CAFLL-WestPac Recap: Legal Research Instruction In China and Innovative Library Space Solutions

By Ning Han

The joint conference of Chinese and American Forum on Legal Information and Law Libraries (CAFLL) and AALL WestPac was held in Honolulu, Hawaii, October 7-11, 2015. The conference was a huge success and offered opportunities for law librarians from both countries to network, exchange ideas, and learn from each other. This blog post recaps a panel discussion that focused on legal research instruction in China and innovative library space solutions supporting legal education. The panel was moderated by Anne Mostad-Jensen, Head of Faculty Services at University of North Dakota School of Law.

Lee Peoples, Director and Professor of Law at Oklahoma City University Law Library, who has published extensively on innovative library space solutions, introduced the audience to the concept of user-centric library space design. The traditional notion of what an academic law library should look like has been disrupted by a combination of factors in recent years. Designing law libraries to encourage learning is the new focus. The variety of ways students use space and their learning styles should be accommodated. Professor Lee showcased the implementation of this new design notion through examples of several recently constructed or renovated academic law libraries. Data diner booths, bar-height tables, and collaborative spaces with built-in trendy technologies are no longer novel. The offering of outdoor studying space, either courtyard or roof-top, is quietly happening as well. Professor Peoples indicated that a nicely designed library space helps with admission and attracts donations. He even mentioned that many law schools have already converted the so-called “prime” space from law professor offices to student learning space. The mindset of space use and how to promote admissions, marketing, and publicity through transforming space has radically changed. Law librarians from China showed strong interest in this discussion.

Ning Han, Technical Services Librarian and Assistant Professor of Law at Concordia University School of Law and Liying Yu, Director and Professor of Law at Tsinghua University School of Law delivered the findings of their recently conducted survey. The survey aimed to find out what the current practices of legal research instruction in China are and compare them to the American legal research education practices. This new survey was derived from a 2008 survey conducted by Professor Liying Yu, which confirmed the dearth of legal research course offerings at that time. Twenty-five law schools were surveyed this time and the survey found a steady improvement of legal research course offerings in law schools in China since the last survey. The offerings of basic legal research course have gone up to 73%. ALR and SLR courses were found to be more available than in 2008. 38% of law schools surveyed are offering some sort of ALR or SLR courses. The format of the course, credit structure, teaching method, assessment method, and more were studied and compared to the U.S. approaches. Professors Han and Yu also touched on students’ and legal employers’ perception toward legal research courses and legal research skills. They also examined whether there is any feedback or regulatory system in place among legal educators, legal employers, the bar association, and Ministry of Education. A more detailed analysis of the survey will appear in the paper that Professors Han, Yu, and Mostad-Jensen are currently finishing.