Legal Research & Research Skills • Et. Seq: The Harvard Law School Library Blog

Thoughts on Library Research Guides

Since I came back to the law library from my professional development leave, I have been looking at and thinking about the research guides I have written here.  (You can view the list of them.)  I was never formally trained on writing research guides.  I learned a little bit about them, conceptually, in library school, but mainly I have developed my own process and style by just doing them.

I think my philosophy about research guides has changed a little over the years.  In the past, I thought that bigger is definitely better.  Certainly the guides that I have done for German Law Research and Alternative Dispute Resolution Research are quite broad in terms of the number of topics covered and number of resources referenced.  Those guides generate a lot of interest in terms of traffic and hits, not just from Harvard but from all over the world.  People clearly find them helpful on some level.

However, I seem to be shifting a bit toward preferring to write smaller guides on narrower topics.  Like every librarian, I have a unique set of interests, strengths, and favored research techniques, and I think my guides should reflect those.

I am also thinking about how to maximize the utility of the guides that I write for Harvard Library users.  The Harvard Library has over 17 million volumes across all its libraries’ collections.  That’s a lot!  Many of the physical books and journals in the collection are stored off-site and cannot be physically browsed on the Harvard campus by library users.

In addition, our library catalog, HOLLIS, has been evolving over the last few years, as are catalogs at other academic libraries.  What I’ve been hearing about user feedback related to academic library catalogs is that people want a one-stop shop that delivers books and periodical articles, with a Google-like single-box search interface.  Of course a catalog that is set up like this makes quick searches easier.  However, it also might make it more difficult to dive deeply into a very nuanced scholarly topic, to maximize the relevancy of search results, and to find all the relevant materials in the collection, especially if users do not know very much about advanced searching.

The bottom line for me: I think it’s important to help library users where they are, and where many of them are is online, maybe even on their phone, looking for the fastest and easiest way to find the exact library materials they need.  And who can blame them for that?  If research is arduous and frustrating, then it’s not fun.  As someone who loves research, I hate the thought of that!

So the last two guides I have written for the law library have been very much of a “niche” variety.  For each of these guides, I took a smaller topic and wrote a guide describing, on a single web page with lots of links, the best options that I know to use to research it.

One of these new guides, Organized Crime in Italy, was written after I worked with a student who is doing some research in this area.  I have to admit I am more than a little fascinated with this topic.  I also wanted the opportunity to practice working with Italian-language resources.  Of course, in writing this guide, I am not doing the student’s research for her, but I am suggesting options that are available to her, based on my experience as a researcher here at Harvard.

The other guide I wrote recently is Resistance to the National Socialist Government in Germany.  This was also in created in response to a research area in which one of our users is interested.  As the library’s expert in German law, and because the Harvard Library has so many relevant materials on this subject, this was too important a guide for me not to spend my time on.

As for the contents of the guides themselves, anyone who looks at my guides will see immediately how much I love Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) as an indexing instrument.  I always include links to pre-populated HOLLIS searches by subject, using controlled LCSH vocabulary, in my guides.  This is the surest way I know to find relevant books on a subject, regardless of publication language.

Writing a research guide is, in my experience as a research librarian, the best and most rewarding way to learn about a topic and about optimal research techniques.  But it is definitely more important that a guide is readable and useful to the researchers who are looking for help on how research should be done at your library.  Going forward, I will continue to work toward that as my primary goal.

Tenth Annual Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition

Interested in rare books, legal history or legal archives?

The Legal History and Rare Books (LH&RB) Section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), in cooperation with Cengage Learning, announces the Tenth Annual Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition. The competition is named in honor of Morris L. Cohen, late Professor Emeritus of Law at Yale Law School.

The competition is designed to encourage scholarship and to acquaint students with the AALL and law librarianship, and is open to students currently enrolled in accredited graduate programs in library science, law, history, and related fields. Essays may be on any topic related to legal history, rare law books, or legal archives. The winner will receive a $500.00 prize from Cengage Learning and up to $1,000 for expenses to attend the AALL Annual Meeting.

Winning and runner-up entries will be invited to submit their entries to Unbound, the official journal of LH&RB. Past winning essays have gone on to be accepted by journals such as N.Y.U. Law Review, American Journal of Legal History, University of South Florida Law Review, William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law, Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities, and French Historical Review.

The entry form and instructions are available at the LH&RB website. Entries must be submitted by 11:59 p.m., April 16, 2018 (EDT).

Bluebook drop-in sessions available in April!

HLS students, do you have bluebook questions? If so, the library is here to help you. We will be holding bluebook drop-in sessions beginning Monday, April 3rd and running through Wednesday, April 26th.

Drop-in sessions will be held in Room 524 of the library (5th floor conference room), from 12-1pm on the following dates:

Monday, April 3rd
Wednesday, April 5th
Friday, April 7th
Monday, April 10th
Wednesday, April 12th
Friday, April 14th
Monday, April 17th
Monday, April 24th
Wednesday, April 26th

If you have bluebook questions, but these times are inconvenient, you can also schedule an appointment by filling out the request to meet with us on our Ask a Librarian page, and noting that it is for a bluebook consultation: .

Please bring your laptop with you to the drop-in sessions or a scheduled session so we can work on your questions, on your paper, in real-time.

Canadian Law Research in HeinOnline

Most people know that the HeinOnline subscription database is a great source of legal research materials from all over the world.  HeinOnline’s collection of legal primary and secondary sources from Canada is especially strong, and it is growing all the time.

JustinIn addition to the Canada Supreme Court Reports (date coverage: 1876-2016) and the Revised Statutes of Canada (all six revisions, from 1886 through 1985), Hein recently added a new library: Provincial Statutes of Canada.

Hein describes this new library as follows:

“The Provincial Statutes of Canada contain public and private acts passed by Canadian provincial governments. Current, revised, and historical content is available for Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Ontario. Historical and revised content only is available for Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan.”

HeinOnline also has a collection of more than 100 Canadian law journals. To access this collection from the HeinOnline homepage, click Law Journal Library > Country > Canada.

In addition to HeinOnline, the Law Library also subscribes to QuickLaw: LexisNexis Canada. This source provides access to Canadian court cases, legislation, journal articles, commentary, and more.

If you would like to read more the intricacies of Canadian legal research, the 4th edition of The Practical Guide to Canadian Legal Research, edited by Nancy McCormick, was published in 2015.

Photo Credit: Justin Trudeau, the leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, was sworn in as the country’s 23rd Prime Minister on November 4, 2015. This photo was taken during a debate in Toronto on February 16, 2013 by Adam Scotti.  https://flic.kr/p/dW2m9a.

Activist Research Guide – New!

Want to learn about research resources for activists? If you were unable to attend our Research Boot Camp this week, you can still learn more with our new Activist Research Guide.

This guide will help you to evaluate information sources, get daily newsletters, reports or briefings on issues you care about, research from anywhere – even under adverse conditions, find executive and presidential documents, locate and engage with administrative materials and regulations, find the best contacts for your legislators, and maximize your impact as a force for social and political change. See our guide at and please contact me, AJ Blechner, directly if you have any feedback.

The Library has many other guides on various topics of legal research. Let us know if you have any suggestions for others.

This week: Research Boot Camp for Activists

work bootsCompelled to get involved in advocating for political and social change? Just want to stay current on the issues that matter to you?

With many people feeling a sense of urgency to participate in activism, the HLS Library is offering a Research Boot Camp for Activists. This workshop will give you research tools and tips to maximize your effectiveness on the ground as an advocate.

In our first session, Thursday, February 2, 5:00-6:00pm, learn to evaluate sources for validity, learn to research from anywhere, and learn how to find current congressional information including how to contact the staff of elected representatives.

In our second session, Friday, February 3, 1:30-2:30pm, you will learn how to find executive orders and presidential documents, regulations and administrative information, and get an introduction to asylum research.

Both sessions will meet in the Library Computer Lab. Feel free to come to either one or both. Computers are available, but feel free to bring your laptop if you prefer. Can’t make it? Stay tuned and we’ll be sharing our accompanying research guide.

Thanks to the Dean of Students Office for co-sponsoring this event with us.

Note: this post was updated to reflect our new time for Friday’s workshop.

Another Option for Finding Library Materials by Subject

I have written before in this blog about using the Hollis library catalog to find materials in the law library by subject.

Specifically, I find the Hollis catalog’s hyperlinked Library of Congress (LC) Subject Headings to be a great way to discover what the libraries at Harvard have on a particular topic, especially if I’m looking for materials in multiple languages.

I recently learned more about a subject-based classification system that is used in many German academic libraries, the Regensburger Verbundklassifikation (RVK) system. This system was developed by the library at the University of Regensburg in the 1960s.

As with LC Call Numbers, the RVK system assigns letters to subjects. However, where law books are given a call number that starts with “K” under the LC system, the RVK system uses the letter “P” for call numbers for legal materials.

There is a wonderful RVK directory and search engine that is freely available through the internet: RVK Online. Although it is all in German, it is intuitive enough to use even if you don’t know the language well.

On the homepage of this site, there is a collapseable list of subjects. To view the subtopics under law, you would click the plus-sign next to Rechtswissenschaft (Legal Sciences).

rvk_1

Next, keep collapsing the list until you find the subject you want.  For example, if you are interested in researching the history of criminal law in the German states, you would click Rechtswissenschaft > Strafrecht, Strafverfahrensrecht, Kriminologie > Allgemeines und Geschichte > Geschichte > Deutsche Länder.

Once you have clicked down to a designated subject, a menu will appear on the right side of the screen. There is a row of blue buttons under the text of the subject you have selected. You can use these buttons to search for materials on this subject in German-language library consortia catalogs. (Suche = Search)

  • BVB – Library consortium of the state of Bavaria
  • GVB – Library consortium of the states of Bremen, Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Niedersachsen, Sachsen-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein, Thüringen
  • SWB – Library consortium of the state of Baden-Württemberg
  • OVB – Library consortium of Austria

rvk_2

If, on the above screen, you were to click Suche in SWB, you would see a search results list of 288 items available in the libraries of Badem-Württemberg, listed chronologically, newest first. (Note: I personally find the SWB catalog to be very strong in legal materials.)

The first book in this list is a 2014 conference publication about the work of Feuerbach, a late-17th century German legal scholar whose major work was to reform the Bavarian criminal code.

rvk_3

If you are interested in the history of criminal law in Bavaria, you will probably want to read this book. Of course, if you are not in Germany, you’re wondering if any U.S. libraries have this book so that you can borrow it.

This is easy enough to find out. Click the record in the SWB catalog, and look for the book’s ISBN number, a 13-digit code that starts with “978.”

Then, use that code to search for the book in the worldwide library catalog WorldCat (http://www.worldcat.org/advancedsearch). There is an option to search WorldCat by ISBN.

If you do this, you will see that several North American libraries (include the HLS Library!) own this book.

rvk_4

Although there is not a lot that has been written about the RVK system in languages other than German, there are lists of selected subjects (including those under the “P” legal sciences class) translated into both English and Italian. These lists are available at http://www.unibz.it/en/library/about/projects/rvk-translation.html.

The RVK system provides researchers with another option for finding library materials by subject. It might be easier to use this RVK system for certain types of research than to try to search a library catalog by keyword, especially if you are unfamiliar with the language used to discuss the topic in the scholarly literature.

I know that this is a resource that I am very happy to have learned about, and one that I will always use in my searches for German law materials in the future.

 

New [And Improved] Title Spotlight: World Criminal Justice Systems: A Comparative Survey (9th ed.)

This time around, rather than looking at a brand new publication, I have decided to focus on the new edition of a treatise that was first published in 1984:

World Criminal Justice Systems: A Comparative Survey
Richard J. Terrill
9th edition, 2016
Law Library Reference Reading Room (Langdell 4th Floor), REF HV 7419 .T47 2016

This is not strictly a legal treatise, although much of its content will be of interest to comparative criminal law researchers. Instead, it focuses on the field of study of “criminal justice,” which according to the author encompasses several academic disciplines, including “[s]ociology, psychology, law, and public administration[.]” (Introduction, at 1)

The author makes it clear that this work facilitates the reader’s comparative analysis of the jurisdictions and legal systems surveyed, rather than providing its own. The book is targeted toward researchers with knowledge of the American criminal justice system; accordingly, the United States is not one of the featured jurisdictions. However, even non-U.S. researchers will likely find its clear, informative contents to be very valuable for introductory purposes.

For each of the jurisdictions covered (England, France, Japan, South Africa, Russia, and China), the author provides an informative overview of the government, the police, the judiciary, the law, the correctional system, and juvenile justice.  In addition, a chapter on Islamic Law was first added to the 8th edition in 2013. In this new edition, this chapter discusses the historical development of Islam and Sharia, and illustrates criminal justice principles in Islamic law countries using three “contemporary case studies” (Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey).

As the author explains in the introduction (pp. 7-9), when considering which jurisdictions to include, he focused on the evolution of their legal systems. In particular, he references “legal families”: while England represents common law; the “Romano-Germanic” tradition is represented by France as an original jurisdiction, as well as “borrowers” to varying degrees: Japan, South Africa, and the Russian Federation. The latter is also an example of a jurisdiction in the “socialist law” family, together with China. Finally, in adding the Islamic Law content, the author’s intention was not only to provide a view into criminal justice in “theocratic” societies, but also to focus on “countries [that] view the purpose and function of law in a different context from that which emerged in the West.”

In addition to its substantive content, the real value of this book to the researcher is its extensive bibliography of English-language sources, including books and scholarly articles, for each jurisdiction/legal system it covers.  Altogether, it is an excellent introductory source for legal researchers who are interested in researching any aspect of the criminal justice system in a comparative context.

Why get proficient in legal research?

Well, there are lots of reasons. If you’re working in public interest, researching efficiently will help you serve more people. If you’re working in a firm, you might not want to stay up all night doing research–and more urgently you might be under pressure to minimize billing of research hours.

Here’s one reason more that just caught our eye. From the NY Times a few weeks ago, How 4 Federal Lawyers Paved the Way to Kill Osama bin Laden, which describes the highly secret memo writing process that proceeded the raid of bin Laden’s compound:

Stretching sparse precedents, the lawyers worked in intense secrecy. Fearing leaks, the White House would not let them consult aides or even the administration’s top lawyer, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. They did their own research, wrote memos on highly secure laptops and traded drafts hand-delivered by trusted couriers. [emphasis added]

It’s just possible that someday you may be called upon to work on something so confidential that not even librarians can know about it and help you. (And one of our core professional values–so strong that we’ve been known to fight the FBI over it–is keeping private what our patrons are reading or researching.) Of course we hope scenarios like those described in the article are few and far between!

In the meantime and for everything that’s not super secret, we hope you’ll take advantage of our knowledge and services. Schedule a research consultation for your paper, project, or research for faculty. Or work on your own, but consult one of our research guides, which cover dozens of topics in legal research and beyond.

Jump Start Your Research With Our New Tool

The Harvard Law School Library recently launched a new tool to streamline your research. You can now run a single search to find research guides, items from the library’s catalog, responses to frequently asked questions, and databases that are recommended by the HLSL research librarians. If your search doesn’t return any results, you will be offered the opportunity to contact a librarian to get further help with your research. You can see the new tool in action in the video below.

You can find a link to this new tool on the library’s homepage under Research A Topic. We hope this will help to make your research faster and smoother, but if you encounter any issues, please feel free to let us know!

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