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Notes From the Technology Trenches, Reader Responses: Teaching Cost Effective Searching, an

By Cindy Carlson, Published on May 23, 2004

Cindy Carlson is the Electronic Resources Librarian at Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson LLP in Washington, D.C., a web committee member for the Law Librarian’s Society of Washington, D.C., and organizer of its Legal Research Training Focus Group.


I've had some interesting responses to my recent articles, and thought I'd share some of them with you. As always, if you have comments on any of my columns, I'd love to hear them. If you'd like for your comments to remain anonymous, please let me know.

On Cost Effective Searching

One librarian brought up something we do, but that I forgot to mention. From Susan Hesse, Director of Library Services at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz in New York:

One other thing I stress with summers and all new associates is that their lives are going to be very busy, and -- going beyond Lexis and Westlaw now -- they need to prioritize whether they have the time to learn and/or use a new database. The library staff is perfectly willing to help and/or formally train them on some commonly used products (e.g., LivEdgar, Courtlink, etc.) but they themselves must decide when or whether they can afford the time it takes to learn and to do certain parts of their research themselves. If they can't, the Library is always there to help with research projects ... I can almost hear those summers breathe a sigh of relief when I tell them this, and they inevitably ask me what kinds of questions are appropriate to send to the Library (I show them examples).

We find this to be the case at Fried, Frank as well. It seems to be especially helpful for summers since they are around for such a limited time, but the same holds true for new associates. If someone is going to be a frequent user of a specific online service, like an intellectual property attorney doing trademark searches on Dialog, we see that they are trained as appropriate. Otherwise, we often encourage them to use our expertise and offer to do searches for them. Even with Lexis and Westlaw, there are some databases they will not be familiar with that are either searched using different strategies then they would use for case law research (news, for instance), or which have very different pricing structures (public records) than that with which they are familiar.

Another librarian reflected on the roots of the problem. From Brian Taylor:

This isn't a "summers" problem, really. It's a much more universal deficiency of knowledge about research resources and techniques. It begins in junior high school, and is not only unrelieved by high school, university and graduate school so-called "research" experiences, but is actually exacerbated by them. It is, in fact, an abysmal level of ignorance about how to do research, not only using Web and proprietary DB sources, but the much wider range of resources (which I presume you allude to as secondary or background resources*).

Brian recommends a treatise called A Guide To Library Research Methods, by Thomas Mann, that sounds like it might be helpful as a basis for structuring summer training, if you can't get your summers to read it in advance as Brian would like. As Brian notes:

It's about much more than library research. For instance, he presents a very lively discussion on making direct contact with subject experts - for instance, those who work for various governmental agencies - which can be THE killer tool for finding the best information. If you need to know how many June bugs reside in Hooterville, Indiana, there's probably a government expert who knows.

It is extremely readable and absolutely packed with "insider" tips (for instance, carrying a search term across unlikely indexes....e.g., "Hamlet" in the Wilson science and technology indexes, not just the obvious one....or realizing that every subject under the sun has a specialized encyclopedia which is much better than Brittanica for backgrounding....etc.) from the first page to the last.

Some of what he teaches is "Oh, wow...how come I never knew that?"...like the tracing information inside the flyleaf of a book you already have in hand which gives you all the LC subject headings you should look under...He teaches the interrelationship between subject searching and section browsing, etc.

Brian also notes, "It is not a Web research book, thank heaven. But I never had to read a Web research book because I could do library research. When you understand that, you realize what you need to do for your summers. Correct the basic deficiency first. The strategizing will take care of itself. They cannot strategize around a general level of ignorance about research anymore than they could strategize about how to engineer a moon rocket."

While I agree with much of what Brian says, I'm not sure it's practical for summer associates at law firms when they are available for such a limited time. Summers may or may not ever end up working at a firm where they were an intern, though I'm sure many hope that they will. Without that incentive, it would be very difficult to get them to read anything in advance. Instead, what I take from this is the importance of communicating those basic research skills as we go, either in formal training or during "teachable moments." Many of my classes incorporate similar techniques, whether they are specific to a particular database, like the CCH Securites Library on the Web, or are more general, like a class on resources for intellectual property researchers.

*NOTE: For clarification on Brian's comment above, when I referred to secondary and background sources in my column on cost effective research, I mainly meant non-primary legal resources such as treatises, law reviews, indexes and encyclopedias -- both in print and online -- as opposed to primary legal resources such as case law, statutes, regulations and related materials.

On Bloomberg

Jennifer Hill, Library Coordinator for Keller Rohrback, LLP in Seattle, Washington wrote to ask some questions about how my library handles Bloomberg training and about our users:

My firm has a Bloomberg terminal and as you pointed out, it's difficult to use, so only one or two people here use it regularly. Who are the primary users of the terminal in your firm--library staff or do you encourage paralegals to use it as well? How do you handle training? Do you count on your rep?
I let Jennifer know what we do, and thought some of you may be interested to hear as well. We just got our terminal, and it is indeed difficult to use. Right now, we only allow librarians time on Bloomberg, though we are happy to show others what we have learned so far. Frankly, I'm reluctant to share it with attorneys or paralegals for the same reason Susan Hesse mentioned above. It doesn't make sense for them to use such a difficult system themselves, especially if they have more user friendly access through other services for the materials they'd be likely to use. For most, it would be a waste of time to figure out the dos-based system, and I think it would be overwhelming to boot. It certainly would not make their research lives easier. I find it intimidating, and I'm an experienced user on many research platforms. What in the world would it be to them except a time sink?

So, at this point, we are not encouraging use outside of the library research staff. As a result, we only have to worry about our own training, at least for the time being. For that, we mainly rely on Bloomberg help and time we set aside to familiarize ourselves with the service. Our representative has been here a few times, about a month since we got our terminal, but that is not often enough to have been really useful since it's such a complicated service.

Not surprisingly, I also heard back from my Bloomberg representative when my column was published. Happily, he seemed responsive to my criticisms, though only time will tell exactly what changes Bloomberg may incorporate as a result. One positive, concrete thing did come from our discussions though. Bloomberg is now offering a 90 day free trial of the Web version of the Bloomberg Professional Service to researchers in law firms so that they can at least try the system themselves before they commit to a contract, something not done in the past. If you are interested, the person to contact is Brendan Goldstein, bgoldstein2@bloomberg.net.

Tell Me More, Tell Me More

That wraps it up for this month. If you have a comment, positive or negative, about any of my columns, please let me know. Positive comments are obviously welcome, but negative comments are especially important to share. As a new user on Bloomberg, I am sure there are things I should be on the look out for that I haven't encountered, and I'd like to give a balanced view of it and any other service I review. Thanks again for your input, and for reading!