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.