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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.

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Iceberg, right ahead!

The Titanic disaster of 1912 has long fascinated the American public, spawning thousands of historical books and documentaries, and providing the setting for a plethora of fictional stories on page and screen. But have you ever thought about all of the legal ramifications of the disaster? Here’s a look at some of the ways law has played into the Titanic story.

A print of the alleged iceberg in question

The alleged iceberg in question, titanic-iceberg.com

The earliest cases to appear in United States courts are admiralty petitions, merely captioned “The Titanic.” One from 1912 was involved with settling the estate of a passenger who went down with the ship (204 F. 295). Two more, from 1913, dealt with technical questions regarding the tonnage of the ship and the possible limitation of liability for the White Star Lines. The question of tonnage was an issue at British law, not United States law, and the judge in that case declined to declare the tonnage (204 F. 298). In the second case, the judge declined to limit White Star’s liability (209 F. 501). Exciting – such is the stuff movies are made of! Hm, or not.

Believe it or not, there is much more recent litigation involving the doomed ship. The more recent cases tend to deal with salvage issues, raised by the “salvor,” R.M.S. Titanic, Inc. Since the ship’s resting site was identified in the 1980s, rights to the property have been at issue. In 1998 R.M.S. Titanic, Inc., tried to prevent anyone else from visiting & photographing the wreckage. While the lower court’s opinion was affirmed in part, and remanded, the Fourth Circuit reversed the District Court “insofar as they purport to prohibit the visiting, viewing, searching, surveying, photographing, and obtaining images of the wreck or the wreck site.” 171 F.3d 943 (4th Cir. 1999). A 2002 case, also in the Fourth Circuit, held that the salvor of the items did not have the right to sell them. (R.M.S. Titanic, Inc. v. The Wrecked and Abandoned Vessel, 286 F. 3d 194 (4th Cir. 2002) (see the gift shop at the R.M.S. Titanic, Inc., web site, featuring “artifact replicas,” “replica china” and “authentic coal”). While probably any authentic artifacts from the Titanic would sell at a huge price, some of what went down was already priceless. For more about the international aspects ownership of art and cultural property and salvage, see the PCL’s Art Law research guide.

Titanic on the Ocean Floor

Titanic on the Ocean Floor, from National Geographic

In addition to the maze of case law surrounding the Titanic, there were of course Congressional publications. Hearings were held in April and May, 1912 – totaling nearly 1200 pages of text, maps and tables. Six weeks after the sinking, a much shorter Senate Report investigating the tragedy was published, and includes lists of the crew and passengers, as well as speeches by two Senators. And on June 4, 1912, the captain and crew of the rescuing vessel Carpathia were officially thanked by Congress (H.rp.830), and given medals of honor (62 H.J.Res.306).

This is only a taste of the many official documents involved with the legal aspects of the Titanic disaster. Because remember – for each action, there is an equal reaction!

What to do when you don’t know what to do

Liz’s Top 10 Suggestions for Summer Success

#10: Become familiar with legal research options at your location.  Each firm and agencies may subscribe to different venders, from Westlaw and Lexis to Casemaker (sign up for free with a student account) and Fastcase (Free to WFU students).  Know what each vender offers and the pricing models employed.  By asking a librarian about this, you will show your employers you are genuinely interested in conducting cost-effective legal research.

Think about when using print resources may be more effective than using online.  For example, you may want to use print resources if you are searching for material that isn’t available online – duh!  Some materials, such as CLEs and treatises, may not be available online through your subscription or generally.  Often it is better to start with a print resource when you need general information on a topic about which are unfamiliar, or when your search terms are general or the subject of your research involves broad concepts.  Additionally, I have found using print resources for statutory research much easier than trying to navigate them online.  That being said, online research is most effective when the material you need is not available in print – duh!  Some firms have quit updating print materials, you may need to head directly to online research when you begin.  Also, if you are searching with unique terms or for proper names, online searching is quicker than browsing through the voluminous print materials.

#9: Use “free” internet sites but be aware of their limitations.   What type of research do you think would warrant using free internet over a fee-based services?  My suggestion is to use these site for research statutes, legislative history/tracking, cases, regulations, some case law and policy considerations. But before you use a “free” site, please take the time to evaluate it just as you would a print source.  Consider:

  • whether the publisher of the site is reputable and knowledgeable?
  • whether the content of the site is accurate, authentic and objective?
  • whether the content can be retrieved via keyword, author, or title searching?
  • whether the information is current?
  • the frequency with which the information is updated.

#8:  The Mean Green — Know how much things cost. There are two basic models for pricing: (1) Transactional or per-search pricing charges you for every search you run, or (2) Hourly pricing charges you for the amount of time spent on a research service.  Transactional is best when you plan to spend time going through documents and is good for locating different types of databases in your interest area (before you search them). On the other hand, Hourly is best when you need to find something quickly, and is good when you want to run many searches in a row.

A good rule of thumb is that it takes about 7 minutes of hourly searching to equal a single transactional search.  Because of differences in vendor contracts, database costs, and other factors this is not always the case.

#7: Check database pricing & choose wisely. Lexis & Westlaw will often tell you the price of the database. Click the “i” information button after the database name.  Keep in mind that differences in vendor contracts may make the cost inexact, but it will give you an idea of how expensive it is.  WestlawNext and LexisAdvance throw a whole new piece to the puzzle with pricing guidelines?!?!

#6: Start Broad and narrow later.  Lexis and Westlaw allow you to narrow search results without incurring additional  charges when charged per Transaction.  Start with a broad search to get many documents and narrow down as needed.  Focus Terms v. Locate in Results = No extra charge to filter through results.

#5:  Browse the Table of Contents online.  Locating a document in the table of contents is cheaper than searching for it (although more expensive than getting by citation).  Often searching the table of contents is also cheaper than searching the database content itself.

#4: Tailor the search to the problem. Choose wisely between the key word search strategies: natural language and terms and connectors. The natural language (or proximity) search is often the default search option for search engines, and it retrieves a fixed number of documents (i.e. you may always get 100 documents regardless what your search is).  This technique may be helpful to search an area of law you are unfamiliar with (some good terms but not enough for a terms/connectors search).  Terms and Connectors searching, however, searches based on relationships between words (Precision search), and is often referred to as boolean searching.  In order to construct an effective search, you need to:

  • Develop initial search terms
  • Expand the breadth and depth by adding wildcard symbols
  • Add connectors and parentheses to clarify relationships among words
#3:  Familiarize yourself with finding tools. Make sure you having a working knowledge of West’s Topic and Key number system because using the digest in print will help you to be more efficient searchers online!  Statutory Finding Aids (Popular Names Table/Index) and headnote searching on Lexis are the “added value” that you are paying for when you use these big commercial databases.  Make sure you utilize the extra features.  And last but not least, update and expand your research by using Keycite and Shepards online.  It is worth the cost!
#2: Plan — Start slow to go Fast.  I highly suggest reading and thinking about the questions one by one before starting your research so that you feel comfortable before you start using any materials.  The 20 minutes it takes to answer these questions will save you exponentially more time in the long run. Once you have gathered some preliminary information you’re ready to start writing out a plan of attack for your research.  There are three components to a research plan: (1) An initial issue statement; (2) A list of potential search terms,  and (3) An outline of the sources you plan to consult.
Your initial issue statement does not need to be a formal statement that you normally write for a formal legal memorandum, but it should be a preliminary assessment of the problem that helps to define the scope of your research.  An example: “Can the plaintiff recover from the defendant for stealing her goat?”  This would be an incomplete issue statement for a brief or memo, but at this beginning point in your research it helps you direct your research to all the possible claims that would support or oppose recovery.  If you aren’t able to write a preliminary issue statement, that might be an indication that you are not sure about the scope of the assignment or that you may need to ask more questions about the problem.

Your potential search terms are generated by looking at the preliminary issue statement and using the TARP (from LP I) method of coming up with key words and topics.After you have performed a preliminary overview of the problem, you’ll want to outline the sources you plan to use and the order in which you plan to consult them.  First, you will need to determine which research sources are likely to contain relevant information, such as Strong’s North Carolina Index (a legal encyclopedia) if the problem deals with North Carolina law.  Next, you will need to determine the order in which you want to research these sources.

Lastly, get to know your librarians, at the firm or at the school, they’re the best resource you can have to learn how to start your research.  Also, both Westlaw and LexisNexis provide 24-7 research assistance to you as a student, as an intern, and as an attorney.  Use these resources, there are people out there that are ready and able to help you.  Remember you don’t have to re-invent the wheel.

#1: Just Ask.

  • Jurisdiction
  • Useful Tips
  • Sources
  • Terms of Art
  • Ask
  • Sources
  • Key Cost Constraints

Key to success in your internship and in practicing law is asking questions, whether it be in the courtroom, to your client, or of your supervisor.  Be comfortable to approaching these people with questions, because the more information you have up front the more concise and efficient your research will be.  Make sure you understand what you are being asked to do, such as which jurisdiction you are applying, what is the scope of the assignment, and are there any key cost constraints that may constrict where you locate the information.  You might also consider asking about terms of art. Terms of art abound in the law, and often become automatic language for an expert attorney in that area of law.  For example, the phrase double jeopardy can be used in common parlance to describe any situation that poses two risks. In the law, double jeopardy refers specifically to an impermissible second trial of a defendant for the same offense that gave rise to the first trial.  Make sure you are clear on the context of particular, or unique, words before starting your research.

Just as a caveat, asking questions will be crucial to you conducting comprehensive and thorough research; however you need to still use good judgment in deciding how many questions to ask and who to ask the questions to. (Adapted from Georgetown Law Library)

Oh… and have a little fun too! If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, here are 5 tips for better work-life balance.

Arthur Miller and The House Un-American Activities Committee … in the Limelight

Say “Arthur Miller” to a lawyer or a law student and most think of Arthur R. Miller, eminent scholar on civil procedure and co-author of Federal Practice & Procedure (aka “Wright and Miller” to many), and star of the Sum and Substance Civil Procedure recordings. But this week two Wake Forest Law professors will be shining a light on another Arthur Miller – playwright, Tony-award winning author of The Crucible and Death of a Salesman, and one-time husband of Marilyn Monroe.

The Crucible dramatizes the 17th century Salem Witch Trials, a real-life “witch hunt” that exemplified the metaphorical use of the term. It was written in 1952 and premiered in 1953, and was first produced as a motion picture in France in 1957. (More readers are probably familiar with the American film from 1996, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder.)

The Crucible is often seen as a denunciation of McCarthyism. Miller had worked on several projects with Elia Kazan, who had in 1952 testified and identified members or former members of the Communist Party, and Miller reportedly broke with Kazan over his “friendly” testimony. Miller was under some suspicion of being a Communist or sympathizer himself, based on petitions signed and meetings attended dating back to the 1940s. In 1954, Miller’s passport application was denied by the Department of State in 1954, for being a “fellow traveler.” On June 21, 1956, about the time of his marriage to Monroe, he was subpoenaed and subsequently appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (commonly referred to as HUAC). Miller refused to “name names” and was convicted of contempt of Congress (152 F.Supp. 781 (D.D.C. 1957)). His conviction overturned in a one page per curiam opinion, 259 F. 2d 187 (D.C. Cir. 1958).

Intrigued? Come to the CLE at noon on March 1st. Want to read more about Congressional investigations, HUAC, McCarthyism, or  17th Century Witch Trials? Check out these resources from the Professional Center Library!

Apple’s Big Announcement … What does it mean for legal publishing?

January 19, 2012 1 comment

With the announcement today that Apple will launch a new app that incorporates electronic textbooks on their iPad platform, what options does that leave for legal publishers?  Is it time for West and Lexis to make the move that other educational publishers already have?

How would a traditional casebook look on the iPad?  Maybe there would have portraits of the judges… or video of the oral arguments of the attorneys… or pleadings linking out to electronic filing systems … or… or… just imagine in the possibilities. Educate yourself. Change the Model. Learn more. Start the Conversation. iBooks for Textbooks … There’s Nothing Textbook About Them.

Study Aids in the Limelight

January 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Was one of your new years resolutions to get started on your outlines earlier this semester? Or maybe it was to spend more time studying the subjects you had the most difficulty with. The PCL is here to help you accomplish your goals and not let another new years resolution fall by the way-side.

Did you know the PCL has a full collection of study aids for all levels of students?  Professor Kate Irwin-Smiler has created a ResearchGuide that helps you explore our study aids by subject or by course (e.g., First Year Courses, Upper Level Required Courses, & Upper Level Elective Courses).  If you’re a 1L, we have a ResearchGuide developed just for you!  The Help for First Year Classes specifically outlines all the library materials that we think you would benefit from knowing they are available.  This ResearchGuide is broken down by subject (e.g., Torts, Contract, Property, etc). If either of these ResearchGuides are helpful, take a look at our full ResearchGuide collection.

Study aids are materials published that explain the law in an easy-to-use fashion.  They are not like casebooks, where the reader is required to pull the applicable rule from the selected and edited cases.  These materials are much more similar to traditional textbooks and explain what the law is and how it can be applied.  Even though you can’t fully supplement these materials for your course readings, they are extremely valuable in filling in the gaps in your outlines or helping you to understand the nuts and bolts of a particular topic.  There are a variety of publishers that produce these materials, as well as multiple types of formats (e.g., CD, Sample Questions, Outlines, & Scholarly treatises).  Here is a break down of the publishers of the study aids the PCL has in our collection:

  • Sum and Substance  – A series of audio recordings published by West. In the Professional Center Library these are usually kept in the A/V room or on Permanent Reserve (at the Circulation Desk). You might want to check one of the CDs out to take on your next road trip or if you have a long commute to school.  It may not compare with the new Jay-Z jam, but it will probably help you stay in law school mode as you travel up and down the interstate.
  • Examples and Explanations – This series from Aspen provides an explanatory outline of a legal subject area with multiple explanations of the legal points discussed. Titles in this series are written by law professors who give a narrative overview of the key concepts and rules for a particular subject, followed by “examples” (hypothetical questions) and “explanations” of the answers.
  • Nutshells  – From West; brief explanations in a compact format. Usually pocket-sized books, these materials contain a comprehensive outline of a specific subject, usually written by a noted authority. Nutshells provide a big-picture look at the law and avoid in-depth analysis. They contain fewer footnotes and references than hornbooks, but generally give greater coverage of a subject than commercial study outlines.
  • Understanding Series  – The Understanding series contain an overview of an area of law, with footnotes to primary sources for further reading. This series can help you tremendously as you are developing your outlines, because it provides comprehensive information in a clean, concise format.
  • Law in a Flash  – These flash cards provide a hypothetical situation, legal question and detailed answers; from Aspen (previously Emanuel). These sets are kept on Permanent Reserve. You may want to think about using these flash cards with a study group.  Ask the question. Debate the right and wrong answers.  Discuss why the right answer is right and why the wrong answers are wrong.  You can do the same exercise with the Examples and Explanation series.  Try it out with your study group this spring and let us know how it goes!

Additionally, library materials are kept in several named locations in the library.  By knowing its location, you will save time because you’ll know where to get started. For further reference, check out the floor plans on the library website.

  • Permanent Reserve – these items are kept behind the Circulation Desk, on the Second Floor.
  • Reserve – these items are kept behind the Circulation Desk, organized by Professor name for the use of a class.
  • Reference – these items are on the North and West walls on the Second Floor, flanking the staircase.
  • Stacks – these items are kept on the Ground and First Floors. First floor: call numbers A-KE; Ground: call numbers KF-Z.
  • Periodicals – these items are kept on the First Floor, starting near the staircase/elevator at the North wall.

If you like the question-answer approach to  studying, don’t forget about CALI lessons – the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction offers online tutorials on more than 800 legal topics. You can pick up a CALI CD or request a registration code for the online versions at the PCL Reference desk. Beginning this semester, students are able to save their progress in online lessons in order to resume them later. See the CALI FAQ for details, or ask a librarian at the Reference Desk to recommend study aids for your topic. If you thought a CALI lesson was particularly helpful, leave us a comment and share the news with others!