How to Start a Tech Lab @ Your School

I am writing this post as a member of the CS-SIS blog committee, but I cannot take all the credit for the happenings I’m about to describe. The person who got the ball rolling and has been overseeing the project is a colleague of mine: Virginia Neisler, newly appointed Head of Reference & Research Services at the University of Michigan Law Library. Some of these words are hers, so if you have questions about anything in this post please feel free to reach out to either Virginia ( or me (

The tl:dr version with some key highlights:

  • Things will take longer than you think, so build in extra time for every phase/project/deadline.
  • You will also need to involve more people than you initially plan for, so try to cast your net as wide as possible at the beginning (you’ll likely still be informed along the way that there are other people you need to consult with to get certain things done or approved).
  • It will probably cost more than your initial projections, so perhaps come up with a budget for “just the basics” and another for the things you’d “like to have.” 

The longer version with more details:

One of our librarians at the University of Michigan Law Library, Virginia Neisler, was generally interested in how technology is impacting the practice of law and how law schools are preparing students. After attending an ABA TechShow she spoke with our director about what other schools were doing to address this issue. Together they decided to create a working group to figure out how we might convert a long-forgotten and unused CALR (computer-assisted legal research) room into a modern “Tech Lab.” 

As chair of the working group, Virginia’s vision for the Tech Lab was to create “a truly experiential lab where students can get hands-on, guided experience with various legal technologies.” Three other librarians, including myself, joined the group and together we started brainstorming ways to refresh the space in addition to researching what types of legal technology (software and hardware) that we would need to bring in for our students. 

Our process consists of four phases:

  1. Information Gathering
  2. Short Term Proposal
  3. Implementation
  4. Evaluation and Long Term Vision Planning

Phase One
We researched emerging classroom technologies, similar tech lab spaces in other schools, and spoke with colleagues throughout the country to find out what they were already doing, or planning to do. We spoke with internal stakeholders (Deans, Clinical faculty, etc.) and tried to find out what types of legal tech are most used by our alums in legal practice today, as well as what they think is most likely to be adopted in their workplaces in the near future. We also tried to keep our current student body in mind, especially where the knowledge gap(s) seemed to be the most severe. (For example, most of our students have Mac laptops, whereas the majority of our alumni use Windows PCs in their workplaces.)  Like many libraries undertaking space renovations, we also decided the furniture in the room needed to be as mobile and flexible as possible, so the room could be set up and utilized in a variety of ways. (We chose Knoll C-leg height-adjustable Pixel tables.)

Phase Two
We crafted a proposal to submit to our law school administrators, outlining our plan for the space renovation, necessary technology updates, and ideas for programming. This part, and getting the budget approved, seemed to take the longest, as we had to justify why the room needed to be re-carpeted and repainted, and why the tables and chairs already in the space were not adequate for what we had planned, not to mention justifying the cost of new computers and hardware. (We opted for wireless mice and keyboards to go with the PC computers, so students working in groups can more easily swap control of the computer.) For the technology and computer specs, we got bounced around between a few different IT people when we had questions and ended up needing to coordinate with many more people than we initially thought, which also extended our timeline slightly.

Phase Three
Phase 3 happened in stages, once the short term proposal was approved by our administration. Most of the painting, rewiring, and re-carpeting took a couple of months, and was paid for out of the library budget from FY19. Tables were ordered and paid for out of the library budget for FY20, and computers and associated hardware were paid for out of our IT department’s budget for FY20. During this time, we started promoting the Tech Lab on our social media channels.

While we had hoped to have the room ready to go for the start of the Fall 2019 term, things moved slower than planned and we are now planning to start hosting workshops in the Winter 2020 term. (Some things that slowed us down included multiple visits from campus IT for wiring and adding more ethernet ports, as well as delays in figuring out which budget would cover the cost of new computers and getting the overall budget approved.)

Phase Four
This phase will start in Winter 2020 as we evaluate workshop attendance and feedback from students in real time. Summer 2020 will allow us to revise and rework as needed, to prepare for long term vision planning, which may include the purchase of specific software or specialized hardware. We are aware of legal tech assessments like Procertas, and plan to advocate for an empirical assessment of our students’ technological competency, but in the meantime, we must rely on anecdotal evidence from our own and others’ interactions with our students. We believe no idea is too small as we get started, and plan to do some workshops on basic Word tutorials and PDF redacting, while folding in some email etiquette tips. (We’ve already heard from clinical staff that most students are lacking some basic skills in all of these areas.)

We’re excited about the “grand opening” of the Tech Lab next term, and will begin advertising it on our social media channels and in our interactions with clinical faculty and students throughout the fall semester. We will also continue to solicit ideas for tech skills at all levels from everyone we can, so if you have ideas or things you’ve already done that made the biggest difference, please share below!

Peering into the Fog: The Future of People in the Law Library of the Future


A few years ago, I started a summer book club for my law school faculty, staff, and students. Mostly we’ve read literature – the sort of books that are sometimes difficult to make yourself pick up and read, but that stick with you and you are glad afterward that you did it. Needless to say, the discussion groups were small for some of those books! This summer, I changed tack and decided we would only read fun stuff. Beach reads, if you will. Enter Scythe by Neal Shusterman.

Cover of Neal Shusterman's book Scythe

Cover of Neal Shusterman’s book Scythe

Scythe is set in a post-mortal world. Humans no longer feel pain and they no longer need to age or die. Computational power is essentially infinite. Artificial intelligence has advanced so far that ‘the cloud’ has now become the Thunderhead – a benevolent and all-powerful governing body for the entire planet. The Thunderhead manages all human population optimally so there is no longer war, disease, hunger or want, though there is a tiny problem of overpopulation which threatens to become a much bigger problem. There is no longer any need for human work unless humans want to work. If they do, the Thunderhead will find the right job for them, but this is only to keep humans happy as the Thunderhead could do the work better than any human possibly could.

This book comes to me when I am asking myself what my job will look like in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years. I’m an electronic services librarian and I do a lot of different types of work under that job title. I’m part of a traditional Collection Development department in a typical law school library. Like many other similar departments, we’ve seen many changes in what we do and how we do it. I recently received word that the technical service and ILL functions for a law school in the Midwest have been moved to the main library on campus. This is not the first time I have heard of this type of shift in law library work. These changes are happening in law libraries everywhere, in part because technology has changed library acquisition and information consumption.

Do not take this observation as an entreaty that libraries should remain static simply to maintain a status quo. I think most librarians are on board with that premise. I may be wrong, but I think as a collective, we are generally more open to change than the average bear. In fact, my colleagues have been real leaders where all technology adoption in the law school is concerned. Instead, the question I am pondering is what will be the long-term result of this shift.

In the Scythe world, the Thunderhead is an AI that can answer all questions. While our current-day legal research systems are obviously not at that level, it is easy to see that they strive to remove the need for an intermediary human educator between the database and the user. Can a system achieve that goal? Will a librarian (or whatever we call the Keeper of the Passwords) reasonably be doing due diligence by simply handing a password to a complex legal system to a new user and saying, “Have at it, Kid. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”?

To stretch this thought experiment to the very farthest reaches of the possibilities of technology, will there still be work for human beings in doing traditional librarian duties, such as educating law students, connecting law faculty with research and resources, or supporting practicing attorneys or will humans abdicate these duties to the Thunderhead of the future? If technology advances to a stage where librarians are no longer needed, is it possible to speculate that there may not be a need for any human workers in this tech-infused future? Further, if there is no need for human work, why should human beings work at all?

Now that I have worked myself into a fine existential crisis, I find it is time to return myself to reality. I am going to remind myself that we are human beings living in a human world, which, at least for the foreseeable future, is an interesting mix of analog and digital.  Humans, by their nature, have a need for meaningful work. Libraries and librarians continue to have a role to play in this educational system to contribute information resources, selecting those resources, creating them, teaching students to find and use them, and teaching students how to create the systems of the future. We have that role so long as we are willing to continue to learn and grow with technology. While many still enjoy an analog existence (and studies show many still want to learn with paper rather than looking at a screen) we can also move toward an increasingly electronic world.

Libraries do not have to die in order that an online future may live. It is not counter-intuitive that we might serve all these needs, providing more work than anyone has time to complete. And librarians can be the ones to lead that shift. At least, until the Thunderhead does not need us to do it anymore.


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Teaching Law Practice Technology: State of the Art @ AALL 2019

If you’d like to learn and share knowledge about teaching law practice technology, make sure to put the CS Roundtable Teaching Law Practice Technology: State of the Art on your AALL Annual Meeting schedule. It will be held on Sunday, July 14, from 12:45-1:45 pm, in the Marriott’s George Washington meeting room.

In this roundtable, Faye Jones and Elizabeth Farrell-Clifford will lead a discussion on some common issues confronting law librarians who teach or aspire to teach law practice technology: What types of instruction are most effective, and how can we teach skills that are immediately useful to students and transferable to their careers? Where are we now on this? Is there a consensus about the proper approach to teaching law practice technology? What new challenges face us from AI and rapidly changing law practice technology? And what other issues should we be thinking about?

It promises to be a broad-ranging, thought-provoking exchange, and we hope to see you there!

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Participate in CS-SIS

Dear CS-SIS members,

The CS Executive Board invites you to be an active participant in CS-SIS. With members from all types of libraries, whose functions include network and system administrators, lab supervisors, webmasters, library directors, and many others, the Computing Services Special Interest Section serves the fastest-growing sector within our profession. Above all, Computing Services SIS members are legal information professionals dedicated to serving all the information needs of users with the aid of existing and developing technologies.

If you are interested in signing up for a CS committee, please fill out the interest form available here by Friday, August 2nd. We encourage you to express your interest at your earliest convenience. Why wait until after you return from the AALL Annual Meeting or perhaps some well-deserved vacation? Volunteer to help the CS-SIS better serve the needs of our members!


Cool Tools Café 2019

Participants in the CS-SIS designed Cool Tools Café have learned about emerging or existing technologies from librarians who have implemented these technologies in their own libraries. This year’s program will be presented in two parts: First, a formal session will feature a number of short presentations, and then the presenters will be available in a small-group setting, allowing for a more intimate discussion.

This year’s tools (and presenters) are:

  • Chatfuel – AI chatbot for Facebook (Amy Pearce)
  • ClassMarker – online quiz creation platform (Aaron Glenn)
  • Coggle – mind-mapping tool (Amanda Watson)
  • DoNotPay  – “robot lawyer” app (Tawnya Plumb)
  • FindTime – scheduling across institutions (Austin Williams)
  • Inbox Pause – Boomerang productivity tool for Gmail/Outlook (Kristina Alayan)
  • Quick, Draw!  – AI tool (Emma Babler)
  • Shiftboard – circulation desk scheduler (Ramona Collins)
  • Trello – a project management app (Susan deMaine)

The program will be held Sunday, July 14th from 4:00-5:00 pm in WCC Room 152 AB.  If you haven’t already, please add Cool Tools Café to your AALL conference schedule.

CS Roundtable @ AALL 2019

How does a critical theory of technology relate to the practice of librarianship?

If you’ll be attending the AALL Annual Conference in DC, come find out at the CS Roundtable on Technology and Culture in the Law Library, hosted by Rebecca Kunkel, of Rutgers University Law School Library.

It will take place on Tuesday, July 16 from 12:45 – 1:45 pm in room 156 of the convention center.

The discussions will focus on how technology fits into your library and your institution’s culture and are planned for 4 general topics within the critical theory of technology:

  1. labor process theory
  2. the critique of technology as ideology
  3. technology & gender
  4. technological determinism/critiques of the information society

There will be two handouts, one of which is intended to introduce participants to a few ideas in labor process theory. It is available online here for anyone who’d like to get a head start. (I’d recommend reading it even if you’re not going!) The other handout will be a short bibliography for anyone interested in doing more reading/research on the topics discussed.

We hope to see you there!

Proposed 2019-2021 CS-SIS Strategic Plan

I offer thanks to Ken Hirsh and his Strategic Planning Committee consisting of Kenton Brice, Kincaid Brown, Susanna Leers, Darla Jackson, Kris Niedringhaus, Amanda Watson, and Jean Willis for developing this strategic plan.  The plan has the unanimous support of the CS-SIS Executive Board as proposed and will be discussed and voted on by our membership at the CS breakfast meeting at the AALL conference in DC.






The mission of the Computing Services Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries is:

  • To provide a forum for the exchange of ideas, information and knowledge about technology among law librarians.
  • To serve a leadership role in the ongoing professional development of law librarians as they evaluate, implement, and use new forms of technology at their organizations.
  • To assist law librarians with demonstrating to their organizations the important roles librarians play in advancing the understanding and use of technology in legal education and the practice of law.


Become the leading AALL source for continuing education opportunities for librarians and library staff that work with and have an interest in technology.


In the past decade there has been strong interest in the teaching of practice technology to law students and lawyers, as well as in classroom and courtroom technologies. This is evidenced by discussion among section members, by additional law school course offerings; by social media discussions focusing on the topic; by the creation of a Section on Technology, Law and Legal Education in the Association of American Law schools; and by the creation of a Teaching Technology Caucus within AALL. There is an overlap between the section and the Digital and Educational Technologies SIS in the narrow area of presentation technologies. Digitization has been an interest of a significant portion of our membership but has not commanded a large part of our focus in recent years.

The 2019 survey of section membership found continuing strong interest in educational programming by the section, and in developing substantive papers in topics of interest, as would a think tank. The survey also showed members are interested in more effective communication within the section and reaching out to librarians outside of academia.




Advance and align section educational programming according to membership interest and need.


  1. Align educational programming with AALL’s Body of Knowledge.
  2. Continue to create and promote excellent programming at the AALL annual meeting.
  3. Develop and offer educational webinars and other programming throughout the year.




Actively engage members, both virtually and in person, throughout the year. Recruit new members.


  1. Appoint a special committee to consider whether to change the section’s name. The committee’s deliverable will be a recommendation to the board whether to change the name and, if the recommendation is positive, to accompany it with one or more options for a new name. The committee shall make its final report within six months of appointment.
  2. The chair or designated board members shall reach out to leadership of Digital and Educational Technologies SIS and the Teaching Technology Caucus to identify areas of shared interest and potential collaboration. If those organizations are willing, leadership shall discuss whether some form of organizational consolidation is desirable.
  3. Identify potential new members among existing AALL members and law librarians who are not yet AALL members.
  4. Implement an online annual business meeting.



To provide more structure to the work of the Executive Board and SIS projects; and, to provide more leadership and guidance to the Committee chairs in regard to Committee projects and goals.


  1. Assign to both board members-at-large the responsibility to manage a section-sponsored social event at the AALL annual meeting. While this event presently is Karaoke with Ken, board members should plan for an alternative event when that becomes necessary.
  2. Continue efforts to develop effective governance continuity from year-to-year with cloud-based archiving of reports and other programmatic and governance documents. Continue succession planning efforts by the Executive Board.

How I Found Over 175,000 Downloads on Bepress for My Faculty

The impact maps provided by Bepress Author Dashboards as part of the institutional repository and SelectedWorks system are not completely capturing data associated with our faculty throughout the Digital Commons network. Our faculty have works stored in external (non-TAMU operated) Bepress networks, and any impact data associated with those works will not appear in the impact maps unless the metadata records for those works contain one of the faculty member’s e-mail addresses. As a result, faculty are reporting and relying on incomplete data when viewing their Dashboards.

While I was helping faculty understand the Bepress Author Dashboards, I noticed that some works in Digital Commons were not appearing in the Author Dashboard’s works list, even though the work had the author’s name in the metadata. Most of the works were accumulating downloads, but I could not find this data represented anywhere in the Dashboard.

Screenshot of one work by Professor Yu with 2,533 downloads associated with it.

Screenshot of Professor Yu’s Bepress Author Dashboard Works list that does not include any of the downloads associated with the object above.











Out of curiosity, I ran a name-based search on the Digital Commons repository network advanced search for every faculty member at my school, using “Author” as the field and entering the author’s first name and last name as a string and selecting “All repositories” so that I could search the whole network.

Screenshot showing the Bepress Digital Commons Advanced Search with settings to search all repositories by author name.


This search process produced some false positives in the search results, so I verified each object was associated with the author I was searching for by cross-referencing CVs before adding the object’s direct URL to a spreadsheet to help me keep track of my discoveries. Then I checked to make sure each object was showing up in the dashboard.

Pro tip – Bepress’s Author Dashboard’s work list can contain multiple works of the same name, and it is time consuming to verify where each work is coming from using the interface. I found cross-referencing the download count on the record with the download count in the works list to be the most efficient approach.

When ordered alphabetically, it is difficult to quickly identify which object is being captured in the dashboard. Instead, use the download count and compare to the object’s record.

Using this workflow, I was able to quickly identify many works as not being accounted for in the Author Dashboard. I created a Google Sheet to store a direct link to the object’s record page, and I recorded the number of downloads associated with the record. By doing this, I was able to add up how many downloads I was discovering, and in the end it was over 175,000 downloads associated with over 400 objects.

The spreadsheet tabulation gave me a good sense that this project was important enough to devote more time and energy to resolve. Upon consulting with my school’s customer support representative at Bepress, Aaron Doran, we were able to figure out that the root cause of the issue was that the dashboard system connected data from objects using the e-mail addresses entered into the metadata record.

Screenshot showing author e-mail metadata field used by Bepress Author Dashboards.


Each SelectedWorks Author Profile has a primary e-mail address associated with it, and authors can also input additional e-mail address in the profile by going into “Account Settings.”

In Account Settings, authors can input additional e-mail addresses to help capture objects with those e-mail addresses in the metadata record.


This is the key linking mechanism that the Author Dashboard uses to pull in data from across the Digital Commons network. Bepress was able to help capture a small amount of data for my school by adding known, additional e-mail addresses for faculty to profiles and merging some duplicate profiles that had been created over the years. However, for us, that barely scratched the surface of the missing data: by far, most of the records I discovered simply contained an author name and no e-mail address at all.

My database-oriented mind figured it would be easy enough to have Bepress insert the e-mail addresses of faculty into the right records on the back-end, but this technical issue turned out to be more complex to resolve than that. Since each repository is independently managed, Bepress was not comfortable with unilaterally altering the metadata records of objects and requested that I reach out to every repository manager individually to request that they make the changes themselves or give Bepress permission to do so. At this point, I tried my best to convince Bepress to figure out a better way for me and others to approach this problem, mainly because annual reporting deadlines were quickly approaching. The faculty members at my school who rely on the Author Dashboards for reporting purposes were unaware of this impact being generated, and I wanted to be able to help get everyone all the data associated with them in a world where impact data is becoming more and more important.

While Bepress was very helpful in working with me to resolve this issue, in the end, they would not budge on any centralized solution that would be relatively quick and painless compared to what I had to manage: a mix of Google Sheets, color-coding, and mass e-mailing repository managers with an explanation of the situation and my request for assistance. A cool take-away from this any Bepress repository manager can appreciate is that once the e-mail address is added to the metadata record, the data is instantly piped into the author dashboard; you do not need to wait for a queued update to process!

If anyone else ventures to resolve this issue using this workflow, you can take the initial Google Sheet with the direct object link and add “Faculty Member Name,” “Faculty E-mail,” and “Repository Manager E-mail” columns to it; after adding objects by author name, you can re-order the Sheet by URL to more easily identify and group institutions together. From there, we had to figure out the best repository contact for each institution, and then I created an e-mail template explaining the context of the issue and provided a list of objects with links in the e-mail to make the metadata editing process a bit easier for them.

Screenshot of what my Google Sheet for tracking the progress on this project looked like.

As can be expected by a process requiring action by dozens of people, several repository managers have not responded to my request. If Bepress were to implement a solution to this issue that could be managed centrally on the back-end, my faculty would be able to benefit from all of the impact data associated with them. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find most of the repositories responded quickly with either a grant of permission or with certification that the metadata had been updated by them; as of now, using this workflow, over 85% of the downloads have been added to Author Dashboards. Several people replied enthusiastically to my e-mail, which inspired me to document the processes and workflows so that others can recreate it and benefit. I imagine my school is not the only one that has faculty with content in Digital Commons networks that is not being properly piped into the Author Dashboards.

Until Bepress comes up with a different approach, I think repository managers uploading content should try their best to include an e-mail address within the metadata. At times, this may not be possible, and it will surely increase the time it takes to process the ingestion of objects, but it seems to me the loss of the impact data associated with these objects is a big enough concern to encourage repository managers to take the time to add e-mail addresses. Otherwise, any impact stemming from that object is most likely not going to be reflected in that author’s impact and growth narrative, particularly for faculty relying on the Author Dashboard to accurately represent that person’s impact data across the Digital Commons network.

If you’d like to indicate whether or not you’d be supportive of Bepress implementing a more efficient solution, or if you have any comments about this issue, please feel free to fill out this quick survey: You can also reach out to me if you have any questions about the workflow, or if you’d like to see some Google Sheet and e-mail templates to help you get started!

Proposed CS-SIS Bylaws Changes

Last fall, our Executive Board queried membership on its support of having a CS-SIS virtual business meeting prior to the annual conference beginning in 2020.  Over 90% of our voting membership said yes.  We will vote on the following bylaws changes, with a friendly amendment offered by Ken Hirsh, at our breakfast business meeting in DC to permit our section to move forward with this option.



Current: Section 1. There will be a general business meeting held annually at the annual meeting and conference of the Association.  It shall be held at a time and place so that all business which needs to be conducted can be.

Proposed:  Section 1. There will be a general business meeting held 1) in connection with, or during the annual meeting of the Association or 2) virtually on a date determined and announced in advance by the Executive Committee.

Current: Section 3.  For purposes of tabulating votes, only members in full standing of the Section may vote; a quorum shall consist of the members present at the meeting; and majority shall be based on the number of voting members who vote (i.e. do not abstain).

Proposed: Section 3.  A quorum shall consist of the members present at the meeting  (amendment would add … or remotely participating in a virtual meeting.)

Current:  Section 4. The presence of twenty section members at the commencement of the annual section business meeting shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business.

Proposed: Delete Section 4.



Current:  Sturgis Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, in the latest edition, shall govern all deliberations of the Section, except as otherwise specified in these bylaws. When used throughout this document, terms of gender (for example, pronouns) shall be considered to be gender-neutral in intent.

Proposed: The rules of order mandated by the AALL Bylaws shall govern all deliberations of the Section, except as otherwise specified in these bylaws. When used throughout this document, terms of gender (for example, pronouns) shall be considered to be gender-neutral in intent.

ABA TECHSHOW Call for Proposals

If you have a suggestion for a topic you (and others) would like to hear, or if you are interested in being a presenter, consider submitting a proposal for ABA TECHSHOW 2020. Proposals should be submitted here. Proposals will be accepted until midnight (Central Time) Friday, June 21, 2019. For those of you who are academics and interested in speaking in the academic track at TECHSHOW 2020, you should submit your proposal and forward a copy to Michael Robak (, who will be working with the diverse and qualified TECHSHOW Board to help coordinate the Academic Track.

While submitting a proposal does not guarantee a speaking slot at TECHSHOW 2020, it certainly increases the chance that you could be selected.

If you are selected as a speaker, there are benefits, including complimentary registration to TECHSHOW. I hope that CS-SIS will be able to support a travel grant to TECHSHOW again in 2020. If you missed the blog post by the recipient of the CS-SIS ABA TECHSHOW 2019 grant winner, you may want read it for some inspiration. However, I encourage you to go ahead and submit a proposal to increase your chances of attending.