Western Pennsylvania Law Library Association

A chapter of the American Association of Law Libraries.

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Pew Report: Lifelong Learning and Technology

Guest post by Sarah Steers

Lifelong learners, personal and professional learners, major technology adopters: regular library users can be identified in a myriad of ways, according to the April 2016 Pew Research Center report Lifelong Learning and Technology.

The Pew Research Center offered a good synopsis of the report on March 22, 2016.  Pew found that:

  • 73% of adults consider themselves lifelong learners
  • 74% of adults are “personal learners” – people who have “participated in at least one” activity in the past year about something that interests them or something that they care about (like reading, taking a course, or attending an event).
  • 63% of working adults (which equates to 36% of all adult Americans) are professional learners – people who have taken a course or gotten some sort of training to advance their career or improve their job skills.

The report notes that many people weren’t aware if their local library offered “key learning and educational resources”:

  • 22% didn’t know if their library offered e-books for download;
  • 38% didn’t know if their library offered career resources;
  • 47% didn’t know if their library offered GED or high school equivalency courses;
  • 47% didn’t know if their library offered help for starting a new business;
  • and 49% didn’t know if their library offered online certification programs.

Pew’s “Libraries and Learning” report noted a few other community concerns.  For example, it’s more likely for women, parents of minors, people under age 50, and people with more education to use libraries and digital library resources.  Satisfied library users and those happy with available learning opportunities tend to be female, black or Hispanic, aged 30 or over, and/or from lower-income households.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Offerings

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh offers downloadable e-book services for cardholders, career and resume help for those in the workforce and help for recent high school grads  wondering about next-steps (students can also find practice exams and scholarship info), and multiple resources for new entrepreneurs. Check out CLP’s website for more info on the great services and events hosted by the Library.

Drop WPLLA a line if you have any comments or concerns about this report or any of its takeaways.  Or, let us know how you feel about your local library and some of the creative or helpful resources it offers!  We’d love to hear from you!

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Academic Library Study Released

Guest post by Sarah Steers, WPLLA Treasurer

I’m willing to bet that every person reading this post has, at one point in his or her adult life, used the phrase “eds and meds” to describe Pittsburgh’s economic comeback story.  We live in a city with a number of amazing colleges and universities, expanding the minds of tens of thousands of students and encouraging academic breakthroughs and technological innovation.  In fact, many of WPLLA’s members are academic law librarians, working at the Barco Law Library at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and the Center for Legal Information at the Duquesne University School of Law.

While some of our law librarians are familiar with life behind-the-scenes at academic libraries, other members might be interested to find out a bit more.  A recently released study sheds some light on the major issues.

In the fall of 2016, Ithaka S+R  sent emails to 1,488 library deans and directors at non-for-profit four-year academic institutions in the United States looking for some answers.

Ithaka S+R is a not-for-profit company that specifically collaborates with and consults for the academic community, offering guidance on a wide range of economic and technological topics.  According to its website, library surveys are among its core competencies.


After sending out those 1,488 survey emails, they received 722 responses; the final report is available here: US Library Survey 2016.

The study compares the 2016 responses against responses received for previous studies completed in 2010 and 2013.   It asked questions related to:

  • Leadership, Management, and Organizational Direction;
  • Discovery;
  • Collections;
  • and Services.

At the very least, however, the “Key Findings” of the report articulated many of the thoughts, hopes, and fears felt within our own law librarian community:

  • Nearly 80% of respondents stated that the “most important priority” for their library is student success – but only half of the respondents could “clearly articulate” how the library itself contributes to that goal.
  • Respondents also discussed digital media versus print materials.  Academic library directors agree that the trend towards e-resources isn’t slowing down (meaning that libraries will continue to increase spending on digital formats while decreasing spending on print materials).  But is that “market” saturated?  Some academic library deans suggested that “dependence on e-resources has potentially peaked” – because libraries and its users are already so dependent of those types of resources.  Beyond traditional print materials and electronic media, academic library directors are working to identify new learning materials.
  • Only 20% of the respondent academic library directors felt that the annual budget allocation “demonstrate[d] recognition of the value of the library.”  There was an overall downward trend in feelings of satisfaction, value, or appreciation, especially by other academic leadership in the university system.

I’m personally choosing not to think of that last item as a reason to get upset.  Rather, it’s a reason to strongly advocate for libraries (public, academic, law, whatever – take your pick).  We can’t just sit back and assume that the powers-that-be understand how valuable libraries are and how much they give back to our communities, schools, other academic institutions, or even workplaces.  We have to show, with incontrovertible numbers and a few adorable, folksy anecdotes, what libraries mean to the people who use them (and what they could mean to people who have yet to discover the library).

We’re also lucky to have WPLLA.  It’s a strong professional organizations made up of dozens of librarians with decades of institutional knowledge.  We have an avenue to reach out to others in the same predicament; we can learn from each other, share what works, make changes, adapt.

If you have any thoughts on the full study, or think WPLLA should present these findings in a program next fall, feel free to write us an email and let WPLLA know what you think!

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Lexis Acquires Ravel Law

On April 27, 2017, WPLLA hosted a program called “Deep Dives in Legal Research.”  During that program, we heard from two legal informatics startups, Casetext and Ravel Law.

Much like a teenager with a lofty goal, startups also dream of making it big, like being acquired by a major player in the field or launching a successful IPO.  Well, Ravel just hit the big-time!  According to industry reports, LexisNexis has acquired Ravel.

According to a June 8, 2017 post on LawSites , LexisNexis “will be fully integrating Ravel Law’s judicial analytics, data visualization technology and unique case law PDF content from the Harvard Law Library into Lexis Litigation Profile Suite and Lexis Advance.”

LexisNexis users should see Ravel’s full integration into existing services sometime in early 2018.

Ravel’s allure stemmed in part from its commitment to free and open access to the historical document collection it scanned from Harvard Law School.  Currently, LexisNexis states it will continue that access.

A June 8, 2017 post by Legaltech News provided additional detail: this deal was three years in the making. LexisNexis formalized the arrangement after an intense buying spree, first acquiring Lex Machina in 2015 and then Intelligize in 2016.  Legaltech News also notes that Ravel didn’t spend those three years just sitting around and waiting; rather, it developed a Firm Analytics Tool for its arsenal of research capabilities and announced that product launch just a few weeks ago.

It will be interesting to see how LexisNexis incorporates Ravel into its corporate umbrella, as well as how it will roll out or offer Ravel’s analytics tools.

If WPLLA members would like to learn more, please email a Board member and tell us your questions and concerns.  We would be happy to reach out to our Ravel contacts (or provide you with their contact info), or schedule a follow-up program for Fall 2017.

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A Tour of Pittsburgh Bookstores: Update

Here’s a great update to our blog post, A Tour of Pittsburgh Bookstores.

Amazing Books and Records is opening a new location on the South Side!  As noted by the Pittsburgh City Paper, this will be the first “full-time bookstore” on the South Side in many years.  Keep your fingers crossed for a grand opening in early June.

The owner of Amazing Books, Eric Ackland, plans on using the 4,600 square foot space to its fullest potential.  The book displays and inventory will be greater than what’s housed in either of the other locations (Downtown and Squirrel Hill) and he plans on opening a coffeeshop and café later.  Most exciting for literature lovers and blossoming writers is that the space will allow for different writing workshops, including the Steel Quill Writers Workshop.  Check back to the Amazing Books website or the Workshop’s Facebook page for an upcoming schedule.

Ackland acknowledges the risks associated with expansion, unconventional retail hours, and a new location in a notoriously nightlife-friendly neighborhood (see the City Paper article for a more nuanced explanation) – but the eventual workshops will hopefully become a significant source of revenue for the burgeoning chain.

Congrats to Amazing Books and Records!  Here’s hoping to more fun updates for this locally owned bookstore, and all of others from our original post.

Again, if we missed your favorite bookstore in our original post, send WPLLA an email and we’ll update the list ASAP!

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2017-8 Board Members Announced

Your 2017-2018 WPLLA Board Members are:

  • Dr. Joel Fishman – President
  • Pat Roncevich – Immediate Past President
  • Melanie Cline – Vice President/President Elect (newly elected)
  • Sarah Steers – Treasurer (newly elected)
  • Kate Frey – Secretary 
  • Karen Eriksen – Member-at-Large (newly elected)
  • Jamie Yancich – Member-at-Large

Thank you to Ann Unger (Immediate Past President) and Elizabeth Whittington (Member-at-Large) for serving on the Board.

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Alternative Library Spaces

Guest post by Sarah Steers, WPLLA Member-at-Large

A breathtaking, 19th Century brick-and-marble-and-granite behemoth certainly represents the idea of a library: formal, imposing, permanent.  But communities change.  Contemporary construction lines the main thoroughfares and financial resources don’t necessarily support breaking ground on a new stone library.  How can a city provide a bedrock location for much-needed (and wanted) library services in the face of such change?  By thinking out-of-the-box (and looking at big box stores), some cities have solved the crisis.

A former Wal-Mart  houses the largest single-floor library in the U.S. in McAllen, Texas.  While the original library worked for the city for over 60 years, eventually the community’s needs outgrew the space.  When McAllen Public Library’s New Main Branch opened in 2011, square footage tripled from 40,000 square feet to 123,000 square feet.  Patrons sip coffee in the café, use meeting rooms with state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment, and attend lectures in the auditorium.  Kids even play outside in the exterior children’s area.  Before-and-after pictures of the construction can be seen here; the library even won the 2012 Library Interior Design Award  from the International Interior Design Association.

The old Hickory Hollow Mall in Nashville, TN found new life in 2014 as Commons at the Crossing when the city repurposed it as a branch library, park, and community center.  The outdoor spaces spill over onto the grounds of the Ford Ice Center  next door, home to the Nashville Predators, the city’s NHL team.  The library space offers interactive digital projection services – arrows light the way to the location of a selected book and quickly morph when stepped on.  The library embraced other forms of tech, too, with 3-D printing demonstrations and laptops and iPads available for checkout.

Not to be outdone, Austin Community College bought and repurposed the Highland Mall  in Austin, TX.  The college’s administrative offices are located nearby, and employees noticed that the building was largely empty by the end of 2010.  When city residents voted to approve two bond propositions, the funds paved the way for the redevelopment of the mall into ACC’s Highland Campus, a truly innovative academic space.  Opened in 2014, the former J.C. Penney houses most of the campus, including the branch’s library [http://sites.austincc.edu/newsroom/celebrate-highland-campus-grand-opening-august-27/].  For pictures of the 170-foot skylight, cut out to give the building a more modern feel and let in natural light, click here.

Rather than be constrained by the conventional idea of what a formal library “should” look like, these communities took what they had available to them and simply made it work!

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WPLLA 2017 Banquet

Please join us for the 2017 WPLLA Banquet! Our special guest will be AALL Vice President/President-Elect Greg Lambert.

When: Wed. May 10th at 5:30 pm
Where: McCormick & Schmick’s (Downtown – 301 5th Ave. Map)

PLEASE RSVP to Ann Unger.
SEND CHECKS to Liz Whittington at K&L Gates 210 Sixth Ave. Pittsburgh PA 15222 (Please note slight change from the flyer).