Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Digitization: Where Lincoln and the Internet Meet!

Prior to the advent of the internet, digitization, and other modern technological marvels that we today take for granted, there were only two ways to view very old historical documents in the original: you had to be present at the creation, or you had to make a trek to whatever archive had the documents available, set up an appointment, and view the documents in person at the site. Today, we’re fortunate to have a third option: many documents, of varying historical import, are available for online viewing, and often at no cost.

Should you require an historic document for legal research, always remember to check online to see if something is available in digital format before running off to an archive. You may find yourself happily surprised.

For example, I was doing research on Indian tribal law, and discovered that many early laws and treaties were available online in their original form from the Library of Congress:

Since I am sometimes easily put off the research track, I happened to notice that the good people at the Library of Congress have a significant digital collection of documents relevant to our nation’s history, such as: American Indian Constitutions and Legal Materials; John Adams and the Boston Massacre Trial; the Statutes at Large; and, a collection of documents authored by President Lincoln, just to name a few.

Of course, when viewing them online, you miss the sensation of handling the materials, flipping their pages, smelling their mustiness. Until 3D printers can recreate this experience for you at home, you’ll have to settle for these digital alternatives. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pay Attention to the Extensions!

Recently I needed some information from the FDA and crafted a very sophisticated search for “FDA.” On the first page of results, there was a number of “official” looking websites, such as I immediately realized that this was not the official government site that I was expecting. Instead, the site contained articles and information related to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This website is owned by Gelinas Associates, an Orlando, Florida based company, and has no affiliation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, this is not readily apparent unless you scroll down to the Disclaimer.

Similarly, I noticed is a division of GMP Publications, Inc., a private firm and again, not affiliated with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. In addition to informational links, this site offers numerous government publications for purchase, such as the Code of Federal Regulations, which I remembered is free on several websites.

I wonder how many people take the time to look closely at the extension of a website result before clicking it. Differences among sites may be subtle and easily missed by busy researchers.


One noticeable difference is the advertisements on the .com and .org sites. If someone mistakenly believed he or she was on the official site, it may look like the government endorses or recommends these products.
A few other differences I noticed include the currency of the information provided and lack of any author information. For instance, the .gov site was updated as recently as one day ago, while the .org site has a copyright date of 2010 and the .com site’s copyright date is 2009. Also, without author information the authority and accuracy cannot be verified and may be questionable.  

So what do these different website extensions mean and how do they get assigned? 

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) maintains a list of all official domain extensions and is in charge of assigning them. 

Here are the most common original extensions created early in the development of the Internet.

.com -- stands for "commercial" and is the most widely used extension. This is categorized as an open extension, meaning any person or entity is allowed to register. Originally intended for use by for-profit business entities, it has become the "main" extension for many entities including nonprofits, schools and private individuals.
.org -- stands for "organization," and is primarily used by nonprofits or trade associations. This is an open extension, similar to .com.
.net -- stands for "network," and is most commonly used by businesses that are directly involved in the infrastructure of the Internet. This is another open extension.
.edu – stands for “education” and is used by educational institutions. This is not an open extension and is almost exclusively used by American colleges and universities.
.gov – stands for “government” and is used by governmental entities and agencies in the U.S. Like .edu, this is not an open extension. 

As the Internet evolves, so do the extensions. Some newer extension that you may not be familiar with include:  
Piqued your interested? Check out these and other extensions on this .net site.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Save Time, Stay Informed: Read BNA Email Highlights

Trying to keep abreast of certain areas of law and stay informed? Why not use a current awareness tool, such as Bloomberg BNA (Bureau of National Affairs).

I think you will find it is a great time saver! Bloomberg BNA offers daily, weekly, or monthly news services on topics that span corporate law, tax, accounting, employment law, environment, health care, intellectual property, litigation, and more. Bloomberg BNA newsletters keep you up-to-date with news and analysis on the most current developments in a particular practice area and are great for staying current for an ongoing research assignment or to ensure as a practitioner that you remain up to date in your field. These products go beyond case law, providing updates on legislative and regulatory developments, and industry trends and developments.

For example, if you follow developments in the area of criminal law, you may be interested in the following highlight from BNA's Criminal Law Reporter issue dated September 24, 2014, Vol. 95, No. 24:
  • Sept. 18 -- The Fourth Amendment does not require that a search warrant for a mobile phone identify the specific components of the phone that the police have authority to search, the Kentucky Supreme Court decided Sept. 18. (Hedgepath v. Commonwealth, 2014 BL 259813, Ky., No. 2013-SC-000343-MR, 9/18/14)
BNA Snapshot
  • Holding: A search warrant doesn't have to particularly describe the features of the mobile
    phone that officers have authority to search.
  • Potential Impact: Takes a position on an issue raised by the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling on digital privacy.
These types of highlights from Bloomberg BNA can be sent directly to your email and keep you informed. WNE School of Law students can access BNA by going to the Library's Databases page, and then choosing Bloomberg BNA Databases from the links listed. From that page, a user can select from one of the many different products that focus on specific areas of law. You will then have the option to sign up for email updates for each service in a given area of law. From the initial Bloomberg BNA homepage, you will see "Create an Account Profile" in the upper left of the screen.

Creating an account profile not only allows you to sign up for email updates, but allow you to take advantage of unique features available to personalize your subscription. For each individual BNA database, you will then have the ability to customize what you see each time you access it. By clicking on the "Customize Topics" tab at the top of the page, you can select specific sub-topics, courts, agencies, and states that you wish to see news and analysis from on the home page.

By personalizing your subscription you also will be able to:
  •     Save search history for 90 days
  •     Create folders to save searches, documents, and more
  •     Email a direct link to a colleague with the Share link
Get started on using Bloomberg BNA to keep you up to date!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Federal Legislative History - A Webinar by the Federal Depository Library Program

At some point, every law student will need to become aware of the various materials that were generated in the course of creating legislation which includes committee reports, analysis by legislative counsel, committee hearings, floor debates, and histories of actions taken.

On October 7, 2014, the FDLP, Federal Depository Library Program, will host a 60 minute webinar at 2:00 PM Eastern Time on just this topic. Registration is required but the webinar is free to everyone. The webinar will discuss the ways in which Federal statutes are published and cited, what  Federal legislative histories are and how they are used, the normal steps in compiling and researching Federal legislative histories, and the various resources available, both free and commercial.

You can register today at Federal Legislative History 101.

If you cannot make this webinar at this time, the FDLP archives them for later use and should be available at the archived site.

Don't miss this opportunity to get the information directly from the source.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Way to Save Websites for Later Viewing (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Procrastination)

If you’re anything like me, chances are you’ve probably stumbled on a newspaper article, blog post, or other website that you wanted to read, thought, "Huh, that looks interesting," and then realized you didn't have time to read it. Or, maybe you’re trying to keep your eyes out for news on a particular legal topic, or searching for a something to write about for a research paper or a law review note. Fortunately, there are a number of mobile apps out there that will save these pages for you to access later, online or off. These apps also strip down the site into a more readable, distraction-free format, so the article looks more like what you would find in an ebook. They’re a simpler alternative to powerful research tools like Zotero and Evernote, because they're intended as a quick solution, with no real opportunity to organize in a sophisticated way. This, I think, though, is their strength, as they allow you to quickly, and without hassle, save something you’ve stumbled upon for later viewing. (It should be noted, though, that they do all allow for tagging.)

I’m going to give you a brief overview of three popular options, from the perspective of an iPad user, though these are all available on additional platforms.

My personal favorite is called Pocket. (An earlier iteration was known simply as “Read It Later.” I think we can all agree that "Pocket" is a cuter, more memorable name.) With official apps for iOS, Android, Chrome, and the web, Pocket has a lot going for it. You can save articles from any browser, and a number of different mobile apps, including Pulse, Flipboard, the Onion, and others. One particularly nice feature that sets it apart from other read-it-later apps is that you can also save embedded video files to watch later (though you must have internet access available to watch them). 

In addition to being feature-packed, the app’s presentation is simple, elegant, and modifiable. For example, you can choose to view your saved items as tiles, or traditional lists. (See below.)

            When you’re reading an article, you can choose from three different color backgrounds--light, dark, or sepia. You can also change the font type (serif or sans serif) and size. From the article, you can also choose whether you want to create a tab for it.

If you’re not sold on Pocket yet, its price should convince you to at least try it out: it’s free!

Moving on, we will cover my least favorite app, Readability. (Some people must enjoy it, though, because I have seen it pop up on a lot of tech sites.) While Readability has an attractive user interface, I found it lacked many of the features that made the other two options attractive; it doesn’t integrate with other apps as well, and saving articles required some complicated extra steps. It didn’t have any features that made it unique compared to the other two apps. If, however, you’re the kind of person who’s put off by bells and whistles, Readability might be just the app for you! It does have a list of "recommended" articles, if you're looking for some inspiration. In this respect, it reminded me of a page like This is nice if you're lost and looking for a place to start, but isn't an especially helpful feature if you're only looking to save your own finds. 

Readability is available on iOS, Android, and Kindle devices, with extensions for several browsers. Like the other apps, it allows you to tag articles, change font sizes, and alter color pallets. Like Pocket in particular, Readability is also free; this is its one crowning glory, in my opinion. In all fairness, it is an attractive app, as you'll see from the pictures below. The first page shows you the main screen, while the second shows you its presentation of a particular article.

In Readability's defense, it should be noted that it does work well as a web page, one which strips sites down to make for easier reading. Unfortunately, its developers have not yet managed to harness its potential in app form, and it has already been outdone by some competitors. 

Finally, Instapaper is the read-it-later app that launched a thousand read-it-later apps. This venerable old app was originally intended for the iOS elite only, but it has since opened the doors to many other platforms, like Android and Kindle. Actually, that’s an exhaustive list. This app is only available officially on iOS, Android, and Kindle, leaving everyone else out in the cold.  

Instapaper, unlike Pocket and Readability, has a social media component built in, allowing you to follow your friends you knew already or who you've made through Instapaper. If you’re using this app, though, to collect legal research sources, these extras might mean very little to you. Another new feature unique to Instapaper is that you can actually highlight the articles you save. This annotation feature is nice if you want to reference an article later, especially if you’re a law student or lawyer doing any kind of research. Instapaper also gives you more options to manipulate your view of articles, allowing you to select among 14 different fonts, paragraph spacing, and line spacing. It’s the best of the three for the demanding aesthete, I’d say. It also comes with a dictionary that you can even use offline.

To tell you the truth, though, I didn’t get the opportunity to use Instapaper, because it does cost money ($3.99) that I didn’t feel inclined to spend after enjoying Pocket so much. I just wanted to let you readers know that the option does exist, and it does have many a devoted follower. For an extensive review, visit this link

In conclusion, all three offer similar functions, and it’s up to the individual to decide which one appeals most to his or her tastes. They are all extremely useful as a means for collecting articles to read later or to save for consultation purposes.