Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I'm Not a Lawyer

As librarians we are sometimes presented with questions that we can not ethically answer because we are not lawyers, physicians, or rabbis. Last night someone presented such questions, not for herself but for her daughter who had no time to visit the library. We have law books (Illinois Compiled Statutes, IL Decisions, ALR, and IL Legal Forms) for our legal assistant, criminal justice, and business programs. The introduction to how to use these materials takes more than an hour not including the exercises. Checking legal materials is totally different from checking books in the sciences and humanities. The answers I give as a reference librarian to reference questions vary by the program or courses the students are enrolled in.

One question was: "What statute deals with to vacate a guilty plea to correct manifest injustice?" (Her words not mine.)

The quick answer is there is no statue. Judges may vacate a sentence or verdict but defendants resend a plea. That of course was not the answer to give to the reader. I did find part of the Illinois Criminal Code in chapter 725 Criminal Procedure of Illinois Compiled Statutes (ILCS) that could have something the reader wanted. I asked what school the daughter attended and the reader didn't know. I offered to e-mail a copy of the material and the reader said ok. I gave her the key board to type in the e-mail address and when I asked her to finish the address with the "@" and a domain she did not know what I was talking about. Finally she said "Oh do you mean ''?

The next question was even more revealing of the reader's background, "What statute deals with contacting witnesses if you are a pro se lawyer?" ILCS does have some articles dealing with witnesses. This is not enough. There is the law and there is the commentary. One also needs to examine the rules of the court in which the case is being tried.

If the person wanting to know the answer was a student in a business and legal assistant program I could help them as an academic exercise. I would point out the need for exact legal terminology, and how to find laws, cases, and procedures. This would be part of their education. They would be learning the skill needed for their future jobs. If a reader wants advice on a personal case, I can't help. I'm not a lawyer.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Telling the World

Librarians are under siege because of economic difficulties. Education budgets are being cut and cities are reducing budgets for public libraries. We have to tell the ones who control the budget what we do. On April 9 I delivered a session for the faculty of the City Colleges. I authored an e-mail for my library director to send to the faculty that included a link to the PowerPoint slides of my presentation. The College newsletter included the notice with my name in the headline.

Hopefully this is setting an example of what I preach. If you want to see the slides go to :

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Style Sheets

Anyone who attends my bibliographic instruction sessions knows that I hate APA style sheet because it tells the users to ignore full given names. I tell students that APA, MLA, University of Chicago are just advisory. The idea of a style sheet is to facilitate scholarly communication. I advise the students that the standard style sheets are merely advisory. Their teacher or the publication where they submit has the final say.

Recently I submitted an article to a publication I'll call JA. They don't want any MS Word tables. I had data in a table. That was the easiest way to make the information readable. Before submitting the article I asked what to do. They said the information had to fit in a very specific space. They gave me measurements in centimeters. I changed my margins and increased the line spacing to the requested double space. The table went from one page to six. It was hard to interpret the data. I had to delete one who table and two columns with Latin and Aramaic. I also had to delete about 20 examples. To make up for the missing data I included a link to a file with all the information.

The publication said end-notes could not use the MS Word notes feature. This feature does automatic numbering. It takes away the tedium of including notes. They said note were to entered in plain text. The numbers for the notes had to be in superscript. When I deleted part of the tables I have to figure how to re-number the notes that were left.

I had three parts to my argument. They made me practically delete one of them.

I create many notes and I included a bibliography of sources. They don't like bibliographies. All citations had to be within the text or in an end-note.

Finally the format was acceptable and they had nothing to say about the actual content. The publication has a style sheet that is very limited. It is so limited that I had to ask for an interpretation. Well, the publication is their game and if I want to play, I have to follow their rules.

I hope that after all that formatting change, they publish the article.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Weeding a collection

"Weeding" that's an interesting word to use for removing books from a collection. Just as we seek to add books to the collection based on a collection development policy, we should remove book when they no longer fit the needs of the library and its readers. Removing books that are worn out or superseded by newer versions or edition is easy. Selecting the others to remove is difficult. First because we know when the cost of the books were when new and second we think, "someone might need this book tomorrow."

The first document one should use for the decision is your collection development manual. It is always better to not buy items or not accept a donation than to remove it when it been cataloged and is sitting on the shelf.

Just because a book has not circulated does not mean it should be removed from the collection. One must weigh factors such as the importance for the collection. One may also decide to move the infrequently used materials to a secondary stack or storage area.

Weeding is hard when we love books, but every collection needs to look great. The display of materials is what encourages readers to try a book. It's ok to feel guilty. Just do the job carefully and systematically with plan and then everyone will appreciate the new look of the shelves.