"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

Monday, February 28, 2011

Another "If You Can't Beat Them . . ." Story

Being relatively new to the field of law librarianship, one thing I like to do, whenever I get the chance, is read older (i.e., before I entered the field) articles in journals, both law library-related and just law-related. It can be very rewarding to see how certain issues or positions have developed, or even discover that people 10, 20, or even more years ago were struggling with the same issues and had the same complaints we do today. It can also be very amusing to read older discussions about technology in these journals and compare them with where we are now. Personally, I started with Frank Houdek's wonderful piece "The Essential Law Library Journal" (100 Law Libr. J. 137 (2008)), and I've been working through the articles he lists, with some tangents along the way.

One of my tangents led me to "The Final Report of the Task Force on Citation Formats," which was published at 87 Law Libr. J. 577-633 in 1995. Although the Report itself was very enlightening, the dissents were by far much more entertaining. Sitting, as we are, in 2011 and looking back in time 16 years, with all of the technological advancements and changes in research habits and philosophies that accompany them, it's very easy to read the dissents and laugh at their fearmongering.

Now, I'm sure the authors of the dissents were truly concerned for the future of legal research, and I appreciate their participation in this great, ongoing debate. Some of the points they raised were probably legitimate at the time, but have since fallen by the way-side or been greatly diminished in force. For example, while it may have been true in the mid-1990s that the vast majority of attorneys did their caselaw research primarily, if not exclusively, in books (p. 609), I would be very surprised if that remains true today (for better or worse).

My favorite part of the dissenting opinions appears in the dissent written by the two members of the AALL Task Force who were employees of West Publishing (pp. 607-23). Again, they did make some valid points, and I don't mean to belittle their contribution to the debate.

However, the authors of this dissent, in a footnote, discuss a bill, H.R. 4426, that was introduced in 1992 that would have, inter alia, explicitly excluded "copyright protection for any name, number, or citation by which the text of state or federal laws or regulations are identified, or for any volume or page number by which state or federal laws, regulations, judicial opinions, or portions thereof have been identified" (p. 611 n.16). The authors then gleefully point out that, although AALL supported the bill, some prominent members of the AALL community were against it. The authors explain, with approval, that this opposition was because the bill was nothing more than "special interest legislation sponsored by [a] foreign-owned [company]" that "intended to scan pages from the National Reporter System and resell it on CD-ROM". The result, it was argued, would be either that West would be forced to charge more for their reporters or that the NRS would die; either way, "[t]his ill-advised foreign-sponsored legislation," if passed, would be "a great disservice to library patrons."

See . . . West was looking out for all of us poor law libraries. They're on our side.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. That "foreign-owned" company that wanted to destroy the legal publishing world with its "special interest legislation"?:

Thomson Legal Publishing.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Collective Bargaining Agreements Research (with a Digression)

News reports of the last few weeks have been primarily focused on two areas: the turmoil in the Middle East (for once, and thankfully, not referring to the ongoing Isreali-Palestinian conflict) and collective bargaining agreements (or CBAs). And the latter is not only referring to the political conflict that is taking place in midwestern American states such as Wisconsin and Ohio, but even sports reports are filled with references to the ongoing negotiations between the National Football League (NFL) and the NFL Player's Association, or fears that the National Basketball Association will suffer a lockout because of a failure to reach agreement on a new CBA.

All of these reports got me searching the Internet to see what kind of resources were available so I'd be ready when the inevitable patron comes to the Reference Desk asking about CBAs. My searches led me to a wonderful guide from Cornell University called Labor Unions and the Internet. Designed using the LibGuides platform, this guide contains a profusion of tabs, including tabs dedicated to General Web Research, Industry and Economic Research, Legal Research, and several subtopics, including CBAs. Each tab consists of lists of links to sources with brief descriptions of the sources. Overall, I was impressed with how this guide was organized and with the quality of the links available.

(Now for my digression.)

There was, however, one thing I have an issue with: On the General Web Research tab, the second to last item was a link to Wikipedia. Thankfully, the description under the link contained the following disclaimer: "Use Wikipedia wisely to get an overview of a topic and links to authoritative sources. Beware of entries that could reflect author-biases and of entries that lack proper citation." But, ultimately, I personally would like to see this link removed from future versions of this guide. I have two reasons for my position.

First, a guide of this nature should be intended to guide patrons to helpful (preferably authoritative) sources that they may not be aware of or that may be difficult to locate. At this point in time, it's hard to imagine that anyone, even the most destitute of patrons, would be unaware of Wikipedia; and for the very few who are, I'm sure the reference librarian would be able to suggest it, if appropriate . . . which dovetails nicely into my second reason: I've always been of the opinion that one of a librarian's duties is to help patrons make the right decisions about which resources to use when given the opportunity. Yet, this guide merely shows the patron the entrance to Wikipedia armed with just a disclaimer and a hope that they'll stumble on quality articles. If you're going to include Wikipedia in a guide like this, then you should take the time to identify the appropriate articles that are neutrally written and contain proper citations. Otherwise, have you really helped any patrons who take that path?

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Discography: Legal Encyclopedia of Popular Music

Entertainment law scholars and practitioners as well as fans of pop music in general should check out a new resource from the Center for Empirical Research in the Law at Washington University Law School. The Discography: Legal Encyclopedia of Popular Music contains summaries of over 2,400 court opinions about the music industry, covering almost 200 years, on a wide range of topics “from sampling and fair use, to tax deductions for black leather pants.”

Researchers can search for opinions by case name, by artists or parties such as producers and record labels, or by topics like bankruptcy, contracts, or torts. Results can also be limited by jurisdiction and date. In addition, the website features a blog and a legal music news section.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Budget of the United States Government

President Obama’s proposed 2012 Budget, unveiled on Monday, has been receiving a great deal of attention in the last couple of days. If you are interested in finding out more about which programs may be cut or emphasized under the plan, the document is available on the Government Printing Office’s website. The Budget contains the Budget Message of the President, information about the President’s priorities, budget overviews organized by agency, and summary tables. The GPO website also provides access to other related documents such as Analytical Perspectives, Historical Tables, and an Appendix containing detailed financial information. Prior Budgets are also available going back to 1996.

There is also an interactive breakdown of the budget on the Office of Management and Budget website, which helps to visualize how the spending is allocated.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

How the 24/7 Library Access Works

Our 24/7 access is reserved for the UH Law Center students, faculty, and staff only. Each night when we close the library, everybody needs to exit. Then those who qualified for this privilege can enter again with their COUGARONE CARDS by following this route:

1. Take either the elevator or the stairs across the hallway from 4 BLB, going down. (You will need your CougarOne card to operate the elevator or to go through the basement entrance.)
2. Look for the door with a card reader across the hallway from the office of the Houston Journal of Health Law and Policy or a similar door near the Public Interest Law Organization (PILO). Swipe your CougarOne card to gain entrance.
3. Take the stairs up and you will be in the Library again.

To exit the library, please reverse the steps above. Remember that this access is limited to current members of the UHLC community only, so please do not allow anyone without a card to gain access by following you.

We are fully aware of the fact that you may be the only one inside of the library. In case of emergency, here are numbers you can call:

1. Law Library security desk: 713-743-5806
2. UH Police Department: 713-743-3333
3. UH Escort Service: 713-743-0600

In case you need one of our friendly security guards but they are on patrol duty, please call the UHPD so they can page the guard on duty for you right away. They also can escort you to your car.

Happy studying.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Library Closing

Following the University of Houston Emergency Communications' decision, the O’Quinn Law Library is closed between 3:00 p.m., Thursday, February 3rd and 12 p.m., Friday, February 4th, 2011. For any later change please check here. Althought there is no libray service when the Library is closed, UH Law Center students with their CougarOne cards should still be able to enter the library via the Student Organizations area.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

US Code expands beyond 50 titles

Since 1926 the United States Code has comprised of 50 titles compiling and codifying the general and permanent federal law, but with the enactment of Public Law 111-314 on December 18, 2010 a new title 51, National and Commercial Space Programs, has been added. In addition the U.S. House of Representatives Office of Law Revision Counsel has produced draft texts to expand the U.S. Code further and add titles 52-55 and to reorganize some existing titles.