Archive for March, 2010

Review: American Dreams App for iPhone & iPod Touch

Multieducator Inc. American Dreams—Speeches and Documents in US History for iPhone OS 2.2 or later and iPod Touch second generation or later. Updated March 1, 2010.  Current Version 1.04. 43.8 MB. $2.99.

The American Dreams app for iPhone and iPod Touch is a portable library of primary source documents and audio files related to United States and North American history.  The app contains 480 documents including the Constitution and its Amendments, 90 U.S. Supreme Court decisions, and all of the presidential inaugural addresses.  The range of documents is quite broad, reaching back in time to the Mayflower Compact and Samuel Champlain’s account of the founding of Quebec City in 1608 up to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision Roper v. Simmons (2005) and President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech (2009).  The app also has 18 audio files—twelve presidential inaugural speeches, five other significant presidential speeches, and Neil Armstrong’s fabled pronouncement, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The app’s best feature is its content.  I especially like the audio clips; speeches, after all, are meant to be heard.  Standouts include a Theodore Roosevelt campaign speech from 1912, the first FDR fireside chat (on banking), and John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address.  Be forewarned that some of the audio files provide only an excerpt from the speeches.  I like that the app provides a brief description for the documents and audio files (although for some I wish the editors had provided more information).  Click on the arrow on the right of the document name to access the description.

Navigation is easy.  The table of contents organizes the documents and audio files by historical period/decade (e.g., The Colonial Period; 1860 to 1869) and by document and file type (e.g., Supreme Court Decisions; Audio Recording [sic]).  Users can locate documents by performing keyword searches in the text, title, and description of documents, but it would be nice if the app highlighted the keyword in the text.  Users can bookmark files using the “Favorites” feature and find recently reviewed documents with the “Recents” feature.

The app has several problems, however, that need to be rectified.  The text is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors like “Presdienet Reagan’s,” “John Adam,” and “founded” instead of “founding” that make the app look sloppy.  The descriptive information for some audio files is missing.  The text of the 27th Amendment is incomplete and smaller than the text of the other documents.  The app names files inconsistently: some inaugural addresses of two-term presidents are named according to year (e.g., George W Bush 2001 Inaugural Address), while others are named according to whether they are that president’s first or second inaugural address (e.g., George W Bush 2nd Inaugural Address).  The text of the documents is small and cannot be re-sized.  The app does not let you take notes or highlight the text.

I have a few more, less significant quibbles. The name of the app—American Dreams—is a bit odd and does not provide an apt description.  I would prefer that the app come with more in-depth descriptions and timeline features, putting the primary source material in context and making it more accessible to a general audience.  In addition, since the iPhone and iPod Touch are multimedia tools, I would love to see more multimedia content in the app including images, video, and audio.  More multimedia would make the app more appealing, albeit pricier.

Despite its flaws, American Dreams is a fun app for people who want to have primary source historical documents in their pocket.  The $2.99 price is reasonable for what you get, and presumably Multieducator will correct the errors I mentioned above.  People who have trouble reading small script should avoid this purchase.  If you are interested in American Dreams, you should also take a look at the U.S. Historical Documents app ($.99) by Standard Works LLC which offers a smaller collection (200) of historical documents, some of which are not in American Dreams, along with the ability to highlight and take notes in the text.

Iantha Haight is a Research Attorney and Lecturer in Law at Cornell Law Library in Ithaca, New York.

April issue of Spectrum online

The April issue of AALL Spectrum is available online in PDF format. This month’s articles include:

AALL Spectrum

Also, readers respond to this month’s “Member to Member” question: What do you wish you had been taught in law or library school?

Paper copies mailed out to members on Tuesday, March 23, so look for them in your mailboxes soon.

Learn the Nuts and Bolts of Getting Published

Getting published demonstrates and shares your expertise, enhances your reputation, widens your career reach, and contributes to the profession. Join editing and publishing gurus in an AALL webinar to learn the nuts and bolts of getting published and gain an insider’s perspective of writing and editing.

Take the Write Road, April 14, 11 a.m.-12 p.m. (CST), will teach you how to choose a writing topic and the appropriate audience/publication; tips to get past the barriers to writing and getting published; and key considerations when working with editors.

Speakers include Carol Bannen, chair of the AALL Publishing Initiatives Caucus and author of articles in a variety of legal publications; Mark Estes, editorial director of AALL Spectrum; and Janet Sinder, editor of Law Library Journal. The program will be moderated by Hillary Baker, AALL’s marketing and communications manager.

Register by April 7.

Book Review – Voices: Memoirs from Herstory, Vol. 2

Vol. 2, Fall 2009.  Voices: Memoirs from Herstory Inside Suffolk County Correctional Facilities. Various Authors, Herstory Writers Workshop, Inc., paperback, 107 pages, $14.95.

The Herstory Writers Workshop’s goal is to provide incarcerated women “opportunities through guided memoir writing that empower women from all walks of life . . . to turn their intimate stories into works of art crafted so that others can hear.”  In this, their second published collection, there are approximately thirty short true stories (many in letter format, addressed to their former abusers, family members, etc.) addressing such topics as addiction, violence against women, and the bond between incarcerated parents and their children.

The founder of Herstory, Erika Duncan, writes a four page introduction in which she implores the reader not to immediately ask “What did that person (the author) do” that lead to her imprisonment.  Instead, we are implored to ask what has happened to these women in their pasts, and what can they teach us.  Perhaps the authors were also told not to write about or focus on such things as their guilt, the crimes they committed, or what lead to their imprisonment, because none of the stories make any mention of victims of the criminal acts of the authors (however, the authors are quick to point out how they are victims) or what crimes the authors committed, with the exception of a few who vaguely talk about being in jail for drug related offenses.   Instead, the reader is treated to some truly horrific stories of past abuse, addiction, and familial betrayals, many of which contain revolting imagery.

The stories in this publication average between two to three pages.  They are prefaced by a short introduction from the editor, and provide a little background on the author of each piece.  Sticking to Herstory’s number one rule of non-judgment, these intros typically list the positive attributes of each writer, and never discuss the crimes committed by the writer.  The stories can be incredibly graphic in the recounting of physical/sexual abuse (particularly unsettling was a story from a former prostitute who graphically described the aftermath of waking up after a night of performing sexual favors in the quest for crack money).  They are not for the squeamish.

There is one particular portion of this publication that stuck out to me when I read it.  In the editor’s short introduction of the author of each piece, she sometimes mentions boyfriends or family members that have physically or sexually abused the author in the past.  None of these introductions give any background of the accused abuser, until the introduction of author Angelita Peete on page eighty-seven.  Ms. Peete, we are told, was “horribly and repeatedly sexually and physically abused by her mother’s career military husband” starting at the time she was eight years old.  I can see no reason why the editor chose to mention the occupation of this one alleged abuser.  Perhaps she feels the military trains soldiers to be better at abuse than other members of the general public.  Whatever her reasoning, I found the inclusion of this man’s occupation to be unnecessary and insulting to the armed forces, and I suspect if a survey of all the alleged abusers in this publication was taken, “social programs recipient” would rank much higher on the list of occupations than “military.”

I can see value in this publication for law libraries and law schools that have strong women’s studies programs, or for the criminal justice field.  At only $14.95, it’s not a huge investment.  Just be prepared for graphic imagery and understand the purpose of the book.

Lance Burke, Reference/Access Services Librarian, Elon School of Law

March issue of Spectrum online

The March issue of AALL Spectrum is available online in PDF format. This month’s articles include:AALL Spectrum

Also, readers respond to this month’s “Member to Member” question: What is your best tip, advice, and/or technique for teaching or training legal research?

Paper copies mailed out to members on Wednesday, February 24, so look for them in your mailboxes soon.

Deconstructing Legal Analysis, a 1L Primer by Peter T. Wendel

Deconstructing Legal Analysis, a 1L Primer
By Peter T. Wendel
(Aspen Publishers, Wolters Kluwer Law & Business, $32.95, 9/30/2009). 224 pages, Index, line illustrations. Paper. ISBN: 9780735584754

Reviewed by Betsy McKenzie, Suffolk University Law School, Boston, MA

Law students and young lawyers need all the help they can get with legal analysis. I was very excited to see a book focusing entirely on legal analysis. I should reveal that I know and like Peter Wendel, from the years that I spent working at St. Louis University. All of which makes it all the more tragic that I am very disappointed in this book and find it not at all the book to fill the vast need I see for teaching students how to do legal analysis. I looked in the book, and my heart sank; I really felt like I did not understand half of what he was trying to explain. My first impulse, as in law school, was to blame myself. This is exactly how most students will react, and why I cannot recommend this book.

Perhaps to underscore how awful the traditional, “darwinian” sink or swim teaching of legal analysis is, Professor Wendel chooses to illustrate it (and legal analysis through a good bit of the book) with the 1805 property case of Pierson v. Post, written in archaic language. I am afraid that the choice and continued use of the case is very off-putting. The student is confronted immediately with anxiety-inducing language. Professor Wendel does his best to explain the case, and to steer the student through the legal process, using diagrams and explaining what the law professor will expect of the student. But it takes him to page 67 to get through the basic briefing on the Pierson v. Post case, and another ten pages to discuss adding hypotheticals. The diagrams are not clear, and the explanations are murky. At page 79, we are nearly half way through the book, and just beginning to look at a second case, on adverse possession.

Part II of the book is The Exam Taking Process. This portion of the book is not so confusing. But it is verbose, and has been done elsewhere, better. Wendel covers exam essay-writing, analyzing issues, issue-spotting, organization of the exam essay, multiple choice questions, and includes watching your time on the exam. He discusses the very important post-exam self-diagnosis. I do like that Wendel illustrates how to synthesize a series of cases. I applaud a late chapter that discusses statutory construction. This is something rarely covered in law school these days, and much needed. The book concludes with “Miscellaneous Law School and Exam Taking Tips.”

However, I compare this book, which focuses entirely on legal analysis, against Succeeding in Law School, by Herbert Ramy (Carolina Academic Press) 2006, $22.00 (250 pp • paper • ISBN-10: 1-59460-189-5 • ISBN: 978-1-59460-189-7 • LCCN 2006010128 ). While Ramy’s book includes a single chapter specifically on legal analysis (pp. 111-122), many of the other chapters deal with things that Wendel includes in his book:
legal synthesis (pp. 101-110),
legal writing generally (pp. 123-162),
and law exams specifically (pp. 173-206).

Ramy goes out of his way to explain the law school process, the legal process and to make things clear and easy to understand. The layout is easier to follow, with little boxed “Herb’s Hints” sprinkled throughout. He writes succinctly, and adds useful hints such as managing stress and time throughout law school as well as at exam time. Herb Ramy is the Director of Academic Support at Suffolk University Law School and a former legal writing professor, and his specialized focus shows in his style and coverage. Ramy’s professional life is assisting students to master the art of law school, including legal analysis and exam-taking. But he sees the fall-out of depression and lack of time-management skills and the toll they take on law school populations. He offers help to the law student, not only in managing the tasks of succeeding in the classroom, but in the hallways after class. Ramy includes a sample law school exam and sample quizzes and problems with answers in the back of the book to see how you did. While Wendel ostensibly offers chances for the reader to do exercise, there are no problems, no sample answers, no tests offered in the book. The Ramy book is a much better choice for libraries and for individuals looking for an aid to legal analysis and exam-taking skills.

March 2010

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