Finding Aids – Library Catalogs and More

Legal scholarship, as well as many sources of legal analysis published in book-format as can and should be located through online library catalogs, because they are free-of charge, and unlike Google Books, a catalog search has the benefits of an index search conceived by a legal expert. Law library catalogs index their collection and offer the researcher a quick access to their highly specialized holdings. For example, through a “title,” or “keyword” field restrictions, and furthermore, a geographical location restriction, an index can quickly give the researcher an idea of the best starting point because of the substantive expertise of the legal academia and the information management expertise of the librarian.

For example, Pegasus, the online 2nd generation catalog of the law school library at Columbia Law School, whose features I know best because I worked conceiving them with some excellent cataloguers, offers the researcher the advantage of quickly locating the most popular treatises on any general subjects such as “contracts” or “torts,” through a title and limited-collection search. By typing “contracts” in the title field and limiting the search to “Third Floor Reserve,” the researcher obtains only ten (10) hits. They represent those treatises and other legal monographs that the Columbia Law School faculty found to be the most relevant as of the date of the search, which, librarians located in the most selective part of the library, the third floor reserves.

Luckily for all of us, library catalogs have evolved, refusing to let Google be the only indexer of information. While Columbia Law School Library has not reached the federated search level of the main Columbia University Library catalog, cliobeta, other law school libraries, such as Yale’s Morris, have followed into Stanford’s SULAIR steps and brought ease of access to their patrons.

If in the book format of this wiki I advised users to avoid the search option by “Subject” field, because the choices within that field are restricted to a controlled vocabulary according to the subject headings designated by the Library of Congress, subject should be highly used through Google Books. For example, if you look for introductory monographs on legal research, by typing “introduction” in the title field and “legal research” in the subject field, should be sufficiently limiting and comprehensive to produce a solid list of relevant material. You will be well-advised to start with the well-established authors in the field, and the most recent edition. In legal research, we always want the law applicable the day of the inquiry.

Both Lexis and Westlaw have searching features similar to the field search offered by any library catalog. For example, if you know the title of the treatise you want to locate you may do so through “Find a Source” on Lexis, or “Find a Database” on Westlaw., offers a “secondary sources” option which can be further limited by expanding it to more specific secondary sources, including their version of American Law Reports, Bloomberg Law Reports. Since January 2011, Westlaw and Lexis have battled for attention through their federated searches. However, the thousands of results those searches provide for any given instance prove that those mega databases have not understood the goal of a federated search: provide thorough searches behind the pubic interface and offer targeted results to your users.