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Today in Government Information: Why you still want a library

Anyone who has looked for government information in the past several years knows that most of it is available online. As long ago as 1998, when I started working with government documents, the word was spreading that “soon” everything will be online. I’m not sure we even knew what a PDF was in those days, nor authentication, but we knew which way the wind was blowing. Close to 15 years later, not everything is online, but many government information sources are not distributed in print any more. The trend towards putting more and more online continues.

That raises an obvious question which troubles some in the government information community. If virtually everything is available online – and in the realm of government information, almost free of charge – why on earth do we still need depository libraries? When a researcher can sit in the comfort of his own home, in his bunny slippers, and find all the information through a Google search, why maintain the depository system?

The Modern Researcher

The answer is expertise from librarians, particularly government information specialists. Each depository library is required to designate a staff member as a “coordinator” who is charged with maintaining the collection, ensuring access to the public, and assisting researchers in need of assistance. While it is true that a simple Google search can turn up a wealth of information, can it verify that you’re looking at the most recent edition? Can it suggest an agency’s other publications that might be useful? And if the search is too successful, can it help you weed through thousands of results, by suggesting additional terms to include or avoid? A government documents specialist can do all of that, and more. The depository system is not just a distribution method for print documents, it is also a network of specialist librarians across country. These librarians are often the best gateway to information aside from an agency itself, and they are so much more convenient – wherever you happen to be.

Map of Depository Libraries

Map of Depository Libraries

I don’t think depositories are going anywhere. I think they bring value to researchers and the general public, and as the Government Printing Office says, they keep American informed.

Everybody Researches – NC Bar Chooses Fastcase over Casemaker

June 15, 2012 Leave a comment

As students and faculty we have easy access to most of what Lexis and Westlaw have to offer.  Given this embarrassment of riches, it is easy to forget that practitioners are much more conservative in their use of these admirable yet expensive databases and prefer to substitute low cost search options when feasible.  Until recently, members of the North Carolina Bar had free access to Casemaker in their research arsenal.  However, as of June first, the NCBA switched to Fastcase, Casemaker’s rival.  NCBA’s Executive Director, Allan Head, cited Fastcases’s award-winning iPhone and iPad apps as a major factor in the decision to change.  With the recent introduction of an Android version of their FREE research apps, the NCBA should be even more pleased with its decision.

Attorneys who want to continue using Casemaker can do so, but it will now be at a cost and not as a member benefit.  Casemaker is reaching out to North Carolina attorneys with limited time special rates and is providing explanations of what makes their product unique, such as it’s “true citator service.”  Fans of Casemaker will need to weigh this feature against the fact that the North Carolina Jury Instructions will no longer be available on Casemaker but will be moving to Fastcase.

Whichever service you choose to use (or that your bar provides) there is no question that Casemaker and Fastcase will continue the battle for legal research service supremacy and for customers.  This should ensure continuing enhancements and improved access to free (for bar members) legal information.  However, as North Carolina switch shows, it is in every attorney’s best financial interest to be aware of changes in both services.

Everybody Researches….But Not Everybody Researches Well

March 20, 2012 Leave a comment

It may only be March, but summer jobs are just around the corner.  Are you ready?  While you may have the job, the three new suits and your smart phone at hand, that is not all you need.  How confident are you about your legal research skills?

In a white paper titled “Research Skills for Lawyers and Law Students”  Thomson-West (now Thomson-Reuters, “parents” of Westlaw) shared the results of numerous roundtables with law firm and academic librarians, and the resulting forum in response to the conclusions regarding legal research and writing.  In response to the question “What are the most important research tasks (online or in print that entry level attorneys must know?” the overwhelming top response was “cost effective research.”   When asked “[w]hat research tasks should usually be conducted in books vs. online?” “secondary source research” was the clear first recommendation.

In addition to the research skills that you will need to know, there are electronic resources other than Westlaw and Lexis that many law offices are using.  Some offices subscribe to Loislaw while others, particularly small firms, may rely extensively on services provided by state bars such as Casemaker or Fastcase.  If all this seems a bit overwhelming, you might want to hone your research abilities by attending “Boot Camp for Your Legal Research Skills.”  This program, offered March 29, from 4:00 -7:00 p.m.,  is intended to make you a lean, mean, researching machine.  It covers how to start your research project, tips for keeping billable hours, how to research cost effectively, and will provide you with a chance to hear from and question two students who have been employed in various jobs requiring legal research.  The program will conclude with the opportunity to visit a number of different “stations” where you will be able to view practice materials, databases, and apps that can help you conquer the most rebellious research assignment.  To keep your strength up, food and drink will be served.

Least you think that we are trying to blackmail you into attending our program (alas, I was outvoted), there are ways that you can firm-up flabby research skills even if you cannot attend the “boot camp for your brain.”  First, take advantage of the “prepare to practice” type classes offered by database vendors.  Their classes will focus heavily on practice materials, and on how to do cost effective research.  You should aim at taking these classes soon, before exams absorb your mind and the reps go back to headquarters for the summer.   Second, even after exam you can take a little time to familiarize yourself with the research materials in the areas of law that your firm focuses upon.  Even if it is too late to take a class in corporations, it is not to late to skim the Nutshell.  Also, make an appointment with one of our librarians.  Whether you are seeking to learn more about a topic area, or about the resources in a particular state, we will be able to help you filter the vast quantity of materials out there and select the best.  And third,  do not forget that the best research can be rendered ineffective by poor writing.  Make sure that you always keep the words “clear and concise” in mind when submitting your research results.  Good luck and good research.

Government Information to the Rescue!

Are you so stressed you didn’t realize it was February already? Were you so busy working on your Legal Writing Brief that you forgot to get your sweetie a Valentine’s Day gift? Did the two of you agree no gifts this year, but then someone changed their mind?

Here’s a handy guide to get you off the hook, courtesy of published government information:

“Oh, sweetie, I didn’t want to get you candy this year – did you know that the CDC recommends avoiding sugary snacks? I just want to keep that gorgeous smile of yours gleaming & pain free! Because they also say that almost 25% of American adults report tooth pain in the six months, and that could be from cavities!” (While the CDC also provides relevant information, we do not recommend using concerns about the obesity rate in America as an excuse, incidentally.)

Conversation Hearts

If you don’t think dental health is a good approach, try another:

“You know, there are so many people with allergies, I just didn’t want to risk getting you flowers – pollen can trigger allergies or asthma! [If necessary: I know you’re not allergic, of course, but your roommate/officemate/neighbor might be seriously allergic and how would we know? I’d hate to make someone else miserable trying to show my love for you!]”

No273 13 Oct 2009 Sneeze

And if the stakes are a little higher, and someone’s expecting a shiny, expensive present, you can always pull the blood diamond card:

“How horrible would it be, if I professed my love with something so tainted? I just… I just…. can’t…. !!” (You’re on your own explaining why you can’t produce a conflict-free diamond.)

Diamond Age

Be advised: you must say any of these excuses with a great deal of charm and persuasion. But you’re in law school, so you’ve learned persuasion, and all of our Wake Forest students are naturally charming. Good luck, and Happy Valentine’s Day!

New Year’s Lists

January 6, 2012 Leave a comment

With the start of a new year the media is featuring lists.  Lists of resolutions, lists of the best and worst (fill in the blank) of 2011, lists of what to expect in 2012.  So why should we fight the trend?   While lists such as the 2011 Weird Science Awards, Weirdest Fatwas of 2011Top 10 Barack Obama conspiracy theories of 2011, and Ten Weirdest Life-forms of 2011 may have a rather targeted audience or at least are not relevant to our lives (my apologies to anyone whose life does involve cricket testicles, raw yak meat, or cyclops sharks).  However, there are also some lists out there that that lawyers and law students might want to read.

Although not directly law related, Lake Superior State University’s annual list of Banished Words is important for anyone who makes a living by being a skilled communicator.  If your find it amazing that there could be some blowback if you use the word “ginormous,”  you might wish to consider updating your vocabulary.  Thanks in advance for considering this.

SC Magazine, a computer security publication, provides a number of lists for the New Year.  Among them is a list of the “top 8 legal actions” (assorted criminal activities) in the area of cyber security.

Other lists that you might wish to consider are the lists of new laws that begin on January 1st.  MSNBC pulled together a brief national overview of what they consider are the most interesting changes.  If you are wondering what will be the new laws in North Carolina you have the choice of a brief article or video or, for the diligent, you can take a look at a the entire list of laws that have gone into effect since July 2011, broken out by month.  Happy New Year, happy reading, and those of you who might look under 18, don’t forget to take identification with you when buying cold medication.

Libguides in the Limelight

December 8, 2011 Leave a comment

What is a Libguide? LibGuides is the amazingly popular, easy-to-use, web 2.0 library knowledge sharing system. The PCL is beginning to use Libguides as a means to create attractive multimedia content, share knowledge and information, and promote library resources to the Wake Forest community. Specifically, we are taking our static, out-of-date research guides and transforming them into an interactive learning module for a variety of topics. We are hoping to provide Wake Forest School of Law faculty, staff and students an excellent starting point for all of their law school research and library needs at the stroke of a key.

When would you use a Libguide?  You might want to use our Citation 101 Libguide when you’re writing a paper, because this Libguide breaks down the Bluebook rules into a workable, easy-to-understand format.   Or maybe, you are looking for study aids that you can borrow from the library.  The PCL has two Libguides that you can reference – Help for First Year Courses and Law Study Aids.  If you’re writing paper on a North Carolina legal topic, or have to complete a North-Carolina specific assignment for a drafting class (i.e. drafting a pleading or memorandum), look to our Libguide on North Carolina Legal Research.  The North Carolina Legal Research Libguide is designed to provide you the context and foundation necessary to complete your North Carolina specific legal research, whether it be common law, statutory code, administrative regulations, practical forms, secondary sources, journals, or municipal ordinances.

What are some of the best features about Libguides? Libguides allows for student, faculty and public users to interactive with the web interface, meaning the users can actively view multimedia right off of the website.  For example, we have integrated relevant podcasts into subjects so that you can hear experts discuss that topic while you are researching on your own.  Additionally, our Libguides link directly out to the library catalog so you can quickly locate books and other materials within the PCL’s collection.  We also have search boxes that allow you to search GoogleScholar, GoogleBooks, the PCL catalog, and the ZSR journal databases.  All of these features are in the works, so go now and try Libguides out on your own.

National Homeless Youth Awareness Month – What can you do to help?

November 7, 2011 Leave a comment

The numbers are striking.  According to The National Center on Family Homelessness, one in fifty children experience homelessness in American each year. Not only are children who experience homelessness at higher risk of contracting acute and chronic health problems, but the constant barrage of stressful and traumatic experiences tends to lead to significant effects on the development and ability to learn of these children. For example, children experiencing homelessness become sick four times more often than other children, and go without food at twice the rate of other children.  Additionally, by age twelve, approximately 83% of these children have been exposed to at least one serious violent event and of that population about 25% have witnessed acts of violence within their families.  How do these experiences affect their development?  Generally, children experiencing homelessness are four times more likely to show delayed development and are twice as likely to have learning disabilities as compared to non-homeless children.

How does homelessness happen? According to The Characteristics and Needs of Families Experiencing Homelessness report,  “family homelessness is caused by the combined effects of lack of affordable housing, extreme poverty, decreasing government supports, the challenge of raising children alone, the changing demographics of the family, domestic violence,  and fractured social supports.  As the gap between housing costs and income continues to widen, more and more families are at risk of homelessness.  For families with vulnerabilities or little safety net, even a seemingly minor event can trigger a catastrophic outcome and catapult a family onto the streets.” National Center on Family Homelessness. The typical homeless family is comprised of a mother in her late twenties with two children (71% of homeless families).

What can you do to help? There are several options available for you to help.  You may want to volunteer with a local community organization that is focused on ending homelessness, such as the Winston Salem Homeless Shelters and Services for the Needy.  Or, you may want to support a local, state, or federal agency that provides programs to these families, such as one listed on the North Carolina Homeless Education Program page. Also, remember your role as a voter. You can vote for candidates that may have a strong stance on poverty, affordable housing, violence protection, and health care.  You may also want to donate to the National Center on Family Homelessness, and others, who are working to end homelessness.  Lastly, you can play a major role in educating others about the extent and causes of family homelessness and what to do about it.

Educating yourself and others starts with information.  The PCL has a vast collection of informational resources that are focused on homeless and advocacy.  Here are  just a few of the titles in our collection:

Keep homeless children in mind as we approach this upcoming November holiday – Thanksgiving.  As a lawyer, you will have a professional responsibility to give back to the community – voluntary pro bono publico service (ABA Rule 6.1). Even though this requirement is not mandatory across the states, it is undoubtedly recognized within the profession at-large that lawyers should be connected to their community through some type of service.  [State by State Guide for ABA Model Rule 6.1] Try it out this Thanksgiving and get involved to fight youth homelessness in one way or another.