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Michael Charlton's Design Narrative: Teaching information literacy in a law firm

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Michael Charlton
4 April 2013



Legal librarian working with a new intake of researchers from post-graduate university course.



Early 2011. The lessons took place in the Resource Centre of the firm's offices.The Resource Centre is set in the basement of the offices and so receives no natural light. The artificial lighting is sufficient to provide a bright workspace and the area open and spacious enough to provide for group working and break-out sessions. Desk-top computers, the library collection and sofas are present in the Resource Centre.


The students were recent graduates from a natural resource law course and were all known to each other prior to being taken on at the firm. The students were from West Africa, Russia and Central Asia and came to the training in the first week of their employment. They had Information Literacy skills gained at university but these varied depending on where they had studied at undergraduate level.


The main aim of these lessons was to show the students how to retrieve and critically analyse information from hardcopy and electronic resources, and how to identify source bias. The meausure of success would be an improvement in the productivity of students.


  • Day 1

    • Introduction to course and overview of structure

    • Guided explanation of specialist databases not encountered at university

    • Introduction to hardcopy resources students are unfamiliar with

    • Group exercise researching specific issues with time limit

    • Analysis of results and discussion of research methods

    • Presentation on research skills

  • Day 2

    • Recap of previous day's discussion

    • Group exercise researching specific issues

    • Reporting of results, discussion of methods

    • Individual exercise

    • Summation of learning, discussion of outcomes with students



Expected Results: The research returned on Day 2 proved a significant improvement on that of Day 1. The students performed the tasks with a greater degree of planning and a wider range of resources were used as students assessed where to find the information before research began.

Unexpected Results: Research skills for databases and texts with which the students would be expected to be comfortable were extremely poor. Students expected legal databases to react like Google and were almost entirely unable to consult with printed digests.



The skills taught during the 2 Day course were effective in increasing the ability of the students to operate as part of the firm; however the gains were not long-lasting as many quickly reverted to previous habits of research. In this, the lesson failed. However, I did gain an insight into where the failings were. General research skills were considerably lower than expected and the course has been ammended to take into account that guidance may be necessary for all resources, not simply those which are new and specialised. It is also now evident that, in order to engender the improvements, a series of training sessions are neccesary in order to ensure that best practice is retained.

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