Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

It would not be Halloween in Massachusetts without mentioning the Salem Witch Trials. For those of you not able to visit the Law Library's Salem Witch Trials display, I wanted to highlight some of the material in our collection about the trials.

Also, don't forget that you can take any of these books' call numbers and see what else is near them on the bookshelves using WILDPAC.

Title: The Salem Witch Trials: A Reference Guide

Author: Goss, K. David

Call Number: Law Mass. collection KFM2478.8.W5 G67 2008
Title: The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege

Author: Roach, Marilynne K.

Call Number: Law Mass. collection KFM2478.8.W5 R63 2002
Title: The Salem Witch Trials Reader

Author: Hill, Frances

Call Number: Law Mass. collection KFM2478.8.W5 H555 2000
Title: The Story of the Salem Witch Trials: "We Walked in Clouds and Could Not See Our Way"

Author: LeBeau, Bryan F.

Call Number: Law Mass. collection KFM2478.8.W5 L43 1998
Title: A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials

Author: Hill, Frances

Call Number: Law Mass. collection KFM2478.8.W5 H55 1995
Title: Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt

Editor: Rosenthal, Bernard

Call Number: Law Mass. collection KFM2478.8.W5 R43 2009
Title: Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692

Author: Rosenthal, Bernard

Call Number: Law Mass. collection KFM2478.8.W5 R67 1993
Title: Salem Witch Judge: The Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewall

Author: LaPlante, Eve

Call Number: Law Mass. collection KFM2478.8.W5 L37 2007
Title: Escaping Salem: The Other Witch Hunt of 1692

Author: Godbeer, Richard

Call Number: Law State Collection KFC3678.8.W5 G66 2005

Friday, October 26, 2012

QR codes in WILDPAC

Have you ever found a book while searching in WILDPAC on the first floor of the Library, only to forget the call number by the time you reached the third floor?

If you have a smart phone or other device with a QR code reader, that never has to happen again. If you find something in the catalog after searching for a title or author, the web page will include a QR code that you can scan, and presto - that web page, with the title, author and call number, is on your phone. There is no need for scrap paper or taking a picture of the computer screen that you will have to find in your phone’s photo album later.

QR Code after a title search in WILDPAC

What if you found the book when searching in Encore? Just select “View in classic catalog” and you will see the QR Code for that item.

QR Code after a search in Encore

If your QR code reader lets you archive the pages you find, use that to create a makeshift list! You can scan the QR codes for all of the books you find at once, and not have to return to the computer to search over and over again.

A librarian will be glad to answer any questions you have about using this new catalog feature.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Massachusetts Criminal Practice

Today’s post comes from the Division of Shameless Self-Promotion here at the Law Library:  did you know that a long standing resource for criminal law research – Massachusetts Criminal Practice – is now available on-line and it’s FREE?

Professors Eric Blumenson of Suffolk University Law School  and Arthur B. Leavens of our own Western New England University School of Law, co-edited the 4th edition of this bible for criminal law practitioners. And, for the first time, this resource includes a chapter devoted to researching criminal practice and procedure written by me and my colleague, Patricia Newcombe, our Associate Dean for Library & Information Resources.

As stated in the Preface, this edition “marks a new era in the life of Massachusetts Criminal Practice. Commenced in 1990 as a hardcover book, and continuing through the following two editions, Massachusetts Criminal Practice was available only to subscribers and purchasers. But the purpose of the project was always to disseminate legal knowledge to lawyers, law students, and others involved in the criminal justice system, including defendants – and the commercial imperatives of book publishing necessarily detracted from this goal. With this edition, we take a long step towards making the book more accessible to our intended readers … Massachusetts Criminal Practice is now available to all who can access the internet, without charge.”

If you haven’t used this book in a while, I think you will be surprised to be reminded about what a rich resource it is. Chapters range from the probable cause hearing, confessions, issues in eyewitness identification cases, opening statements, examination of witnesses, all the way to postconviction remedies.  The authors of the substantive chapters are experts in the criminal practice field and the experiential knowledge they bring to this work is invaluable. Take the opportunity to become reacquainted with Massachusetts Criminal Practice at your soonest convenience.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Zimmerman's Research Guide

Zimmerman's Research GuideZimmerman's Research Guide bills itself as an "online legal research encyclopedia." The Guide was created by law librarian Andrew Zimmerman more than a decade ago. It started as a collection of resources that he himself found useful when doing legal research. Over the years, it has expanded to cover a wide range of sources. Currently, Zimmerman encourages other librarians to contribute to the Guide, with corrections, additions, and comments.

This is not a how-to website for legal research. Rather, it lists available resources on many different topics - just over one thousand! The entries generally fall into one of three categories: a jurisdiction, including states, foreign countries, and even some cities; a specific resource, like "tax forms" or "obituaries;" or an area of law, like "antitrust."

The Guide is now hosted by LexisNexis, under the publisher's "InfoPro" brand. Unsurprisingly, this means the website has some marketing material for LexisNexis' products. However, the actual content of the Guide includes resources published by other vendors, showing no bias toward Lexis. For instance, the entry for "Legal Research Guides" mentions two books published by West, and no LexisNexis books at all. Many of the entries include links to government information and other free resources, making this a useful resource for people needing to do research without spending money. 

For sources on Westlaw Classic and Lexis, the Guide gives the appropriate database identifiers to find the specific resource. Unfortunately, there is no deep linking into WestlawNext or Lexis Advance (which may not even be possible.) It will be interesting to see what happens when the prior generation of databases is finally phased out.

The legal research universe is so vast that not even the best legal researcher can always remember all of the sources available on a topic. Zimmerman's Research Guide is a great place to go to get a feel for where to start your legal research.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Researching military law can seem like a daunting task for researchers unfamiliar with this area of law. Fortunately, the authorities governing military law are easily discoverable. As expected, both Westlaw and Lexis have pulled together an array of resources under the topic of Military Law. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is the major authority in this area and it is codified at 10 U.S.C. § 801-946. For those of you without Westlaw or Lexis access, LII provides free access to the U.S.C. Periodically, you may encounter times when you need documents that fall outside the scope of primary authorities.

I recently stumbled across another free resource that pulls together documents not easily accessible in traditional legal databases, as well as, links to sites such as LII. The Military Education Research Library Network (MERLN) is maintained by the National Defense University Library in Washington, D.C., and consists of a variety of unique electronic resources:

  • Military Policy Awareness Links (MiPALs)
  • Digital collections of full-text papers, lectures, and legislation;
  • Links to worldwide military library catalogs;
  • Links to military journals and publications; and
  • Access (password controlled) to full text ejournals and reference tools.
MERLN contains a wealth of information, especially for those interested in international conflicts. For example, browsing through the Digital Collections, I was able to locate a collection of Peace Agreements maintained by the United States Institute of Peace that contains PDFs of the actual agreements:

Under the "Issues at a Glance" tab, you can find links to background information, official U.S. responses, and the latest analysis from think tanks for current events as they unfold. Some topics, such as U.S. Grand Strategy for Afghanistan/Pakistan, contain links to PDFs of Congressional Hearings, which can aid in determining the intent behind an official response or newly enacted legislation.

I should mention a few drawbacks I noticed while navigating through the site. Due to the fact that this site is an aggregation of various electronic resources, there is no standardized searching method. This means that ease of searching and navigation varies among the resources. Additionally, the tab for the Military Policy Awareness Links (MiPALs) does not always function properly.

You may come across information that is restricted to students, staff, faculty, and alumni of the participating institutions. If you run into this issue, contact your local Interlibrary Loan librarian to try to obtain the document.

As you can imagine, I have provided only a glimpse of the unique documents available through this resource. The next time you are trying to locate an elusive military document as part of your research, why not take a look at MERLN.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Defining Research

Black’s Law Dictionary is a staple of legal research. However, it is far from the only dictionary that a lawyer may need in practice. In the last Supreme Court term, 19 cases had a citation to a non-law dictionary.

Why would the Supreme Court refer to a dictionary so often? Unsurprisingly, they use dictionaries to determine what a particular word in a statute means. A fundamental canon of statutory construction is that “words are to be given their common meaning, unless they are technical terms or words of art.”1 This “ordinary meaning” needs to be from the time the law was passed, not the present day. This means that lawyers could need a dictionary (and preferably several) from any time period.

Looking at the last term, the case Taniguchi v. Kan Pacific Saipan, Ltd., 132 S.Ct. 1997 (2012), may have been the most dictionary-dependent case of the last term. It turned on the meaning of the word “interpreter” in 28 U.S.C. §1920. The party that won had several dictionaries on their side, while the loser primarily relied on a single one.

Overall, the most cited dictionary of the term was Springfield, Massachusetts’ own Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, an edition of which appeared in seven opinions. Interestingly, one commonly cited dictionary is not even American! The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) featured in several cases. Its reputation for quality, not to mention the number of words it has from older time periods, makes it a useful choice for statutory interpretation.

When doing legal research, don’t forget that there are also many subject-specific dictionaries that include terms of art. There are medical dictionaries like Black’s Medical Dictionary and Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary. The publisher Barron’s has several dictionaries covering the financial world. Highly regulated, technical fields, like environmental law, also have dictionaries to help researchers deal with the mass of acronyms that characterize EPA publications.

It is easy to forget about dictionaries, as features like spell-check and thesauri are integrated with word processing software. Will courts one day quote the results of Microsoft Word’s "Synonyms" feature in an opinion? We’ll see, but I feel bad for whoever has to Bluebook that citation!

1Abner J. Mikva and Eric Lane, An Introduction to Statutory Interpretation and the Legislative Process 25 (1997).