Return from the “Zoomiverse”: Post-pandemic Teaching in Academic Law Libraries

By Michael Muehe

Disoriented, fatigued, uncertain, exhausted. It goes without saying that the last two years shook everything we do: how we work, socialize, learn, and teach. But in turn, compounded by demands for social and racial justice, the pandemic elevated inequity issues and other causes, and also offered a time for pause and reflection, while igniting a motivating trajectory for reconfiguring the status quo. But what does that reconfiguration look like, if anything at all?

During this period, I fortunately held professional, full-time positions or internships in libraries, offering security, stability, and in-office or remote work, a privileged opportunity for reflection and for asking questions like “what was and was not working?”; “what pandemic teaching tools can we now leverage purposefully, rather than as an emergency resource?”; and “what can I do to incorporate solutions-based research skills, accessibility features, and top-of-mind equity and social justice issues?” Drawing from my own experience as a remote MSLIS student in synchronous and asynchronous online classes; from research questions I get from law students and alumni; from my memory of what it was like to be a pre-pandemic millennial law student; and from learning last year that I am neurodivergent, I found myself emerging from the Zoomiverse with so many ideas about how to better teach legal research. Further inspired by books like Integrating Doctrine and Diversity and Millennial Leadership in Law Schools: Essays on Disruption, Innovation, and the Future, I so eagerly wanted to bring something new and exciting to the table that I had difficulty deciding where to begin.

Laptop showing a zoom meeting and cup of coffee.
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Yet, last month I presented a guest lecture to an in-person Advanced Legal Research class on administrative law (a favorite subject), and fell into old presentation habits: overbearing text on slides, live links opening to browser windows, and inaccessible color palettes, among other things. This eagerness to make meaningful change proved easier said than done, and, despite the class’s apparent success, I still felt frustrated. Was I rusty, underprepared, or just inexperienced? I returned to my office and began creating Spring legal research lessons for my 1L instructors with a vengeance – I never wanted to present a lecture like that again – and refused to let these pandemic lessons go in vain. But, I grappled with a self-saboteur, who instilled doubts that I would know anything about reforming teaching methods. 

By no means do I consider myself a legal research innovator – I simply haven’t been in the profession long enough to have the insights which come naturally with time and experience. However, I remember as a student leaving my 1L research workshops confused, anxious, and straggling behind, and I vowed that I would never want a student or patron to feel the same way. In turn, I believe that this pandemic period offers a critical, pivotal moment for recalibrating our instructional designs and, rather than demanding that I have all the correct answers and methods, I feel that simply trying and progressing towards better legal research instruction is better than returning to our comfortable pre-pandemic norms. While leveraging new resources and addressing important social issues will take lots of work and patience, I hope that my teaching effectively reaches audiences in engaging ways that they’ll remember more fondly, making the effort entirely worth it. So, to my fellow law librarians, how are you approaching legal research instruction in the new normal? Are you incorporating any new, pandemic-related lessons or technologies into your legal research classes? And, is there anything that you plan to stop doing in your classes?


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. Their essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.