By Devan Orr
Spring is on the horizon now in southeastern Virginia! Here at the law library, we can tell the semester is coming to an end by the students’ lament of finals and outlining, but also by the increasing number of conferences and talks as we ramp up and get ready for AALL Annual Conference and other major opportunities. In the spirit of
In December we learned about a community forum that was going to be hosted by VIVA, a Virginia academic libraries consortium. The topic was usability, accessibility, and design. An email was sent to members of the consortium that VIVA was looking for people to give lightning talks on work they had done in their libraries. Joanna and I had set up a program to increase accessibility to non-traditional students here at the law school, so we decided to throw our hats into the ring.
In 2021 and 2022, as part of my work with our international students, I noticed we had many students with children here at the school. Not everyone or even a majority, but more than expected for a school with only a traditional, three-year daytime J.D. program. I and some of my colleagues also have small children, and with the continuing pandemic and work-from-home responsibilities coupled with childcare flexibility, it felt like people needed more from our law library than just legal texts. As part of our investigation in what to do, Joanna and I found that some academic libraries have been implementing children/family study areas. And we wanted to do something similar here at William & Mary.
What ended up happening was a cosmic alignment of planned reorganization of the space, budgetary allowance, and support from my director and supervisor. We ended up purchasing about 40 children’s books, moving a low shelf and four-person desk from our reading room, and creating a small nook where families can study together in the library without disturbing their colleagues on the quiet floors. Children of all ages can feel welcome with their parents or guardians here, and students do not have to worry as much about childcare or lack of access to in-person resources. With this area now set up, we now wanted to share our experiences – good and bad – with others.
To participate in the lightning talk, we first had to fill out an application to the consortium to be considered as one of the speakers. This process was less involved than I had anticipated. Because it was a small presentation during a community forum, the organizers were more focused on making sure the talk was on-topic and narrow enough to fit into a ten-minute presentation (and that included time for questions). We also needed to come up with a presentation style that would work to both get our point across and
While neither the program nor the presentation dealt specifically foreign, comparative, or international law, taking this first step toward presenting my work to others really helped me understand a side of my job that I hadn’t really considered before. I have attended conferences, listened to webinars, and networked with colleagues at various events. But being on the presenting side of things opened me up to a whole new set of duties – good and bad. We had to make sure we were able to attend a technology session the week before that I hadn’t planned on when looking at the dates and making sure I was available. We worked with moving deadlines for slides and materials submission, and day-of flexibility in presentation style and feedback. And we had to grapple with how to convey this information in a fun way as two-inch faces on someone’s computer monitor.
And it was all great! Getting to share work product externally was really fulfilling in a way I hadn’t anticipated. I think starting my career during the COVID-19 pandemic means I haven’t had the expectation of external feedback or experiences as much as others. Seeing many pictures on Zoom chime in during our presentation and others helped me feel like I was making a small difference and contributing to the profession in a small way. It was also my first opportunity to interface with other academic librarians outside of law librarianship. Seeing what other university libraries are doing was eye-opening – so much is transferable but so much isn’t. Graduate students, and law students, really, are their own breed and the needs just aren’t quite the same. But being surrounded by these additional viewpoints and seeing what their patrons needed in terms of accessibility and usability in a space gave us some ideas for plans at the law library.
What do you like to do for external presentations? Are you a PowerPoint and lightning talk advocate, or do you prefer something more long form? Do you like presenting with others or solo? Any topics on the horizon that you’re hoping to speak on soon? I know this first experience was a great one, and I can’t wait to tackle more FCIL topics and scholarship in the future and learn more from all of you too!