Notes from the Technology Trenches - April, 1998

By Elizabeth H. Klampert, Published on April 15, 1998

Elizabeth H. Klampert is the Director of Library Services for the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Ms. Klampert was formerly a litigator for five years, specializing in professional liability litigation. Before attending law school, she was a corporate librarian for twelve years, holding management positions in libraries in a number of large organizations, including Rainier National Bank in Seattle, Deloitte & Touche, and Merrill Lynch, both in New York. She received both her BA in English and MLS from the University of Washington in Seattle. She received her JD at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.

(Archived May 15, 1998)

This column is a bit of a departure from my normal mode since most of it is devoted to a review of IndexMaster, a new Web-based product aimed at the legal market. Having carefully reviewed it, I've looked deep into my crystal ball and have decided that it has the potential to become an indispensable tool for the law librarian and other legal researchers.

IndexMaster, the brainchild of Michael Mingo and Jeff Orr, bills itself as "an exhaustive collection of indices and tables of contents from thousands of legal treatises representing a coalition of large and small publishers." It allows searches by keyword, topic, title, author or publisher, and once you've found the documents you wish to order, you may then order them directly from the Web site, if you so desire.

As of the end of March, when I signed up for my free 30-day trial, there were 44 publishers participating, covering over 2,000 legal treatises. Just the other day, I find that another publisher has been added, for a total of 45, now covering over 3,000 legal treatises. Among the current participants are well-known publishers such as Aspen, Kluwer, Lexis Law Publishing, CCH, Bernan, and PLI will soon be added. Although neither West nor Matthew Bender is a participant yet, I understand from Mike Mingo that he is having discussions with both of these publishers and they may soon be added to the roster.

The URL for this site is http://www.Indexmaster.com. Once there, you can find the description of the database and register for a 30-day free trial. Since you'll need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader to view both the indices and the tables of contents for each publication you choose, IndexMaster has conveniently provided a link to Adobe Acrobat so that you can download it (for free). I like using Adobe Acrobat because it reproduces faithfully the text of the actual document but be advised that, if you've recently done an upgrade to your MSN database, ActiveX may have eliminated your ability to use Adobe Acrobat when you use Netscape as your browser (this will not pose a problem for you if you're using the Internet Explorer, of course). I ended up having to reinstall Adobe Acrobat before it worked in Netscape and before I could continue with my research. This is not the place to bash Microsoft, but I do find it extremely annoying to find their fingerprints all over the place when I least expect it (as I recall, a certain judge in D.C. was similarly irritated recently)!

At the site, you can walk through a sample search. The search I saw used a canned keyword search for "export controls." The search results are then displayed. The first item is Guide to Export Controls, published by Business Laws, Inc. When I looked on March 30, the entry gave only price and ISDN information, but no publication date. Just two weeks later, publication dates are now a part of each record. Each entry also has a "BUY" button so that you could purchase the item on the spot. Since this is a demo, however, you have to move on – no purchasing allowed!

The next page, showing an Adobe Acrobat generated image of the index page from the Guide to Export Controls, notes that the term "export controls" is highlighted (more about this feature later). At this point, the demo shows how you can order by clicking on the BUY button. It also advises that you can, in some instances, hotlink to a specific publisher's Web site for order processing if you prefer.

So far, so good. I then decided to run my own sample search, choosing the keyword feature again. I used "law library," chose to run it through all publishers, ignoring both the Title and Author options, although I could have included these fields in my search, as well. I chose not to use quotation marks which, similar to Alta Vista, would have limited my results to those titles containing this exact phrase. However, as I often do with AltaVista, I heartily recommend that you use this option for searching in IndexMaster as well.

Not surprisingly, I got a number of search results since there are a number of sources that have both the terms "law" and "library" in them. To confirm your keyword results, at the top of the page showing your search results, IndexMaster gives you a message that "These publications match your search criteria: law library." Again, on March 30, IndexMaster did not list the total number of hits (more than 96 as it turned out). However, on April 14 this feature had been added.  By the way, on April 14, I did go back to conduct a more limited search, using quotation marks this time. My results declined considerably, from 96 to 26, a much more manageable number.

As a number of search engines do, each entry shows as a percentage the proximity of the keywords to one another within the index or table of contents the percentage is higher the closer the keywords appear to each other. I decided to look at the index of the first item, Sourcebook for Law Library Governing Boards and Committees, published by Fred B. Rothman and Co., written by the Trustees Development Committee of AALL's State Court and County Law Libraries Special Interest Section.

I then returned to the Search Results page, clicked on the TOC button and viewed the table of contents for this publication. Since the table of contents was not lengthy, I printed it out so that I could read it at my leisure and decide later whether to purchase the item. Which does raise an issue. Since many librarians (and other researchers) often perform searches for others and the give them the results so that a later decision can be made, it would be quite helpful if IndexMaster included in both the Index and TOC the title page of each publication. As it now stands, neither of these options indicates the source of the information, unless the publication itself chose to do so. For example, one of the other publications I selected to view, The National Conference on Legal Information Issues, Selected Essays, again published by Fred B. Rothman and Co., had the running title on at least the first two pages of its table of contents. I found this to be the exception rather than the rule.

I spoke to Mike Mingo about adding this feature. He thought it would be a good idea so, who knows, we may see this added to IndexMaster, too. Mike, a former publishers' rep, is quite interested in making IndexMaster a useful tool for librarians. To that end, he would like to set up an IndexMaster Development Committee made up of librarians to advise him on how he and his partner can make IndexMaster the best tool possible. I'm not sure if h sees this as a "virtual" committee or not, but it is definitely an idea worth trying. If you're interested, you can call him at (800) 829-1836, or send him an e-mail at mmingo@IndexMaster.com.

One final note. Some folks have been grumpy about the fact that IndexMaster is going to be charging for access and wonder why the publishers aren't underwriting the cost. Mike was straightforward about this, "If the publishers were asked to underwrite this project, then it would never have gotten off the ground." I don't think this is the end of the discussion, but he also pointed out that the subscription fees he is charging are reasonable. This is certainly the case for the firm that has only one to three attorneys. Again, if you are interested in this Web product, don't hesitate to share your opinions about pricing with Mike.

On to a few interesting tidbits. In the "Technology is nice, but" department, the "WorkWeek" column in the April 14 Wall Street Journal noted that the Internet now includes court calendars, dockets and decisions and law clerks and others are using the Net increasingly to find these items. News to us, right? However, one legal assistant admits that, while he does use the Net to find this information, he still makes the occasional trip to federal court so that he can have "some interaction with human beings." You mean you don't find the Internet to be warm and fuzzy? Gee...

As a follow up to my comments several columns ago about Web-based e-mail (now everyone seems to be offering it), there is also a nifty Web-based service that allows you to have a "briefcase" on the Web where you keep the files you are working on and have them available from any of your PCs, whether at home or the office or even on a borrowed PC. I haven't had a chance to really experiment with it, but check out Visto Corporation's Web site to find out more about it.

Hope everyone filed their taxes on time! As ever, please send any comments or candidates for a technology "horror story" to me at ehk@counsel.com.