Law firms, and law schools, rarely lack for resources. A law firm may not have everything that a law school has, but we generally have enough, and, frequently, more than enough, to meet the needs of our attorneys. Use of the resources is another issue, and another blog post. But most of our resources are for performing legal research. It’s true that the big publishers include not legal resources in their subscriptions – news, company information, directories, for example. But what about those requests that require more information than our regular services provide?
I see daily posts on various listservs with requests for scientific articles, as well as posts seeking recommendations of sources (I’ve posted those myself). Frequently we can get lucky and another firm (or law school) will have some esoteric resource that can provide what we need. Or someone else will have had a similar question, and can point us in the right direction.
Many of my requests are for scientific information, and that’s fairly easy to find – at least when it comes to scientific articles. Most/all of the journals and scientific publishers have a website and provide their articles – sometimes for free, sometimes for a charge. Proquest (or as I knew when I was starting in libraries, Dialog) is similar to Lexis/Westlaw but is geared to business, science, medicine, and research libraries.
But an untapped, and frequently unknown, trove of information resides in almost every city. The public library. Our public library provides access to a multitude of resources aimed at the general user, whether they’re in business, a student, a scientist, or a teacher. And it’s all available at no charge if you have a library card. And most of it is available without having to go to the library itself. With a library card, I can remotely log into research databases, find journal articles, even ask a librarian for help with a research issue. But wait, there’s more…. You can also borrow books.
Why would you use the library databases? For business research. Our public library offers access to Factiva, for up to date business news. For older news, they have historical newspaper archives, Barrons’s, and Mergent reports. For tracking down individuals or businesses, I can access ReferenceUSA, in case my services come up empty. For scientific research – which, in my case, is generally locating articles cited by an expert or in the patent literature – I can find full-text of many articles at no charge (which is preferable to paying $20-40 per article).
And the books! My firm does quite a bit of First Amendment litigation, and my attorneys cite to a wide variety of materials in their briefs. I had an attorney once quote from “Look Homeward Angel” in his brief, and needed to book to make sure that his quote was correct. It’s not a title that I have on my shelves, but I was able to walk a few blocks and bring back a copy fairly quickly. If the library doesn’t own the book, they’ll even handle the interlibrary loan and borrow the book. That can take time, but it’s better than not being able to obtain the material at all. I’ve even purchased books at the library book sale that I needed for my firm’s collection – where else can you get a pretty recent copy of the PDR for $2?
Most of us haven’t used a public library for research since we were in high school, but the public library can provide a great deal of information to help law librarians. We’re expert in research/reference in our field, but the public librarians are true generalists and can suggest sources that we would never think of. So, the next time you have a question and don’t have the resource in your collection, check your local public library.