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Features - Using the Internet as a Selection Tool

By Gloria Miccioli, Published on November 18, 1997

Gloria Miccioli is the International Librarian for the D.C. office of Jones, Day, Reavis, & Pogue and provides research services for attorneys in 10 overseas offices.


That is a good book which is opened with expectation and closed in profit.
--Amos Bronson Alcott

Imagine This:

You are an information specialist in the District of Columbia and an attorney in Paris or Sydney or Los Angeles wants to look over a treatise for possible purchase. You don't own it.
or
You are asked to build a core collection in an area of the law that is unfamiliar to you, or to expand or update an existing collection.
or
You are asked - over and over - if a casebook/hornbook/treatise/looseleaf/pocket part/supplement is in-print/current/definitive.
or
An attorney in Frankfurt wants a list of periodicals that deal with copyrighting electronic information.

In every case, time is of the essence and you must keep expenses to a minimum.

The information specialist has many tools available for use in identifying and selecting publications, which can be a time-consuming process of lugging big books to a photocopier and calling publishers. The advent of online databases such as OCLC helped to streamline this process, but it is the Internet that has revolutionized the way I identify, review, select and even purchase publications. B.W. (Before the Web), I scoured Books in Print and searched OCLC and EPIC for likely titles, prices and imprint information. I also leafed through publisher catalogs to determine if Publisher XYZ had a looseleaf or treatise or periodical on a particular topic. First, of course, I had to find the catalog. Then, I had to call the publisher to make sure the information was still correct. Trips to other libraries to check out their collections was not unknown.

These days, I find that the information in Books in Print is sometimes incomplete (often the price is missing) and may not be current due to all the recent publisher mergers. Also, the print has gotten really tiny and hard to read....or is that just me? A call to the publisher may be necessary, which is an activity that is not for the impatient or faint of heart. Publishers put you on hold, bewilder you with voice-mail options, pass you from department to department, and generally force you to spend way too much time on the process. And you still don't know if you want to buy the book!

Ordering a book on approval so that you and your client can review it, or borrowing one for the same reason, works if you and your client are in the same zip code. However, as International Librarian for Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, my clients are the attorneys in ten overseas offices in Europe, Asia, and Australia. I will not send borrowed or unpaid-for books overseas, there is too great a chance of them going astray. I may not have the time or money to borrow a book - or visit a library - and copy relevant pages. Another option is to turn to an expanding body of Web resources that allow me to review and recommend legal publications quickly and inexpensively. Following are some Web sites I have found to be especially useful.

 

Booksellers

The World Wide Web is home to many electronic bookstores that allow point-and-click ordering of publications (often discounted) in various formats. They may also provide descriptive information in the form of reviews, summaries, customer evaluations, and even tables of contents. A surprising number of legal publications are sold by these stores in cyberspace. Therefore, I usually make one or more of them my first stop in the selection process.

Amazon.com
http://www.amazon.com

Anyone with a computer or a radio has probably heard of Amazon.com, the "Earth's Biggest Bookstore" that exists only on the Internet. Many, though not all, of its 3 million titles-including many law books-are sold at a discount. Entries give basic information: title, author, price, ISBN, plus availability and shipping times. Amazon.com encourages publishers to supply information about their publications in the form of descriptions, excerpts, tables of contents, reviews or customer comments. However, be aware that there are titles for which nothing but the most basic information is given. In a few cases, I have found that even the publisher's name was missing. Nevertheless, Amazon.com is a good place to verify citations and availability and to get a feel for what has been published on a subject.

The site can be searched by title, author, keyword, ISBN, publisher or date. The Power Search button allows you to combine these elements. Amazon.com will also recommend other books on the topic, based on sales information, as well as related topics to search. Results often include early editions of a work, "hard to find" books, and books that are out-of-print. (For a fee, Amazon.com will conduct a search for the latter.)

Since Amazon.com is basically a bookseller, much of the information it gives is based on sales figures. This is clear when you use the Browse Subjects button on the home page. Click on it to get a list of categories, which in turn can be clicked on to find subcategories, and so on. Select one to get the best-selling books in that category. Thus, Amazon.com tells you which books are the most popular, not necessarily which are the best. However, knowing that a publication is a bestseller is a useful bit of information that can be factored into a decision to purchase. Clicking on Browse Subjects brought up a list of 24 topics. Searching for law, I had to first click on "Nonfiction", then "Law". A detailed list of over 70 sub-topics was displayed, from which I selected "Legal Writing." A list of the 14 most popular titles on this topic was displayed, with links to ordering information and any descriptions that existed.

To compare this to a Keyword Search, I entered "legal writing" in the search box on the home page. The result was 195 titles. However, at least one third were for out-of-print publications. Titles are listed in order of popularity, so you still get to see which items are bestsellers. Sometimes, a comprehensive approach is needed, in that case, search by keyword. Remember, though, that not every legal title can be found in the Amazon.com database. "The Earth's Biggest Bookstore" is not necessarily the biggest law bookstore. Nevertheless, searching and ordering are simple, and the information given can help when considering a purchase.

Barnesandnoble.com
http://www.barnesandnoble.com

Unlike Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com is the Web version of a real-life bookstore chain. Its setup is similar, but somewhat more sophisticated searches are possible. The user can perform a Quick Search by author, title or keyword. In Power Search, these fields can be combined, and the search can be limited further by price range, format, age ranges (e.g., children's books) and subject. Searching by ISBN number is also possible.

Barnesandnoble.com also offers browsing of its most popular titles by subject. Click on Browse Subjects to get a list of topics, then click on "Nonfiction" to find "Law", which is divided into approximately 90 subtopics. I clicked on "Legal Writing" and got a list of 121 titles, all in-print, displayed in best-selling order. A keyword search using the term "legal writing" brought up 119 titles. Note that there is a separate search button for out-of-print and used books. Barnesandnoble.com does not display in-print and out-of-print items in the same list. It does, however, search for used books as well as out-of-print items. You can even specify a price range, and whether the book should be a first edition or a signed edition and whether it should have a dust jacket.

In order to compare the two services, I did a keyword search of "asset securitization" in both. Amazon.com responded with 19 items, of which 9 were in-print. Barnesandnoble.com gave me 7 titles. I compared the in-print items and found that one title was only found by Barnesandnoble.com and 3 were retrieved only by Amazon.com. In other words, the lists were not identical. Like Lexis and Westlaw, the user may have to search more than one Web site for the most comprehensive results.

BUYBOOKS.COM
http://www.buybooks.com/

A third generalized online bookseller (there are more), BUYBOOKS.COM (formerly BookServe.com), sells 1.4 million books, many at a discount. It also links to affiliated sites that sell movies, CD-ROM games and other computer products.
Searching is similar to Amazon and B&N, but results in the Law category are much fewer. "Law" appears under "Nonfiction" and is broken down into an impressive number of subcategories that can be searched, but the titles listed for each subtopic may be geared more to the general public than to the legal professional. In addition, none of the legal titles that were
retrieved had anything but basic ordering information. I include this site because this "Internet book superstore" aims to have the fastest turnaround in cyberspace, i.e., to ship orders within 24 hours (2-3 days for overseas purchases). If you need a book quickly, it's worth checking this site to see if it's available.

 

Acses and IndexMaster

Acses
http://www.acses.com

Once you have a list of possible purchases, you can comparison-shop online. Acses, "the Universe's Smartest Bookfinder," automatically visits over 25 online bookstores and compares their prices, services and shipping methods. The online bookstores are located in the U.S., Germany, Australia, Italy, and Britain, but the database is comprised mostly of English-language publications. You can enter a title, author, keyword, or ISBN on the Standard Search page and get a comparison list of prices, shipping costs and shipping times. Click on any item to initiate the ordering process.

IndexMaster
http://www.indexmaster.com

IndexMaster is the only fee-based Web site discussed in this article, but no discussion of Internet selection tools would be complete without it. IndexMaster displays the tables of contents and indexes of over 4000 legal treatises from 56 publishers, including ALI-ABA, Aspen Law, PLI and Oceana. As of this writing, Matthew Bender and the West Group were planning on joining the database. The indexes and tables of contents must be viewed with Acrobat Reader. Having access to both the contents and index pages of a publication is an invaluable tool for selection. The site is searchable by keyword, publisher, title and author, or a combination of these elements. Keywords are taken from words in the title, the contents and the index.  A search for "polygraph examinations" brought up a list of 89 publications, ranked by relevance.  Purchasing information is given and in some cases includes links to publishers' notes. Publications can be ordered online.

The annual subscription fee for law firms is based on firm size: from $75 per year for one to three attorneys to $595 per year for firms with over 500 attorneys. Non-firm prices are $395 for corporations and public law organizations and $495 for research services and law school libraries. A free 10-day trial is available, click on Demonstration on the home page. I urge you to take a look at this very useful Web site.

 

Publisher Web Sites

West Group
http://www.westgroup.com

As far as I'm concerned, one of the best features of the Internet is the ability to access the Web sites of publishers because it's the easiest way to check the currency, price and availability of their products. Furthermore, all kinds of publishers - commercial publishers, nonprofit organizations, government entities - have Web sites that list and describe their publications. For example, the West Group's output can be confusing because there is so much of it and in different formats. The Web site demystifies the search and selection process. From the West Group home page click on "Products" and then "Online Store/Product Catalog." Here are search boxes to enter keywords (taken from titles, subjects, jurisdictions, ISBNs, or author names). There are also pull-down menus to select a subject from an extensive list and/or to select a jurisdiction (federal, state, or territorial). You may have to try several different searches to get satisfactory results. In looking for material on polygraph examinations as evidence, I first searched "polygraph examinations" as a keyword and got no hits. Then I selected "evidence" from the pull-down subject menu and got 163 items-too many to scroll through. I tried "evidence" as a subject plus "polygraph" as a keyword--no luck. Finally, I combined "evidence" as a subject and "federal" as a jurisdiction and was given a list of 35 titles. By clicking on different titles, I could see more detailed descriptions and determine which ones covered polygraph evidence.

Not every item listed on westgroup.com can be ordered online, nor does every item have a price. In these cases, you must proceed the old-fashioned way and contact a West representative. Those products that can be purchased online are listed first. Formats are indicated by icons. This Web site is a great way to check on the latest edition of a publication and on whether a title is available and in what formats.

Lexis Law Publishing
http://www.lexislawpublishing.com

I almost overlooked the newly formed Lexis Law Publishing, which recently acquired the Michie Company. It's hard to think of Lexis/Nexis as anything but a provider of online information, but once upon a time West produced nothing but books. The LLP Web site is not quite as fancy as West Group's. To find publications, click on Bookstore. You can choose to Browse by Region or by States. Regions include National, International, Law School and States. This is similar to the Jurisdiction feature on the West Group site. Clicking on a region produces a list of titles grouped by subject. For example, under "national" there is a subheading "alcohol". LLP also lists publications in CD ROM format. Descriptive information varies: Officer's DUI Handbook had only price and imprint information, while the entry for Federal Rules of Court had a one-sentence description. However, Law of Asset Forfeiture showed a brief summary plus a table of contents and author bios.

It is also possible to browse a list of 12 broad legal subjects. "Litigation" is broken down into 10 sub-topics, one of which is "evidence". Under "evidence" are two lists of publications, one alphabetical by title and one that is region-specific. There is also a Keyword search box on the home page. I entered "scientific evidence" and got one list of 22 titles, with general and state-oriented publications listed together.

Practising Law Institute
http://www.pli.edu

The Practising Law Institute, with its numerous reference books, course handbooks, cassettes, and videotapes, can be even more confusing than West. I have never been able to keep the different series of course handbooks straight. With the PLI Web site I don't even have to try anymore. Click on "Publications" to get a screen where PLI products are arranged by category; reference books, course handbooks, audio and video and CD-ROM libraries. Each category represents a catalog. These catalogs can be searched as a whole or by a further breakdown, e.g., subject or series. If you click on "Options" next to the search box, you can choose to search all the categories at once by either concept or keyword.

As with West's Web site, I had to try different search strategies to find a book on polygraph examinations. A keyword search got no matching documents. However, when I entered "scientific evidence" as a concept, I got a list of about 20 items in different formats and listed in decreasing relevance. Each item has a red or black icon preceding the title with red indicating a good match. Clicking on an icon will bring up a list of related items, and clicking on a title will lead to a description and ordering information. I am frequently asked whether PLI has published a book on a particular topic and now all I have to do is log on to find the answer.

ABA Publishing
http://www.abanet.org/abapubs

The American Bar Association is not only the premier legal professional association, it is also a major law publisher. ABA Publishing is interesting for its practitioner-oriented publications, both monographs and periodicals, and for its links to the many committees, divisions, and sections of the American Bar Association, each of which may produce publications of its own. The Home Page has several features. What's New allows you to view the table of contents, preface, or first chapter of the ABA's most recent books. The Subject Index and Alpha Index buttons lead to publications listed by subject and alphabet, respectively.   Periodicals is under construction but eventually there will be a descriptive list of the magazines, journals, and newsletters of the various ABA entities. There does not seem to be a corresponding single list of monographs. Instead you must click on ABA Store and then Entities to see publications of the different sections.

 

Metasites

MediaFinder
http://www.mediafinder.com

Metasites that link to or list many publishers make searching even easier. According to Oxbridge Communications, their database MediaFinder consists of 95,000 publications, including publisher catalogs, from 60,000 publishers. To get to the catalogs, click on Subscriptions, then Browse Directories. A pull-down menu allows you to choose North American catalogs, British catalogs, or German catalogs. "North American catalogs" consisted of 8734 entire from the 1997 National Directory of Catalogs. You can narrow your search by "selecting a category" from another pull-down menu. For example, highlight "law" to get a list of law-related publishers with links to many of them. MediaFinder also has a keyword search box on the home page which will search across all the publications in the database, not just publisher catalogs. Finally, you can search by publisher name to find a specific catalog.

Findlaw
http://www.findlaw.com

Findlaw also provides links to a large number of law publishers' Web sites. There are links to approximately 200 publishers or to Web sites that link to publishers, both domestic and foreign.

Hieros Gamos
http://www.hg.org/publishers.html

Hieros Gamos, the "comprehensive legal site," has a detailed list of legal publishers, but does not link to all of them.

Publishers' Catalogues Home Page
http://www.lights.com/publisher/index.html

A useful Web site that provides links to many publishers can be found at the Publishers' Catalogues Home Page. A product of Northern Lights Internet Solutions Ltd., this site features the BookServe.com search page. However, there is also a Geographic Index that allows you to search for publishers not just in the U.S. but in countries around the world. Need to find a publisher in Yugoslavia? Iceland? This is the site to search. I clicked on Australia and found links to at least 100 publishers, including law publishers. There is also an "International/Multinational" category that links to such document-producing entities as the United Nations.

JURIST - Books on Law
http://www.jurist.law.pitt.edu/lawbooks/index.htm

Finally, JURIST - Books on Law is a site that would be useful to academic law librarians. It is part of JURIST, the law professors' network. Books on Law provides monthly reviews of recent legal publications, excluding casebooks and textbooks. It also links to a list of publishers, but the emphasis is on trade and university presses rather than legal publishers.

 

Periodical and Newsletter Selection

Information professionals often need to identify and evaluate periodicals of interest to their clients. Besides providing access to publishers' catalogs, MediaFinder also provides information on magazines, newsletters, journals, and newspapers and offers online ordering of some publications. On the home page, click on Subscriptions to do a keyword search of all the publications in the database. For example, entering "litigation" in the search box resulted in 199 titles, including looseleafs and catalogs. Or, you can click on Browse Directories to get a pull-down menu that divides the database into publisher catalogs, as discussed above, magazines, newsletters, newspapers, North American periodicals and Australian periodicals. Once you are in a smaller part of the database, you can try a keyword search again.

An entry gives the usual ordering information, price, an editorial description, an email address and a target audience. I find the latter especially helpful. Links to the publisher may be provided.

Another Web site that attempts to be "a centralized source for information on the world's periodicals" is PubList.com, created by Bowes & Associates. This Web site provides information on more than 150,000 publications (by which they mean periodical publications).  The information is gathered from publishers; from publications like Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory and Editor and Publisher International Yearbook and from secondary publishing services like the Copyright Clearing Center. There are listings for many international titles. In addition, PubList offers links to many publisher Web sites as well as online ordering of articles via various document delivery systems. PubList can be searched by title, publisher, ISSN, and description. Or you can choose to browse by title, subject or publisher.

While the data found in PubList.com is similar to that provided by MediaFinder.com, there are some important differences. A comparison follows.

Data Provided

Title

ISSN

Target Audience

Subject Link

Editorial Description

Frequency

Online Availability

MediaFinder.com

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

No

PubList.com

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Data Provided

Publisher Name

Publisher Address

Publisher Email Address

Publisher Phone/Fax

Subscription Price

Subscription Address

Document Delivery Service for Articles

MediaFinder.com

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

PubList.com

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

A quick glance shows that PubList.com provides more information than MediaFinder.com. Its noting of online availability is a nice touch. However, because MediaFinder.com provides a price - surely a crucial piece of information - I would turn to it before searching PubList.com.

Newsletter Access is a directory of over 5,000 newsletters, including 498 legal titles. Click Browse, then Legal, to pull up an alphabetical list. Or click Search to search the entire database by keywords or title. You can then click on a specific title to get ordering and bibliographic information, including price and in many cases, a brief description.

 

Selection Tools Developed by Information Professionals

Leave it to librarians to come up with a comprehensive selection metasite. Since 1994, AcqWeb has provided links to Web sites that are international in scope and that are of interest to professionals responsible for acquisitions and collection development. These include verification resources, directories of publishers and vendors (listed alphabetically, geographically, and by subject), associations and organizations, a directory of email addresses for publishers and vendors and more.

Log on to AcqWeb and click on Verification Tools and Resources on the home page. First up is a group of links to in-print and out-of-print sources, including bookstores and book services in Europe, India, and Australia, as well as several of the Web sites discussed above. One of the sites is Bowker's 1998 edition of Books Out-of-Print. 900,000 titles since 1979 can be searched with free registration.1

Also under Verification Tools is a category called Library Catalogs. AcqWeb presents links to library catalog meta-lists, such as webCATS, as well as to individual large catalogs (e.g., The British Library). This ability to access library catalogs around the world is another important feature of the Internet. The most useful selection tool is often another library's collection. I search library catalogs to determine what has been published on a particular topic, to track older editions, to find publishers, to verify citations, and most importantly, to find out who owns what. If a book has been widely purchased, then it is probably widely regarded. It is another nugget of information to add to my "do I purchase?" pile.  AcqWeb is a great place to begin a search of different library collections.

Many individual libraries also provide access to World Wide Web selection tools. A good one is found at WashLaw Web. Click on Books to find links to online sources of reviews, such as the New Law Books Listserv/Discussion Group Archive.

 

Government Publications

The Internet makes it much easier to access information about publications produced by governmental entities. The United States Government Printing Office is a case in point. Compared with the old days, when we had to call GPO and/or search (often in vain) through the Monthly Catalog, the GPO's Web site, GPO Access, is a welcome change. It allows the searcher to access bibliographic data, ordering and descriptive information and, increasingly, the full text of government-produced documents. In fact, more and more federal print publications are being replaced by electronic versions.

GPO Access has several features that help with selection. When you click on Access to Government Information Products, you will find a link to New/Noteworthy Products from GPO. This page covers 1995 to date. For each title, you will be linked to a description or to its text if it is available online. Listed under Find Information are links to an electronic version of the Monthly Catalog and an online Sales Product Catalog (SPC). Searching the latter for a Bureau of Labor Statistics publication, the Employee Benefits Survey, I got a description as well as price and availability. There is also a separate page for browsing GPO titles available in electronic format. A note of caution: with regard to a government's or organization's output, it is important to remember that you may have to search the Web sites of its components. Not all U.S. government publications are published by the GPO, many are found only as links from the particular agencies' home page.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, I would like to say that using print directories and calling publishers are not entirely things of the past. After all, not everything is on the Internet and not everything on the Internet is accurate. Nevertheless, the World Wide Web is an invaluable addition to the store of selection tools available to the information professional, or to anyone who wants to know what's been published, what's good and what's available.

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Footnotes

  1. Books in Print is available on the Internet only to monthly subscribers to Books in Print with Book Reviews on Disc. <back to text>