Reference from Coast to Coast – Keeping Current on Sources and Strategies in 2001

Welcome to Reference From Coast to Coast: Sources and Strategies, a monthly column written by Jan Bissett and Margi Heinen.

Jan Bissett is a Reference Librarian in the Bloomfield Hills, Michigan office of Dickinson Wright PLLC. She is a past president of the Michigan Association of Law Libraries and has published articles on administrative and research related topics in the Michigan Association of Law Libraries Newsletter and Michigan Defense Quarterly. She and Margi Heinen team teach Legal Information Sources and Services for Wayne State University’s Library and Information Science Program in Detroit, Michigan.

Margi Heinen is the Librarian at Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss in Detroit, Michigan. She teaches Legal Resources at the University of Michigan’s School of Information and is team teaching with her co-columnist, Jan Bissett, at Wayne State University’s School of Library and Information Science. She regularly does Internet training of legal staff at her firm and recently collaborated with Kathleen Gamache on an I.P.E. presentation, Internet Stategies for the Paralegal in Michigan. She is active in the Law Librarians of Metro Detroit and is a member of the American Association of Law Libraries.

Let’s face it. Being a reference librarian is not always about research or researching for other people. It’s about providing service to members of your particular organization. And providing service means keeping up with trends and technologies, developing needed skills, anticipating change and interacting with colleagues. How do we keep up with reference and research sources as well as the administrative and managerial issues? As the old year fades and the new year with new challenges looms before us we thought we’d take a look at the materials we use as current awareness tools as well as identifying articles of note that were particularly useful in the last year.

Beyond the professional library/information association conferences and publications, vendor updates such as Lexis-Nexis®’s Information Professional Update or Westlaw®’s Password in Brief or electronic discussion lists; which publications do you regularly consult to keep up with professional issues? Your choices are probably dependent upon your position and the number of professionals, interests and type of library. And if you’re not a librarian or information professional, but a legal professional responsible for research or related services, you’ve probably discovered that even on the periphery of the information profession, pesky administrative issues continue to find their way to your door. But we believe that some issues are universal regardless of the employment setting: collection development particularly integration of electronic sources, teaching and learning, technology issues, identifying quality web sources and the ever present budget crunching.

Here are some of the primary sources we found helpful in addressing these concerns:

Business Information Alert (Alert Publications)

Computers in Libraries (Infotoday)

D-LIB Magazine

Econtent (Online, Inc.)

Law Librarians in the New Millennium

Law Office Computing (James Publishing)

Legal Information Alert (Alert Publications)

Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research and Writing (West Group)

Practice Innovations (West Group)

Research Advisor (Alert Publications)

TVC Alert

Some of these materials are free on the Web. Those that require a paid subscription offer the table of contents from recent issues so that you can determine which publication(s) best address your current awareness needs. These titles reflect our interests as well as our positions as private law librarians. We gravitate towards materials which offer practical no nonsense advice. We don’t limit ourselves to specific libraries, as these subjects are universal.

The digital/virtual/electronic library remains an issue for any institution housing legal materials in print. Determining which materials should be retained in print and which should go electronic continues to be of interest. The latest edition of Legal Information Buyer’s Guide & Reference Manual, by Ken Svengalis, is required reading for every professional responsible for maintaining a law collection. Specific costs and practical suggestions for cutting costs are included as well as background information on evaluating legal materials and publisher information. Solo practitioners and small law firm professionals would also be well advised to look at Alert Publications, Research Advisor and if you are wondering how to fight the financial drain of on-line research and make sense of the proliferation of competitors in this field. Reviews and product descriptions as well as practical tips for dealing with these vendors are available from these two sources.

If you have already made decisions to eliminate print in favor of electronic subscriptions you may feel the battle is won. But we caution you with the old saying, “You may win the battle, but lose the war.” Unfortunately, even reputable publishers are still trying out electronic formats for subscriptions. Decisions made this year may need to be changed next year as more information about the use of these subscriptions and their value becomes known. Formats are still being integrated within collections and users are still being educated in the differing methods of access to all formats. Two articles, “Measuring the Impact of an Electronic Journal Collection on Library Costs”, by Carol Hanson Montgomery in D-Lib Magazine and the White Paper on Electronic Journal Usage Statistics address electronic subscription issues from both the collection development and usage standpoint. Their discussion may be helpful in identifying issues that you recognize but may not have articulated.

The issues that go into making original decisions about format are the same issues that need to be examined and re-examined as we look at electronic options:

  • Reliability -error rate, downtime, speed of access, coverage, completeness.
  • Readability-comfort, flexibility, ease of use for complex materials
  • Responsibility – who does upkeep and training for subscriptions-is it the library staff or the IS Department?
  • Regulation-copyright, fair use, downloading, licensing.

For many of us these decisions finally come down to money. An interesting recent article, “If Information Wants to be Free…Then Who’s Going to Pay for It?” by Richard T. Kaser, D-Lib Magazine discusses the perception of the public (and our users) that the access to information should not cost the user anything. We are daily in the position of explaining to users and clients that information is not free. Understanding the nuances of information economics becomes more complicated with every technological development. A corollary to “information is free” is “research is easy.” As vendors continue to emphasize the end-user and self-service, it perpetuates this myth. Witness, however, the recent survey on “web rage”, search engines and the frustration of end-users, Do You Have Web Rage – Are You A Frustrated Searcher . Reference librarians and researchers alike need to be aware of these trends that influence service and produce inadequate research skills.

We hope the publications and links above provide trend spotting and thought provoking information for you as we leap into 2001.

Posted in: Legal Research, Reference from Coast to Coast