Archive for April 6th, 2011

Discovery Layers in Law Libraries: A Progress Report

This past winter, the S.J. Quinney College of Law Library at the University of Utah transitioned to a new catalog and implemented a discovery layer as the public interface to the catalog. Discovery layers are meta-search tools that provide a single point of access to library resources, including print, electronic, and digital collections. Search results display items from multiple sources, aggregated in a single index. Items may be browsed via multiple access points called “facets”. Think of your experience when searching  When you do a search in “all departments” for “Harry Potter”,  you get items like the Harry Potter paperback box set, movies on DVD, or a Harry Potter wand with light and sound. Then you can limit your results by Books, Movies, or Toys.

At the AALL conference in Portland a few years ago, I attended a session on discovery layer options for law libraries. The presentation focused primarily on three systems: Encore (Innovative Interfaces), WorldCat Local (OCLC), and Primo (Ex Libris). At the University of Utah, we chose the Ex Libris suite of tools, and Primo as our discovery layer solution. Back then, there seemed to be few law libraries implementing this technology.  After experiencing the challenges of implementation, I was curious to know what other law libraries were doing.

In February, I distributed a very brief survey to the Technical Services (TS-SIS) and Online Bibliographic Services (OBS-SIS) Special Interest sections of AALL. I was surprised by the results. Fifty two percent of respondents said their libraries were either currently using discovery layers, or in the process of implementing them. By far, the most frequently implemented system was Encore. Most respondents did not know which legal databases were enabled for searching in their discovery layer systems, but for those who did know, HeinOnline was the most frequently enabled resource. Index to Legal Periodicals, LegalTrac, and LexisNexis Academic, among others, were also mentioned in the survey.

Complete survey results, including comments can be found here.

Valeri Craigle is access technologies librarian at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney Law Library in Salt Lake City.

Review: QR Coded “Tour of the Law Library” from CALI

A little while ago I spied an advertisement in my mailbox from a purveyor of fineries, the likes of which I can seldom afford though it does not deter me from ogling. On the back of the advertisement was a curious square shaped code, and I’ve since noticed this code popping up in magazines, advertisements, and recently during a television broadcast.

What I’m referring to is a called a “QR Code”, and even if you’re not sure what they are I’m sure you’ve seen one or two by now. These codes resemble black modules arranged in a square shape on a white background- and most frequently they contain links to websites and sound files.  They also require a barcode scanner on a mobile device in order to decode. To me these codes seem like the millennial equivalent of ciphers and decoder rings, but it’s a technology that is catching on very rapidly.

Here’s a QR Code that links to an online article about QR Codes :


CALI (or the Center for Computer Assisted Legal Instruction), has recently unveiled a new feature which applies the functionality of QR Codes to legal instruction. CALI calls it a “Tour of the Law Library” and they employ QR codes linked to sound files in order to disseminate information about a legal title to a prospective user of the title. These codes and the transcripts of the sound files are all contained on a website,, the codes can be copied and printed, and ideal placement of these codes would probably be near the legal resource the code itself seeks to explain in greater detail. I imagine that the codes could be combined onto a master list of resources as well.

The titles that CALI has QR coded are:  USCA/USCS, West’s Digests, Corpus Juris Secundum, AmJur, CFR, ALR, and Uniform Laws Annotated. Also CALI has encoded more generalized discussions entitled: Study Aids and Law Library Reference Sections.

I’d like to examine this exciting new resource based on three criteria: Audience, Content (of audio file) and Ease of Use.


I think I can safely say that I was asked to review this resource due to being an aficionado of new technologies and not necessarily as an experienced leader of a voluminous academic law library. I work in a small county law library where I could literally throw a paperclip from one end of the building to the other, while seated. Though CALI is an organization that is primarily focused on academic law libraries, they have expressed an interest in seeing other  libraries use and adapt their QR Codes. As such I forged ahead with reviewing the technology with no preconceived notion as to its intended audience, but as I had my staff members and the staff members of the law library in the next county over scan the codes and listen to the audio presentation I was left with the distinct impression that CALI’s “Tour of the Law Library” is best suited for an academic law library setting.  For instance, here is a passage from the Study Aids section: “To supplement your casebook and in-class notes, you might want to use a hornbook, nutshell or other study aid.” The language of the specific resource reviews also mirrors the instruction style of academic law librarians as well; I fear that some practicing attorneys may dismiss the audio tours as being overly simplistic and maybe even a little belittling. Here’s a passage from the AmJur Tour: “AmJurs are commonly used in first-year legal writing assignments”. I personally know a few practicing attorneys who still like to review AmJur articles and may take offense at being told their preferred resource is most suitable for a 1L.

While I do believe that QR coded resource explanations could be beneficial in public law libraries and even larger firm law libraries, I think that the transcripts may be in need of a little tweaking in order to appeal to attorneys and self-represented litigants.


I briefly discussed the content of the audio file in the “Audience” section, but I very much like the structure of the resource explanations- even if that explanation is more suitable for an academic law library. Each explanation includes an introduction of the resource name and shortened name, description of the indexing, organization and content of the resource, source type, resource scope, and discussion of similar resources. The authors of these explanations provided an all-encompassing picture of a specific legal resource in a very short amount of time- which is no small feat. However, some of the descriptions are over two minutes long and I fear that people with short attention spans may lose their focus after the first minute (which may or may not have happened to me). My staff members, however, thought that the length of explanations was appropriate given the complexity of the resources.

Ease of Use:

QR codes themselves are pretty easy to create and use- however some smartphones have a more difficult time than others in linking to an audio file after scanning the QR code.  My android phone made easy work of it the first time, however when I revisited the site a few days later to scan more codes my phone browser would not link to the audio file, it just redirected me back to the original link. Many of my colleagues had similar problems but some of these problems were resolved by restarting the phone, updating mobile browsers, or downloading a new scanner program. So I’m confident in asserting that all technological problems with this service will be on the end of the user and their particular phone or mobile browser as opposed to CALI.

Bottom Line:

CALI’s QR coded “Tour of the Law Library” shows great promise for use in academic law libraries, however the resource explanations are not as relevant in other law library settings. As smart phones and their barcode scanner programs become the norm I look forward to seeing how QR coding can be applied to all law libraries.


(Vanessa Uribe, MLIS, El Dorado County Law Library)

April issue of Spectrum online

Also, readers respond to this month’s Member to Member question: What is your favorite title change example and why?

Paper copies mailed out to members on March 31, so look for them in your mailboxes soon.

Book Review: Finding the Answers to Legal Questions by Virginia Tucker and Marc Lampson

Virginia Tucker and Marc Lampson. Finding the Answers to Legal Questions. Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2011, 274 pages, paperback, ISBN 978-1-55570-718-7.

The authors state that their intended audience is public library librarians, and their work seems a natural extension of their experience as teachers in the School of Information and Library Science program at San Jose State University. I wholeheartedly recommend this book for public librarians, as well as library science students, foreign students, and anyone learning about legal research, such as in pro per litigants.

Chapter 1 provides a brief background of the structure of the American legal system that becomes an excellent foundation for legal research. The authors make the material easy to learn and remember by creating “The Rule of Threes”, where they emphasize the three types of primary law, three branches of government, and three levels of court. This may strike some as a simplistic device, but for the intended audience, it should work well in helping them learn the fundamentals of our legal system.

Chapter 2 covers secondary sources. While the placement of the second chapter recognizes the importance of secondary sources, the authors insufficiently emphasize the value of secondary resources. Even legal professionals with years of experience often reach for a treatise such as Witkin’s Summary of California Law rather than directly researching codes or cases. For the public or uninitiated legal researcher, the need for secondary guidance is even greater. Imagine, for instance, answering a question about Medicare, by sending the patron to 42 USC 1395 et. seq.  Obviously, the patron would easily be lost, or a follow-up question might allow the librarian a chance to re-direct that patron to a better source of explanatory information in a secondary source. I agree with the authors that every librarian should be sufficiently familiar with the full range of secondary legal materials, as long as they understand the role played by these sources in finding primary legal resources.

Chapter 3 covers finding federal law very nicely, but raises the question of how to teach legal research to the novice student or researcher. Researching federal law can be a daunting task, and students may fare better if they begin by learning state law, then applying the “Rule of Threes” to see the similarity between the state and federal systems.  I would also like to see a reminder in each chapter that secondary sources usually provide crucial citations to primary law material, and make research much easier in the first instance.

Chapter 4 covers generic State and local law resources, which is especially difficult to do, given the variations in the 50 state systems. The authors could choose a state such as California, to demonstrate actual research questions, then analogize to other state systems.

The authors include very nice chapters on legal research and resources beyond the public library. They follow with chapters on specific topical research such as lawsuit procedures, family law, landlord-tenant, wills & estates, debt collections, bankruptcy, employment, and criminal law. By this point, I am sure that after I bought this book, I would be sure to keep it at my desk for future reference, and I believe it would be one of those books that would always provide some guidance, even as some legal resources change over time. That’s why I recommend this book to anyone working at a public library, as well as anyone interested in learning legal research without going to paralegal or law classes.

Reviewed by Steven R. Feller, Reference Librarian, Bernard E. Witkin – Alameda County Law Library, Hayward Branch.

April 2011

Share this blog


All ads appearing on the AALL Spectrum Blog are generated by WordPress.