who participated and asked great questions.

The technology panel was: Chris Freeland, Director of Open Libraries, Internet Archive, and Leah Prescott, Associate Director for Digital Initiatives and Special Collections, Georgetown Law Library.

The nuts and bolts of CDL were described as having a way to properly scan and process materials as well as safely store and lend electronic materials. For both processes, it was clear that there are multiple levels of monetary and labor obligations. On the ends of the spectrum, a library could use something like Open Libraries ( and pay for a solution like the Gold Package which takes much of the labor process off of individual libraries but requires a payment premium. Or, a library could use existing technologies (like Google Drive or OneDrive) to put together a low-cost alternative. However, the panelists noted that the amount of labor and planning for a low-cost alternative is high.

Libraries can join Open Libraries without paying any funds, and use the system without digitizing their shared collections. However, they will have to pledge their physical copies to the system, meaning discontinuing their print use and understanding that their copy will be used as part of the larger system, perhaps meaning it will not be usable by their patrons if patrons from other institutions are already using the copy.

It was widely agreed that the largest problem with CDL is the amount of time for lending. Law books often need very discreet checkout periods, and most systems don’t allow something very brief. Someone noted that Google Drive will limit use to one day while most limit use to two weeks. Many expressed hopes that major library ILS systems will develop these systems within the frameworks we’ve all already invest in.

The copyright panel was: Kyle K. Courtney, Program Manager and Copyright Advisor, Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication; David Hansen, Associate University Librarian for Research, Collections & Scholarly Communication, Lead Copyright & Information Policy Officer, Duke University Libraries; and Michelle M. Wu, Associate Dean for Library Services & Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Library.

The panel described the basic elements of CDL for copyright purposes: 1) the item must be owned 2) there must be an equal own to loan ratio and 3) the system must be controlled by some DRM/comply with Fair Use.

One topic of discussion was the physical holding of the book. The panelists reported that you can physically hold, but remove materials from circulation or destroy materials if there is not space to store them. Panelists agreed anyone destroying materials should ideally keep some record of ownership and destruction. There was a brief discussion of keeping physical materials in circulation, but it was noted as difficult to enforce and not an ideal system.

An equal own to loan ratio means you must attempt to use the digital copy the way you would’ve used the physical copy. You can only loan as many copies as you physically own. It was also discussed that you should keep the digital copy in the same state as the physical — meaning you shouldn’t loan chapters or portions of a volume but should divide the contents the way they are physically divided.

Finally, controlling the loan with DRM and honoring Fair Use means you must put a system in place to honor the Fair Use of the material. Some questions were posed about how perfect this system has to be. The panelists agreed that the library burden is to set up a system, but that we all understand some violations may happen and that not all violations can be avoided.

The panelists agreed that working with University Counsel is a good idea to make sure your institution is on board with your system and plans.

Because of the great interest in these conversations, CS-SIS is planning two follow-up discussions in early August, one on the low-cost alternative CDL and one on DRM. These will be announced more fully in AALL’s My Communities in July.

Recordings of both panels are available on our AALL Community page!

CALICon 2020 was full of change to meet the new virtual learning reality. The third day included presentations by clinical professors highlighting the difficulties with clinical education for law students stuck at home. As states combat another spike in infections, it is likely that some aspects of remote lawyering will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

Dionne Gonder-Stanley, Clinical Professor from North Carolina Central University School of Law, addressed virtual presentation lawyering skills, like maintaining proper court attire, camera, and body positioning, observing courtroom decorum, and the tech required for virtual lawyering. Professor Gonder-Stanley also noted that the equipment required to run a virtual clinic was a computer with a webcam, microphone, a stable internet connection, and Zoom. Clients would only require a phone to dial into the Zoom meeting.

One way to improve virtual professionalism is by improving hardware beyond internal webcams and minimum laptop requirements. Nothing says unprofessional as a slow internet connection, grainy picture quality, and audio that sounds like it’s coming from an underwater cave. A faster CPU, more RAM, an HD webcam, and a headset with a directional microphone can all drastically improve the presentation quality. Zoom Virtual Backgrounds also require slightly higher computing requirements and add to the professionalism of remote lawyering by eliminating visual distractions in the background. System requirements differ if you generate a virtual background with or without a green screen available. For more information about the system requirements, check out Zoom Backgrounds.

(External webcams allow for higher quality video, with integrated microphone, and allows for varying viewing angles for a more professional presentation.)

Given the advances in wireless technology, wireless headphones allow free range of movement from longer distances, offer increased battery life, and are less conspicuous, all of which are essential for animated litigators. If combined with an external webcam and podium, presentations can look more like oral arguments in a courtroom, all without leaving the home. Optimized tech would also allow law students to give oral arguments without the appearance of reading from a prepared statement while staring off into their laptop, adding to their professional decorum. While one concern for law schools will be the income inequality of their law students, law schools should make some effort to provide optimized equipment to students in the clinical and pro bono programs, through either a loan or subsidized tech program.

Another great takeaway from the clinical efforts at UNT Dallas College of Law was the virtual justice program, allowing for presentations to a large group of patrons with general legal advice.  Zoom allowed students to set up client meetings and mimic the pre-pandemic clinical setting of allowing clients to move from table to table. Another model program was a daylong virtual expungement clinic, allowing students to prepare beforehand and advise clients in a virtual setting.

One key aspect of managing online clinics are the client management systems that allow for remote work. Client management systems offer cloud computing and storage, with some systems even allowing document sharing with non-attorneys. For example, Clio, a cloud-based client management system, allows document sharing with clients and other third parties. Clinical instruction on client management systems familiarizes law students with the nuances of working in a modern law firm environment. However, given the security and privacy risks involved with cloud data and file-sharing of confidential files, this software should be taught before students step foot into the real world of legal practice.

(Clio’s dashboard allows you to share documents with third parties.)

Despite all this, the main hurdle of the pivot to virtual legal clinics was maintaining community engagement. Law schools have traditionally held offices either in the community or on campus to physically connect students to their clients. Since the pandemic hit, this connection has been relegated to online Zoom meetings, telephone conferences, emails, and the good old United States Postal Service for document delivery. While CALICon presented the lack of community engagement as an obstacle, the presenters viewed the lack of physical interaction as a boon for access to justice. For example, UNT Dallas held general legal advice Zoom sessions, which could reach more members of the community than hosting the same meeting in a physical space.

If you would like to check out any of the CALICon sessions on clinics and engagement, you can view this session as well as other sessions on their YouTube channel:


It feels like CALICon 2020 was eons ago in our suspended animation existence that is the new norm for those of us still teleworking past the 3 months mark. Yet the words from Friday June 5th’s keynote address delivered by Caitlin “Cat” Moon have continued ringing in my ears:

“TECH is easy, PEOPLE are hard.” – Cat Moon

I had been following Cat on Twitter for many months leading up to CALICon’s announcement that she would be one of the two keynotes for their virtual conference. So I was elated to learn she would give a closing address in early June. In a previous CALICon re-cap CS-SIS blog post another avid tweeter and AALL member Brian Huffman shared an excellent brief summary of Cat’s talk. In addition to highlighting her sentiments that this was the crisis we needed, he noted her emphasis on “EQ. Cat recommended a human-centered design for our model going forward. Along with empathy, we need curiosity and radical collaboration to grow.” It is the “human-centered” part that is so important.

Sadly that is more often than not the key element that is missing from our designs, be they interfaces patrons use in libraries, systems that professionals and clients use in legal practice, or workflows we use ourselves in academic institutions, government offices or private firms. Part of Cat’s talk not surprisingly focused on design (duh, she is the Director of Innovation Design for the PoLI at Vanderbilt), and how COVID has been the impetus for re-designs we sorely needed. From shifting course structures to implementing patron-driven holds, this excellent slide highlights how “the people” is a factor missing from many of our designs which should be user-centered.

EQ is a big part of staying user-focused when we design. Also known as emotional quotient or more popularly emotional intelligence, EQ was co-developed by another John Mayer (the psychologist, not the CALI tech guru). Check out his sweet html-based EQ website. In short, your EQ is a measure of individual capability for recognizing your own emotions and others, to discern between them, to label them appropriately, and to use this emotional data to guide thinking and behavior. In an ideal world, good EQ would allow you to adapt more easily and quickly to environments and the people in them, and ultimately achieve your goals.

Awareness of and programming around emotional intelligence has continued to increase at tech-driven conferences. I remember very vividly the summaries my colleague Information Technology Librarian Jason Tubinis shared from the last two ABA Techshows, and being intrigued that many were centered around more soft skill topics (like “EQ over IQ: Building Emotional Intelligence…“). I expected to hear all about Blockchain or the latest and greatest AI – but emotional intelligence at a tech conference?! He comments that “I think it’s a credit to the Techshow that they do a really good job of keeping attorneys informed about about the latest and greatest technology, but also bringing awareness to new developments in how to be better in practice/work generally“. And there is good reason this is growing in popularity; if sci-fi has taught us anything it is that machine learning can’t compare to the human touch. The ABA Techshow gets it and Jason gets it. Not long before COVID closure he recommended to me the excellent title Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.

Cat gets it too; she recommended in her keynote the book Focus: Use Different Ways of Seeing the World for Success and Influence. Authored by Heidi Grant Halvorson and E. Tory Higgins (psychologists from Columbia University’s Motivation Science Center, part of the Business School), it really highlights the importance of balance when it comes to motivation for succeeding in anything. This reminded me of the balancing aspects of the Swedish Lagome and Danish Hygge ways of living. What originally brought me to these philosophies was the book The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids. To my wonderful surprise Focus also includes an chapter on parenting. For me that chapter clearly outlined how certain techniques can be used to motivate people of all ages, even if the examples were related to children.

We experience it everyday in our positions where our roles of understanding and implementing the technology for our libraries and law schools is small beans compared to the far more essential and trickier task of translating complex systems and unpacking the jargon for coworkers and patrons. Translation is the hardest piece of the puzzle. Early on the book illustrates that pessimism is actually a very healthy trait expressed by individuals who are prevention motivated. More optimistic individuals (at least externally) are usually promotion motivated. I tend to fall on the “promotion” motivated end of the spectrum most of the time. As I try to find and embrace my inner pessimist, and learn more empathy for my “prevention” motivated colleagues, I encourage you to revisit Cat’s keynote on CALI’s YouTube. Her words of advice, and her book recommendation, were highly practical and on point for those of us who continue to redesign our services and resources all while being propelled into an increasingly unknown Fall 2020.

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As a member of the ABA TECHSHOW 2021 Planning Board, I have previously communicated to several AALL Communities regarding  the TECHSHOW 2021 Call for Proposals.

TECHSHOW 2021 is scheduled for March 10-13, 2021 in Chicago. However, as with most conferences scheduled within the next year, the ABA is working to make plans that will also allow for a virtual conference, if necessary. If you have a suggestion for a topic you (and others) would like to hear, or if you are interested in being a presenter, please fill out the form here. If you have more than one topic idea, please submit as many times as you  desire! While the deadline for proposals was originally set for midnight (Central Time) Friday, June 12, 2020, in recognition of the priority of other concerns at this time, the TECHSHOW Board will continue to accept proposals past the original deadline.

In addition to submitting a proposal, feel free to contact me regarding your submission so that I might be better able to represent your ideas to other members of the TECHSHOW Board. I will be serving as the Track Leader for the Next 20 Track, but also be advocating for ideas for sessions for other tracks. Also, please remember submitting a proposal does not guarantee a speaking slot.


Darla Jackson, CS-SIS Chair


Last week, I attended CALICON 2020, and since I had never been to CALICON before, I did not know what to expect. To summarize my experience, I would say I really loved a few of the sessions and overall felt the conference was useful and relevant to what is going on in legal education today. In this post I’m going to discuss a few of my favorite sessions and also to help break up the monotony of my myopic worldview, I will also share what some of my favorite law librarians told me about their favorite sessions. Hopefully, CS-SIS Blog readers will find something that they like in this smorgasbord of opinions. I also welcome comments about your favorite sessions.

I love learning about educational technologies, tools that can make the business of teaching more effective. When I have taught Advanced Legal Research in the past, I utilized a flipped classroom method and created video lessons for each topic, which I would then upload to Echo360, and create a link to list on TWEN. For each video, I also created TWEN quizzes that I intended for students to take immediately after or even while watching the video. I did the contemporaneous quizzing because such quizzing can drive the lessons deeper into the brain of the learner, actually help them learn. I wish I had then known of the tool covered in the session Easy Ways to Improve Your Class Videos.

During this session, Angela Upchurch of Southern Illinois University School of Law described an educational tool called edpuzzle which permits a teacher to upload a video and insert questions into the video. This tool provides several advantages, such as a method for instant assessment with questions to highlight important points for students, confirmation for an instructor that the students are watching the video, and for the flipped classroom assessment before a class meeting about which concepts proved the most challenging for the students. Knowing what is hardest for students can help the instructor to know what to focus on or supplement in class or what parts of the video may need to be reworked for subsequent classes. In any case, this tool seems very useful, especially since one can begin using it for free. I feel this tool would make a great addition to any class that includes video lessons.

Other sessions I found interesting include:

  • Neuroscience and Online Learning, Steve Friedland
  • Online Conversation Spaces: Encouraging Meaningful Dialogue on Chat Boards, Jill Smith & Will Monroe

Given the quality of the sessions, I hope to be able to participate in CALICON in the future.

Here’s what a few of my law librarian colleagues had to say about the conference:

Heather J. E. Simmons, Associate Director for Instruction & Access Services, Alexander Campbell King Law Library, University of Georgia School of Law

 My favorite #CALIcon2020 session was the one my University of Georgia co-workers presented: Surviving COVID with the Breakfast Club: Task Management & Communication Tools for Multi-Generational Telework. They used movies to identify with each generation. The generations represented were Boomers – Carol Watson (The Big Chill, Breakfast Club); GenX – Wendy Moore (Reality Bytes); and Millennials – Rachel Evans and Geraldine Kalim (Scream, Clueless, Hackers).  The remote office tools discussed were Trello, Slack, and Zoom. Trello is the tool we use to manage our work and projects. It’s great for tracking who is working on what and when things are due.  We use Slack as an instant messaging alternative to email, but mostly we like it because it is so much fun. It feels like social media. It has emoticons built-in, and we can also add GIFs, so it’s a light-hearted way to have a conversation. We have channels for work things like virtual reference, but some of them are just for fun. Zoom is what we use for meetings, but our favorite thing is our weekly Happy Hour at 4:30 on every Friday. Sometimes there’s a theme, and other times we just hang out. Not everyone attends every time, but it’s a great way to unwind with our co-workers at the end of the week, and also to help keep track of what day it is.

Joe Lawson, Deputy Director, Harris County Law Library

During the CALIcon2020 program titled Instruction and Collaboration During COVID-19: Creating an Inclusive Environment, Zanada Joyner raised a poignant question about inclusion for law students in the age of COVID-19. She asked, “Who’s losing? Someone is going to lose if we’re not careful about how we move forward and technology is a tangible example.” The question resonated with me because I have wondered the same about members of the public who fall into the digital divide and have not been able to access legal information at my law library since March. Attending this session broadened my thinking about the impact of transitioning, perhaps too quickly, to digital-only services and helped me focus on a challenge many law librarians face in service to students and the public.

Brian R. Huffman, Electronic Services Librarian, University of Hawaii at Manoa, School of Law Library

Picture of Brian HuffmanThis was CALICon’s first all virtual conference. I found it very engaging and well-designed from a user’s point of view. I was grateful that they started at each day 1 PM Central time (which is 9 AM here in Hawaiʻi). The schwag box was fun and made it feel a little more like a physical event with a shirt, name tag, food, and other goodies. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend all the sessions. The ones I did attend were focused on Synchronous v. Asynchronous courses; the Pandemic Law Library; the Pandemic Law School (portions); Beyond the Lecture; Clinics and Engagement; and Student Voices.

Great takeaways: From the 10,000 feet perspective, I found the major takeaways were to teach/learn with kindness. Empathy was a key concept in almost every presentation. Strive for inclusivity so all students can be engaged and involved. Use this unique opportunity to rebuild/develop online instruction and provide meaningful technology instruction to future lawyers. Law librarians need to take a step back and think about intentional instruction/service. Make sure you hone your tech skills and position the library to be a just-in-time service via online methods when you are not physically available.

The closing address by Cat Moon told us this was the Crises We Needed. Echoing empathy and kindness threads from previous conference topics, Cat emphasized EQ. Cat recommended a human-centered design for our model going forward.  Along with empathy, we need curiosity and radical collaboration to grow.

Debbie Ginsberg, Educational Technology Librarian, Chicago-Kent College of Law Library

One of the best outcomes of CALI pivoting to its online format was we were able to invite in more student voices.  An entire track was dedicated to their experiences during COVID.  Students are often left out of tech conversions, and yet they are the ones who experience the greatest impact.  We heard from students all over the country, but of course, it was quite interesting for me to hear from students at my own school especially.  Their struggles are ones we’ve discussed – tech issues, home issues, lack of study space, lack of motivation.  But these sessions were particularly powerful and informative.  Listen to their presentations if you have a chance.

Mandy Lee, Research & Instructional Services Librarian, Chicago-Kent College of Law Library

Attending CALICON2020 virtually was, in some ways, bittersweet. Chicago-Kent College of Law had been planning since last year to host the conference in person; as Chicago-Kent’s Research & Instructional Services Librarian, I would have been part of the host library staff.

On the other hand, because, given the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference had moved online, and the theme adjusted accordingly, I sometimes marveled at the convenience and ease with which people who might not otherwise have been able to attend the sessions could do so remotely – and without a registration fee.

Thus, from the comfort of my study at my parents’ house in suburban Chicago, where I’ve been sheltering for weeks, I gratefully logged in to various CALICON2020 sessions. While they all provided useful information that I could apply to my daily work, my favorite session, if I had to pick just one, would be Day 3’s Student Voices. The speakers offered numerous and varied insights into their experiences during the hybrid, and uniquely challenging, Spring 2020 semester.

I learned the most valuable aspects of moving to remote instruction during the global COVID-19 pandemic, as well as areas in which improvement could have been made. Some things I learned that proved to be validating and refreshing included the importance of the library to students’ academic lives – one student said that the library is a “dealbreaker”; students must have study spaces other than their homes. Another pointed out that “one learning style does not work for all students”; instructors must be “flexible” in their teaching methods. One speaker advised instructors to record videos because some students do not “have the bandwidth to attend a live class.” “Practice makes perfect – don’t wait until mid-class to try a new zoom feature”; “don’t be afraid to try new and creative solutions” – use “opportunities to be interactive.” Others articulated:

  • Time management challenges
  • Dealing with the trauma of the pandemic
  • Incorporate asynchronous teaching tools
  • Desire for more class structure
  • Challenges of cultivating a sense of community and engagement
  • Students like to use breakout rooms – use 1 room for every 1-1.5 hours of class time
  • “Far more challenging to focus on synchronized classes” than asynchronous
  • Zoom works better for large classes; Google Meet works better for classes of 4 students or fewer
  • Implement individualized check-ins with students; ask about accommodations needed
  • To make students feel engaged, begin each class with space for students to talk about issues they’re going through, as Alex Rabanal and others did; sign into class early to see if students are there, and share happy thoughts, heartwarming things that make students smile
  • Instructors should constantly iterate to the students that we are here, and to reach out to us if students need help. One professor gave her cell phone number to students, and said that they could contact her when they needed to

Overall, the Student Voices session really humanized a representative sampling of people who, as a patron category, comprise a large portion of the people with whom I work on a daily basis. I look forward to attending next year’s CALICON sessions which, fingers crossed, will take place in person, at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Guest post by Amanda Watson, Director of the O’Quinn Law Library and Assistant Professor of Law.

“It’s the way we’ve always done it.” Law librarians, like most people, are generally creatures of habit. It isn’t surprising, since so much of our work is understanding, and even translating how things work.

The United States Supreme Court hears around 80 oral arguments a year. For about half the year, lawyers travel to the prestigious columned building to answer questions from the Justices. It is a career highlight for those lawyers, who sometimes commission artists to create images of them in front of the iconic bench.

Spring of 2020 has been a time of many challenges to “the way we’ve always done it” because of the response to COVID-19. The oral arguments are no different. In an April press release, the Court announced they would hear oral arguments by telephone conference.

The Supreme Court bench is known for being very active. It was difficult to imagine how that would translate to a telephone conference because the lawyers nor the Justices would see the nonverbal cues so important to the back and forth of the usual argument.

Why did the Court decide not to use video conferencing? As SCOTUSblog put it, it would be hard to “put the genie back in the bottle” after the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Whatever method was used would certainly set an unofficial precedent for future arguments.  Some Justices have said that a video conference would turn into an event, with lawyers trying to create news-worthy quips instead of focusing on advocating for their clients. Audio recordings have been provided (with a delay) since 1955, so providing them as a live stream was a more modest innovation.

The telephone conference arguments started in early May and provided both live and archived versions to the public. The arguments have been very orderly. The most surprising feature turned out not to be the live stream or mechanics of telephonic communication, but that the usually quiet Justice Thomas asked questions, and that a toilet flush was heard during one argument when someone forgot to mute their telephone. All in all, telephone conferences have been a success while not changing that much about the future of arguments. They are not the way we’ve always done it, but they likely will allow for an easy transition back to the way we’ve always done it when COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed.

The Computing Services Special Interest Section is made up of awesome law librarians doing interesting things.   The CS-SIS Member Spotlight is designed to shine a light on our members so that we can learn more about each other and stay connected.

CS-SIS Member Spotlight:  Amanda Watson


Allow me to introduce Amanda Watson, incoming chair of CS-SIS.  Amanda’s path to law librarianship began at Mississippi University for Women where she earned her B.A. She then attended the University of Mississippi School of Law and accepted a clerkship at the Mississippi Court of Appeals.  Following her clerkship, she joined a small firm specializing in family law but wanted to shift her focus to helping people without being limited by their ability to pay.  She recalled her student work at her law school library, and teaching legal research to 1Ls and pondered “isn’t that a career?”  That was that, as law librarianship allowed her to dig into her commitment to serving the public interest.

With law librarianship experience in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, Amanda jokes she is well-versed in 5th circuit jurisdictions.  As Manager of Information Services at the Jackson office of Phelps Dunbar, LLP, she had the support of her firm while she earned her Master of Library Science degree from Florida State University.  She was then appointed the State Librarian of Mississippi. With a solid understanding of law firm and government law libraries, she entered academic law librarianship.  She worked for seven years at the Tulane University School of Law Library, ultimately as Associate Director, and then transitioned into Director of the O’Quinn Law Library at the University of Houston.  Amanda has positive takeaways from all of these library positions and notes her appreciation of her staff, bosses, and mentors along the way.

Amanda is excited to be the incoming chair of CS-SIS as our membership considers its future and a potential rebrand.  She learned early on in her career that an important aspect of librarianship was the ability to bridge the gap between lawyers and technology and explaining technology to lawyers.  Her membership in the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) helps keep her up-to-date on industry trends.  She understands information architecture and the systems that need to be built and is interested in creating and improving technology.  Currently, she is excited by the concept of a tool that will search across secondary sources.  While a treatise discovery layer may be years in the making, Amanda knows that such a product will have a positive impact on her students, and legal research beyond the academy.  She has seen librarians work with vendors to improve products and make them the best version of what they can be.  She brings to the CS-SIS executive board a talent for speaking the language of tech and her innovative ideas.

Having immediately understood the valuable role technology would play in this Covid-19 pandemic, Amanda proved again that librarians and libraries are habitually useful.  In the early weeks of implementing online teaching, she and her library team created reference materials and guides, provided hundreds of individual trainings, and are making a huge difference in the lives of students and faculty as they adapt to a remote learning environment.   Amanda had previously navigated the waters of hurricanes Katrina and Harvey and knows that being a good listener, having patience, and embracing creativity are qualities that will help her library get through this pandemic.  In the meantime, she’s embracing working from home and is preparing to teach Texas legal research online this summer and is looking into teaching her advanced legal research course online in the fall.

Amanda loves her family and values the time she gets to spend with her wife and two sons.  She enjoys watching RuPaul’s Drag Race on VH1 and in non-pandemic times visits art museums and attends theater, ballet, and opera performances.  She sings recreationally and her eldest son, also a singer, is a member of the Houston Boy Choir.

Thanks to Amanda for her willingness to be interviewed for this CS-SIS member spotlight.

Thank you to Nancy Bellafante, Serials & Electronic Resources Librarian at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, for this guest post.

The Biddle Law Library at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School responded to the COVID-19 crisis by increasing online reference services and expanding our collection of electronic resources. Before the shutdown, Biddle’s staff worked quickly to digitize course reserve materials. The library also partnered with publishers to provide free online access to casebooks and textbooks and invested in new ebook collections and study aid packages.

Yet, the library offers more to students than research support and course materials. We provide opportunities for personal connection. How can the library offer emotional support to students from a distance? In this remote environment, how can we communicate a smile or words of encouragement that we normally share in our face-to-face interactions?

During Final Exams period, the library puts up a digital display of the staff’s beloved dogs and cats (even a few turtles) to bring a little joy to our students during a stressful time. This spring, we adapted this idea to create the video, Finals Survival Tips: Pets Edition.

Library staff submitted clips of their pets demonstrating important tips for making it through finals, such as “eat snacks” and “take naps.” The video also included a message from librarians to let students know we miss them and are still here to help.

Creating the video did not require much time nor technical expertise. Below is an overview of the process.

Tools Used

  • Microsoft Photos – Pre-installed Windows 10 application, includes a built-in video editor
  • Zoom – Videoconferencing program with an option to record, offers free and paid accounts
  • Canva – Online graphic design program, offers free and paid accounts

Collect Video Content

Send an email to staff, explaining the purpose of the video, along with the deadline and guidelines for submissions. Explain how the video will be shared. Ask staff to keep clips under 15 seconds. Give ideas for the clips and encourage multiple submissions. Since some video files are too large to email, set up an online folder for staff to save submissions.

Create the Video

Microsoft Photos is similar to other video editors, but with fewer bells and whistles. If you are unfamiliar with video-editing software, watch Microsoft’s short tutorial series on how to make a video. Below are the basic steps to creating a video:

Start a new video project and import collected clips into the program. Decide on the video’s orientation. Note, most people record with their phones in portrait mode. Drag clips to the timeline to create the video sequence. Select individual clips to remove any black borders and to trim the clip, capturing the most interesting footage. You can also adjust or mute a clip’s volume if needed.

Add background music to the project. Select a track that fits the emotional tone of the piece. Add title slides to help communicate and organize the video’s narrative. Again, choose visual elements that match the video’s tone and message.  Keep it short. Our video was just under 3 minutes, which is a bit long, and it makes posting on some social media platforms difficult. If you have a lot of good material, consider breaking it up into a series. Once your video project is complete, save it as a movie file (MP4).

Create Text Slides Using Canva

Microsoft’s video editor is simple to use, but it has some limitations. It does not allow you to adjust the music volume for individual clips or add multiple tracks. Also, the program does offer clip transitions, and there are few text and title slide options.

For our video, I created the text slides using Canva, a free online graphic design program. Canva is easy to use and provides many templates and images. It is free to sign up for an account; however, some of the design elements are only available for paid accounts. I highly recommend Canva for creating marketing materials and social media posts.

Share the Video

Publish the video to your library’s YouTube or Vimeo channel to easily share the link on your website and social media. Our video was also shared with students in an e-newsletter sent by our school’s Student Affairs Office. I find this direct form of communication with students has the most reach.

The Most Important Element

Don’t forget the human element! We recorded a message to our students in Zoom for the video.  As heart-warming as our furry friends can be, seeing the faces of the librarians and hearing their voices were key to making a personal connection and communicating our support.