Genie Tyburski is the Research Librarian for Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, LLP and the Web Manager of The Virtual Chase: A Research Site for Legal Professionals .
Lawyers! How many times do your research questions begin with, “I need to find articles on …?” Librarians! How many times do you listen to such questions? Never mind! Don’t answer that.
An article providing an overview of an issue often serves as an excellent starting point for research. And since legal professionals frequently conduct research in fields outside the law, it’s time ResearchWire review multi-disciplinary sources of commentary available on the Web. This article assumes readers know about popular subscription databases like Lexis/Nexis, Westlaw, Dow Jones and Dialog. Rather than go over the known, it highlights non-traditional or newer resources.
The UnCover Company in Denver, Colorado, offers bibliographic information and abstracts from articles appearing in more than 18,000 journals covering a multitude of disciplines. Researchers must register to access the database, but they may search it free of charge. Requesting copies of articles incurs additional fees.
UnCoverWeb comprises two databases — UnCover and UnCover Express – as well as one service — UnCover Reveal. UnCover encompasses the entire bibliographic database while UnCover Express provides access to the portion of UnCover containing articles available electronically or by fax. Electronic delivery requires the use of additional software, which UnCoverWeb supplies free of charge.
Through UnCover Reveal, researchers elect to receive journal table of contents, or the results of saved keyword queries, by email. Use of the service incurs a $25.00 annual fee.
When searching UnCoverWeb, keep the search statement simple. Available Boolean connectors include “and,” “or,” “and not,” and “but not.” The latter two mean the same thing. The database also supports simple nesting and truncation. For example, to find articles about Internet trademark issues, try:
(internet or web) and trademark*
On the other side of the globe, the British Library offers Inside Web, a database containing bibliographic information and occasional abstracts for articles appearing in more than 20,000 journals and 16,000 conference proceedings housed in the British Library. Unlike UnCoverWeb, access requires an annual subscription priced for serious researchers.
Inside Web delivers copies of articles by fax or air mail. Delivery incurs additional charges.
To find articles on a topic, keep the search query simple. Researchers looking for specific references, however, should take advantage of the database’s advanced field searching.
Inside Web also sends results of saved searches by email.
Northern Light, one of the largest searchable indexes on the Web, offers several databases containing commentary. The Special Collection houses articles and news stories from more than 5400 journals, newspapers and newswires. Investext, a database also available through Dialog, Dow Jones, and others, contains investment analyst reports from about 400 brokerage firms. Wharton Economic Forecasting Associates (WEFA) offers reports while Current News provides stories from 33 newswire services.
To conduct a “simple” search of the Web and the Special Collection, enter words relevant to a query in the search box on the home page. While not necessary, researchers may use basic Boolean connectors.
To discover information about cyber-stalking, for example, enter:
cyber internet stalking
in the search box. The query yields almost 2,000 hits.
To limit this search to journal and news articles, select the “power” searching option. Click the radio button for the Special Collection. Then enter this query in the “words anywhere” box.
Researchers do not have to register to use Northern Light. While searching the Special Collection incurs no charge, researchers must pay per document fees to retrieve the full-text.
On 17 May 1999, Northern Light and the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) of the Department of Commerce announced a joint venture to provide Gov.Search, a Web-based research service. In light of controversy surrounding fee-based access to government information, the Department of Commerce recently abandoned the partnership.
Gov.Search — now exclusively a Northern Light service – comprises an index of Web-based government information and documents, NTIS report summaries, analyst reports, and news and articles from the Special Collection. Researchers must subscribe by selecting a $5.00 one-day pass (originally, $15.00), a $30.00 monthly charge, or a $250.00 annual fee. Full-text retrieval of articles from the Special Collection incurs additional charges.
Like Northern Light, researchers select between “simple” and “power” searching. For example, wanting commentary about laws and legislation pertaining to Internet gambling, I entered:
internet gambling laws legislation
as a “simple” search.
The query returned more than 2100 references from sources like States News Service, ABA Journal, Corporate Counsel, Computer Law & Tax Report, the Congressional Record, and state gaming control boards. It also returned select federal court opinions, state attorney general opinions and state legislative summaries and discussion.
“Power” searching gives more control to the researcher. For example, I could have restricted the query to information published during 1999, or to documents produced by the judicial branch of government, or to articles pertaining to specific subjects like “Business & Economics.”
When using Northern Light, I often employ the “power” feature that limits retrieval to “government web sites.” Researchers who run the above search both at Gov.Search and at Northern Light, restricting it to the Web at the former and to “government web sites” at the latter, will discover almost equivalent results.
Then why pay for Gov.Search? Readers who want to search government documents frequently may prefer Gov.Search because it places all content, available separately at Northern Light, into one database. Moreover, Gov.Search permits limiting search results to a particular branch of government and makes NTIS report summaries available.
As mentioned above, when Gov.Search announced its service, the public expressed concern about charging for access to government information. The general public, of course, would be unaware of the history of fee-based access to NTIS report citations and abstracts through online services like Dialog.
In any event, Northern Light plans to continue the service. I had hoped that Gov.Search might offer the full-text of NTIS reports, but a source at Northern Light thinks this is unlikely to happen soon.
Tarlton Law Library provides search access to the contents pages of more than 750 legal journals. More a current awareness service than a research database, the Library removes content pages after three months.
Researchers may request copies of articles from the Library’s document delivery service for a fee.
Searching single keywords yields the best results. The database does not support Boolean connectors.
Numerous resources exist for finding books. Consider bookstores like Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble or Borders, the catalog of the Library of Congress, or the catalog of your local school or public library.
Online bookstores like Amazon.com permit keyword searching thereby facilitating topical research. In addition to books in print, the site catalogs titles currently out-of-print. With the bibliographic information provided, researchers who do not want to purchase a book may search library catalogs for it.
The Library of Congress offers one of the largest searchable catalogs in the United States. Researchers may access it via the Web or telnet software. On the Web, the catalog consists of four separate databases — one for books cataloged after 1975, another for books cataloged between 1898 and 1975, one for serial publications (journals, magazines, annuals, series), and one for maps.
Researchers may search for publications by author, title, subject, series title, Library of Congress Class or Control numbers, ISBN, ISSN, geographic classification code (maps only), or Dewey Decimal classification number. Since the Library of Congress also catalogs publications not in its collections, researchers may obtain bibliographic information needed to continue their research.
For example, those seeking a copy of Raw Materials: A Study of American Policy (1958) by Percy W. Bidwell may want to look for its availability locally. How do researchers find online access to a local library’s catalog? Call the library and ask, or check webCATS or Yahoo.
webCATS indexes Web-based library catalogs around the world. Researchers may find these catalogs by geographic location or by type of library (e.g., law, medical). Yahoo also indexes library catalogs, but does not limit the indexing to Web-based catalogs.
Thousands of special subject databases exist on the Web. Many like MEDLINE contain bibliographic citations to articles and other commentary. Finding them, though, may require creative searching, constant review of information industry literature, or happenstance. Here’s a list of sources I check when looking for topical databases:
- National Library of Medicine
- Direct Search
- Librarians Index to the Internet
- The Scout Report Signpost
Trade Association Web Sites
Trade association Web sites also provide excellent sources of commentary. One of my earliest Web-based research cöups involved finding two articles describing DownREITs, in laymen-like language, at NAREIT Online, the Web site of the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts. I found the articles after exhausting traditional resources.
Members of a local libraries may have additional access to commentary. For example, my firm belongs to Jenkins Memorial Law Library. Through this association, I have access to LegalTrac’s Legal Resources Index and Wilson’s Index to Legal Periodicals.
When I asked members of the email discussion group, Law-Lib, to provide other examples, I received numerous responses. Check with your local public, county and academic libraries for Web access to bibliographic databases.
Smaller Collections of Commentary
Researchers may also find commentary via mega sites like FindLaw and Hieros Gamos. At FindLaw, use the subject index to locate a topic. Then within the topic, select the link labelled “Journals, Newsletters and Articles.” At Hieros Gamos, select a topic and then look for the guide sub-heading, “Commentary.”
I’d like to close by asking readers for feedback. If you have a question pertaining to research technique or resources for a particular area of law, please let me know. Ideas are always welcome.