Taking Back the Fruits of Our Labor: Leading the Way to Open Access in Helsinki

In late May of this year, the University of Helsinki signed the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities, agreeing to support open access to University research.  Beginning January 1, 2010, researchers at the University are required to deposit copies of their articles in an open repository at the University.  The repositories were created and continue to be maintained by the University libraries using Dspace open source repository software.

Tools of the Trade, part IV

In terms of tips, this one is more a love letter.  And while I have focused my first three “tools” posts on web-based resources, this one is about a book.  But not just any book. 

I was first introduced to Tapping the Government Grapevine  by its author, Judith Schiek Robinson, my Government Documents professor in library school.  Since then, it has been a go-to resource for everything from tracking down government produced statistics to being used as a teaching aid in legal research classes.  Despite a publication date of 1998, Tapping has aged well with the introduction of many new government e-resources.  This book can ground any student in the basis of government publications.

The Government on the Web: TMI?

Is the federal government giving us too much information on their websites?  Not quite, but Ed Felten, David Robinson, Harlan Yu and Bill Zeller argue in their new paper, “Government Data and the Invisible Hand,” that the government’s focus on creating and maintaining websites with pre-packaged reports and ready-to-digest data analysis is misguided.  The authors advocate, instead, strengthening the infrastructure behind the sites, with a focus on allowing public access to underlying data from federal agencies.

(Thanks to Ed Felten and his post on Freedom to Tinker)

Stories from the trenches: Getting by with a little help from our friends

Sometimes it’s not what you know, but who you know.  Or, more accurately, whose contact information you can find.

This morning we received a request to track down some government reports that were the subject of a FOIA request a few years ago.  Initial web browsing was unsuccessful, so I took a decidedly low-tech approach (at least by today’s standards) and picked up the phone.  I called both the organization that made the initial request and the attorney who represented them in a subsequent lawsuit.  Within twenty minutes my call had been returned and the reports were sent poste haste, via e-mail.

This is not the first time that an attorney or organization has jumped in to help out by sending hard to find items our way.  One of our favorite tips to give students in our Advanced Legal Research class is to reach out to individuals when searching in their favorite spots does not pan out.  Today it payed to practice what I preach.

Below is a link for the requested items.  Included are memorandums and reports from the Department of Defense and their Threat and Local Observation Notice reporting service relating to surveillance of college campus activities surrounding the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy of the United States military.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell FOIA Documents

Tools of the Trade, part III

While we eagerly await the arrival of our Foreign, Comparative and International Law Librarian, we continue to field requests for trainings and materials in these areas of law.  These requests have grown as the law school expands its clinics and programs into increasingly global concerns.

When faced with the daunting task of finding Namibian law online or sources for Chilean ocean policies, I have had the comfort of turning to a source that offers expertly written and exhaustive research guides for almost any area of foreign/international/comparative law.  A project of New York University Law School, Globalex offers the novice researcher a great starting point for research ranging from finding the sources of laws in another country to tracking down bi-lateral trade agreements.  It has quickly become a favorite bookmark of mine.

What is past is prologue: NARA’s Strategy for Digitization

Earlier this month the National Archives and Records Administration released their Strategy for Digitizing Archival Materials for Public Access, 2007-2016.  This is a follow-up to a draft policy released in September of last year.

A fair amount of the report discusses the use of partner organizations in the digitization effort.  The draft released in September was open to public comment, and NARA has posted their responses to those comments here.

(Thanks to the American Association of Law Libraries Washington Office and their monthly E-Bulletin)

Tools of the Trade, part II

More times than I can count, I have landed on the doorstep of fellow law library websites, using a pathfinder or guide created for specialized research.  These types of guides will show up often in my list of favorite things, but I wanted to start of with a guide prepared by Documents Librarian Jennifer Bryan Morgan from the Indiana University School of Law Library. 

Tracking down pieces of legislative history at the state level can be a tricky path to follow.  Thankfully, many state and law school libraries have put together pathfinders in order to point out what documents are available at each stage of the process and where you can find them.  Jennifer’s guide, State Legislative History Research Guides on the Web, allows users to link to these guides online in 50-state, one-stop-shopping style.

A site worth bookmarking and one I have used on several occasions when approached by bewildered students needing to do comprehensive state legislative histories.

For Whom Does the Google Bell Toll? Not libraries

I ran across an interesting article by way of a tangentially related Google search today.  The June 12, 2008 issue of The New York Review of Books includes the following item, “The Library in the New Age,” a lengthy discussion of changes in information technology (from the dawn of the written word through Internet search engines), which culminates in an eight-point discussion of how Google Book Search will make physical libraries “more important than ever.”  Written by Robert Darnton, it’s an interesting addition to the scholarship of the digital age.

Tools of the Trade: Some of my favorite websites/databases, part I

We all have them, our go-to, must view websites and databases that make life on the reference desk a bit easier.  In what I hope will become a weekly posting, I will highlight some of those that I have come to rely on for their timely updates and superb content.

With the teaching and study of constitutional law one of the focuses of scholarly life at SLS, keeping on top of the Supreme Court’s docket is a daily function of the reference desk.  Key to our ability to get copies of decisions as soon as they appear and track down amicus briefs filed at any stage of a case, is SCOTUSblog.  This website, spearheaded by Tom Goldstein and Amy Howe*, is one stop shopping for everything Supreme Court related.  Recently added to the site is their SCOTUSWiki, with previews, recaps, and analysis of cases before the Court.

I’ve made checking this blog a morning ritual and have come to think of it as an indispensable tool of the trade.

*(as full disclosure, please note that Tom Goldstein and Amy Howe have both been lecturers at SLS)

Authentication: The Next Frontier in Online Government Resources

This is cross-posted on the freegovinfo.info blog:

On a daily basis I visit various court and other government websites, often to locate recent opinions, regulations, or agency decisions.  It is a common practice for law librarians and for any researcher who wants very recent sources or does not have access to commercial databases.  Admittedly it is far less often that I consider whether the case I just downloaded is an authentic representation of the court’s decision.

But consider these two examples.  The first from the California Courts website and the second from the website for the First Circuit Court of Appeals:

“The Official Reports page is primarily intended to provide effective public access to all of California’s precedential appellate decisions; it is not intended to function as an alternative to commercial computer-based services and products for comprehensive legal research.”

“Although every effort is made to ensure that the information contained on this site is correct and timely, the First Circuit does not warrant its accuracy. Portions of the information may be incorrect or not current. The information contained on this site should not be cited as legal authority.”

In 2007 the American Association of Law Librarians completed a survey of states’ online statutes, regulations and case law to determine which states, if any, were deeming their online material to be official and/or authentic.  The survey, “State-by-State Report on Authentication of Online Legal Resources,” is available from the Washington Affairs Office of AALL.  Survey authors Richard Matthews and Mary Alice Baish concluded that while many states considered the primary legal material that they put online to be official, no state had taken steps to authenticate those materials. 

In a world where online research is becoming the norm, are courts (and other government websites) really keeping up with the needs of the people they serve by not offering official and authenticated versions of their opinions online?