W. Blake Wilson
LIBRARY RESEARCH TEAM GIVES STUDENTS TOOLS THEY NEED TO SUCCEED
Blake Wilson is something of a hybrid, combining technological savvy with legal expertise on a daily basis.
As the head of research and instructional services at the Wheat Law Library, Wilson spends his days helping students solve problems – but not always in the ways you’d expect.
“I’m sure it’s no big surprise that if you come in we’ll help you do research and find sources or material,” he said. “What a lot of students may not realize is that I’ve actually helped students with their law practice. So not just the correct forms and insurance and stuff that they need to personally practice, but also how to handle their first clients.”
With both his J.D. and master’s degree in information science and learning technology, Wilson has dedicated himself to expanding knowledge through technology. After graduating he trained summer and first-year associates how to research at one of Kansas City’s largest firms, Polsinelli Shughart, before moving to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to pursue electronic discovery work. When a position opened at the university that combined his love of teaching and technology, he had found his career, and now he focuses much of his effort on helping future lawyers succeed.
“The most popular service we provide is helping students figure out how to attack a legal research problem,” he said. “You spend three years figuring out how to think like a lawyer, how to see problems, and how to spot problems, and then you’re taught research. But you’re rarely taught to merge them together, so we help them bridge that gap.”
Hundreds of students move through the library each day, and countless benefit from the assistance of the library’s research team. Wilson said the staff is good at answering questions about anything outside of the legal profession – the “and” part – covering everything from agriculture and law to health care and law. But the questions don’t have to be confined to the parameters of the profession.
“Something I think students should know about the library is that there’s nothing we won’t handle,” he said. “So if you’re curious about the best place to take your dog for an overnight stay or a good restaurant in Lawrence or how to change a flat tire, we can help. Think of us more like a concierge service, like how you’d use the front desk at a hotel.”
That breadth of knowledge can be especially helpful when tackling unusual tasks. One of Wilson’s most rewarding jobs involved deciphering the name and description of a specific Chinese video, searching for it on Google using Chinese characters, and discovering the source through Amazon China. In that case, research transcended language itself, and it’s one more way the research team found an answer.
“We’re really good at the weird stuff,” he said. “I really do think with legal research there is always this fear of the unknown, and we just don’t have it.”