Searching through RECAP

[Post updated -- see note at bottom]

The folks at the CITP have just improved RECAP.

How? They have now added search functionality.

By going to Archive.recapthelaw.org, you can search all the documents gathered by the RECAP Firefox Extension. The simple search allows you quick access to documents from U.S. Federal District and Bankruptcy Court documents, without charge. Further, the search will pull up the full docket sheet for a case, alerting and allowing you to acquire documents that are on PACER (and not yet in RECAP).

There is a simple and an advanced query page. The advanced query allows you to search by case name, number, court and dates of filing.

Two great features: it provides an RSS feed and an e-mail alert option for your query if you want to track the case.

Further, once you are viewing a case, you can add tags and connect related cases. For the case that I was searching, it even showed that it had been viewed 2 other times (by me).

As to privacy concerns, when you view case details, there is a button for reporting privacy violations. Although we hope that these privacy mistakes won’t occur, this button does help remove that data from the searchable RECAP archive.

The site mentions that it is still in the experimental phase and they welcome feedback.  I might suggest a page of search tips (for example, should we use quotation marks for exact searches? etc).  Also, I am not sure if this is searching full-text through all the downloaded documents and the tags that users might supply.  Or, is this searching just through a few fields in the documents (attorney name, nature of suit, etc)?  So, a bit more information on the searching will be helpful.  [I will find out more and add to this post with details.]

But, all that being said, what a great resource.  Now, what should we ask the folks at CITP to do for us next?

[UPDATE: this comes from Dhruv Kapadia, one of the Archive.Recapthelaw.org developers: "Right now the search is limited to the contents of the docket - the descriptions of each document as well as some parts of the metadata
associated with the docket. In the future, we may try to incorporate the OCRed text of the documents themselves, but we aren't doing that currently."]

What we don’t know….RECAP/Pacer Survey

At the NOCALL Spring Institute in March, I demonstrated the RECAP plug-in.  After the presentation, one attendee stopped by and suggested that not enough librarians are using the plug-in because they just don’t know about it.  I must admit that the comment surprised me — so, I decided to do a quick survey.

With the blessing of the folks at RECAP (CITP at Princeton), I created a super simple survey trying to see  if we (librarians) know about RECAP and if we do, do we use it and teach about it.  I created a survey on Zoomerang and sent the link to the following e-mail lists: LAW-LIB, NOCALL, and All-SIS, and also spread the word on Twitter.

As of May 15th, here is what the we saw from the survey:

There were 261 completed surveys.  Law firm librarians represented 18% percent of the respondents; academic law librarians represented 70%, and state/county/federal librarians represented 6% of the replies.

Ninety percent of the respondents said that they use PACER.

However, 42.4% of the 257 folks who answered the question “Have you ever heard of RECAP?” said “no”.   The academic law librarians comprised nearly 78 percent of the “no” votes (and 63% of the “yes” votes).   Seventy-three percent of the 45 law firm librarians who responded to this question had heard of RECAP.

Seventy-two percent of the respondents said that they didn’t have RECAP installed on any computers in their library.  And, of that group, 12% don’t use the plug-in because they use IE or Chrome for their browser (plug-in not compatible with those browsers);  15% don’t have the plug-in installed because their employers don’t allow it; and the largest part, 58%, don’t have it installed because they are unfamiliar with the plug-in.

And, the last question asked if respondents provided training on RECAP or taught RECAP in advanced legal research courses.  Only 6% of the respondents said “yes” to this question.  Ninety-four percent are not providing any training or instruction on RECAP.  (Note: We have been showing our students how to use RECAP and we find that our clinic students are often most receptive to this type of training.)

I hope that after reading this survey, more librarians might want to learn more about RECAP and try to use it at work and with their patrons.  Given the new look and feel of the PACER website (launched this weekend), it is good to know that the RECAP plug-in still works just fine.  What a good time to install RECAP.

More than One Document a Minute

The headline from the Internet Archive posting reads: “Millions of documents from over 350k federal court cases now freely available.”

The millions of documents are all from PACER by way of the RECAP plugin.

As the posting states:

RECAP is a Firefox Internet browser extension that allows users of the PACER to get free copies of documents they would normally pay for when the Archive has a copy, and if it is not available to then automatically donate the documents after they purchase them from PACER for future users. Therefore the repository on the Internet Archive grows as people use the PACER system with this plug-in. We are currently getting more than one document a minute and some large holdings are being uploaded. We hope that the government will eventually put all of these documents in an open archive, but until then this repository will grow with use.”

Wow.  Growing faster than one document a minute!  (Right now: stop what you are doing and check to see if you have the RECAP plugin installed on your machine — every little bit helps.)

To visit this collection and search the content, go to www.archive.org/details/usfederalcourts.  There you will be able to browse by date (the other browsing features aren’t operational).  You can also do an Advanced Search on the Internet Archive and keyword search through all the available materials by limiting to the Collection Type = usfederalcourts.   VERY COOL.

And, might I add: FREE!

I checked with the good folks who created RECAP at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy, and they said that for now the RECAP/Internet Archive collection of PACER dockets (specifically: just the high-level case metadata) are indexed and can be searched by the likes of Google, but the underlying dockets, documents and briefs are still hidden from the search robots because of privacy concerns.

Public Means Online

Today’s Washington Post features an editorial supporting the new Public Online Information Act, H.R. 4858.

[Rep. Steve Israel, D-NY] “has introduced the Public Online Information Act (POIA), a sensible and modest bill that could nevertheless be a catalyst for important changes in how the federal government thinks about and handles public information. It could also lead to greater transparency in the workings of the government.”

As the folks at the Sunlight Foundation have noted: “public means online.”

However, the realities of getting the bill passed means that it does have its limits.  Most notably, “public information generated by Congress, including real-time lobbying registrations, is exempt from the mandatory provision, as are public filings within the judicial branch.”

But with Law.gov and other transparency efforts ongoing, we can be hopeful for even bigger changes down the road.

Yesterday, Carl Malamud gave a rousing talk to the NOCALL Spring Institute about Law.gov.

[By the way, NOCALL throws down an amazing Spring Institute every year -- this year was no exception!  Besides the terrific parties, they always pull in a great range of speakers and topics, from Ryan Calo (on Privacy Tools) to Mark Sirkin (on New Roles in the Law Firm of the Future).  Many attendees spoke highly of the forum on the Google Book Settlement, featuring Mary Minow, Gary Reback and Andrew Bridges.  On Saturday, I enjoyed demonstrating the awesome RECAP plug-in -- hopefully, more folks will be downloading PACER court documents to the archive. ]

Malamud’s inspirational Law.gov talk got the crowd buzzing.  NOCALL members are already involved in the prototype of a national law inventory for the Law.gov effort.  And, invigorating talks like this one should help spread the word and add more volunteers to the project.    As Malamud mentioned, the inventory will help provide key metrics for the Law.gov report (for example: how many municipalities assert copyright over their regulations).

While the California legal inventory is now underway, more work is needed [READ: please contact me if you would like to volunteer to help!].  And, other AALL chapters/working groups should be starting their legal inventory projects very shortly.

For those who are still curious about Law.gov and for those who are contemplating volunteering for their own state legal inventory project(s), I encourage you to view at least one of Malamud’s Law.gov talks online and/or read his “By the People” pamphlet.

Stay tuned…As “public means online’, Law.gov equals change.