Reference from Coast to Coast – Tackling Training

Welcome to Reference From Coast to Coast: Sources and Strategies, a monthly column written by Jan Bissett and Margi Heinen.

Jan Bissett is a Reference Librarian in the Bloomfield Hills, Michigan office of Dickinson Wright PLLC. She is a past president of the Michigan Association of Law Libraries and has published articles on administrative and research related topics in the Michigan Association of Law Libraries Newsletter and Michigan Defense Quarterly. She and Margi Heinen team teach Legal Information Sources and Services for Wayne State University’s Library and Information Science Program in Detroit, Michigan.

Margi Heinen is the Librarian at Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss in Detroit, Michigan. She teaches Legal Resources at the University of Michigan’s School of Information and is team teaching with her co-columnist, Jan Bissett, at Wayne State University’s School of Library and Information Science. She regularly does Internet training of legal staff at her firm and recently collaborated with Kathleen Gamache on an I.P.E. presentation, Internet Stategies for the Paralegal in Michigan. She is active in the Law Librarians of Metro Detroit and is a member of the American Association of Law Libraries.

The one constant in reference work has been helping people use sources of information to their best advantage. This assistance has had and continues to have many guises: informal interviews, hands on applications, formal and informal training sessions. As the technology explosion continues we find ourselves under constant pressure to find and use the best, quickest, cheapest, and most comprehensive sources. Since we have yet to find all these features in one source, we have had to learn to use many different databases, web sites or print materials. But it’s not only the librarians and information professionals doing the learning. Internet and web-based training has become an essential part of reference work. Yet structuring that training is never as easy as we want it to be. Assembled here are some strategies and sources we’ve found useful in creating a good training program, especially in a private law library setting. Our hope is that these tips can be easily adapted in your individual setting.

Know Which Decisions May Require Training Implementation

With the competition for flat-rate contracts and the need for reduced costs, libraries may have decided to change favored CALR vendors. Remember these decisions cannot be effective unless you implement a training module. Users tend to become well acquainted with only one vendor or favorite web sites. Changing vendors or web sites will be stressful, but ignoring the need for training will make the change unnecessarily difficult.

Know What Outcome You Want

What you hope to accomplish needs to be clearly understood and stated. If you are training staff to use a lawyer directory on the Web, are you planning to eliminate the print version of that directory?If you are training secretaries to use a citator service have you determined under what circumstances you want them to use the service?Remember that change is not a welcome experience for everyone and training so that staff “know this source is available” may not encourage its use beyond the training time.

Know the Tool You Are Training

The trainer must be thoroughly familiar with the web site or database to be effective. Trainees are astute critics of new products so don’t try to ignore difficulties with a new site or system. Telling new users both the pros and cons of the new tool encourages a learning approach and discourages the “see it doesn’t work as well as the old way” response. Illustrate with specific examples where this computerized techniques fits into the research or document production process. Don’t expect your students to see the specific value of this resource or to necessarily understand that the source is not universally useful.

Know What Impact this Tool Will Have on Workflow

Acknowledge that a paper source may be more convenient and time efficient.If you are training someone to use an electronic version of a print favorite, you need to understand if this access is or appears less efficient to the user than the old method. You also need to train techniques you may take for granted, such as leaving several windows open at the bottom of your screen.

Know Your Audience

Attorneys striving for billable time and staff feeling overwhelmed are tough audiences.

ü Plan ahead so that your presentation includes as much practical information in as short a time as you can.

ü Choose a time of day when people are not in the middle of something – early morning or lunchtime.

ü Feed your audience – morning bagels or lunchtime sandwiches.

ü Modify your presentation to fit the audience that attends. If you have lured the senior partner in with a morning bagel, ask what specific problems that person has encountered. Then demonstrate how to solve those problems.

ü Be enthusiastic even if the attendance is low. Training is about teaching a skill, not about how many students were present.

ü Begin with sure-fire time-saving or money-saving techniques. Often basic printing or navigation tricks catch the attention of the practical minded and buy you time to demonstrate more advanced skills.

ü Select one web site or database to illustrate a technique. Moving too rapidly through databases or showing six different sites to retrieve similar material overwhelms the listener.

ü Avoid technological difficulties if possible. If you are using a laptop you are unfamiliar with either get familiar or have someone else click and type while you talk. Even a few seconds of fumbling can be distracting to a busy audience.

Developing a training program is not easy, but there are training guides available to help you fashion your own presentation.These materials may focus on actual presentation skills or content. For example, Diana Gleason’s article for Perspectives, Introduction to the Internet: A Training Script, offers a basic script for trainers.For a look at the people skills necessary for a good training program and for ways to encourage attendance, a must read is Daryl Teshima’s article for, “Computer Training Advice for the Law Firm.” also provides materials in its Presentation & Training Resource Center. The Virtual Chase: Legal Research on the Internet offers an “Internet Trainers’ Stop & Swap” including articles, software reviews, teaching webs and instructional tools, tips & outlines as well as links to other training sites. Computer Counselor columns in the Los Angeles Lawyer provide helpful articles on training and websites to include in Internet training. For more ideas on content or to see what other librarians have been doing in the way of pathfinders or handouts, check out AALL’s RIPS Pathfinder’s Clearinghouse, Legal Research Teach In materials or the Internet Hotlist of Law Guides Organized by Subject. Familiar library publishers such as Neal Schuman and publications such as Computers in Libraries often have materials on training adult professionals. And of course, consult with colleagues about their training experiences.

In addition to legal research content you may also want to include handouts or information on the ergonomics of spending long hours in front of computers. The University of California at Berkeley has advice on pointing devices (mouse choice) ( and on workstation design (

Posted in: Reference from Coast to Coast, Training