You can ask a research librarian a seemingly impossible question and get an answer in minutes. How? Well, practice and the ability to remember questions I’ve answered before. But there’s something else. Librarians have secret weapons, and today I’m lifting the curtain and sharing three of my favorites with you.
You can ask me where to find an Italian statute from 1942. I tell you it’s in the official gazette, available online from 1860-1946 from Au.GU.Sto., a service of the Agenzia per l’Italia Digitale. How did I know that Italian statutes are published in the official gazette and how did I find it online from 1939? The Foreign Law Guide.
The Foreign Law Guide is a database of articles about the legal system of many different countries. The information provided includes information about the legal history of the country, the court system, and where to find everything. It’s especially helpful to tell you what is and isn’t out there. Some civil law countries don’t bother to publish many cases. They aren’t precedent, after all. The Foreign Law Guide also gives you links to online resources and, if need be, the name of the print resource for things that are too old or too obscure to be found online.
Honorable mention: GlobaLex. A free collection of expert articles about foreign law. Not as detailed, not as up-to-date.
#2: Guide to State Legislation, Legislative History, and Administrative Materials by, William H. Manz (ask for it at the Reference Desk)
You can ask me for help finding the legislative history of the inclusion of “sexual orientation” discrimination under the Illinois Human Rights Act. I’ll tell you that Illinois puts floor debate on the General Assembly’s website, but that very little information from committee hearings or reports is available, and what is available is cursory at best. I can also tell you that legislative history for New York laws is easy to find because a bill’s sponsor is required to write a memorandum about the purpose of the law.
William Manz’s book is still the go-to source for quick information about what’s available for legislative history at the state level. It will tell you if the information is recorded and, if so, where to find it. It cuts across Lexis, Westlaw, HeinOnline, and free online sources. It allows the reader to be an instant expert in the esoteric details of legislation in 50 states.
Honorable mention: Library guides from other law libraries. Other law libraries maintain research guides to researching the law of their state and they are frequently very helpful, like this guide to Wisconsin Legislative History Research that I found from the Wisconsin State Library.
#3: The Supreme Court Compendium: Data, Decisions, and Developments by, Lee Epstein et al.
Finally, you can ask me where to find the papers of the Supreme Court justices or where Abe Fortas is buried (trick question–he was cremated). I’ll give you a list of where everyone’s papers wound up.
The Supreme Court Compendium is a collection of data, facts and statistics about the Supreme Court. It’s nothing that you can’t find elsewhere, but it’s all in one place. It gives you tables of statistics on the court’s caseload, success rates of different kinds of litigants before the court, and more esoteric things like a complete listing of where every justice who has passed away is buried. It’s a great source for all things SCOTUS.
Honorable mention: SCOTUSblog. More than just a source of court news and analysis, the SCOTUS blog provides lots of statistics and writes about issues of interest to those who research the court like this 2013 blog post about sources of the justices’ papers online.