Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Students Lack Legal Research and Information Literacy

Students Lack Legal Research and Information Literacy. This article recently appeared at Law.com. It was written by Tricia Kasting. The author actually knows something about this topic and even invokes the College and Research Libraries "Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education."

From the site:

The goal of legal research has always been information literacy. Print sources gave us defined resources and an existing intellectual framework. Electronic methods facilitate the finding and using of information. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. We teach students print and electronic resources, but their technical computer proficiency -- Internet and then Lexis and Westlaw -- makes these the preferred methods. Finding information is easy -- too easy. Why spend time with the books, when online produces usable results and is familiar?

My simple contention is that current law students have good information technology skills, but are deficient in information literacy skills. Many students seem to equate computer skills with search skills: I am computer literate equals I have good research skills. Technical competence with a program or search engine is confused with the analytic skill to use the program effectively and efficiently. For example, students learn how to construct a search query but look for New York state case law in the Allstates database. It works, but is not efficient. Secondary materials -- other than law reviews -- are not considered. Document retrieval, Shepard's and KeyCite are specific functions easy to identify and, hence, use. They engage in discrete information seeking acts, but do not identify the specific question to be answered; if this question relates to the issue; and how the issue relates to the legal concept. They have identifiable technical skills, but are not information literate.

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