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Encyclopedia of Public International Law Now Online

The Library recently subscribed to an updated and expanded electronic edition of the well known  Encyclopedia of Public International Law (EPIL).  Users can gain access to the EPIL from the Foreign and International online resources sub-page of the Library’s Online Resources page.

The EPIL was first published in 1960 as a three-volume set under the title, Wörterbuch des Völkerrechts.  The Max Planck Institute for Public International Law prepared a new, 12-volume, English language edition in 1981, which was re-organized and re-issued with additional articles in 1992.  The EPIL has always enjoyed a reputation for scholarly excellence.  Articles are substantial, written by noted international law scholars, and include bibliographies.  The EPIL is an authoritative source, and is often cited in scholarly writing.  Thus, its function differs from that of more familiar, common law encyclopedias used principally as reference sources.

The electronic version of the EPIL is essentially a new edition.  At present, it includes 460 of approximately 1700 planned articles.  With quarterly updates, the electronic edition should be completed by the end of 2010.  All articles are being rewritten (or newly written) and subjected to a peer review process.  After completion, articles will be updated “on a rolling basis,” and new articles will be added periodically.

Access to the articles is provided in several ways. There are tabs linking to lists of articles by subject, author, and by simple alphabetical arrangement.  There is also an advanced search screen, allowing any combination of keywords from the title, author’s name, full text, bibliography (to search for cited works or authors), and an expandable list of subject headings.  The advanced search screen is rather straightforward, but a very useful help utility is also provided with lots of search examples to guide the novice user.

Navigation features include highlighted search terms in the text along with the ability to move through the text from search term to search term.  Longer articles have clickable tables of contents permitting the reader to move directly to the relevant portion of the article.  It is also possible for the reader to link from one article directly to another cited within the first via the Oxford Law Citator, an Oxford University Press utility that includes a page for every online book, article, primary source item, etc, published online by OUP.  From a citation page for one item the reader can link to any other OUP item in the citator that either mentions or is mentioned by the first.  The Law Citator is somewhat cumbersome to use in practice; hot links would be preferable.  Moreover, until the online edition of the EPIL is complete, there will be many blind links.  However, the Law Citator is designed to provide cross linkage between multiple OUP sources, not just between EPIL articles, and as implemented is still more convenient than having to pull another volume off the shelf.

All in all, the EPIL is a well thought out and well implemented online product.  Hopefully, electronic access will increase use of this important resource, which can be quite helpful at any point in the research process. For those who can’t wait, check out the EPIL here.


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