It’s a Small World… but too big to fit in a library

A few years back, in dealing with the budget crisis du jour, my library canceled the bulk of its foreign, comparative, and international law (FCIL, often pronounced “fickle”) subscription materials. At the time, our decision was based on three factors. First, our grads tend to practice in Kentucky or neighboring markets, where, we assumed, they would not encounter much foreign or international law. Second, UK Law only offered two to three international law courses a year. Third, we never had a budget to collect FCIL materials expansively, and so our FCIL “collection” was mostly British and Irish with a touch of European Union. We figured that since we didn’t have the resources to do it right, we might as well cut it as opposed to weakening some other topic for which we did have good coverage.

Of course, it turned out that it is a small world after all, and even law students in land-locked Kentucky occasionally need FCIL materials. For instance, every year our law journals publish at least one article heavily referencing foreign or international law. Our reference desk sees a stream of confused students trying to decipher strange citations in order to find the sources to which the authors cite. Furthermore, each year we get several students who want to write comparative papers for seminar papers or notes. Occasionally, our professors also engage in comparative scholarship.

How, then, do we answer FCIL reference requests without a FCIL collection? (Libraries with FCIL collections probably face a similar question, albeit on a smaller scale. After all, even law libraries with larger budgets than ours probably do not hold the laws of all the world’s jurisdictions due to space considerations alone if nothing else.) The short answer, of course, is that we ILL it.

However, that pithy answer does not really countenance the effort that goes into each FCIL ILL. As mentioned, the citations tend to be unfamiliar, and sometimes it is difficult to determine what to ILL. Also, those patrons interested in topical research can hardly ILL, for example, the entire Svensk författningssamling. A little bit of narrowing is necessary.

Fortunately for those of us with budgetary challenges, several cheap services make narrowing much easier. First of all, Hein’s U.N. Law Collection and World Treaties Library pretty much takes care of most of our international law requests. Foreign laws tend to be trickier, but the affordable Foreign Law Guide serves as a good starting place as it will at least describe the universe of available sources for any given jurisdiction. From there, I tend to supplement with whatever free resources the Foreign Law Guide suggests (such as the link for my earlier Swedish example), Globalex, WorldLII, and expanded web searching. I am not above looking at other countries’ versions of wikipedia for links, and I am certainly not above using Google translate for materials in their native language.

European Union laws present their own challenges, mostly due to the sheer volume of material the E.U. publishes on the internet. For E.U. materials, I like using JustCite, a relatively low-cost indexing and citator service. While JustCite does not include full-text primary source documents, it does interface with and link to free sites such as Europa, making obtaining the documents easy. More importantly, JustCite adds topical searching functionality and offers the ability to expand research to citing authorities.

Honestly, if we had to make the cuts again, FCIL materials would likely still be on the chopping block, but the assumption that we wouldn’t ever need to help patrons find them has proven false. I feel more or less confident, though, in the low-cost workarounds to justify foregoing the expense. If anyone has any other low-cost (preferably zero) suggestions for FCIL research, please let me know!


This entry was posted in Foreign & International Research, Issues in Law Librarianship, Legal Research, Library Collections, Reference Services and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to It’s a Small World… but too big to fit in a library

  1. FCIL-SIS says:

    Reblogged this on DipLawMatic Dialogues and commented:
    An interesting perspective on FCIL materials and reference, from RIPS-SIS:

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