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Tips for Law Librarians who Sometimes have to do Foreign Law Research

February 2, 2013
View from my new office

View from my new office.

January 31st marks the end of my first month as a Foreign & International Law Librarian and as a reference librarian at a university rather than a stand-alone law school. I have already

  • met the Foreign & International Law faculty and begun working on research projects for them
  • started assisting the editors of the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law
  • attended a law library meeting, an all library staff meeting and two meetings with the Library Staff Development & Travel Committee on which I serve
  • been welcomed at a reception attended by library staff from all the other university library departments
  • attended an International Law Webinar
  • spent over 40 hours at the reference desk
  • received and begun handing out my new business cards

Based on these activities, here are the top five things I have learned about Foreign Law Research.

Foreign Law Research

1.  If you have access to it, start with the Foreign Law Guide (FLG), because:

  • it contains the most up-to-date research advice
  • the print sources are mostly out of date
  • not all of the freely available Globalex and LLRX guides have the same depth of treatment
  • university specific research guides are often so cued to the institution that they can be frustrating to use

If you don’t have access to the FLG, and if the relevant Globalex or LLRX guides are somewhat dated, check to see if the research guide author has a similar online guide hosted at their home institution. It’s easier to continuously update a LibGuide than a Globalex/LLRX Guide.

2.  The most important piece of information on a research guide is the name of the author and their contact information.

  • An online guide is a ready reference guide and is necessarily limited in scope, even the most detailed FLG entry or Globalex/LLRX Guide may not address the specific question that you have.
  • If you have carefully read the appropriate research guide and examined all of the relevant sources that you have access to, the next step is to ask an expert. This is where in-person schmoozing comes in.

3.  AALL: FCIL-SIS; IALL: Attend Conferences and Talk to People so  you can ask someone who you personally know.

  • I know, I know, you became a librarian so that you could spend all of your time at your desk searching databases or examining reference books. Too bad! As far as I can tell, there is a limited selection of up-to-date detailed reference books in English on foreign law research. At some point in time, you are going to have to send an email to an actual person. It’s better if you have already met them in person.
  • When you go to conferences, don’t just attend the relevant seminars and then walk out
    • Talk to the people.
    • Tell them what your expertise is in and ask about theirs.
    • Learn how to hold a glass of wine in one hand, balance a plate of finger sandwiches in the other and chat about your dogs, the conference location and your favorite TV show.
  • Why?
    • Because these are your colleagues and most of what they know is not written down anywhere, it’s in their heads.

4.  Before you contact a legal expert, make sure you know what the citation says.

  • If the citation is not in a language that you can read with ease, this may mean that you need to contact someone who speaks the language. If you don’t personally know anyone who speaks Russian, it might behoove you to befriend the librarians who do foreign language cataloging and collection development at your university.
  • This is kind of easy for me to say.  I am a shy extrovert, and exhibitlogorrhea (nervous babbling) but it helps me to make friends with everyone because I genuinely am interested in people and in what they are doing.
  • Also, I have no friends right now because I just moved here from another state, so to me, everyone I meet is a potential friend whether or not they read a foreign language.
  • I am also really excited to be part of a university community and to have opportunities to collaborate with other librarians.
  • The bottom line is: University Library Catalogers read other languages. If you know the ones at your university you can ask them for help with languages that you can’t read.

5.  If you have tried all of these things and you still can’t find what you are looking for, ask on the int-law list.

I know it’s going out to almost 800 people and it’s kind of intimidating because

  • you don’t want to bother people
  • you don’t want to look stupid or lazy in front of people
  • it’s 800 people, it’s like standing in front of a crowd of busy experts and asking for a favor.

Here’s why you should do it anyway

  • what is taking you hours might take an expert 3 minutes to either do or tell you how to do. Let them decide if they are too busy for your question.

Just be sure to try to return the favor whenever possible.

  • In my position as a newbie FCIL librarian, I would hope that people understand that I may not be of much use with how to questions. But as a librarian at an institution with excellent resources, I may end up having access to something that someone needs and when that time comes I am poised to help out as best I can.
  • As an extroverted librarian in a profession dominated by introverts if I can befriend some introverts at the conferences then, even if I don’t know the answer to the substantive question, I may be able to be of service connecting introverts who otherwise might never feel comfortable contacting each other.

What are your top 5 tips for finding Foreign (not International ) Laws?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Julie permalink
    February 4, 2013 7:19 pm

    I agree with Tip 2, Star 2: You can’t go wrong with “in-person schmoozing”

  2. Lyo permalink
    February 5, 2013 2:39 pm

    Welcome aboard, and great tips! :-) The Foreign Law Guide’s my favorite first place to go too. Followed by GlobaLex. LLRX guides are fewer and some of them are dated.

    There are also general subject compilations of foreign law and Legal Information Institutes, so you can use free IGO databases of law, LIIs like WorldLII, AustLII, CanLII, BAILII, individual country databases, and mega ones like vLex. So lots of choices. Mary Rumsey lists them in her “Basic Guide to Researching Foreign Law”:

    http://www.nyulawglobal.org/globalex/Foreign_Law_Research1.htm

    The Int-Law list is a great resource. I usually post requests there after I’ve exhausted other options. Very helpful and knowledgeable group:

    http://listserver.ciesin.columbia.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A0=Int-Law

    Love “shy extrovert” and “in-person schmoozing” (that last is key for making researching foreign law easier! :-)).

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