New FCIL Librarian Series: Collection Development and Electronic Resources

By Sarah Reis, Foreign and International Law Librarian, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law

This is the first post in a series of posts over the next year 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 and was formerly a general reference librarian at another law school.

Back in February, I started my position as Foreign & International Law Librarian at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. Weather-wise, February is admittedly not the most ideal time to move from northern California, where I had previously been working as a general reference librarian at Stanford Law School, to Chicago. But the timing was perfect for allowing me to become acquainted with foreign and international law resources at my own pace. Rather than scrambling to offer various in-class research sessions for the students in the international human rights clinic or immediately diving in to teaching an FCIL class for the first time, I had the opportunity to spend time familiarizing myself with our collection and electronic resources.

At Northwestern, I am a member of the selection committee. Collection development was a new responsibility for me because I was not a member of the collection development committee at the library where I previously worked. Here, the selection committee decides as a group whether our library will purchase certain monographs and whether we should subscribe to or cancel certain electronic databases and print subscriptions. In print, we collect various international law materials, but not as many foreign law materials, and the materials tend to be in English. We provide our law school community with access to numerous e-resources that would be helpful in conducting foreign and international legal research, but generally do not subscribe to databases that are geared toward researching the law of a specific foreign country, with the exception of Westlaw China. For instance, we do not subscribe to databases such as Beck-Online (German law) or Kodeks (Russian law).

Over the summer, I conducted a survey comparing the FCIL databases that our library subscribed to with the databases our peer law libraries subscribed to, based on what I could glean from their database pages and research guides available on their law library websites.* The purpose was to identify whether our library was missing any key FCIL resources or if we were subscribing to any resources that we could consider canceling.

I would recommend any new FCIL librarian to take on a similar task because this turned out to be an excellent way to acquaint myself with the range of resources useful for conducting foreign and international legal research. I spent time browsing, running test searches, and exploring the content for all of the databases we subscribed to, and also looked into what I could expect to find in resources for which we did not have subscriptions.

Taking a close look at the database pages and research guides of various other law library websites also provided insight into how to effectively organize and highlight resources. Most law library websites, including ours, have an A-to-Z list of legal databases. Some libraries make it easy for users to filter all of the e-resources to view only those that specifically pertain to foreign and international law, other libraries list all of their e-resources in one alphabetical list, and still other libraries organize e-resources into very specific categories (e.g., e-resources pertaining to a particular jurisdiction or international law topic). Our library organizes e-resources pertaining to foreign and international law under a category of “Foreign and International” to make it easy for users to pull up a list of just these resources filed under this category.

Law libraries differ in whether they integrate free resources, such as the UN Official Document System, EUR-Lex, or GlobaLex, alongside their subscription resources on their database pages. Our library opts to include primarily subscription databases on our A-to-Z database list because we do not want our database list to become too overwhelming for students. However, we highlight both subscription resources and free resources in our research guides, which are intended to provide more in-depth coverage on how to research specific topics.

Conducting this survey afforded our library the opportunity to update our list of databases on our law library website. I uncovered a few e-resources that our main campus library subscribed to that would also be of interest for law students conducting international legal research, so we added these resources to the law library’s database list to improve access to them. But more importantly, participating in the selection committee helped me feel much better prepared for the first few weeks of the fall semester when I provided various in-class research sessions aimed at giving the students an overview of foreign and international law resources available through the library.

* I would be happy to share a copy of my spreadsheet with anyone who is interested in looking at it, with the caveat that libraries may have subscribed to or canceled subscriptions since I compiled it or may subscribe to additional databases that are not listed on their law library websites.

Getting to Know the Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals: Unique Features and Tools

By Sarah Jaramillo

In this fourth installment of our series, “Getting to Know the Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals” (IFLP or “the Index”), I examine some of the unique features and tools of the index. These features and tools satisfy both power and novice researchers alike, and justify why a patron might want to take the time to look at yet another platform.

Articles from a Non-US Perspective

The most obvious need for using the IFLP is if a user is researching another jurisdiction’s law or is writing a comparative law piece. However, any researcher doing comprehensive research on a topic ought to consider consulting the IFLP because it offers access to secondary sources from a non-U.S. point-of-view. Lexis and Westlaw have articles primarily produced in student-edited journals published out of U.S. law schools written by U.S. academics, judges and lawyers. The global nature of legal practice and the demands of truly comprehensive literature reviews necessitate the consultation of non-U.S. law journals. One of the few places to find articles from so many of these types of sources, from so many jurisdictions, is the IFLP.

Integration with HeinOnline

Another enormous benefit of the modern IFLP interface is that it is no longer solely an index. Since IFLP is hosted on HeinOnline, you will immediately be able to click into the full-text via HeinOnline on over forty percent of the results you see. It’s old news that most of our patrons do not know or appreciate the difference between a full-text database and an index. Moreover, serious researchers want to use what works and what will save them time. Many researchers also have platform fatigue and grow weary at the suggestion that they need to check out yet another database. HeinOnline is familiar to many, if not all, law patrons, so having IFLP on HeinOnline and having many of the results available in full-text through HeinOnline makes both librarians and their patrons happy.

Excellent Browsing and Post-Search Filters

The ability to browse by subject and country and to filter results is probably the research tool in the IFLP that regular users love most, at least according to my informal poll of FCIL librarians. Each record in the IFLP is created and curated by a human being. That human being applies the detailed subject and country taxonomies used by the IFLP over the years. This process results in very nuanced and powerful searching tools via the browse tabs and post-search filters. So, say I wanted to research women’s rights in Uganda. One way I can find scholarly articles written on that topic in IFLP is to click “Country Subject” on the IFLP home page and then navigate to Uganda. This creates a results list of 185 articles predominantly about Uganda. If I use the filters on the left and narrow my results to hits having the subject ‘women,” I find myself with 22 on-point articles. You can also combine the browse tabs and subject filters with keyword searching.


These are just three useful features and tools of IFLP. I would love to hear via the comments section below of other user favorite features and tools. IFLP is such a unique research tool. So, the next time a foreign research question finds its way to you, check out or recommend the IFLP. Its unique content and search tools make it worth your time.

Embracing My Unofficial FCIL Role

worldBy Yasmin Morais

I am the Reference and Cataloging Librarian at the David A. Clarke School of Law, a small, public law school in Washington, D.C. My previous position was Resident Librarian at the Georgetown Law Library for two years. While there, I responded to a heavier volume of international law queries. There is no Foreign and Comparative Law Librarian (FCIL) position at my current institution, and reference queries and faculty research on international and comparative law issues are relatively few. However, when requests for help with international law research are received, increasingly, I am asked to assist with these requests. I enjoy getting these requests and am embracing my role as the unofficial FCIL librarian.

Long before I became a law librarian, I think that my background, education and work experience were molding me to assume this role. I grew up on the island of Jamaica, and I think that island people instinctively want to reach out and discover the big, wide world that lies beyond their shores. I started learning Spanish in elementary school and chose it as my undergraduate major. I later decided to pursue a master’s in Government, with a focus on International Relations, and while living in Jamaica, I worked as a Program Officer for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which involved extensive travel throughout the Caribbean and parts of South America. My own personal travels have taken me to Cuba, Scotland, and England, and I lived about eight years in Canada, where I completed my master’s in information studies.

For my LLB degree, which I pursued through the University of London, European Union law was a required course, which enhanced my understanding of the legal systems of this vast area. My interest in FCIL work has also led me to create research guides on topics such as Scottish Legal History, Cuban Legal Research, and the Caribbean Court of Justice. For many years, I have also chosen to be a part of the FCIL-SIS, in order to stay current in this area, and within the last year, I assumed the position of Chair of the Latin American Law Interest Group. My duties from being both a Cataloging and Reference librarian allow me a unique perspective of being aware of FCIL resources and their organization, as well as being able to provide reference help in international law for those who need it.

For this blog post, I decided to review our library’s reference analysis program, Gimlet, to get a sampling of the FCIL reference questions that I have responded to over the past two years. Below is a summary of ten queries from faculty, students and alumni:

  • Gender equality in Cuba and economic opportunities and entrepreneurship for women.
  • Sources of Australian law, and particularly the laws of South Australia relating to children in foster care
  • Customary international law for procedure and trial practice
  • International resources for a comparative labor project
  • Out-migration and the debt crisis in Puerto Rico
  • Request for help in compiling a bibliography for a Human Rights Seminar
  • Resources on international law for a dissertation topic for Oxford University
  • Cuba’s laws on cooperatives
  • Sources for French commercial arbitration decisions.
  • Research on the health laws of Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Switzerland. This request led to my being invited to teach an evening session on researching international law to students in the Legislation Clinic.

These questions, and the occasional invitations to teach informal sessions on researching international law, have helped me to hone my skills in this area, as well as allowed me to pursue a niche interest of mine. I thought I would share this post to encourage other librarians who have an interest in FCIL law, but who might not have the official title, or might be apprehensive about tackling reference questions in this area. I am encouraged that there have been similar postings on DiplawMatic Dialogues in recent times.

New FCIL Librarian Series: Resources for New or Aspiring FCIL Librarians

By Jessica Pierucci

This is the sixth and final post in a series of posts documenting my first year as a foreign, comparative, and international law (FCIL) librarian. I started in this newly-created role at the UCI Law Library in July 2017. The aim of this series is to document my year in the hope of inspiring aspiring FCIL librarians to join the field (and hopefully not scaring them away!) by discussing one librarian’s experience entering the field.

My final post in this series reflects on this past year and shares some general FCIL background sources that I found particularly helpful for familiarizing myself with the universe of resources available for FCIL-focused researchers.


First, some reflection. One aspect librarianship that drew me to this profession is the requirement to always be curious. I feel fortunate that in the past year I’ve had the opportunity to indulge my curiosity in foreign and international legal resources. I’ve tried to absorb as much as possible from each opportunity I’ve had to engage in FCIL research topics. There’s no substitute for practice, and I can really see how my ability to more quickly hone in on the best ways to tackle certain FCIL research problems has developed over the course of the year in particular when assisting law school faculty with their research needs. As we all experience, there are never enough hours in the day to do it all, so there’s still so much more I want to learn that I just haven’t been able to fit in between all my other responsibilities outside of FCIL-focused work, but I look forward to continuing to be curious and always learning in the years ahead.

In addition, as I head into my second school year in this position, I’m excited to do some things a second time with the opportunity to incorporate knowledge gained from experience. For example, I can share what I learned from attending the Jessup Moot Court finals at the conclusion of the ASIL Annual Meeting with the UCI Law Jessup team to guide their research process. I look forward to sharing additional international legal research ideas I’ve picked up throughout the year with the team as well.

FCIL Background Resources

Second, the list. I hope this list will provide a beginning checklist for anyone looking to increase their familiarity with FCIL research or considering becoming an FCIL librarian. I would also encourage comments on this post from anyone who has additional resources to share. As is the nature of research, these resources point to tons of other helpful resources, so this is only the tip of the iceberg.


FCIL research books published since 2011 provide innumerable valuable research tips and resources to consider. Each book has its own approach and has added to my conception of FCIL research in different ways as I’ve perused different chapters and books while working on various projects. If you plan to teach an FCIL research course you can consider using one of these books, although you can also teach without a textbook.

Learn more about many of these textbooks from DipLawMatic Dialogues:

The AALL/Oceana Institute publications, while from the 1990s, provide valuable background information. These books were the result of an initiative to train future FCIL librarians.

  • Introduction to Foreign Legal Systems (Richard A. Danner & Marie-Louise H. Bernal eds., 1994).
  • Introduction to Transnational Legal Transactions (Marylin J. Raisch & Roberta I. Shaffer eds., 1995).
  • Introduction to International Organizations (Lyonette Louis-Jacques & Jeanne S. Korman eds., 1996).
  • Introduction to International Business Law: Legal Transactions in a Global Economy (Gitelle Seer & Maria I. Smolka-Day eds., 1996).
  • Contemporary Practice of Public International Law (Ellen G. Schaffer & Randall J. Snyder eds., 1997).


The FCIL-SIS Education Committee created a fantastic list: Articles Considering a Career in FCIL Law Librarianship. And many of these articles include further awesome lists and helpful footnotes themselves.


Subscribing to alerts for each of these publications allows me to review the table of contents for each issue and pick out articles to read and others to save for future reference as needed.

Core Groups/Lists to Join

After attending a few conferences throughout the past year, I’ve been able to put faces to names for many of my FCIL-focused colleagues who share valuable resources and information with one another through the digital forums created by the lists associated with these groups.

Also look for specialized groups of potential interest, such as Chinese and American Forum on Legal Information and Law Libraries (CAFLL).

In Conclusion

While I’m sure much of the list above is old hat to my FCIL colleagues who have been doing this wonderful work for some time and many of them have authored or spearheaded the publications and organizations listed, I hope listing this information all in one place on DipLawMatic Dialogues will help my future colleagues find starting points for entering this exciting world of FCIL librarianship. I’ve truly enjoyed my first year as an FCIL librarian and hope these posts have inspired others to consider pursing this path with their library careers too.

From the Reference Desk: Researching African Health Laws

By Amy Flick

550px-Africa_(orthographic_projection).svgOur summers at Emory start with numerous requests to help faculty and their research assistants get started with large summer projects. I had a request from a professor in May to help her research assistant find legislation on the public health systems, and information on the ministries of public health, for several African countries: Ethiopia, Liberia, Guinea, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Nigeria.

I have fielded several requests for Nigerian law in the last few years – and I thank Yemisi Dina for her help with the first of these – and I included Nigeria as an option for students for the final project in my Foreign and Comparative Legal Research class. So I started with some sources for Nigerian legislation, including some found by my students that I didn’t know of before my class. Resources for the other countries in the faculty request were less familiar.

I started with making a list of resources to investigate:

  • The Foreign Law Guide database, since it has subject headings including Health. It had citations for public health laws for all the countries on my list, but the only working legislative link was for Nigeria.
  • Law Library of Congress Guide to Law Online, with links to Parliaments and Official Gazettes. This added sources to my list for Madagascar’s laws (on the National Assembly website, in French) and to Mozambique’s legislation listed by “sectores” (on the government portal, in Portuguese).
  • GlobaLex Research Guides added sources for legislation to my list for Liberia and Ethiopia, as well as some ministries and government portals. I also checked Julienne Grant’s Research Guide on Global Health Law for more sources to try.
  • Global Legal Monitor from the Law Library of Congress, to look for recent news under their Health topic. I did find a 2017 story about a 2017 Liberian bill, as well as the 2014 Nigerian National Health Law.
  • Also on my list, but not helpful for this particular project: ILO NATLEX (includes laws on Occupational Safety and Health), FAOLEX (laws on Food and Nutrition), and Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (which did have some articles on the Nigerian 2014 law).
  • Google, which I used to fill in the health ministry websites that I hadn’t found through the Guide to Law Online or GlobaLex. Mozambique’s Ministry of Health turned out to be an additional source for their health laws and regulations.

But what you really want is the sources for those countries’ legislation for when you get similar requests. So, here’s my list:

As I have found with other projects dealing with the law of other countries, it took multiple portals and research guides to find the legislation I was looking for, as well as multiple websites compiling laws for some countries. I found a lot of dead links along the way, and many collections were not current. And for some countries, I could not find public health laws at all. Google Translate helped for navigating sites, but for reviewing the documents themselves, I needed a few phrases to look for in French and Portuguese. Final lessons: 1) do not expect foreign law to be readily available or easy to find, 2) do not expect foreign law to be readily available or easy to find in English, and 3) assign students projects that might come in handy for my own work on faculty requests!

New Resources: UN Women’s Family Law Database

By Gabriela Femenia

The Global Women’s Leadership Project (GWLP) at Penn Law has launched a new database of national laws governing women’s status in the family. Developed under the auspices of Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the UN Women’s Family Law Database is the first mapping of its kind that goes beyond the boundaries of traditional family law to examine the entire legal system of a country to identify the law’s subtle and powerful impact on a woman’s status in her family.

UN Women’s Family Law Database Home.png

Lead by Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Penn Law’s Associate Dean of International Affairs and Project Director, and compiled by Penn Law students and research fellows, this project maps the full range of laws that regulate a woman’s role in the family and society, including laws governing property, inheritance, custody, guardianship, marriage, divorce, residence, citizenship, domicile, age of marriage, guardianship, female genital mutilation (FGM), “husband obedience “ and sex-selective reproductive decisions.

The first phase of the database surveyed the 54 African countries; the 19 civil law countries in Latin America and 32 states of Mexico; the 51 independent states of Europe; Israel; India; and Pakistan. The data is currently available via the Biddle Law Library as a Google document and map, and will ultimately be accessible and searchable through a UN-designed database interface. Phase 2, now underway, will identify the relevant laws for the Middle East region, in addition to presenting a series of analytical reports on the data.

Feedback and questions about the database are most welcome and can be directed to Gabriela Femenia.

Teaching FCIL Research Series: Teaching FCIL Research? Consider Not Requiring a Textbook

AJ-Books-2By Mary Rumsey

After years of teaching, I’m convinced legal research instructors shouldn’t make students buy textbooks.

We all know the tremendous financial strain affecting most law students; they accrue appalling debt. We shouldn’t impose any costs on students unless the benefits greatly outweigh those costs. Unfortunately, the benefits of textbooks don’t outweigh the costs.

Researchers can use an FCIL research text in two different ways. First, they can look up specific tasks or questions as needed. Second, they can read assigned sections before doing research.

The latter practice doesn’t work for most students. The information isn’t “sticky,” because it’s arbitrary and—let’s face it—boring. Students find nothing interesting in instructions for finding treaties on the OAS site, for example. Unlike other subjects in law school, legal research techniques have no human interest or policy implications to help students remember them.

Well, how about using textbooks as needed? That will help sometimes, but the lifespan of an FCIL research textbook is short. Websites, the primary tool for FCIL research, change often. For example, the Council of Europe’s HUDOC site, the UN Treaties database, and the EU’s legal research site have been completely overhauled at least once in the last several years. Databases such as GLIN (which had thousands of foreign laws), EISIL, and the WHO Health Law database have disappeared. Foreign government websites, particularly from developing countries, flicker on and off. New websites, such as the UN’s Women’s Family Law database (a work in progress) arrive without warning. Moreover, reading about a research process will never implant it as firmly as using that process.

For these reasons, teachers should focus on helping students navigate the legal information landscape. In my experience teaching and observing students over the past twenty years, the most effective method for learning legal research techniques is doing legal research; the least effective is reading about it. In practice, lawyers will be jumping into unfamiliar databases and figuring out how they work, so it makes sense to have them practice doing that.

Better than reading:

  • Use research problems for practice and to assess their learning
  • Show students how to find and use “about this site” information, FAQs, search tips, help pages, and updated research guides
  • Push them to think about what organizations might collect information on topics—literacy rates, patents, or denials of asylum—and to test their ideas
  • Provide a target case in a foreign language and ask them to use online translation tools to find it on a court website
  • Use brief demonstrations (live, or on video) to show how to find information on complex databases (e.g., EUR-LEX), or how to do things like use Google site-searching instead of a site’s own search engine
  • Let students work together rather than read alone
  • Ask them to write descriptions of how they found information, or to teach other students
  • Instead of reading assignments, give them problems to research outside of class

Lots of practice along these lines will be more effective than teaching from a mandatory textbook. Granted, if we could pour the contents of a recently published textbook into students’ brains, they’d learn a lot about FCIL research. But since we can’t, consider making textbooks optional and placing one on reserve. Your class can be just as effective and you’ll have done your small part in reducing the crushing debts many of your students are accruing.