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Law Library News for April 10, 2000

Mary Whisner, editor

Law Library News Archive


Moot Court Research Tips

This Monday, first-year law students are embarking on the project of researching and drafting their briefs for moot court. This is a challenging and exciting period. But it might also be a little overwhelming. How do you get organized? How do you take notes? Where do you start your research? When do you go online? How do you choose an appropriate database? How do you update what you find?

If you�d like to talk with an experienced reference librarian (i.e., me) about questions like these, come to Room 139 at 12:30 Thursday, April 13. This session is optional � it�s just meant to help you out if you want.

The Nineties -- The Digital Docket Decade

by Mort Brinchmann, evening reference librarian

We may not have been ready for WTO, but we take a back seat to no one on the digital docket highway. Washington's Office of the Administrator for the Courts began providing remote access to Washington court dockets at all levels in the early-1990s. A mid-90s local startup, CourtLink, found its niche providing uniform access and smart looking docket printouts -- first to our state courts, later to federal courts (those accessible through the Fed's "PACER" system), and now to a mix of courts from other states -- six so far.

Docket records primarily provide information about case status. (Did the plaintiff file its jury trial demand in time? Has that judgment been satisfied?) They can also provide invaluable information about people and organizations. (Does she have a criminal record? Is the subject of my search a worthy suitor or worth suing -- i.e., where's the money?) One can also learn from similar litigation. (What theories were pursued under facts similar to ours? Do other case files contain pleading or briefing which may lighten our load?)

Typical docket records give you a case number, a (usually too general) designation of the type of case as well as lists of the parties and their attorneys and pleadings filed in that case. Searching is generally limited to case number and party names. Trying to find product liability actions filed by a certain attorney, for example, will usually require some preliminary research in newspaper, case, or jury verdicts databases to find the appropriate court and a party name or case number.

What's missing? Usually, remote access to the documents themselves. One is often stuck with calling a court to arrange copying and the long wait for them to arrive. Expedited service often requires access to sometimes pricey document delivery services. It is always worth a quick look to see what may be available at a court website. Some provide a list of recently filed cases or post special pleadings for which they anticipate frequent requests. Others provide free web access to dockets (Pierce County Superior Court does, for example); the hot sites go on to provide images of most documents filed in each case (look for "WebPACER" or "RACER" references at federal court sites).

King County Superior Court is about halfway to implementation of a comprehensive Electronic Court Records system (online filing and retrieval of pleadings). How close we eventually get to uniform and universal instant access to court documents likely depends on who can make money off it and how readily we want our neighbors to be able to find out about our personal adventures in the legal arena.

American Memory Historical Collections

A great way to celebrate National Library Week is to visit an extraordinary library. Thanks to digital technology, you can visit a part of the Library of Congress without leaving home. The Library of Congress website contains multimedia collections of digitized documents, photographs, recorded sound, moving pictures, and text from its Americana collections. These collections -- the American Memory Historical Collections -- represent just a small fraction of the Library of Congress�s holdings, but they are fascinating to browse nonetheless.

To view the collections, go to One option from that page is to search the collections. For instance a search for "Franklin Roosevelt" turns up pictures of FDR, as well a facsimile of his letter to J. Robert Oppenheimer thanking him for his work on "the highly important secret program of research, development and manufacture with which you are familiar."

Another option from the homepage is to use the "Collection Finder" to find an interesting set of images to browse or search. The category Political Science and Law, for instance, includes:

  • From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909
  • The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920
  • Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789
  • A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1873

If you want a break from law, there are plenty of other categories to browse. For example, Recreation and Sports includes:

  • Baseball Cards, 1887-1914
  • By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s
  • Inventing Entertainment: the Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies
  • Mapping the National Parks

And the Performing Arts category includes:

  • African-American Sheet Music, 1850-1920: Selected from the Collections of Brown University
  • California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties. Collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell
  • An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manuals, ca. 1490-1920
  • The New Deal Stage: Selections from the Federal Theatre Project, 1935-1939
  • Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection
  • Hispano Music & Culture from the Northern Rio Grande: The Juan B. Rael Collection
  • William P. Gottlieb: Photographs from the Golden Age of Jazz
  • The Leonard Bernstein Collection, ca. 1920-1989
  • The American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920

I�ve heard from a few students that they enjoy visiting cool websites, particularly when they are procrastinating on their schoolwork. I don�t want to tell you not to study, but if you do want a diversion, this is a great site -- and it�s from the Library of Congress, so it�s got to be educational, right?

National Library Week Trivia Contest

by Mary Whisner & Nancy McMurrer

In honor of National Library Week, this Trivia Contest focuses on libraries. To enter (and become eligible for a prize), turn in your answers (with your name and email address) to the Reference Office by 5:00 p.m. Thursday.

  1. Which delegate to the Constitutional Convention had founded the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731?
    1. Alexander Hamilton
    2. John Jan
    3. Benjamin Franklin
  2. The Library of Congress, founded in 1800, suffered heavy losses in a fire during a British bombardment of the Capitol in 1814. What lawyer's library was purchased to rebuild the collection?
    1. Daniel Webster's
    2. Thomas Jefferson's
    3. John Marshall's
  3. Name the case in which the Supreme Court held that "the fundamental constitutional right of access to the courts requires prison authorities to assist inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law."
    1. Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972)
    2. Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928)
    3. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817 (1977)
  4. 4) Which of the following famous persons worked in libraries?
    1. Mao Tse-tung and Al Capone
    2. J. Edgar Hoover and Giacomo Casanova
    3. The Brothers Grimm and Boris Pasternak
    4. All of the above.

Click here for answers.