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Information technology has pervaded discussions of legal research instruction ever since computer-assisted legal research systems were introduced into law schools in the 1970s. Since then, writing about legal research and how to teach it has become a small industry, fostering an ever-growing number of textbooks and reference works; a regular diet of articles in specialized publications; and enough articles in general legal publications for Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research and Writing to include a two- or three-page listing of new sources in each issue. Much of even the most recent writing about legal research instruction examines long-standing questions: When is print-electronic research more effective than electronic? What are the differences between new features of the major legal research systems? How does the research instructor motivate law students to take research instruction seriously? Other topics are new, including the perceived disorder of legal information published on the Web, the long-term availability of information published only in electronic form and what one recent writer calls “the loss of peripheral vision” occasioned by over-reliance on electronic research. (1) But even the newer discussions do not get to the heart of all the questions that law librarians and other legal educators need to be asking, in light of researchers’ increasingly ubiquitous access to legal information via the Internet. The Duke University School of Law seems to have answered most of the traditional structural questions. Law-trained librarians have played the primary role in legal research training at Duke since the early 1970s. Duke now offers a year-long course in legal analysis, research and writing taught by specialized writing instructors teamed with librarians responsible for research instruction. A senior member of the library staff serves as director of legal research instruction and is responsible for the legal research curriculum. The law school consistently supports and recognizes the importance of the research and writing program. Even law schools with established and respected legal research programs in place must face the questions of what to teach and how, as well as the challenges posed by students’ reliance on networked information, because of its accessibility, without testing the information for authenticity and accuracy. One way to think about this emerging set of concerns is in terms of students’ growing need, not only for better legal research skills, but for literacy in legal information, a broader set of competencies related to the “peripheral vision” problem. In an article on legal research in the electronic age, John Hanft briefly describes the legal researcher’s loss of peripheral vision in terms of the hard-to-define differences between performing research using a computer and sitting “[w]ith piles of papers on our desks and books open on our lap[s].” (2) As Hanft puts it, with books “at least we had a feel for where we were.” (3) This difference in feeling is hard to articulate, but the practical results of law students’ preference for electronic research are evidenced in the comments of the attorneys and law firm librarians who criticize law schools for new associates’ poor skills in legal research and analysis. (4) WHAT IS MISSING? Perceptions of differences between the results of research done in books scattered on a library table and computer-based research raise issues beyond librarians’ complaints that law students spend too much time searching for cases on all fours with their problems, while presuming that online searches will unearth all the information they need to solve a problem. The comments of Hanft and others suggest that something intrinsically important to the processes of research and analysis has been lost in the transition away from primary reliance on print research sources. Is it that electronic presentation provides fewer opportunities for serendipity and surprise? Or is it the impact of the presentation and the researcher’s differing abilities to retain and absorb information presented in different formats? (5) Has this missing quality been lost irretrievably in the transition away from a reliance on print materials? It is too early to concede that in order to take advantage of the power that computers bring to the research process, law students and lawyers must give up the apparent, but hard-to-describe, benefits of book research. Whatever has changed, though, must involve more than differences in research technique and approach. It is time, perhaps, for more concerted research into the research process itself and how computer-based approaches affect the researcher’s application of what is found to the solution of the problem. INFORMATION LITERACY Ever since widespread use of computers has become commonplace in the United States, concerns have been expressed about what computer users need to know about the technology in order to use it effectively. Early discussions focusing on “computer literacy” emphasized practical knowledge of how computers work and about the use of specific applications and features. Interest in computer literacy, however, eventually gave way to considerations of “computer fluency.” Advocates of computer fluency criticize computer literacy for its focus on practical skills and its failure to consider that computer users need to understand the underlying concepts of information technology and its impact on the processes of learning in order to solve problems. Despite its endorsement by a National Research Council committee, (6) computer fluency can itself be criticized for placing more emphasis on technology than on the information that computer users seek and work with when using technology. Academic librarians have begun to focus instead on the concept of “information literacy,” which emphasizes “understanding, evaluating, and using information.” (7) Information literacy programs acknowledge that today’s students approach research with information-seeking skills and approaches different from those who would instruct them, even if their instructors are highly computer-literate. Students are comfortable dealing with “non-linear, nonconsequential modes of perceiving, thinking, and investigating change” and consider the visual image on the computer screen their “primary means of communication.” (8) Perhaps most importantly, information literacy also acknowledges that researchers and other users of information not only now have ready access to more information than ever before, but also that much of it is unfiltered and unvetted by instructors or librarians. THINKING STILL MATTERS Thus, although their comfort with information technology will continue to determine how students approach information seeking, in the end their success will depend on their investigative techniques, critical faculties and ability to evaluate the quality of the information they locate. Information-literacy programs have the goal of producing lifelong learners, well-equipped to perform this broader set of activities, not only for their immediate learning needs, but to support long-term professional and personal information seeking. With these long-range goals in mind, approaches to information literacy are necessarily learner-centered. Enduring success in locating and using information will depend on the skills of the individual user, acting independently, without benefit of instructor or librarian. Information literacy provides the means for rethinking law school legal research programs in light of the needs of 21st-century lawyers. To be successful in an increasingly complex and changing legal information environment, where not only law books but also the standard legal databases are challenged by competing sources available via the Internet, 21st-century law students will need more than how-to books and courses designed to convey technical advice on current research sources and techniques. Practical skills training will still be an important component of legal information literacy but will need to be seen as part of a broader mix of educational experiences aimed at developing the competencies necessary not only to locate information, but also to understand the strengths and limitations of the information sources, and to evaluate the sources for authenticity, reliability, authority and bias, even as the tools of access continue to change. NOTES (1) See John K. Hanft, “A Model for Legal Research in the Electronic Age,” Legal Reference Services Q., 1999, vol. 17, no. 3, at 77, 79. (2) Id. at 79. (3) Id. at 79. (4) The most frequently cited work is Joan S. Howland and Nancy Lewis, “The Effectiveness of Legal Research Training Programs,” 40 J. Legal Educ. 381 (1990). (5) See Mike Wendland, “Reading the News in the Inkless World of Cyberspace,” N.Y. Times, May 25, 2000, at D15. (6) See “Being Fluent with Information Technology” (1999) (report of the Committee on Information Technology Literacy of the National Research Council). (7) “Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education,” 61 C&RL News 207 (2000). (8) Lorie Roth, “Educating the Cut-and-Paste Generation,” Libr. J., Nov. 1, 1999, at 42. Richard A. Danner is Senior Associate Dean for Information Technology and Research Professor of Law at Duke University School of Law. He is a former president of the American Association of Law Libraries.

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