By Sarah Reis
This is the fourth post in a series of posts about adjusting to my new position as a foreign and international law librarian. I started my position at the Pritzker Legal Research Center at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in February 2018.
Our library has a collection of international reference materials (I, REF) in print that includes items such as dictionaries, research guides, directories, and encyclopedias intended for in-library use only. In anticipation of upcoming renovations, I have been doing a bit of spring cleaning—reviewing our international reference collection to determine which books should stay in our new downsized reference section and which books should be sent to our closed stacks/basement, off-site storage, or withdrawn.
I created a spreadsheet with all of the titles in the collection to keep track of my recommendations for where the various books should go. We had a little over 250 titles (including series) for a total of nearly 900 individual books spanning over three short bookcases in the international reference collection. It was easier than expected for me to recommend reducing the size of this collection down to about 15% of that initial size (to approximately 125 books).
A significant number of titles in this collection were either outdated or available electronically, which made it easy for me to suggest for them to be stored elsewhere. But occasionally, I would recommend for us to keep a print copy of a title in our reference collection despite having online access. I primarily suggested keeping titles such as the bilingual/multilingual legal dictionaries as well as dictionaries or encyclopedias pertaining to specific areas of international law (e.g., international trade, terrorism, human rights).
During the course of this project, I discovered several items for which we also have electronic access either through one of our subscription databases or freely available online. For instance, we had digital access to many of the encyclopedias in this collection, such as the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World (via Oxford Islamic Studies Online), Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity (via Gale Virtual Reference Library), and the Oxford Companion to Politics of the World (via Oxford Reference Premium Collection). Additionally, many other titles were available through HeinOnline. I am brainstorming effective methods to make students aware of the availability of electronic access to many of these international reference books, whether it be by adding them to our A-Z database list or perhaps creating a new research guide on international reference materials available electronically.
Many items in the collection were outdated, particularly the directories, but also items like Treaties in Force (we had 2012 and 2013 on the shelf!) and research guides geared toward conducting research online from 1996 or 2000. On several occasions, I even discovered that our online access to a title was more up-to-date than the print copy on the shelf.
A project like this would be beneficial for a new FCIL librarian who is looking for a good way to familiarize herself or himself with an important part of the law library’s FCIL collection. Going forward, I intend to review this international reference collection every year or two to ensure that it remains fresh and up-to-date. Too many outdated titles bring down the usefulness and perceived value of the collection as a whole. The collection also needs space to grow. I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of new materials that will be “planted” in this collection, such as the International Citator and Research Guide: The Greenbook!