Article: RIPS Law Librarian Blog: How to Become a Law Librarian who is Known for Having Good Ideas

Being able to generate ideas is an important skill for law librarians to have if the profession is to continue to move forward.  Librarians need new ideas to be able to design new classes, come up with fresh homework problems, market their expertise to new associates from a different generation, figure out how to deal with demanding faculty members and partners, plan new outreach events or even to figure out topics for blog posts or AALL presentations.  Becoming an “idea person” can help with all of these needs as well as to identify opportunities and ways to increase the appreciation, respect and understanding of what a law librarian does and can do in both academic and law firm settings.

Here’s the introduction to the piece

For many people, coming up with ideas is not easy, in fact, it can be a daunting or even dreaded task, but anyone can get better at it, if you know how to set the stage.

Several years ago, I was tasked with designing my first Advanced Legal Research class from scratch.  I decided not to look at what other people were doing, but to draw instead on what I wish I had been taught about legal research in law school and what I found was most helpful to me when I practiced law. I realized that I was coming up with most of my ideas in the shower and when I was driving my car.  I started keeping an “Idea log” notebook both places, so that I could jot down ideas when they came to me, as part of my morning routine and at red lights.  I also noticed that I was coming up with ideas while doing volunteer work at a non-profit used clothing store called the “Nearly New” where I worked some evenings following my regular job.  I kept a little notebook and pen in my work apron for jotting down ideas as I wandered all over the large, high ceilinged, mostly empty store, hanging up men’s blazers, ladies’ sweaters and baby clothes while Taylor Swift played quietly overhead.

At first, I thought the way I came up with ideas, was just “me”, but I ran across a magazine article that stated that studies conducted by psychologists and neuroscientists had shown that it is easiest for people to come up with ideas when they are participating in “mindless” activities which allow their mind to wander.  Tasks that can be completed on autopilot, free up the mind to wander and be creative.  For me, taking a shower, driving and hanging up clothes led to mind wandering that helped me design my first class, but for others, your mindless task could be any number of other things like taking a walk, meditating, cleaning the house, knitting, hiking, doing a jigsaw puzzle etc.

Changing your environment and getting away from distractions also helps.  I have come up with a number of ideas in my hotel room while attending AALL conferences and by going to the mountains to get away from the city on some weekends.

Also one of the added perks of mind wandering to generate new ideas, is that the ideas will not all be work related.  Some of the ideas you come up with will help you figure out how to make your life better and you happier in general.  I still keep my “idea logs”, but the back portion of them is reserved for ideas to improve my personal life, like how to make more friends, learn to cook a new dish, better declutter etc.

To help you get started in your own generation of ideas, first try a couple of different mindless tasks to figure out what works best for you to leave your mind free to wander.  Then, make room in your schedule to engage in the task a couple of times a week and get a little notebook to record what you come up with.  By doing so, you would be in good company.  Charles Dickens was known for allowing his mind to wander and create.  He took daily long walks to think, tire his body for sleep and to help generate new ideas for his novels.  He called them his daily “constitutionals” and sometimes he invited friends along, but many times he did not.  While mindless tasks, need not be solitary, talking with others can mean less time in your head to let your thoughts roam.

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