In mid July, law librarians from all across the country gathered for the annual meeting of the American Association of Law Librarians (AALL). This year, the meeting was held in our hometown of Philadelphia, which meant that we were all able to attend and participate in the festivities. Over the next couple of months, we will be sharing our varied experiences at the conference, to give you all a better idea of how we hone our skills and learn about emerging trends on law librarianship.
Changing the Way We Conduct (and Present) Legal Research
by Lori Corso
One of the best parts of the annual conference is getting to swap ideas with other librarians. Many conference sessions follow a presenter-audience model but there are a few programs that take a more interactive approach. The “Cool Tools Café” offers up a menu of new and emerging technologies for librarians to sample. Each tool is presented in a short 5-7 minute segment by a fellow librarian who has used that tool in his or her library. Exploring new technologies is always fun, especially when you can get your questions answered by someone who is very familiar with them but doesn’t work for the company!
There were about 30 tools being demonstrated but the two that caught my eye were Casetext and a mashup of nine different presentation tool alternatives to PowerPoint and Prezi. As a legal research instructor, I’m always looking for ways to create more engaging presentations and this mini-session gave me lots of ideas. The software presented were all cloud-based and included: Emaze, Zoho Docs, Slideshark, PowToon, Google Slides, Haiku Deck, Sway, Slide-X.net and Visme. Each tool has its own unique features and limitations. Only two of the tools, Zoho Docs and Google Slides, allow you to create printable handouts which could be used in class (Prezi lacks the ability to create handouts from its slides). Several of the tools work very well on iPads—Slideshark, Haiku Deck and Slide-X.net (iPhones too), while others, like Emaze, require a robust processor and tend to run more slowly on a laptop or tablet. Some of the tools allow you to create multi-media presentations on the fly such as Haiku Deck’s ability to locate images via Google URL search right from within the program or PowToon’s animation and video features or Visme’s infographic capabilities. Others simply add another dimension to an existing presentation like Emaze’s snappy Prezi-like transitions or Slideshark’s ability to annotate and broadcast existing PowerPoint or other slides, even though you can’t create slides in the program itself.
While the presentation tools are great for communicating and displaying research, another cool tool called Casetext focuses on allowing you to do free online legal research. Casetext is essentially a crowd-sourced database of case law and commentary. It allows you to search across a broad database of federal case law using filters and other sophisticated search techniques rather than limiting you to a simple keyword search as you find with Google. Casetext also offers you legal analysis and commentary on the case provided by judges, law school academics, lawyers and even law students primarily in the form of case summaries. There’s even a built-in citator (though it’s obviously not as robust as Keycite or Shepard’s) called WeCite.
I can’t wait to put these tools to work in the classroom. Check them out for yourself! What do you think of Casetext? Which presentation tool do you like to use?