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Greetings from a Starbucks at Metro Center. In about 20 minutes, I will start my new job as a private law librarian. New job, new environment, but fewer blog posts. I’ll still be updating, ideally once a week, but I couldn’t even finish the theme from last week, and I wasn’t working yet. Thanks for sticking with me these last two months!

by Meg, at the Union League Club of Chicago

A Christmas present from my parents a few years ago, this charming edition is always in my purse–and has been transferred to more than one clutch for special occasions.

Also a Christmas present, this one is much thinner, and tends to live on a shelf at home for ready reference. It has a snazzy red and white striped verso, quite stylish.

I have two of these, actually. They’re from Colonial Williamsburg, and include both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. I personally think the Articles of Confederation would have been appropriate for a CW reproduction, but I still love this edition. It used to live in my backpack at school.

I was a librarian before I was a law student, and was very wary of taking vendor swag while I was at school. I took this pocket edition from Lexis (with a handy guide to legislative history…using Lexis in the front), and used it throughout law school. Want to know what doesn’t impress law professors one bit? Having a pocket Constitution.

This is my most recent acquisition from donating to the ACLU. I love this one because it’s absolutely to the point: no intro, just the Constitution. It’s a pleasing size, and it includes the signers’ names and states.





Let’s say your legislative history has taken you back to the definition of one lousy word. I love usage citations in dictionary definitions, but they’re almost always spelled out with terrible abbreviations. Here’s “common law” from the latest multi-volume OED:

This one isn’t bad, but a Bouvier’s 1st, a Black’s 1st, will talk about little known, often name-based reporter using irritating little codes that haven’t meant anything to anyone for centuries. Here are some resources to help you decipher odd ball citations:

  • Bieber’s: All citations, all the time, Bieber will let you search by abbreviation and then get a full title. You can also look up a title and get an abbreviation, but in the U.S. we tend to prefer…
  • The Bluebook: When I know what jurisdiction I’m dealing with, I like the back tables of the Bluebook that list most reporters and major periodicals for most jurisdictions. Plus, you can get the super-official citation for American brief writing.
  • Materials and Methods of Legal Research by Frederick Hicks: This is not the only publication of it’s kind, but I love it so much that I bought my own, just in case any future place of employ didn’t have it. The main work is nice, but the appendices are invaluable: state by state list of reporters (with years), list of Anglo-American legal periodicals, complete list of English and British law reports… I could go on, but check this out for yourself. Legal research guides from times past are great because they will include resources that have fallen out of favor now, but were popular and heavily cited in the past.
  • Pimsleur’s Checklists of Basic American Legal Publications: Another option for an exhaustive list of things that were once popular (especially state by state) and now aren’t is something like Pimsleur’s. If you have a time period and a jurisdiction, these lists should help you narrow things down. The AALL State Documents Bibliography is kind of similar for states only, but has a definite gov docs focus.
  • Local chapter guides to legislative history: My local, LLSDC, has a guide to federal legislative sources because we’re in DC. But, if you’ve got a New York issue, try LLAGNY, and so forth.
  • If all else fails, just Google the entire citation. It’s amazing how many times that gets you somewhere. Oh, Internet.

I hope one of more of these sources can get you where you need to be, cite wise. There’s no real science here–just keep working at it!

What’s your go-to wonky citation solver?

Everything I know about telling stories, I learned from public radio. Everything I know about listening to stories, I learned from being a child. To that end, some wisdom from experts in radio, and experts in children’s stories.


Children’s stories:

  • Woutrina Bone tells us in her 1923 book Children’s Stories and How to Tell Them that “two things are necessary in order to make pictures with words… 1. We must be able to visualize them for ourselves. 2. We must have such a mastery over words, that we can use them to enable others to see.” Legislative storytelling is the perfect time to write a narrative that won’t lose the reader in under five minutes.
  • Sara Cone Bryant, in How to Tell Stories to Children, says that “the most cultured of audiences will listen to the personal reminiscences of an explorer with a different tingle of interest from that which it feels for a scientific lecture on the results of the exploration. The longing for the personal in experience is a very human longing.” A legislative story with interviews, personal statements, advertisements that people would have watched in their living rooms will tell a much more compelling tale than a recitation of parliamentary steps. Both have their place, but both have their value as well.
  • From Laura S. Emerson’s Storytelling: The Art and Purpose, don’t forget about the classic structure of a story. Remember drawing the denouement?


Even a list of sources can have an arc. Build your story with headings, order, annotations. You’re information professionals, this is what you do best! Storifying it can help you make it better.

As the name suggests, legislative history is supposed to track all of the legislative parts of a law. Through bill versions, reports, floor statements and committee hearings, we’re supposed to discern lawmakers’ intent behind a particular law. If I have learned anything from my years in Washington, it’s that lawmakers are more likely to express one kind of intent publicly, in the media, and another kind of intent semi-publicly in the Congressional Record and it’s ilk, because they assume that more people watch TV on a daily basis than visit THOMAS. Why, then, does legislative history not include all intent, from everywhere?

In fairness to the art of proper legislative history, I would like to propose a new kind of research guide: legislative storytelling. There is no better time than in an election year to take note of all of the possible outlets of extralegislative information: convention speeches, interviews, party platforms, campaign advertisements and other promotional material, blogs, tweets, Facebook posts. Blogs and news programs are already participating in legislative storytelling with respect to each presidential and vice presidential candidates’ record of governance vs. their current statements as part of their perpetual need for content to fill a 24 hours of air time. Why shouldn’t legislative history combine with some journalistic know how to story the most complete story possible of a law?

Before a bill is introduced:

  • If a major program like national health care has been recommended by the executive branch for introduction into the law making process, check out Weekly Radio Addresses (back to 1982 at the American Presidency Project, in the Public Papers of the President in the same place, or in the Federal Register).
  • Do a news search of the big national papers (some might argue, but I would say that includes the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times), for keywords related to the program and the phrase “White House staffer” and derivations like “West Wing” or “executive” to get any leaks, intentional or unintentional.
  • Look to the Sunday editorials of each of those papers for about 6 months preceding introduction of any on point legislation. Also, look to see who sponsored the bill, and check their local paper, too (which will likely only work if it’s a big name rep or senator doing the introducing).
  • Do a search of the major news magazines for about 2 years preceding introduction: Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, The Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, etc. Read the major book reviews.  You don’t want to miss an Upton Sinclair.

While a bill is in the legislative process:

  • Keep looking in all the above places, but now add in the wonk press: Roll Call, Politico, the Sunday morning shows like Meet the Press, and cable dailies from obviously aligned media houses like Fox and MSNBC.
  • By George, don’t forget to check Parade magazine on Sundays. I’m not even kidding.
  • Big enough issues will transcend subject and make it into Rolling Stone (remember that Iraq War piece?), Sports Illustrated, Popular Science. Expand your news search to include specialty magazines–all of them.
  • Congressional and Senatorial race campaign materials come out every 2 or 4 years, gubernatorial races vary by state, and many races are won or lost based on what’s happening with national issues, flying in the face of “all politics are local.” In a presidential election year, don’t forget presidential ads too. I linked to a couple of resources above, but YouTube was born for this kind of research.

After the President signs a bill into law with 29,274 pens:

  • Read the signing statement, if there is one, also located in the Federal Register.
  • Read all of the news stories related to the signing.
  • The day of the signing is a great time to check out the Extension of Remarks, as legislators are extra eager to take credit and align themselves with the President, or lambast the law and distance themselves.
  • Follow the money: it seems to take a while for funding numbers to come out thanks to the least transparent financial disclosure process of all time ever, but once a bill has passed, check out Sunlight, Follow the Money, and Open Secrets to see who funded whom, and how they were related to passing the bill into law. Check out committee positions, caucuses, and of course, fundraising parties for these folks.

Does this sound like a lot more work than a traditional legislative history? Holy cow, yes. But, I truly believe that incorporating extralegislative media, where lawmakers spend most of their talking time, will help future researchers have a more complete picture of what caused a law to come into being.

This week, we’re traveling into the heart of law making darkness to find truth in edits, floor speeches, related laws, court decisions, and press scandal. I’ve written about getting a legislative history started when you’re not sure where to look, bill tracking under special circumstances like when a hold has been placed on a bill in Senate, and the U.S. Statutes at Large. Now, I want to talk about tracking down little known resources, free law and open access, and using non-law stuff to get a complete picture of a law’s place in history. Let’s parliament!

Thingvellir, site of the first Icelandic parliament, by Meg


Formal education can’t teach you everything, but do you ever feel like there were some major plot holes in your library schooling? There’s much to be said for learning by experience, but a little guidance in advance never hurt in the cases of:

  • Management and human resources
  • Teaching full semester courses as an associate professor, with elbow patched tweed jackets
  • Creating digital archives
  • Wrangling big data
  • Being confident enough to go at the above tasks with no instruction, and no warning

This week at Lulu, we’re looking at self education, outside of the classroom, because all librarians must be able to do all things. We’re learning together, you and I: I’m going to compile lots of resources on each topic, and you’re going to tell me who and what I’ve left out in the comments, on Facebook, on Twitter, wherever. Sound like a deal?

In the spirit of education, may I present one Mary McLeod Bethune with the promise of a post on biography as inspiration forthcoming:

Mary McLeod Bethune at the National Portrait Gallery, by


This is a picture of Ted Williams made out of toothpicks. You really can’t appreciate this homage to the Hub Kid without seeing it in person, and certainly not from a cell phone camera snap. But, you now know that toothpick Ted resides at the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters’ Hall of Fame at Tropicana Field. How valuable is this information to you with respect to your:

  • Red Sox fandom?
  • Love of folk art?
  • Upcoming trip to St. Petersburg?
  • Life beyond the Internet?

I knew in advance of my trip to the Trop that a hall of fame existed. I did not know about the Splendid Splinter in splinters. I think that not knowing made discovering toothpick Ted more rewarding. Sometimes, you just have to be there. The same may be true in a library setting. Make sure people know you have good stuff, get them in the door, but leave a surprise. Another capricious vacation post? Yes, yes indeed.

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