"Nota Bene" means "note this well" or "take particular notice." We at the O'Quinn Law Library will be posting tips on legal research techniques and resources, developments in the world of legal information, happenings at the Law Library, and legal news reports that deserve your particular attention. We look forward to sharing our thoughts and findings and to hearing from you.

N.B: Make a note to visit "Nota Bene" regularly.

-Spencer L. Simons, former Director, O'Quinn Law Library and Associate Professor of Law



Thursday, September 30, 2010

FBI's Choice Social Network?

When FBI featurs social meida, you know that it has become mainstream. The first article in the July, 2010 issue of FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin carries the title The Public Information Officer and Today’s Digital News Environment. The author, a former police lieutenant, states that "...PIOs must continue to embrace technology and its benefits or risk becoming obsolete." The article goes on to list several tools: RSS feed, Twitter, Nixle, YouTube, and facebook, but Nixle is the one receiving a lot of attention. With a good reason: It is a secure and identity-certified communication service that allows local, county and state law enforcement and government agencies to connect with local residents over cell phone, email and web. One can limit information received by zip code.

However, one should read carefully Nixle's Terms of Service before signing up: there is a paragraph on their restrictions on linking (i.e. no deep linking) and framing activities. Caching is also not allowed. To see its Terms of Service, go to its homepage, click the button "Start receiving alerts today". I am not going to deep-link it here for you.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Just in Time for Banned Books Week

When most people think of Banned Books Week (celebrated this year Sept. 25 through Oct. 2), they usually envision puritanical parents trying to keep entire school districts from allowing students to have access to particular books that they don't want their own children to know exist because they find them offensive (usually without having read them). This week usually evokes discussions of titles such as Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ulysses, or the Harry Potter series, and authors such as Judy Blume, John Steinbeck, or Maya Angelou.

When ever this week rolls around, on the other hand, I am always reminded of a horrifying act of censorship that happened in the United States in the 1950s. No, I'm not talking about the uproar over roll'n'roll music. I'm talking about the literal book-burning of the works of William Reich. William Reich was a renowned, if controversial, psychiatrist and scientist, who developed a theory of "orgone energy". The FDA labeled him a quack, sought an injunction against him for "misbranding" (see Reich v. United States, 239 F.2d 134 (1st Cir. 1956)), and ordered that almost all of his books, papers, and research notes be burned.

In many ways, William Reich was a modern-day Giordano Bruno, the great alchemist and contemporary of Galileo who was burned at the stake for heresy. Bruno was a great thinker, but also a stubborn idealist and anti-authoritarian, and these traits led him to the fire. The authorities gave him several opportunities to recant and save his life, but Bruno defied them to the end. The same can be said of Reich. He did not present a defense to the FDA's injunction request, nor did he defend against charges of violating the injunction, which led to a jail sentence and, ultimately, his death in prison. Also like Bruno, his controversial views and contemptuous attitude made it difficult for the public to be outraged by the government's actions against him.

Why I am writing about this? Not only is it Banned Books Week, but, almost as if on cue, it recently came to light that the US Dept. of Defense recently destroyed almost an entire printing of a new book, the memoirs of an Army Reserve officer. Surprisingly, despite claiming that the destruction was required for national security purposes, the DoD did not go as far as the FDA in the 1950s. There does not appear to be an effort to track down and destroy the few copies that were sold or given out, and they are allowing the book to be reprinted, albeit in a redacted form.

How will the public react? How will librarians react? So far, it's been pretty quiet.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Law Library Brown Bag Series

During the 2010 Fall Semester, the O'Quinn Law Library will offer a series of lunchtime presentations on five different legal research topics. Each session will be given at 12 noon Tuesdays and Wednesdays. For for more information click the following link: http://www.law.uh.edu/libraries/publications/brownbags.htm.

The Fall 2010 schedule is as follows:

1. Advanced Search Strategies for Lexis and Westlaw
Tuesday, 9/28, 12:00-12:45, Wednesday, 9/29, 12:00-12:45 (room 4 BLB)
Lauren Schroeder, Reference and Research Librarian


2. Researching Foreign and International Law
Tuesday, 10/05, 12:00-12:45, Wednesday, 10/06, 12:00-12:45 (room 4 BLB)
Saskia Mehlhorn, Visiting Foreign and International Law Librarian


3. Bluebook Update: Welcome to the 19th Edition
Tuesday, 10/12, 12:00-12:45, Wednesday, 10/13, 12:00-12:45 (room 4 BLB)
Dan Baker, Reference and Research Librarian


4. Researching Federal Legislative History
Tuesday, 10/19, 12:00-12:45, Wednesday, 10/20, 12:00-12:45 (room 4 BLB)
Emily Woolard, Reference and Research Librarian


5. Empirical Legal Research
Tuesday, 10/26, 12:00-12:45, Wednesday, 10/27, 12:00-12:45 (room 4 BLB)
Chris Dykes, Reference and Research Librarian

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

USA.gov

USA.gov, originally known as FirstGov.gov, was launched in 2000 as a portal for U.S. Government information. This website has evolved remarkably over the past decade and today the interface is very user friendly. USA.gov can be used as a starting point for those wishing to register to vote, obtain a passport, apply for a U.S. Government job, or even locate an alternative fuel station. Those who wish to browse this website may choose from four links at the top of the main page including obtaining government services, exploring topics, locating government agencies, and contacting the government. For each option, a convenient drop down menu is available with important sub categories and a link to a more detailed index for further exploration. Those who need quick information about a specific topic may use the search engine with advanced search options which is powered by Bing.

Friday, September 17, 2010

New Guide Aimed at Law Students

Preparing law students for the legal research demands of the real world has long been a concern of law librarians. With the advent of the Internet, and its corresponding effect on the research habits and expectations of students, many librarians have wondered why law schools continue to allow Westlaw, LexisNexis, and the rest of the legal publishers of subscription databases to dictate the contours of the legal research experience. Finally, a step has been taken to counter the publishers' power over legal research training.

Late last month, a new online resource was launched: The Law Student Guide to Free Legal Research on the Internet (http://freelaw.classcaster.net/). As its title suggests, this online guide is primarily targeted at law students, although there is also a section for law librarians and legal research instructors. Sponsored by the Legal Information Institute (LII) and Justia.com and hosted by the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI), this guide aspires to help law students locate reliable, free, online legal resources and overcome their addictions to the big expensive publishers with a fun, fresh style. Although this is still a work in progress, it's a good first step and definitely worth checking out.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Live Hearings from the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea

All those that are interested in following live hearings at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea - here is a great opportunity: 

Starting on Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 8 am CT and continued until Thursday, one can follow a hearing on a request for an advisory opinion on the responsibilities and obligations of States sponsoring persons and entities with respect to activities in the International Seabed Area.

The live hearing will be transmitted through the ITLOS website.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Google Instant

If you use Google on a regular basis, you may have noticed something different this week with your search results. This is because Google launched Google Instant on Wednesday. Google Instant is a new search enhancement that shows results as you type. The results section is shown just below the search box and the search results are adjusted with each letter you type. This will allow you to view the results and adapt your search before you even press the “search” button. Google claims that Google Instant can save 2-5 seconds per search and estimates that if everyone uses the enhancement, it will save more than 3.5 billion seconds per day.

Currently, Google Instant is available for those who use updated versions of Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and Chrome. It is set as a default search feature, but can be easily turned off for those who find it to be a distraction. Visit the Google Instant website to learn more about this new feature.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Finding GAO Reports

The United States Government Accountability Office is an independent, nonpartisan agency that serves as the “investigative arm of Congress.” It does so by evaluating how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars and reporting on how well government programs are meeting their objectives. The GAO issues reports, often at the request of members of Congress, about various federal government programs, which offer recommendations to the agencies. These reports cover a wide range of topics and can be very helpful for researchers needing information about particular agencies and programs. For example, GAO reports were recently released about the assistance provided by the federal government to nonprofits following hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the FDA’s consideration of evidence from certain clinical trials.

GAO Reports can be found on the GAO website either through browsing by date, topic, or agency, or by using the advanced search feature. This website is updated daily and the full-text of the reports is provided going back to the 1950s. GAO Reports from 1993-2008 can also be found on the Government Printing Office’s FDsys website.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Research Tips: HeinOnline - Law Journals...and Much, Much More!

HeinOnline is a database created by William S. Hein & Co., and accessible from the Legal Databases section of the library's website. It currently contains "over 40 million pages of research material", all available in their original format via PDF.

In addition to its collection of over 1,400 law journals (with coverage from the first issue onward), HeinOnline has the following libraries (keep in mind, even this list does not include everything available):

  • English Reports, Full Reprint (1220-1867)
  • Federal Register Library - this contains the Federal Register (1936-current, updated daily) and Code of Federal Regulations (1938-current), as well as the Weekly and Daily Compilations of Presidential Documents, and the United States Government Manual (1935-current)
  • Legal Classics - over 1,400 historical works, ranging from the Code of Hammurabi to Benjamin Cardozo and Louis Brandeis
  • Session Laws Library - session laws from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, also Acts of Parliament from Canada and Australia
  • Treaties and Agreements Library - this library contains all U.S. treaties (in force, expired, or not officially published yet), and is divided into 5 sections: Official Treaty Publications, Unofficial Treaty Publications, Treaty Guides and Indexes, Treaties, Books and Texts, and Important Treaties and Agreements Links
  • United States Code (complete coverage)
  • U.S. Federal Legislative History Library - contains compiled legislative histories of major federal laws
  • U.S. Presidential Library - collection of documents ranging from George Washington's term to the present
  • U.S. Statutes at Large (1789-2007)
  • U.S. Supreme Court Library - U.S. Reports and other titles pertaining to the Court
  • World Constitutions Illustrated - a new, developing library that is designed to eventually provide the complete constitutional history for every country
  • World Trials Library - includes court documents, analytical resources, and biographies of famous trial lawyers
The next time you need to conduct legal research, be sure to check out HeinOnline!