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Getting to Know the LRC: Research and Instructional Services Librarian Chava Spivak-Birndorf

Chava Spivak-Birndorf

September 10, 2021

Chava Spivak-Birndorf, research and instructional services librarian, joined Kline Law’s Legal Research Center (LRC) in July!

Spivak-Birndorf came to Kline Law after working as the emerging technologies librarian and manager of the Education Commons at the University of Pennsylvania. Before earning a master’s degree in library science from Drexel University, Spivak-Birndorf worked at various public interest organizations as a disability rights and special education attorney.

Spivak-Birndorf answered a few questions about her research interests, her work in the LRC and her top research tips.

What’s your approach in working with and supporting students?

It’s important to me to respect student agency and embrace the diverse ways that students learn. I’m here to support and guide students with suggestions and research tools, but not prescribe a single path of learning. I also want to help students use technology strategically to enhance their research and projects.

What’s your area of expertise or a subject you particularly enjoy researching?

My primary legal research expertise is in disability law, with a particular interest in special education and mental health law. I also enjoy researching feminist legal theory and gender, sexuality and reproductive rights law.

What’s one thing you wish you had learned earlier as a law student?

Cast a wide net when exploring your interests. Law school is a great time to get experience in different subject areas and types of legal practice before committing to a career focus. It’s okay to change your mind and take indirect paths.

What are the top six research tips you’d give students?

  1. Make use of citation chasing (both backward and forward). Scholarship is an ongoing conversation, and citation chasing will help you find where it started and where it stands now.
  2. Start with secondary sources to get background info and find references to useful primary sources. A legal encyclopedia can give you a quick introduction to a legal topic to help you narrow your focus, and treatises and journal articles are great for a more in-depth analysis.
  3. Use boolean terms and connectors to narrow your results and weed out irrelevant materials. Check the help links to find the specific terms and search structure that work in the database you’re using.
  4. Crafting the perfect search query is a process. Keep a research log as you revise and refine your searches to help you track what works and what doesn’t.
  5. Don’t ignore the cases that don’t have the outcome you’re looking for. Address potentially damaging decisions head on and work on trying to show what distinguishes the facts in your case.
  6. The LRC is here to help! Check to see if we have a library guide that covers your research area, make use of our chat service, or meet with one of our reference librarians.

What would you want the Kline Law community to know about your interests outside of law?

A lot of my non-work life can be summed up by a quote from one of my favorite children’s books, Chip Wants a Dog: “Dogs! Dogs! Dogs! Dogs!” I volunteer in dog rescue and live with five adorable, tiny, furry misfits (one is cat-shaped, but we don’t hold it against her). When I’m not under a pile of dogs, you can often find me playing board games or working on mediocre craft projects.