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The Indiana Law Library Blog

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Wikis and the Law

Almost everyone these days is familiar with Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone and everyone. People have mixed feelings about it. It does give people a chance to write about things that they really care about and have studied—and they have to care, since they are doing this for free. However, since Wikipedia has less editorial control than other reference materials, it can be wrong, and it can also be the subject of practical jokes (like Stephen Colbert asking his viewers to change the page on elephants). Most researchers at this point know that you can start at Wikipedia, but you should never end there.

Wikipedia is not alone, though—it is merely the best known example of a collaborative web project. Wikis are popping up everywhere. Offices have wikis for their policies. Students check class wikis everyday. And we are starting to see wikis appear in the legal world. For example, the famous SCOTUSblog has started a wiki for Supreme Court matters, though it isn’t open to the world for editing yet.

A month or two ago Inter Alia had a post on a new legal wiki called Legalwikipro, started by a lawyer in Oklahoma. So far Oklahoma is really the only state that has been fleshed out, but just poking around that area you can see the potential of a good legal wiki. Though, like Wikipedia, it couldn’t be counted upon to be perfect, it is exciting to think of a site where local lawyers could post what experience has taught them is the most relevant law to a particular area.

We can only hope that Legalwikipro, or at least something like it, will take off in the near future.

Oh, and if you are interested, check out the Wiki page about wikis.

Apologies for the Elevator

As most of you have no doubt noticed, the library elevator is out of order. Physical Plant has spent some time on it, and so has the manufacturer, but no one has been able to find out what is wrong. We are very sorry for the continuing inconvenience, and we are working on the problem.

If you have any questions or concerns about it, come see Linda Fariss in the library, or you can e-mail her at fariss@indiana.edu. Thanks for your patience!

Civil Rights Record of the George W. Bush Administration

The USCCR Report on the civil rights record of President Bush, Redefining Rights in America: The Civil Rights Record of the George W. Bush Administration (mentioned in a recent New York Times article discussing the loss of electronic government information), can be found at Historical Publications of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

A Guide for OneLs—The Socratic Method

There is an ongoing debate in the legal community about whether or not to use the Socratic Method. The Socratic Method derives its name from the philosopher Socrates’ tendency to ask questions that lead people to conclusions, rather than offer conclusions himself. In fact, Socrates claimed always to know nothing. Often Socrates was challenging people’s assumptions by leading them into contradictions, forcing them to rethink their preconceived notions.

Its application in law school is an interesting one. Unlike Socrates, your professors don’t claim to know nothing, so in some ways the Socratic Method is more like hiding the ball than a process of mutual discovery. But like Socrates, they are trying to get you to think for yourself. We don’t presume to actually try to address a debate that has raged for years, but we will point you in the direction of the Volokh Conspiracy, one of the most widely read legal blogs, where great legal minds argue the point themselves, and also offer some advice for how to respond to professors who use the technique.

Bloggers with Power

Continuing our reflections on the nature of blogging itself, perhaps the most remarkable thing about this new medium is that it really does give power to people who would not otherwise have it. All you need is some information that hasn’t been presented yet. If you have ever read your local paper online you know that you often get more of the story if you look at the reader comments. Half the time someone who lived down the street from the story can flesh out the details. Blogs are the same thing–they allow people to be heard that otherwise would not have had the chance.

There are lots of examples of this.  When the reporter who broke the Megan Meier story refused to name names bloggers from all over quickly hunted down the name of the woman involved and splashed it all over the internet. More recently, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog, a blog entry taking the U.S. Supreme Court to task for missing some precedent may cause the court to reconsider its decision. Bloggers are branching out into more traditional media–publishing books, appearing on television. A lot of news sources now turn to the blogosphere to gage public opinion.

It’s remarkable what a little information and a platform to share it on can do.

Profile of a Database–HeinOnline

Many law students know that if they want a PDF copy of a journal or law review article HeinOnline is the place to go. Hein has an enormous collection of legal periodicals, all back to the very first issue, and all in their original forms. But there is much more to Hein than that.

Hein has all sorts of different resources available, including a wealth of government information, foreign materials like the English Reports, and most recently, Subject Compilations of State Laws, which is a collection of 50 state surveys. And they are constantly adding new material.

Hein is not always the best place to begin your research, as their searching tools are not the best, but it is an important database to remember. Also, since it is considerably cheaper than either West or Lexis, it is probably a good tool to remember when you actually enter practice. Take advantage of databases in law school when you can still used them for free–you might be surprised at what a bad search will cost you in the real world.

So go poke around HeinOnline. And for the interested, HeinOnline has been good about embracing web 2.0. They have a blog that offers a steady stream of announcements, search tips, and other useful information, a YouTube channel, and even a Facebook page.

Potter Law

For those Harry Potter fans that have been following the fight between J.K. Rowling and Steven Jan Vander Ark the decision came down a few days ago in favor of Ms. Rowling. Vander Ark, a devoted fan of the series, has maintained a website of all things Potter for years. He ran into trouble, though, when he decided to branch out and publish a book on the same subject–Rowling sued claiming that it was too similar to her original books.

For more see this story in the New York Times, which also links to the opinion itself.

A Brief Look at Hornbooks

An interesting question came up in the reference office the other day–why are hornbooks called hornbooks?

It turns out that a hornbook was originally a primer of sorts.  It was usually a single sheet of paper attached to a handle that looked like a paddle.  To protect the paper a thin sheet of cow’s horn was stretched over the paddle.  This is much simpler than our hornbooks in the library, but old hornbooks were meant to give children a start in spelling and reading, and legal hornbooks are meant to give students a start in a particular area of law.

If you are interested, take a look at this history, or at some of the pictures that IUPUI put together.

A Guide for OneLs–Play a Little

There is no question that law school is tough.  And only a couple weeks into the new semester many OneLs are probably somewhat intimidated by the amount of work being assigned.  There is a lot of work, but sometimes if you don’t leave yourself time to relax you are a less effective worker anyway.

You will be a more effective student if you make sure to also take some time for yourself, maybe by participating in activities with fellow law students, or maybe just taking a study break to watch a movie.  At the very least, take small breaks.  It’s often a good idea to set a schedule for yourself–one hour of study, fifteen minutes of play, another hour of study, etc.

Who is the Oldest Justice?

The current display in the Law School lobby features photos and information about the United States Supreme Court. It contains information such as the ages and birth dates of the Justices. Did you know that Justice Stevens is by far the oldest Justice? He is 88 years old. At 53, Chief Justice Roberts is the youngest. Additionally, the display contains information about how frequently the Justices voted together in the most recent term. (Click here and here for voting agreement matrices.) The display also includes several spatial distributions of the Justices based on how often they voted together. (Click here, here, and here.) For additional metrics and visualizations about the Supreme Court, visit this page.

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