Archives for category: Reference

Did you miss me, dear readers? I missed you while I went on two back-to-back academic law library interviews in the Midwest. My Hillary-in-the-90s skirt suit and I bravely endured all day grillings, meet and greets, and gave two presentations–but alas, we did not prevail.

Hillary Red, by Meg

I have only a couple pieces of totally superficial advice re: academic interviewing, which you should take with a grain of salt as I haven’t successfully obtained an academic job from one of these interviews:

  • Don’t fear your red suit. Maybe it’s a DC thing, but it is a totally acceptable color choice, and I got lots of compliments, including one, “Oh thank goodness you’re not in a black suit.”
  • Wear flats, even if you wear heels often (like me). No one else wears heels, and it worries people when any sort of walking is involved, even if you’re fine.
  • Wear a blouse that you’re not ashamed to be seen in without your jacket. You’ll be eating lunch with folks, and it’s not a terrible idea to take your jacket off, lest you be stained for the rest of the interview if you eat like me.

Now, I am pleased to say that I will be starting work on Monday in the DC library of Latham & Watkins, a law firm on which the sun never sets. They have offices, like, everywhere. I’ve met all the staff a couple of times, everyone is super nice, and I’m excited to be getting into something a little different: private law librarianship.

When I start next Monday, my unemployment will have lasted a grand total of 61 days. Thanks to everyone who has been supportive of me, my job search, and my ample free time!


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?

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

The second most common question that I’ve been encountering on job interviews is, “so, what was it like serving Members of Congress [in your most recent position at the Law Library of Congress]?” The answer is, “it was nice, but they’re not really the primary patron group. They don’t walk into the Reading Room, they rarely call. I mostly served members of the public, especially pro se litigants and homeless patrons.”

This fact does not impress most people.

However, I was very concerned with giving the best possible service to homeless patrons. The parade of sad stories was varied: veterans with addiction issues, domestic violence survivors, folks too old for the foster system, but not old enough for Adult Protective Services, and a range of mental health issues. Which is to say, most of these patrons had other very serious problems which likely led to their homelessness. And they were angry. There was a lot of yelling, erratic behavior, and that was all very unpleasant. But, at the end of the day, I always got to come home, eat dinner and sleep in my bed.

In the spirit of gratitude for being able to sleep in your own bed at night, some practice tips for dealing with homeless patrons:

  • Just listen. Law librarians cannot offer legal advice, and we’re often quick to point out that fact to public patrons when we’re tired of listening to their stories. But, when you’re ignored in the public arena (in stores, on the streets) you might just want someone to listen to your problems to confirm that you’re still human.
  • Recommend appropriate resources. Let’s say someone comes in with a court summons that cites a rule. Don’t throw the entire Rules of Civil Procedure at them. Get the right volume of the annotated code (of wherever), show them the rule, then show them the annotations so they can read about it, see some case examples, etc. Is language an issue? Give them the annotated rules and a dictionary.
  • If you can’t help, suggest someone who can. Familiarize yourself with your areas’ shelters, non-profits, and government agencies that handle veterans’, domestic violence, addiction, and general mental health issues. Recommending another resource is typically not legal advice. Try, “have you contacted the VA?,” or “are you familiar with city’s Rape Crisis Hotline?”
  • If it’s getting ugly, tell the patron exactly what behavior they need to change in order to stay in the library. “You need to lower your voice,” or “I need you to step back so that I can continue helping you.” A specific direction is more considerate, and likely more effective.
  • If you need to call law enforcement, tell them in advance that the patron is homeless. Police can certainly offer different resources for homeless folks than a law librarian can, but they will often handle a situation differently when homelessness is an issue. I’ve seen it happen, and it’s always been a more positive outcome than anticipated.
  • Keep thinking about your bed. I’m not suggesting that you pity the person in front of you, but at least be cognizant of the fact that the universe has given you a bed today, and act accordingly. What the universe giveth, the universe can taketh away.

How do you help your homeless patrons? Is it even an issue in your library?


If you told 15 year old me, working at the Farm Fresh grocery on Big Bethel Road, pretending to smoke so that she could get an extra 5 minute break away from her cash register, that she would one day be a librarian and use the Farm Fresh experience to write about keeping statistics–she probably would have said, “Ok.” She was a very literal child.

If you’ve not had the pleasure of working retail, one of the major factors is that no one trusts you. You have to count everything many, many times. In the spirit of counting, here are some reference statistics that you might not be keeping, and how they show return on your institution’s investment.

  • Number of handouts taken each day: Resource and research guides are reference paid forward. Someone had to design them, of course, but use of the handout is where the reference happens. Count your handouts at the beginning and end of the day, and note the difference. You will be able to show work product being used, and how much you’re spending on printing. An easy way to accomplish this? Put out the same number every day. There are always 50 $1 bills in a bundle, and quarters come in rolls of $10 for good reason. Librarians are standards people, too!
  • Comp services per day: If you forget a meal-essential sauce when delivering Chinese food as a 17 year old, and you have to return to the customer to deliver said sauce–those people are getting a free meal. Likewise, if you lose a request for materials, if a copy card gets eaten, the patron is probably going to get some special service. Note these services. Now, you can start to troubleshoot weak points in your service methods.
  • Tech directional questions: Make a little map of your library, and plot an X where each person who asks about spotty wifi coverage is working. You’re tired of answering questions about wifi, and IT is tired of your non-directed demands for a stronger signal. This plotted statistic will allow you to tell IT exactly where the weakness is, so that they can pinpoint and fix the problem. IT laughed in your face? This statistic allows you to tell the people who control the budget precisely what you need in terms of stronger wifi.
  • Databases used: This one is harder, especially at a busy reference desk, but it could help you bargain better during renewal season if you know exactly which components of which databases you are using most. Of course, vendors keep their own statistics, but what do those numbers mean to you? Keeping track of what your team is using on a day-to-day basis is stronger than anecdotal evidence, and gives you concrete, numerical bargaining power in your negotiations.

Happy counting!

In yesterday’s Sunday Review, Andrew Hacker, a professor at CUNY, asks if algebra is necessary.

by Meg, by Andrew Hacker

He argues that a brand of math that sets students up for failure does more harm, in the form of needlessly lowered academic esteem, than good–untested, unfounded notions that algebraic thinking is an essential life skill. People who go on to use algebra in the workplace are typically offered on the job training, and they number few. People who cannot pass standardized tests required for high school graduation because of algebra, on the other hand, number high.

My thoughts turned to another high attrition learning experience: the first year of law school.

Without invoking the print research vs. online research debate: are we teaching skills that are no longer needed, that actually increase the anxiety of our students? There are legal research skills that require a bit of extra vigor, and there are legal research skills that are downright unpleasant, but are there any that we’re pushing (because we had to learn how) to the detriment of an efficient, complete, modern course of legal research?

Hacker proposes replacing algebra with statistics and consumer economics to produce better citizens. I propose replacing decennial digest research with FDsys, THOMAS, state legislatures, state and federal corporate filings, state and federal court research for the same reason. Much like the argument for ensuring that 1Ls are proficient in both Lexis and Westlaw (you cannot predict which one a future employer will subscribe to), the argument for teaching print resources is that you cannot predict whether a future employer will subscribe to either, or that a law student will be employed post-graduation. In that spirit, let’s include more free online resources to support future legal practice on a shoestring, setting out your own shingle wherever you have an Internet connection, pro bono work, and community legal service in communities that really need it (and who may not have a decennial digest laying around). There is value in print legal research, but lawyer saturation in markets where print resources are available will likely push people in a more rural direction. Including free law in basic 1L legal research is one way of preparing students for that eventuality.

As we enter into a month of international sport with the 30th Olympiad in London, this week’s theme comes from a sport that is no longer played in the Olympics: baseball. Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game in 2003, and it was turned into a movie with Brad Pitt (!) in 2011. If you’re neither a baseball, nor a Brad Pitt fan, allow me to explain the premise:

by Meg, book from DC Public Library*

Until recently, baseball victory has been solely the domain of very rich teams, like the New York Yankees (or Real Madrid, or Manchester United). Billy Beane of the Oakland A’s, a very poor team, decided to reexamine value for money with respect to winning baseball games. He discovered that through scientific analysis, as opposed to traditional baseball knowledge (read: the way it’s always been done), he could craft a winning team within his budget.

Are we not all Billy Beane? Libraries never have enough money, time, space, staff, scrap paper, anything. This week we’re talking about making it work with the resources you have, the virtues of free law, and evaluating what your patrons really need.

*Do we have a baseball tablecloth and matching place mats? Yes. Yes, we do.

I started at the Law Library of Congress in January of 2006. On my first day, I sorted through a massive stack of items from the UN Library, organizing the books by language.

by Meg, the fruits of my first day of labor at the Law Library

They’re still there.

I worked my way up from being a contract shelving clerk, to technician, to collection services librarian, and eventually to my last position as a federal reference librarian. I completed both library and law school working at the Library of Congress. However, my position was temporary, and has expired.

Practically everything I know about being a librarian, I learned at the Library of Congress. I truly enjoyed my time there, and am enormously grateful to everyone I’ve worked with over the years. Thanks to you, I move on a better Lulu.

I’m not sure what lies ahead for me, but The Beatles said it best: “I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello.

%d bloggers like this: