New FCIL Librarian Series: Q & A

By Janet Kearney

This is the third in a series of posts documenting my experience as a new FCIL librarian. I started as Foreign & International Law Librarian at Fordham University School of Law in February 2019.

Happy work anniversary to me! A year ago this month I officially became an FCIL librarian for the first time. To commemorate this date for the blog, I decided to do a Q & A with some other FCIL librarians to discuss how they got started, their favorite FCIL-SIS volunteer activities, and a few other questions I’ve had on my mind.

Thank you very much to the librarians who entertained my questions:

  • Loren Turner, Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Librarian at the University of Minnesota Law School and our fearless FCIL-SIS chair. (LT below.)
  • Amy Flick, Foreign and International Law Librarian at the MacMillan Law Library at Emory University School of Law, member of the FCIL-SIS Nominating Committee and editor of the International Calendar for the International Journal of Legal Information (IALL) (AF below.)
  • Marcelo Rodriquez, Research & Training Librarian at the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals Library, FCIL-SIS Latin American Law interest group chair (MR below.)

The comments below have been edited for grammar and style, and I’ve emphasized some of the takeaways.


Tell us a bit about yourself – where do you work? How long have you been an FCIL librarian, officially or unofficially?

LT: I am the official FCIL librarian at the University of Minnesota right now. I’ve been here for almost 4 years. Before that, I was an unofficial FCIL librarian at the University of Florida.

AF: I have worked for the Hugh F. MacMillan Law Library at Emory University since 1994, full-time since 1996. I have officially been the FCIL librarian since 2013. Unofficially becoming the FCIL librarian was more of a gradual process.

MR: I’m Marcelo Rodriguez, Research and Training Librarian, US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, NY. We don’t have an official FCIL librarian. However, we do receive a few FCIL-related research questions either related to the fact that two of our Circuit states, New York and Vermont share borders with Canada, and New York City’s prominent role in international trade and finance.


How did you get involved in FCIL librarianship?

LT: I have always wanted to be a FCIL librarian. I studied Latin/Italian in high school/college and then international law in law school, so as soon as I decided to become a law librarian, I decided to pursue FCIL librarianship. When I was at Northwestern’s law library, I met Heidi Kuehl, who later recruited me to be a co-Chair of the FCIL-SIS publicity committee and it was through that service that I met the FCIL-SIS community and started developing the niche.

AF: I started as the GovDocs librarian, so I got the questions about treaties and our EU docs, and the UN document questions because faculty thought we were a UN depository. (We weren’t, but the main Emory library had a large UN document collection.) Foreign law questions came later, as more knowledgeable librarians at Emory retired or left the library. I knew almost nothing about international or foreign law back then, but I learned international law librarianship along the way. So, if you’re a new FCIL librarian and don’t always know what you’re doing, you’re still doing better than I did back then.

MR: Once I realized that I wanted to become a librarian, FCIL librarianship felt like a natural path to me. I have always been interested in international relations and foreign languages. My initial career goal was to become a diplomat or work in an international organization. I did get to intern at the Library and Archives of the International Criminal Court at The Hague, Netherlands and the Central Library of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium. More than any other area of law librarianship, FCIL librarianship forces the law librarian to think outside the box, and to take into consideration some many other variables, which may fall under the realm of non-legal. Every time I get a FCIL-related question, I’m eager to use my knowledge on geography, history, languages, international relations, and also be able to learn something else. Every FCIL question feels like a learning opportunity!


What is the best way to get involved in professional organizations? Do you think it’s important for newer FCIL librarians to participate in these groups?

LT: The best way to get involved in professional organizations is to put yourself out there: email anyone you know who serves in a group that interests you and/or just show up at group meetings during conferences. Don’t be shy! The FCIL-SIS is always looking for volunteers to develop new projects and maintain current ones. And, I think it is important for all FCIL librarians – newer or otherwise – to participate in these groups. None of us know everything. There is just too much to know. So, active participation in professional organizations keeps your skills and your connections fresh and there is an incredible community of FCIL librarians to meet.

AF: Just do it! If you see an announcement seeking volunteers – writing, presenting, being part of a committee – and it fits your interests and skill set, you’ll be welcomed. But make sure it won’t overwhelm you fitting it in with your regular responsibilities. I think it’s better to start small and do the job well than to overcommit. Professional organizations like FCIL-SIS and IALL are great for newer FCIL librarians. Besides building your resume, you make contacts that you’ll want when you get difficult questions.


Do you think it’s more important to develop specialties (like human rights, international arbitration, etc.), be a generalist, or both?

LT: In my experience, specialties develop over time based on the community you serve. When I was at the University of Florida, I developed a specialty in international commercial arbitration because I was recruited to co-coach a Vis Moot team (I had zero experience in international commercial arbitration before that). When I got to the University of Minnesota, however, I didn’t serve faculty or students interested in international commercial arbitration. Instead, my new community specialized in international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and national security/laws of war. And, through repeated faculty and student interactions, I’ve started to develop specialties in those areas. If there is a particular specialty that you have always wanted to pursue, then go for it! But, I recommend learning as much as you can about general international law (sources, databases, etc.) first so that you have the foundational knowledge you’ll need to have anyway for a career in FCIL librarianship.

AF: Being the Foreign and International Law Librarian is already a specialty within most libraries. There are few law libraries where you can spend the better part of your time in foreign and international law, much less specializing beyond that. But you will develop at least a little expertise in the subjects where your law school or firm has specialists. Emory has an IHL Clinic, so I get student questions on international humanitarian law and the law of war. And we have legal historians among our faculty who periodically send me requests for 19th century English cases or for 20th century State Department documents.


Are there any special skills that you think are critical to doing FCIL research?

LT: I’d say: curiosity and tenacity, which are critical skills for any librarian, but FCIL research can be tough. The answer to many FCIL questions may very well be: “I’m sorry, but that thing [English translation, speech transcript, etc.] is not available.” And, yet no one wants to give that answer! The FCIL librarian has to be willing to scour for a result long after others may have given up.

AF: Foreign languages would help, but I don’t have that. And good research skills in general. It’s more important to have an interest in the subject, to enjoy looking for obscure documents, trying different databases, and reading enough news and professional literature to be able to interpret FCIL questions.


Do you have a strategy or approach to continuing education?

LT: My strategy is to do it! There is so much to know as a FCIL librarian and I’m not even close to knowing it all or even most of it. I try to attend as many conferences as my budget allows, and I volunteer for many different organizations so that I maintain my network and remain “in the know.” Also, now that the FCIL-SIS has started to produce free continuing education webinars (thanks to Caitlin Hunter), I watch those, and, when my schedule allows, I also attend free conferences or programs on international law at the University where I work. Also, I read/skim every issue of the American Journal of International Law and the FCIL-SIS Newsletter.

AF: I attend conferences and webinars, of course, and I read about legal research and international law. But I learn the most while preparing for classes, a reminder that experiential hands-on learning is the most effective kind.


What is your favorite FCIL resource (for example, Foreign Law Guide, GlobaLex, Justis, Max Planck, Darts IP, International Encyclopedias)? Why?

LT: I love the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law. I always try to start every new project with it because it forces me to stop and think and put the legal question(s) I am trying to answer into context. It strengthens my vocabulary and helps me refine my keywords before hopping onto Google or one of the many FCIL databases. It is always the first database I highlight whenever I am covering background sources for my classes, workshops, or guest visits.

AF: I’m guessing that “it depends on the project” isn’t a definite enough answer. For international law questions, I like to start students with the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law for background reading and a bibliography. It frequently has the citations for the most important documents for their project. Although that has to come with a reminder to check the article date. For foreign and comparative law projects, I like to start students with the Foreign Law Guide because it not only refers them to primary sources, it has citations to major statutes by subject area.


Me, reading all these answers:

New FCIL Librarian Series: Evaluating Databases

By Janet Kearney

This is the second in a series of posts documenting my experience as a new FCIL librarian. I started as Foreign & International Law Librarian at Fordham University School of Law in February 2019.

Heads up: I ask a lot of questions in this one. There is a short survey embedded, or I’d love to hear from y’all in the comments.

One of my favorite parts of my job is collection development – I’ve written on it before in a separate post highlighting the Fordham Law collection. (Sarah Reis also wrote a bit about this in her New FCIL series.) It is such a balancing of interests. We want our resources to be useful to our users and that means critically considering their needs and how they access materials. We also want to be careful stewards of the collection. There are so many FCIL books and databases out there, but not every resource is necessary for every collection. How many Oxford books do we need on the sources of international law, let alone other publishers? Certainly not all of them. And of course, the cost of these resources can add up quickly – very quickly!

At Fordham, we have a culture of asking why: why are we collecting in this area; why do we have this series? We ask these questions in our acquisitions committee, made up of reference librarians, administrators, and some technical services librarians. We try to evaluate new materials in this way, as well as evaluating our past decisions – like, why do we have so many books on drones and blockchain? (The jury is still out on that one.)

Three books. Titles: Drone Controversies: Ethical and Legal Debates Surrounding Targeted Strikes and Electronic Surveilance, Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, Drone Warfare

A small sample of our drone books.

Evaluating databases is an important part of this. When an FCIL database renewal is upcoming, our collections management librarian will collect statistics and ask me to bring an evaluation of the resource to our acquisitions meeting.

So how do we evaluate databases? What are our best practices? Let me walk you through a recent example of how I evaluated a database that was up for renewal. In the survey at the end, let me know if you agree with the decision we reached.

Recently, we received a renewal invoice for the Readex Access UN resource. One of my supervisors asked me to look into it because in all her years, she’d never actually used it and wasn’t sure if she even knew it existed. I had at least heard of it (yay!), but I did not know how it was actually useful. Here are the questions I asked:

  • What is it? The Access UN index from Readex (aka InfoBank) serves as an index for “United Nations documents including Official Records, masthead documents, draft resolutions, meeting records, UN Sales Publications, and the UN Treaty Series citations.” Some full-text is included.
  • Do some other schools have it? Of the peer schools we use for comparison, 3 had it and 3 did not.
  • How functional is this resource for our users? It seemed as if librarians could get used to the interface pretty quickly, but I had doubts about our students and faculty having the patience for it. Perhaps our users do not research heavily in the UN or because so many UN documents are easily discoverable online these days, I do not get a lot of questions for UN documents. On the other hand, we do have some active researchers that use UN materials, including seminars and the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice. But most of their research is current and this is better for historical materials – is it useful for our current researchers?
  • Do other librarians who have it actually use it? For this I reached out to our FCIL-SIS chair, Loren Turner, who in turn connected me with other members to get their opinions. (Thanks for responding, by the way!) There were a wide variety of responses, and next time I think I’ll send the call out via the My Communities page so even more people can weigh in. Few of those consulted had used it, let alone regularly. Interestingly, in another group I asked the same question and essentially received the opposite answer! Those used it frequently for older UN materials.

Ultimately, I recommended that we cancel it given the lack of requests for UN materials, our close proximity to the UN Library, and the variety of available UN finding aids (the Digital Library, ODS,, and Hein for starters). Even though the cost is relatively minimal for a database, what is most important to me is the usefulness, and right now we do not have the demand for it. I find it difficult to recommend cancellation; at heart, I’m more of a library hoarder. It made it easier for me to be more realistic when I realized that the cancellation of a database is not the end of it! If need be, you can reorder it. (Not sure why it took me so long to realize that!)

Let me know what you think by filling out this survey (also embedded below)! I can share the results with the group.

Donate to the Syllabi and Course Materials Database & Pay It Forward to Help Others

By Paul Moorman

I recently received a call from a student at my undergraduate alma mater asking for a donation. The student who called me was a pre-law history major who lived in the same dorm I had lived in and had received a scholarship to help pay for his tuition­—so basically he was me 30 years ago (although I was a political science major, but let’s not quibble over details). While I was talking to him, all the great memories I have from my undergraduate years came flooding back. When it came time for him to make the “big ask,” I was ready to say no like I usually do, but then I thought about it some more and decided that this time I would say yes and donate some money for a scholarship fund.  What ultimately helped me decide to make a donation was a realization that I had benefited from all those who had given generously to the school in the past.  I was now in a position in my life to be able to step up and help “pay it forward” by showing the same generosity that was shown to me by donating to others.

So why am I telling you this story? I’ll get there, but first let me start by saying that I’m one of the current co-chairs of the FCIL-SIS Teaching Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Interest Group. I, along with my co-chair, Amelia Landenberger, have a lot planned this year. One of our most important goals is to update the Syllabi and Course Materials Database and I am taking the lead on this project. As the readers of this blog likely know, it’s an amazing source of useful information for anyone teaching foreign, comparative, and international legal research and I’m confident many of you have used and consulted it while planning their courses. The database only exists because your colleagues have generously donated their courseware to help you. As useful as the current database is, it hasn’t been updated for a few years and it is starting to get long in the tooth. Legal research has changed dramatically in the past few years and FCIL-related legal research is no exception. As the tools and methods we use change, the way we teach our research courses needs to adapt to those changes.

So now it’s time for me to make my “big ask.”  Please consider this blog posting to be my first official request for you to donate your courseware to the Syllabi and Course Materials database. Unlike my alma mater, I’m not asking for money—instead I’m asking you to help by sharing your knowledge, expertise, experience, and hard work to help others who could benefit from it. If you have any FCIL-related courseware (you know who you are!), whether it be a syllabus, test, assignment, PowerPoint presentation, or even an entire module (really anything course related), now is the time to “pay it forward” and help your colleagues. If you’ve donated your courseware to the database in the past, please donate a more current version.  If you’ve never donated before, now is time to review your files and see if there’s anything you have that others could benefit from. Your colleagues have helped you in the past, now it’s time to help your colleagues.

My plan for the next few months is reach out to those who have donated to the database, and also to those who teach FCIL-related legal research courses, and ask you to donate your courseware to the database.  If you send the materials to me now by emailing it to me a, you’ll save us both a lot of time and effort. Thank you in advance for your generosity.  Your colleagues and I are grateful.

New FCIL Librarian Series: Welcome!

By Janet Kearney

Hello readers!

This is my first in a series of posts documenting my experience as a new FCIL librarian. I started as Foreign & International Law Librarian at Fordham University School of Law in February 2019. My intention is for this series to serve as a snapshot of life as a new FCIL librarian, looking at the types of work we do and how to cope as a newbie. Past columnists have blogged on collection development, moot court training, teaching, research guides, etc. I hope to continue these discussions, along with all the cat pictures and good gifsets I can find.

Cat holding a copy of The Bluebook

One of my cats, Ruth Bader, has a longstanding dislike of The Bluebook.

Like many in this community, I’ve been interested in foreign & international issues for a long time. When I was little, I pictured myself as a transnational Lois Lane, a foreign service officer, or a flight attendant, depending on the day. But even with those aspirations, formal education, and related work and travel experience, starting as a full-fledged FCIL LIBRARIAN is daunting. In fact*, this is actual* footage of me starting this job:

Four frames with a woman pointing a different objects asking "What's that?"

NBC / Via

Okay, this is actually not me; it’s another Janet from the TV show The Good Place (which you really should be watching). Janet is “a human-esque repository for all of the knowledge in the universe.” (On NBC, When she is rebooted as seen here, it takes her awhile to get going (which I think we can all relate to).

Much like Janet, as librarians generally, we have a lot going on. Add a specialty to it, and things can feel overwhelming. Understanding expectations and filling the shoes of our predecessors are obstacles in new positions, in addition to the usual pressures of a new workplace. Especially because, unlike Janet at her best, we do not have all the knowledge in the universe, and even the universe of potential FCIL-related questions is large. I’ve had multiple interactions begin with, “So I hear you’re the expert on all things foreign and international.” (Ummm….what???!!) And though I appreciate the vote of confidence, I’ll never be that Janet.

I relate much more to the Janet in this gif, distracted by shiny new opportunities and excited about the world I find myself in, without knowing exactly how I got there. (I also like plants.) One of the exciting things about an FCIL post is that we can do a broad range of work. In my first eight months on the job, I have been involved in:

  • Prepping a new advanced legal research FCIL 2-credit course
  • Evaluating all of our foreign/international databases as they come up for renewal
  • International journal training
  • Jessup & Vis moot court trainings
  • Consulting with students on seminar papers with FCIL tints
  • Communicating with FCIL faculty on their needs
  • Writing blog posts (how meta!)
  • Proposing AALL programs
  • Evaluating how our collection meets the needs of our international labor (or labour if you’re feeling fancy) faculty and students
  • A research project on identifying customary international law and recognizing it in US courts

As with many of you, this is in addition to all other duties as needed: running student and faculty services programs, working the reference desk, document delivery requests, etc. (Often these programs and research tasks we do are on American law – the horror, the horror!)

Although I’ve been doing this now for (a whole) seven months, the pace has not really slowed down, but I think that’s one of the many good things about being an FCIL librarian or involving yourself in FCIL work. We get to do interesting, complicated, challenging, frustrating, and rewarding work.

Thanks for reading my first post/diary entry and coming on this journey with me. Next time we’ll talk about something more practical.

Until then, here’s a picture of my other cat, Drew Brees, who’s more of a gamer than a reader.

Cat resting over a gaming console.

AALL 2019 Recap: FCIL Basics Bootcamp

By Dinah Minkoff

bootcamp.JPGI had the opportunity to attend the Preconference Workshop: FCIL Bootcamp: Basic Training at Georgetown University’s law school.  The morning session promised to provide information on FCIL resources and how to use them with a focus on foreign law, treaties, and EU law.  It delivered on its promise.  Georgetown Law librarians Mabel Shaw, Charles Bjok, and Heather Casey presented.

Mabel Shaw presented “An Introduction to Foreign Legal Research.”  She has been an FCIL librarian at Georgetown, where she is now the Head of International & Foreign Law, for over 18 years.  The presentation began by breaking down the different legal systems intrepid researchers will encounter: Common, Civil, Religious, Customary, and Mixed. As a researcher you need to know what type of legal system you are researching so that you understand not just where to look for information but if that information exists.  Interesting point of fact: outside of the U.S., not all government information is copyright free.  During her presentation, Mabel also allayed a common concern of the foreign legal researcher: you don’t have to speak every language you are researching. In addition to translations of legislation and law, there are myriad translation tools out there like dictionaries and Google Translate.  Use your evaluation skills to determine the reliability of the translation itself.  Look to the date of translation, the site hosting the translation, and whether it was done by a person or AI.

Heather Casey presented “An Introduction to Treaty Research.”  She has been an FCIL librarian for 10 years and teaches Research Skills in International & Comparative Law with Charles Bjork.  Heather’s presentation began by explaining the differences between private and public international law and the various documents that are referred to under the broad category of “treaties” (e.g. conventions, protocols, accords, declarations, charters, and Memorandum of Understanding).  Heather then outlined the best places to begin your research when the U.S. is a party to the treaty (Spoiler Alert: Treaties in Force, the U.S. State Department’s website, and HeinOnline).   After an overview of the treaty ratification process, it was on to researching treaties when the U.S. is not a party.  Good places to search include Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General at the UN, Regional Treaty Collections, and Foreign Ministry websites.  The presentation also reviewed important websites to keep in mind when conducting treaty research such as the EU, Council of Europe, African Union, Organization of American States, and World Trade Organization.  And because we were inside a law school, the session wrapped up with a hypothetical where participants got to put their newly honed FCIL research skills to the test.


Heather Casey presenting on how to conduct treaty research.

Finally, Charles Bjok presented on “An Introduction to Researching the Law of the European Union.” He works closely with Georgetown’s sizeable international LLM writing and research program and teaches Research Skills in International & Comparative Law with Heather Casey. This presentation had a two-fold benefit for me: it provided me a great refresher on the topic and confirmed for me that my own presentation on the topic did not have any glaring gaps.  The presentation began with an introduction to the EU, including a brief history, foundational documents, and its current incarnation. The presentation also reviewed the EU’s Seven Institutions and the hierarchy of EU law. What is fantastic about EU research is that despite the numerous institutions within the EU and its various types of law (treaties, legislative acts, and case law), EUR-Lex, the official website of the EU, is a portal to almost everything you will be looking for.  The website is updated daily, and contains some texts dating back to 1951.  The documents on EUR-Lex are freely accessible and available in the 24 official languages of the EU.  One caveat: although case law is available in on EUR-Lex, using CURIA, the CJEU’s website, may prove more beneficial.


The full slate of speakers from the full day FCIL Bootcamp.  From left to right: Heather Casey, Georgetown University Law Library; Prof. Heidi Frostestad Kuehl, Northern Illinois University School of Law; Prof. Jennifer Hillman, Georgetown University Law Center; Mabel Shaw, Georgetown University Law Library; Prof. Lilian Faulhaber, Georgetown University Law Center; and Charles Bjork, Georgetown University Law Library.  

I left the morning session happily on information overload and energized to respond to the future FCIL questions I receive in my role as Global Law Librarian at LA Law Library.  Feel free to reach out with questions about the bootcamp or foreign law generally. I can be reached at

For insights into the wonderful resources shared by the speakers, please visit

For the afternoon session of the pre-conference workshop, FCIL Bootcamp: Advanced, see this recap.

New FCIL Librarian Series: Advice to Prospective FCIL Librarians from a (Still) New FCIL Librarian

Reis - DipLawMatic Dialogues Post 6 Photo (002)

My time as the New FCIL Librarian blogger went by quickly, but I’m eager to see what year 2 brings!

By Sarah Reis

This is the sixth and final post in a series of posts about adjusting to my new position as a foreign and international law librarian. I started my position at the Pritzker Legal Research Center at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in February 2018.

During my first full academic year as a Foreign & International Law Librarian, I experienced many “firsts.” Although I still consider myself as a new FCIL librarian, I wanted to use my last post in this series to offer advice and encouragement for anyone considering becoming an FCIL librarian.

#1: Learn from Others

The FCIL library community is generous with sharing knowledge and expertise:

  • Consider attending webinars and/or conference programs pertaining to FCIL research to learn from more experienced FCIL librarians.
  • Read FCIL-related blog posts and articles. When I was preparing to apply for this job, I consulted Lyonette Louis-Jacques’ So You Want to Be a Foreign Librarian article on Slaw, Jessica Pierucci’s New FCIL Librarian Series on this blog, and other posts collected by KnowItAALL.
  • Sign up for listservs like INT-Law and IALL to connect with other librarians around the world.
  • Don’t feel shy about contacting other FCIL librarians for assistance. Earlier this year, I reached out to Alex Zhang (editor of the Foreign Law Guide’s China guide) to get her thoughts on a database we didn’t subscribe to and to confirm whether my findings for a Chinese law research project seemed comprehensive based on the resources I had consulted.

In addition to learning from other FCIL librarians, get to know and learn from the international students at your law school. Several international LLM students enrolled in my FCIL research course. My favorite class session was when each of them discussed how they conduct legal research in their home countries. We covered South Korea, Brazil, Nigeria, China, and the Dominican Republic.

#2: Familiarize Yourself with the Collection

Familiarize yourself with your library’s collection of print and electronic resources. One of the most helpful projects I’ve worked on was conducting a survey comparing the FCIL databases our library subscribed to with databases our peer law libraries subscribed to. This project allowed me to explore and evaluate our subscription resources and identify databases to add to our collection. Another useful project was weeding our international reference print collection.

#3: Welcome New Opportunities, but Recognize Limitations

Many librarians have a hard time saying “no.” I am admittedly one of those, but I have at least figured out how I can say “yes” while still ensuring that I do not over-commit myself. A few months into the job, I was asked whether I would like to take over as director of the International Team Project program. I accepted the position, but chose to defer serving as a faculty advisor for one of the ITP courses until a future academic year. I knew I would have my hands already full in Spring 2019 with teaching my FCIL research course for the first time. I am glad I did not over-commit by squeezing the ITP course into my schedule and am now looking forward to serving as a faculty advisor for ITP Greece next spring.

#4: Take Advantage of Existing Teaching Resources, but Adopt Your Own Style

Teaching an FCIL research class for the first time was the most anxiety-provoking, yet ultimately rewarding, experience from my first year as an FCIL librarian.

If you are very new to teaching and have the opportunity to co-teach your first semester with a more experienced librarian, take it! My FCIL research class was scheduled for Spring 2019 and would be the first time I would ever teach a class on my own, so I co-taught an Advanced Legal Research class with one of my colleagues, Clare Willis, in Fall 2018. I learned so much from Clare during that semester and transferred what I learned over to when I taught the FCIL research class on my own in the spring. Several students in my FCIL research class expressed appreciation for the clear rubrics accompanying each assignment so they never felt tricked and knew exactly what my expectations were. Credit goes to Clare and my other colleagues, Jamie and Jesse, for perfecting the rubrics we use in our ALR classes, which I adapted and used for my assignments in my FCIL research class.

Observing my colleagues’ effective teaching styles during the fall helped me feel more at ease in front of my own class in the spring. Each of my FCIL research class sessions included an in-class exercise (or several small exercises), but I actively looked for ways to turn the “lecture” portion of the class into more of a discussion to facilitate engagement, thanks to Clare’s advice. Nothing is more effective in piquing the interest of a class as having one of the students rave about how useful a resource is based on their own experience!

To assist with designing an FCIL research-focused class, the teachers’ manual for Heidi Kuehl & Megan O’Brien’s International Legal Research in a Global Community, Don Ford’s teaching survey on FCIL Advanced Legal Research prepared for the Big Ten Academic Alliance Law Libraries meeting, and materials in the FCIL-SIS Syllabi & Course Materials Database were all extremely helpful. I consulted these resources for inspiration and guidance, but developed my own assignment hypos, PowerPoint slides, and materials to fit my own style.

#5: Have Fun!

I really enjoyed my first year as an FCIL librarian and look forward to what is to come, especially now that the first year (which everyone always says is the hardest) is over. I hope to continue crossing off other “firsts” from my list in the near future, such as attending the IALL conference and writing a book chapter. Researching foreign and international law is challenging AND fun. Don’t be intimidated!

Seven Things I Learned From Co-Teaching an FCIL Research Class

By Amelia Landenberger


Image from Pixaby.

This spring I co-taught an FCIL Research Class, my first since beginning as an FCIL librarian at Boston University in August of 2018. The best teachers I know engage in a good deal of self-reflection after teaching, and I’ve decided to share some of my self-reflection with you.

  1. Find a Mentor. I was lucky enough to be able to co-teach this class with my mentor, who has many years of FCIL and teaching experience. I know that isn’t an option for everyone, but I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to do this without guidance and support. It is always a good idea to find a mentor, if you can. If you can find a mentor or colleague who is willing to co-teach the course, even better!
  2. Have Patience with Yourself. Because this was my fourth year of teaching legal research, I had unrealistic expectations about my ability to teach FCIL research. Learning a new subject while also teaching it takes far longer than adapting to new methods of teaching citators or adapting to new database interfaces, for example. I wish I could go back and change my expectations, but I also wish I could make peace with my own pace.
  3. Preparation and Timing. My mentor and I had preparation meetings for each week of the class. We would talk about the objectives for the week and figure out which parts of the class would work best as in-class exercises. The class was scheduled for 4:30-6:30pm. Many people are not their best during these hours of the day, so we focused on making sure the class was broken into manageable chunks and made sure to give the students a break in the middle of class.
  4. Movement: We made as many exercises as possible group exercises or interactive exercises, with a focus on getting the students to move and speak. We took a lot of ideas from our Lawyering Class (the 1L Legal Research Component of the Legal Research and Writing Class). We used a relay-race format for an exercise in Lawyering, so we worked that format into the FCIL class as well. Students appreciated the competition, and some of them insisted on working through the break to complete the relay race. The movement exercises were one part of the class where it was very helpful to have two teachers. It can be hard to coordinate all the moving pieces of an exercise while also making sure no students are stuck or frustrated, but with two teachers, the exercise ran much more smoothly.
  5. The Structure of FCIL Law. I didn’t understand the importance of repeating the structure and grounding each class in the structure of foreign and international law. We focused on making sure students knew where each part of the class fits into the broader scheme. Most students coming into the class expect the class will be entirely about foreign law, so it was important to orient their focus to public and private international law as well.
  6. Don’t Focus on Foreign Law. Our students wanted to learn foreign law, but we aren’t qualified to practice law in foreign jurisdictions, and neither are they. We had to focus on what would be most useful to our students rather than what they thought would be the most useful.
  7. Something Will Go Wrong. In one class, an entire database unexpectedly wasn’t working. I might have been overwhelmed, but it was wonderful to watch my co-teacher keep her cool and move on to a different exercise. The students learned what they needed to learn, and we were able to show the database the next week.

I learned a lot from co-teaching FCIL research this spring, and I’ll be teaching the class again in the fall, without a co-teacher this time. Wish me luck!