AALL 2018 Recap: FCIL Basics for Metadata Professionals (Deep Dive)

By Jennifer Allison

The organizers of this program have made supplementary materials available.  To access them, visit https://www.aallnet.org/recording/aall2018-fcilbasicsmetadataprof/

In my opinion, this program made it worth the while for everyone who was still in the AALL game and going to programs on the last morning of the conference.  Moderated by Ajaye Bloomstone, an acquisitions librarian from LSU, it featured three diverse and interesting speakers:

  • George Prager – Head Cataloger, NYU Law Library
  • Loyita Worley – EMEA Library Operations, Reed Smith (UK)
  • Susan Gualtier – Reference Librarian, Penn Law Library

Presentation #1:  Cataloging

George Prager kicked things off with a presentation that focused on (a) collaboration for optimal access and (b) FCIL-related cataloging problems.  He then delved into the cataloging process for FCIL materials, in which the chief question to be answered is, “What is being cataloged?”

Specifically, first the determination is made that it is a “legal publication” and then, more specifically, which kind of publication it is.  For assistance in making these determinations, George turns to the following resources:

George then outlined additional considerations to be addressed when cataloging FCIL materials, including the following:

  • Jurisdiction – local, national, or regional body that makes laws and controls a territory. A work of comparative law compares the law of two or more jurisdictions.  There are also works of public international law (law of nations) and private international law (conflict of laws).
  • Legal System – the type of law that is featured in the jurisdiction. This can include many types, although most jurisdictions fall under one of two categories, either civil law (based on Roman law; focused on codification; primarily used in continental Europe and Latin America), or common law (created by custom and judicial decisions; primarily used in the “Anglosphere” countries).
  • Legal Domain – the main distinction here is between public law (governs the legal relationship between the individual and the state, including constitutional law and administrative law) and private law (governs the legal relationship between individuals, including torts, contracts, and commercial law; confusingly, private law can also be referred to as “civil law” in certain contexts).
  • Title – this must be accurate to provide bibliographic access to texts of and about the law. The cataloger has several choices here, including (a) the law’s official short title or citation title; (b) the law’s unofficial short title or citation; (c) the official title of the enactment; (d) any other official designation.
  • Date – when determining the date of a law, there are several options, including the date of promulgation (required by RDA cataloging rules) or the year it came into force, which could be different. An additional consideration is whether the law is newly enacted or just a revision of a pre-existing one.

George then dived into the topic of subject access.  I personally paid a lot of attention during this part of the lecture, as I am a heavy user of subject keywords when I do catalog searches myself.  I am always looking to learn more about catalogers’ thought processes as they assign subject headings.  According to George, if the item is about law, then the first subject heading selected should also be legal.  George also stressed that subdivisions (such as “law and legislation”) should be used if applicable.

George then went on to discuss linguistic challenges that arise when cataloging foreign-language materials, and possible options for resolving them, including legal dictionaries, Google Translate, and FCIL librarian colleagues.

George also brought up the idea of using non-US catalog records for help in cataloging foreign-language materials.  He mentioned that, although foreign library catalog records may vary greatly in quality and completeness, records from a few specific catalogs are especially helpful, including those in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF) (http://www.bnf.fr/en/collections_and_services/catalogs.html), the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (DNB) (http://www.dnb.de/EN/Kataloge/kataloge_node.html), and the Biblioteca Nacional de España  (BNE) (http://www.bne.es/en/Catalogos/CatalogoBibliografico/).

George pointed out that even English-language materials can pose linguistic challenges, created mainly by differences in meanings between civil and common law and between the legal English used in the US, the UK, and continental Europe.

Finally, George addressed the question of whether foreign-language subject terms should be added to records in US library catalogs. While this practice can enhance subject access, he stated, the cataloger may not have sufficient expertise to pull this off successfully.

Presentation #2:  Cataloging from a UK Perspective

Loyita Worley was the next to speak, and she admitted from the start that her presentation would be a bit different than the other two, and that she would be offering what she characterized as “the jam in the sandwich.”  (One must love the English way of saying things!)

Loyita leads the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Asia) library team for Reed Smith, an international law firm that is based in the UK.  However, before she took this position, she worked as a cataloger for the Law Society of England and Wales, a professional society for solicitors.  (http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/)

In her current role, some of her concerns are much different than those of academic law librarians.  The firm does not see itself as “custodians of the law” because space is at such a premium.  The firm’s London office moves frequently, and with each move there is less and less space for print materials, requiring that the lawyers who work there rely more and more on electronic resources.  The move away from print is, however, going less slowly in the firm’s offices in France and Germany.

The firm uses Liberty Softlink (https://www.softlinkint.com/product/liberty) for its EMEA central catalog, and all English-language materials are cataloged in it.  Only print materials are cataloged except for electronic textbooks; otherwise, according to Loyita, the catalog would be “too full.”  The main aim of the catalog is telling the lawyers how to find books.  They do not use a conventional classification scheme because they didn’t think it would be helpful to the lawyers; instead, they used Westlaw’s taxonomy to create a classification scheme.

Despite this fact, Loyita did spend some time during her presentation discussing England’s contribution to legal cataloging.  Elizabeth Moys, whose work in this area led to her becoming a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE, see http://royalcentral.co.uk/blogs/insight/a-guide-to-the-order-of-the-british-empire-21224 for more about this and other royal honors) for her services to classification and indexing, created the Moys classification scheme, which arranges the common law by topic and the civil law by jurisdiction.  You can read more about this system at https://special-cataloguing.com/node/1429.

Loyita ended her talk by discussing certain challenges she has faced in her work at the firm.  She has found that management difficulties arise more related to geography than language, notwithstanding the fact that she is responsible for signing off on foreign language contracts.  Also, not every office has a law librarian, which can create some library management problems.

Presentation #3:  FCIL Reference

Susan Gualtier rounded out the speakers for this program.  She began her presentation by naming several challenges that reference librarians working with FCIL materials routinely face, including:

  • Language barriers
  • Terminology
  • Translation problems
  • Unfamiliar abbreviations and citation formats
  • Unfamiliar legal systems and concepts
  • Unfamiliar legal histories and date ranges
  • Differing legal systems
  • Differing or inconsistent publication structures
  • Unfamiliar types of sources

I have several years of FCIL reference experience myself, and I completely agree with this thorough list!

Susan then expanded on some of the definitions of FCIL-related terms that George had discussed in his presentation, including private and public international law, supranational law (of which the European Union is an example), foreign law, foreign legal systems, and comparative law.  She concluded that part of the presentation by providing two examples of what she referred to as “mixed” legal systems:

  • In some systems, such as those in Louisiana and Scotland, two systems have blended together to form a single, reasonably coherent legal system.
  • However, in other jurisdictions, such as Tanzania, the laws can be at odds with each other – statutory law is used in urban areas and customary law in rural areas, as well as religious law applying to people of Islamic faith.

Susan concluded her presentation by presenting practical advice for overcoming some of the obstacles she mentioned at the beginning of her presentation.

First, she cited several resources that could provide jurisdictional background information at the beginning of a research project, including free online resources like JuriGlobe (http://www.juriglobe.ca/eng/index.php), GlobaLex (http://www.nyulawglobal.org/globalex//index.html), Guide to Law Online from the Law Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov/law/help/guide.php), and subscription sources, such as Foreign Law Guide (http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/browse/foreign-law-guide), and the International Encyclopedia of Laws (https://ielaws.com/).

Then, she discussed translation issues, highlighting the Iowa Law Library’s Legal Interpreting and Translating Research Guide (http://libguides.law.uiowa.edu/interpretingandtranslating).

Next, she listed several sources that can be used to figure out abbreviations and citations, including the the freely-available online Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations (http://www.legalabbrevs.cardiff.ac.uk/), and several print sources: the Bluebook (https://www.legalbluebook.com/), NYU’s Guide to Foreign and International Legal Citation (https://www.amazon.com/Foreign-International-Citations-Second-Coursebook/dp/0735579792), and Prince’s Bieber Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations (https://www.amazon.com/Princes-Bieber-Dictionary-Legal-Abbreviations/dp/083771625X).

Susan finished her presentation by discussing how librarians can get help by “activating the FCIL network.”  This includes the FCIL-SIS Jumpstart page (https://www.aallnet.org/fcilsis/resources-publications/research-resources/jumpstart/), the FCIL-SIS DipLawMatic Dialogues blog (https://fcilsis.wordpress.com/), and several list-servs, including Int-Law (http://listserver.ciesin.columbia.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A0=Int-Law9).

Team Cataloging Exercise

After the speakers were finished, the program attendees were divided into groups.  The program organizers specified that the groups should be diverse, and that each group should include both catalogers and reference librarians.  Then, each group was given a foreign law book for which they would create a basic catalog record.


As a reference librarian, I have basically no cataloging experience.  I even managed to avoid taking a cataloging class in library school (a choice I now regret).  But as I have become a more experienced librarian, I have appreciated cataloging more and more, and I have to say that, as the only reference librarian in my group, I had a blast during this exercise!  I loved listening to the discussion of the catalogers about what they would enter in the various fields, and really gained a deep appreciation of their knowledge, skill, and care that they put into every cataloging opportunity.  They were really patient in explaining their thinking to me, for which I was very grateful.

I consider myself lucky many times over when I think back to this exercise.  Our group happened to get a German-language book, which of course is right up my alley as I recently completed an LL.M. in German law.  The topic was conflict of laws (private international law), and specifically related to Switzerland, which actually has a federal code on this topic (see https://www.umbricht.ch/en/swiss-private-international-law-cpil/).  I also volunteered to talk about our cataloging approach to the entire group of participants when sharing time came around at the end of the program, and really enjoyed how enthusiastic everyone was about what our group had done with our book.

Final Thoughts

My takeaway: I LOVED THIS PROGRAM!  I really learned a lot and enjoyed doing it.  I would appreciate more practical programs like this at future AALL conferences, especially if they include opportunities to work with and learn from colleagues who specialize in other areas.

Kudos to the organizers of this program for ensuring that my conference ended on such a positive note!