New Series: The Inside Guide to the Cornell Library!
I am starting a new series on the library blog called, The Inside Guide to the Cornell Library! I will interview everyone in the library to learn more about what they do here. Everyone here has specific interests and talents which they bring to the Cornell Library and I thought it would be fun to share them with you!
I had my first interview with Christine Ryan, who is the Environmental Law Librarian. Chris is passionate about teaching legal research and also selects all the resources for our unique Environmental Collection. Read the brief interview for advice on legal research, and find out what book Chris is reading—you might be surprised by her answer!
What do you do at the library?
One of the things I do, which takes a great deal of my time, and that I love more than anything else—is teaching.
I teach two or three sections of first-year legal research, which allows me to get to know our 1L students—they always are wonderful. I also teach an Advanced Environmental Legal Research during the summer and this will be the third summer. The course seems to be in demand because the past two years I have had two sessions. At the end of the course, students produce amazingly sophisticated research guides. We go through a number of resources which help with doing environmental research, like science sources, statistics, and international. They then create a research guide on something they are passionate about. It is really satisfying to read those guides at the end of the course, and see how much they’ve learned, and how they have applied the knowledge in such a good way!
In addition to teaching classes, I also do a lot of one-time research sessions for substantive classes, like Culture and the Environment, Advanced Energy Writing seminar, and the Climate Change class.
I also do collection development for the Environmental Collection which means I select all of the books and electronic resources. VLS is unique in having an environmental law librarian, and we are also unique in having a separate environmental collection. A fair bit of my time is spent doing that.
In my own little way, by building the collection and answering reference questions, I also support the impressive faculty scholarship.
I really love being here at the Library and I love this job!
How do choose the resources for the environmental collection?
I select the resources through a system that we have set up with a vendor that deals with hundreds of publishers. I have a profile set up, and I receive a listing every week from this company which includes descriptions of the books and the tables of content. This is the main way I do collection development. I keep up with what is being published; especially electronic resources. I also stay alert to what students and faculty are researching and order resources which support those subjects. I always welcome specific recommendations for the collection.
Do you foresee a specific topic that will be “hot” in the environmental law field? Or one that is becoming more popular?
I saw the academic interest in energy coming, and really increased our resources related to energy. I also foresaw the interest in climate change, and sustainability. It is hard to look into the “crystal ball” but I think water and food are soon going to be really big issues, especially here at VLS. Food is already getting a lot of attention.
Is there a specific perspective that you have with the environmental collection, or make sure certain perspectives are represented?
I try to be balanced. I try not to just have the liberal perspective, for example, which people often assume since we are Vermont Law School. I try to order anything that comes out which deals with environmental law or policy. I try to do that and hope that I am successful.
One of the really neat things you have done Chris, is created the Environmental Law Research Sources (ELRS) database. Can you tell me how this happened and why?
It started about five or six years ago. It had been a dream of the former environmental law librarian, but it was never able to get off the ground. All of our students are wonderful, but there was an especially wonderful library-using group of Master’s students. I created the database as a gift to them because many of them would not have access to Westlaw and Lexis Nexis, or other fee-based databases after they graduated. I wanted to pull together the best free sources—so that is how it started. I have just been adding to it over the years. I send emails and talk to faculty and students to ask for suggestions on new topic areas. Agriculture is new; Environmental Dispute Resolution is another topic we added this year. I am always open to new topics and specific suggestions for websites. ELRS is a time consuming project that I like working on, but it takes me away from the public services work that is most gratifying. It is behind the scenes work but I think the result is something really good. I get correspondence from alums who use it—so I know it is something that is useful—that makes it worth it.
Do you have any advice for students doing environmental law research?
I hate giving advice!
But one that that is important, is just to keep up with what is going on. Whatever students are passionate about, they should stay up to date with that. There are blogs about everything, news alerts about everything—I would say set up news alerts and follow a blog and don’t forget that during your three years here. I think that is really important: not to forget why you came here!
As far as doing environmental legal research—take my class. But also, in first-year legal research you will learn many things that can be applied to any specific area of the law.
Also, take advantage of the wonderful resources that we have here at the library. You may find something here that you may want to add to your work life and subscribe to later on.
So take advantage of our resources and our wonderful library staff—we all are here for you!
What book are you reading now?
I am going to confess something—I do not tend to read books very much, but instead listen to them!
I listen to a great variety of books and I am listening to The Outermost Houseby Henry Beston. It is about the natural environment on Cape Cod. I like it. I am also listening to a recent novel, The Paris Wife.