Implementing Legal Information Literacy: A Challenge for the Curriculum

 

 

 

Implementing Legal Information Literacy: A Challenge for the Curriculum


 

 

 

BEN BELJAARSF

 

 

 

Dutch law faculties usually change their curriculum due to pressure from external factors, such as inspection reports, accreditation procedures or educational innovations dictated by general university policy. Course subjects are changed each semester or academic year to bring them more into line with each other. Sometimes there are substantive reasons for change, such as the imposition of an international perspective. Courses are seldomaltered in response to internal curricular pressure, as this leads to tension in personal relationships.

 

The policy on appointing chairs is another thorny issue. Occasionally the need to change or adapt the curriculum arises from both external and internal developments. Legal information skills have remained a somewhat neglected part of the curriculum. As a branch of academic or legal skills, they exist independently on the periphery. University libraries, which are becoming increasingly adept at Information Literacy, are digitalizing and globalizing at an accelerating rate. Thus, when necessary, legal degree courses must catch up and revise legal curricula in this regard.

1. Introduction

 

Law faculties currently pay scant attention to legal information literacy in their curriculum or lecture programme. The application of specialized information literacy skills is taken for granted in degree courses and its basic principles are dealt with summarily, if at all. In many cases, it is left up to university libraries to provide courses in this subject. They, at least, have moved with the times, and extremely illustrative courses can be downloaded from their websites.F91

 

 

 

Ben Beljaars teaches Introduction to Law and Legal Theory at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

1I would like to thank G. Goris, Deputy Librarian/Head of Documentary Information and E.R. Winter, Specialist in Law, from the University Library of Erasmus University Rotterdam for their comments.

 

 

 

To do so, collaboration between faculties and libraries is called for. Several university libraries and law faculties have already set up joint programs to acquaint both bachelor degree and masters degree students with this specific form of legal knowledge management.F2014 It is a hesitant start to a substantively articulated educational modernization that truly takes competencies seriously by acknowledging that it is necessary to practice knowledge skills. Recognition of the need to take legal information literacy seriously is particularly relevant at the moment, especially in relation to narrowing the gap between university and professional practice.F3015

 

Conclusions

 

In recent years the interconnectedness of legal skills and legal information literacy has become more important and urgent. The need for university educated lawyers to have acquired an in-depth knowledge of the


application of information literacy can no longer be in any doubt. The quality of the sources is crucial to the assessment of the persuasiveness of legal information. The abundance of the digitized information available requires thorough practice in using the sources. Clarifying and qualifying the information accessed is the most basic rule for the academic handling of legal sources.

 

The rapidly changing digitized education environment of lawyers requires a far-reaching change to the curriculum that goes further that the usual superficial adjustments in the legal subjects appropriate for teaching these skills. The more important, publicly available, legal information is present in the electronic university library. Access to this information is free for students, but requires them to make many informed strategic choices when using the library.

 

The complexity of the library’s digital structure requires relatively new information literacy skills. The method and techniques for applying these have scarcely been didactically elucidated. The use of traditional subject skills to implement legal information literacy is only just beginning to develop.

 

Interweaving legal skills and legal literacy requires close cooperation between faculty and library. It is vital to embed these complex innovations into the curriculum in order to successfully guide and implement them and provide them with an academic foundation. Law faculties should professionalize the possibilities in consultation with university libraries by changing their policy on appointing chairs in this matter. The best guarantee for gaining recognition for the importance of Information Literacy is to open the curriculum to it and give it a distinct and independent place. The academically formed legal knowledge broker needs a master in law which gives a central role to Information Literacy. In many respects, tackling this challenge will prove more than worthwhile for law faculties and university libraries.