An Exploration of WikiLeaks: What has Taken Me So Long!

by Sarah Gotschall

Recently a friend from my school’s career services office was trying to find contact information for a recent graduate, a common activity for her since her department is in charge of reporting graduate employment data to the ABA. Though I found nothing useful for her, I did find the graduate referenced in WikiLeaks because…well, I will leave it to the reader’s imagination since anything would be more exciting than the reality. Is he a CIA operative? A tax avoiding billionaire?

I was amused to find someone I vaguely know mentioned in WikiLeaks. I mean, it is famous, amirite? After pondering WikiLeaks for a few moments I ran out of things to ponder because my knowledge of it is limited to the following snippets – the Panama papers about tax avoidance, the Clinton emails (hacked from…was it the DNC?), documents on a topic I can’t remember that got Chelsea Manning convicted, and Edward Snowden’s proof of the US spying on Internet (or was it phone?) communications that led to his flight to Russia. Not an impressive mental haul for an information professional.

Most of my blog topics begin with the thought, “Geez, I should know more about that by now,” so off I go on an exploration. Many of my informational quests start with Wikipedia, so I consulted it first. According to the Wikipedia entry for WikiLeaks, it is a nonprofit organization with a website that publishes secret, leaked, and classified information from usually anonymous sources. The site was launched in 2006 by Sunshine Press and Julian Assange is generally identified as the founder and editor-in-chief. The “wiki” part of the name comes from the early wiki format of the site which ended in 2010.

On to the site! The About page says that WikiLeaks “specializes in the analysis and publication of large datasets of censored or otherwise restricted official materials involving war, spying and corruption. It has so far published more than 10 million documents and associated analyses.”

Okay then, so on to the documents! On the initial screen, there is a seemingly universal search field that appears to search all the documents on the site, though it is difficult to say for sure since there is not a relevant help screen.

WikiLeaks Initial Screen

Below the search field there are six categories – Intelligence, Global Economy, International Politics, Corporations, Government, and War & Military. Further below there are a number of featured databases such as the Hilary Clinton Email Archive and Vault 7: CIA Hacking Tools Revealed. When you click on a category, such as Intelligence, you find a list of all the intelligence related databases, with no search filed to search them all simultaneously.

I was a bit excited to run my first search in the universal search field! My first search was, of course, my last name, Gotschall, since it is a bit unusual! If a former student can be casually referenced, then why not my relatives, or at least my namemates (not a real word, I know…)? My initial happiness at retrieving three mentions of “Gotschall” faded after scanning the results. My uncle’s cousin’s book about speechmaking was cited in a CRS report, and the other two Gotschall whom I don’t know were mentioned in equally bland contexts.

Once you run a search (or just click on the search icon with no search), the advanced search features are revealed. There are search fields for “All these words,” “This exact phrase,” “Any of these words,” and “Exclude these words.” You can also search for documents by document date or date of WikiLeaks release.

Advanced Search

In addition to the fields, there are a number of search operators for use in the “All these words” field. You can use the OR, NOT, and proximity connectors, and also search by phrase or limit the search to document title or contents. You can filter your search results by leak and order your documents by relevance or date.

Next, my attention turned to what we have all heard so much about, the Hillary Clinton email archive. I clicked into the archive, and, I am not proud because it makes me seem like a Fox News viewer (which I am not), I typed in “Huma.” There were 260 pages of results. I was attracted to one with the subject line “Hi Huma” because, hey, famous politicians are just like us, amirite? I was unaccountably pleased with the pedestrian nature of the email. Huma was about to land in someplace called Shannon and would call soon.

Hi Huma Email

For a third example, I asked my coworker for something interesting to search for in WikiLeaks and he recalled a mild scandal involving John Podesta’s emails about his interest in UFOs. Considering the recent spate of pilot-UFO-freakout recordings floating around the Internet, this seemed like a timely topic.

After a few searches, I discovered that I could run “from” to retrieve only emails from Mr. Podesta and that the search term UFO didn’t retrieve UFOs (and vice versa). To retrieve both terms, I used the OR connector which is the pipe symbol (|) on WikiLeaks.

The following search retrieved 24 documents: “from” ufo | ufos

In one email dated January 19, 2016, which was released on WikiLeaks on November 7, 2016, Podesta answered questions from reporter Daniel Oberhaus. Podesta joked that, though politicians are afraid to discuss intelligent life in the universe, he was just interested in “making the UNIVERSE GREAT AGAIN.”

Podesta Alien Email

In addition to the above search examples, I had hours of fun poking around, reading about CIA hacking and abuse of detainees at Guantanamo Bay (not actually so fun…). It is a very easy site to search and has a much larger offering of advanced search features than most websites. For some reason, I had the impression that it was a pain to search, so I think that is why I failed to check out the site all these years? Maybe that was true back in the early days when it was a wiki? Or maybe I checked out it out years ago and just forgot.

Posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Legal Research | Tagged | Leave a comment

Searching for Negative News

by Erik Adams

The defendant’s lawyer said to his client “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that samples of your blood were found at the crime scene. The good news is your cholesterol is below 140!”

I am occasionally asked to look for negative news on companies and individuals as a part of due diligence research. There are a variety of ways to do this, and I recently decided it would be interesting to test two methods against against each other to see which produced better results.

The first method is a big, complicated query, initially developed by a librarian 10 years ago, and run through a news database on Lexis or Westlaw. This query is over 1,000 characters long, and contains many words and phrases that might appear in a news item about a person or company, ranging from abuse, accuse, and arraign all the way through unlawful, verdict, and violation. (Sadly, no terms that being with “z”). The search terms are all stemmed. I’ve saved the query in a text file, and to use it I plug in the name of the business or individual I’m looking for and send the results to the attorney. It is literally legal research by copy and paste. I’ve used this big query many times in the past, and attorneys have generally liked the results.

The problem with this query is that it requires maintenance. For example, I noticed that it does not contain “PAGA,” or “private attorney general act,” a growing area of law in California. If you were interested in negative news about a potential client, you would want to know if there were PAGA claims filed against it, but this massive query would not necessarily find them.

The other method is to use one of the negative news databases that are available. Lexis Advance has two: Negative Business News and Negative Personal News. These databases are compiled using a list of negative news keywords, though I could not find the exactly list of terms. Due Diligence (a Lexis product) will also search negative news, with easy to use refinements. BloombergLaw offers “Potentially Negative News” and “Potentially Negative News on People” under “Topics”. Westlaw does’t appear to have negative news databases, though the big query can be used in their regular news content.

My opportunity to make a comparison came in the form of a reference request that had 3 personal names and two businesses. I decided to look for negative news three ways: searching Lexis news with the big query, searching the Lexis Negative Business News database, and searching the Lexis Negative Personal News database. I compared the number of hits, and scanned the types of articles found. If I had more time, I would have compared the result lists to see how many articles appeared in all three search results, but sadly that wasn’t possible at this time.

One of the personal names had no hits, at all, no matter how I ran the search. One personal name had fewer than 10 hits, all false positives. The last personal name yielded actual results: the big query had 84 hits; Lexis’s Negative Business News had 86; and Lexis Negative Personal News had 29. The hits were similar in all three result sets: this person was mentioned in a company earnings call, quoted in an article about the business, etc. I don’t know that I would necessarily describe all the articles “negative,” though they met the search criteria. At the end of the day, these people are pretty boring, and many of the negative news articles were false positives. For example, someone who robbed a convenience store in Portland, Oregon, had a very similar name and the arrest in that incident came up no matter how I searched.

For the companies, the difference between results was a little more interesting. One company name had almost 2,000 hits using the big query, but more than 2,500 in the Negative Business News database, and 800 in the Negative Personal News database. The articles in the Negative Business News database included many articles about fluctuations in the company’s stock price, which my attorney was not interested in. The Negative Personal News search results mentioned the company in the context of individuals using the company’s products in the commission of a crime, which I found interesting but which my attorney found less relevant.

Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive survey. My attorney was kind enough to look at all the search results I produced, and at the end decided they preferred the big query. I think there’s room for improvement in this kind of research. It strikes me as the kind of project artificial intelligence is well suited to. Perhaps Lexis and Westlaw will set their data scientists loose on the quest for bad news on some point in the future, and it will be worth while to do this test again.

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Can Legal Research Be Taught? Part 3: Pushing Ourselves Further

by Paul Gatz

My previous blog posts in this series have focused on the role relevance determination plays in both the practice and the teaching of legal research. The first post pointed to the puzzle of how students can be expected to determine the relevance of their results if they do not possess the subject knowledge needed to recognize a relevant document. The second post drew from the information science literature to set out the different types of relevance, highlighting in particular the subject knowledge view of relevance that posits that determining relevance depends on an understanding of how knowledge is created, disseminated, and organized with a particular subject, or discipline.

Those posts highlighted metacognition, legal bibliography, and legal analysis and argument as the types of subject knowledge that we can teach our students to help them learn how to make relevance determinations in legal research. We need only teach our students enough of this subject knowledge to enable them to conduct effective and efficient legal research. In order to teach this material, however, our knowledge as instructors must be expert.


Wexner Center for the Arts, The Ohio State University

To that end, it is worth exploring further what all the “subject knowledge” of subject knowledge relevance may entail. Part 2 borrowed a great deal from the information scientist Birger Hjorland, who, in his work on relevance, has connected the subject knowledge view of relevance to the domain-analytic perspective in information science. [1] Domain analysis, as explicated by Hjorland and others, states that the proper object of study for information science is not the document, nor the system, nor the user, but rather the knowledge domain. A domain “is the set of information systems, resources, services, and processes associated with a group of users with common concerns and a common viewpoint.” [2]

The expert researcher, therefore, does not require complete knowledge of a particular subject (say, law), but rather a functional knowledge of the domain – how its systems (documents, institutions, norms) interact with its users (attorneys, judges, law professors, law students) to generate knowledge (the law and legal analysis). Insofar as law librarians and legal research instructors seek to develop their expertise, we should be reading and contributing to studies, practices, and scholarship that deepens our understanding of the domains of legal practice and legal scholarship.

Hjorland proposes eleven approaches to domain analysis that range from the practical to the scholarly (literature guides, special classifications and thesauri, indexing and retrieval, user studies, bibliometric studies, historical studies, document studies, epistemological and critical studies, terminological and discourse studies, communication structures and institutions, and cognition and artificial intelligence). [3] Law librarians and legal research instructors, in creating and consuming these sorts of work, gain greater insight into the knowledge domain of law, which in turn, enhances their own legal research expertise and their teaching.

Admittedly, that’s a lot of long-winded paragraphs just to land on, “Hey, guys, read Law Library Journal,” but my point is a broader one. We should all take a page out of Brandon Wright Adler’s book and find ways to eke out the time to devote to organizing our thoughts on legal research and law libraries and writing them down – if only to deepen our own personal knowledge of the subject. If we can find the time and possess the inclination, we should research, write, and publish to further our collective understanding of how knowledge is created, disseminated, and organized in the legal domain and how the information systems we work within and the users we work with create that domain. We should read Law Library Journal and Legal Reference Services Quarterly, yes, but we should also re-acquaint ourselves with the broader LIS literature, to draw lessons and inspiration that we may apply to our narrower specialization.

If we are to be the experts in legal research, then we must also be leaders in developing knowledge in our field, furthering the understanding of the legal domain and of our own place within it. Can legal research be taught? Of course it can, if it’s taught by someone driven to understand it.


[1] Birger Hjorland, The Foundation of the Concept of Relevance, 61 J. Am. Soc’y for Info. Sci. & Tech. 217, 231 (2010).

[2] David Bawden & Lyn Robinson, Introduction to Information Science 93 (2013).

[3] Birger Hjorland, Domain Analysis in Information Science: Eleven Approaches – Traditional as Well as Innovative, 58 J. of Documentation 422 (2002).

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A Sci-Fi Nerd’s Fear of AI in the Library

by Nicole Downing

I’m a big science fiction fan. I like books, movies, and television shows set in a future where people are exploring space, battling aliens, and using advanced technology in every-day life. This means I am very familiar with fictional stories featuring artificial intelligence. Sometimes you have endearing AI characters, like Pixar’s Wall-E or Poe from Netflix’s Altered Carbon. However, a classic science fiction plot device involves robots becoming too smart and taking over the world, such as Skynet in Terminator or the Machines in The Matrix. As much as I love R2D2, it’s the visions of the future that paint a scary portrait of where technology can take us that have always stuck with me.

Growing up with these movies left me with the distinct impression that artificial intelligence is terrifying. The concept of robots taking over the world is very real – just look at all the evidence from movies! As artificial intelligence has made its way not just into society but into my profession, I will admit that my instinct was to look away. The progression of AI was like something from a fictional world I didn’t want to be a part of, even though I generally consider myself an otherwise tech-friendly individual.

As sessions started to appear at professional conferences and librarians began writing about AI, I shoved my head in the sand. I knew AI was coming and bringing changes, but I refused to investigate the technology out of concern for a robot overlord future. Over the last six months, the prevalence of AI seems to have reached a tipping point. I couldn’t continue to hide from it, as it was even creeping into my investigation of what I considered “safe technologies.”

I decided rather than dipping a toe in the water, I would throw myself all in. I committed to presenting a workshop on Artificial Intelligence and the Law for law students as part of our Prep for Practice Legal Technology workshop series. It was the best thing I could have done.

Preparing for the workshop forced me to face artificial intelligence in a practical way. I needed to understand how it is being used in legal practice now and how it is going to change the field in the future. I also knew I wanted to keep from presenting an alarmist view to law students who are just embarking on their legal journey. It turned out that wasn’t a problem.

Understanding exactly what constitutes AI immediately calmed many of my irrational, fiction-based fears. AI isn’t just the Decepticons and Autobots from Transformers that my mind jumps to; it’s software and programs. I use software every day, and it turns out I already use many forms of artificial intelligence. From there, I was able to understand machine learning and natural language processing. I was also able to dive in to how big names like ROSS Intelligence and Kira Systems are functioning.

It was reading the discussions of what AI has the short-term potential to do and, more importantly, the major gaps in AI’s abilities that really made me glad I had taken on this project. It allowed me to understand how AI is currently here to support the work of attorneys, rather than to immediately replace an entire profession and eventually turn on the humans.

This is not to say that AI doesn’t come with concerns, especially in how it can vastly change my work as a librarian. Legal research is repeatedly listed as one of the lawyering skills that AI can perform. AI is going to have an impact on my profession, but now I’m much more knowledgeable about how that may happen. Going forward, I can read new contributions on this topic and attend conference sessions to stay current in the face of the changing times.

I think this is one of the benefits of our work as librarians and educators. In preparing to teach others, it forces you to learn and grow as well. These new, trending topics are also some of the ones students are most interested in. Not only did I have more discussion in this workshop than any other throughout the year, but I have had multiple students follow up with me about things they have been reading related to AI in the news.

For anyone else who has kept their distance from AI up to this point, I recommend Joanna Goodman’s book Robots in Law: How Artificial Intelligence is Transforming Legal Services. It’s a short, practical look at AI in the legal field. I read it cover to cover without ever losing interest. I can now continue to look forward to my own personal BB-8 rather than living in imminent fear of Ultron destroying us all.

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RIPS Executive Board Candidate Statements

Candidates for Vice Chair/Chair-Elect

Nicole Dyszlewski

I hope to become the chair of RIPS-SIS to continue the amazing work the SIS has been doing! I am excited by the work that RIPS does and would be honored to lead a SIS that is so engaged and committed. I have enjoyed my experiences in AALL SIS leadership and wish to continue serving the organization throughout my career. The RIPS Patron Services Committee has been a huge part of my professional volunteer experience and I am grateful for being a part of that team. I am interested in leading RIPS especially because of its active blog and Twitter account. Personally, I have used and recommended the new ILL Toolkit, too! I am most interested in this position because I would like to give a voice to and advocate for RIPS leadership and membership in the greater AALL organization.

Nicole is the Research/Access Services Librarian at Roger Williams University School of Law in Bristol, RI. She has previously worked as a practicing attorney and as a librarian at both public and academic law libraries in New England. Nicole is currently the Chair of AALL’s Council of SIS Chairs and the Immediate Past Chair of the Legal Information Services to the Public Special Interest Section (LISP-SIS). She is also a member of AALL’s Continuing Professional Education Committee. Nicole is currently the Secretary of the Law Librarians of New England (LLNE) in addition to a member of the LLNE Access to Justice Committee and the LLNE Membership Committee.

Nicole has been an active member of the RIPS-SIS Patron Services Committee for several years. With other members of this committee she has published papers, spoken at events, and moderated at a recent AALL webinar. In 2015, Nicole received the AALL/LexisNexis Call for Papers Award in the New Members Division for her co-written paper Managing Disruptive Patron Behavior in Law Libraries: A Grey Paper. She has also been the recipient of AALL’s Emerging Leader Award and was a 2016 AALL Leadership Fellow. Nicole is a member of the bar in RI and MA and has published and presented on issues related to mass incarceration at the local, state, and national level. Nicole is particularly interested in public access to legal information and law library outreach.

Genevieve Tung

I am a Reference Librarian at the Rutgers Law School in Camden, New Jersey, where I also head the Circulation department. As part of a single law library with two locations, I work with colleagues locally and remotely to support cross-campus document delivery and access to resources. I serve as the library’s liaison to the Law School’s three Camden-based law journals and supervise interlibrary loan services. I provide research instruction in the first year curriculum and teach Advanced Legal Research. I am an active member of the Greater Philadelphia Law Library Association (GPLLA), a member of the RIPS-SIS Strategic Planning committee, and the outgoing chair of the RIPS-SIS Patron Services committee. I received a BA from Barnard College, a JD from Fordham University School of Law, and an MLIS from Drexel University.

I am honored to have the opportunity to run for the position of RIPS-SIS Vice Chairperson/Chairperson Elect. RIPS-SIS has been a crucial component of my education and development as a law librarian, and has provided me with many wonderful professional opportunities. Through RIPS I’ve also been fortunate to meet and work with many fantastic law librarians from around the country. In other words, RIPS has made my work and my life better. I’m here to give back what I can.

Rutgers Law Library, where I work in Camden, New Jersey, is the only law library in the greater Philadelphia region that is freely accessible to members of the bar and the public, year-round. Although our primary mission is to serve the needs of our students and faculty, we are also proud to help support the legal information needs of our wider community. Moreover, the lessons we learn at the reference desk as we serve attorneys and public patrons inform our classroom teaching and help us build better print and digital collections. To do our work well, we rely on the work and insights of our librarian colleagues in private firms and the courts.

This kind of professional consilience is what, in my view, RIPS is all about. RIPS brings together academic, private, and government librarians to focus on delivering the best possible resources for their patrons, to provide access to legal information and transform that information into understanding, advocacy, and justice. In RIPS, we get to coalesce around ideas and ideals.

My experience in RIPS has been marked by working with librarians who are creative, innovative, and generous with their time and talent. I love being a member of RIPS and would be proud to serve on the RIPS executive board.

Candidates for Member-at-Large

Heather Joy

I’m honored to be nominated for the position of Member-at-Large. I’ve loved working with fellow librarians on various RIPS Committees over the last several years, and look forward to continuing to serve the RIPS community in any capacity I can. It’s extremely rewarding to help further RIPS’s goals, to facilitate member involvement, build better networks, and provide resources to colleagues in every type of institution across the country. The cross-sectional nature of RIPS membership makes for an amazing community, and I appreciate the diversity of voices and experiences that bring so much to the table in this Special Interest Section. I vividly recall the instant sense of belonging I got walking into my first AALL Annual Meeting in Seattle in 2013.  Since then I’ve earned my MLIS from the University of Washington, had the chance to intern at the State Court Law Library in Alaska, and am currently working with students on a daily basis at Chapman University, doing both research instruction and student outreach. I love being a law librarian, and will always be grateful to the wonderful librarians that helped set me on this path. I look forward to working with RIPS for years to come.

[Executive Board note: Heather has served as chair/co-chair of the Research Instruction for the past two years and also currently serves on the RIPS Strategic Planning Committee.]

Karen Skinner

Service is at the core of what law librarians do and who we are. Service to our patrons is vital to maintaining, expanding, improving, and innovating law libraries. I have spent the last 8 years teaching legal research to both JD and international LLM students at the USC Gould School of Law, constantly striving to improve instruction. I use my experience as a former practicing attorney at Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur in Columbus, Ohio to assist me in preparing more realistic materials for instruction. I also manage a team of 7 librarians in the team development of course materials for the USC Gould legal research programs. And, I have developed numerous videos and media pieces for use in a flipped classroom model. As a research services librarian, I regularly provide additional research instruction in one-on-one meetings and during training sessions and workshops for both students and faculty.

Service to fellow law librarians is also key to the health of law libraries. I have served on several professional association committees, including the AALL Scholarships jury, ALL-SIS Awards Committee, ALL-SIS Legal Research & Sourcebook Committee and as chair of both the AALL Economic Status of Law Librarians committee and the SCALL Membership committee. I believe in giving back to the community that has helped me become the law librarian that I am today and that is why I am running for the RIPS-SIS Executive Committee as Member-at-Large. In these challenging times, we have to rely on each other more and more to succeed and to demonstrate our worth.

I would be honored to serve as RIPS-SIS Member-at-Large and hope you will consider voting for me. Thank you!

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#Critlib Twitter Chat on 3/19 at 2pmET/1pmCT

Please join a group of law librarians today, March 19 at 2pmET/1pmCT for a lively Twitter #critlib chat about vendor relations!

For more information on participating in Twitter chats, see this helpful post on Twitter Chats.


Posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Issues in Librarianship (generally), Legal Ethics, Legal Research | Tagged | Leave a comment

How Do You Prepare For This?

by Christine Anne George

Image via Pixaby

The first time it happened, I was a 1L. The University had just instituted an emergency alert system, but our classroom was in the basement and I didn’t have cell service. My friend, who suspected he was about to be called on, slipped out of the room for a bathroom break. He came back and showed me his cell phone. There was a text message saying that there was an active shooter on campus. I didn’t believe him at first. I knew of school shootings—Virginia Tech had occurred less than a year prior—but, naively, it had never occurred to me that one would happen on my campus. Eventually, someone told the professor, but no one was sure what to do, so she kept teaching class. I remember thinking that the way the classroom was set up, stadium seating with two sets of doors on the same wall at the top—the only doors in the classroom—that there wasn’t really anywhere to hide. Once class was done, with the entire campus on lockdown and rumors that there were two shooters at large, my classmates and I went to the library to work on our memos. We eventually found out that there was only one gunman and he had been disarmed. No one was injured.

The second time it happened, I was in library school. I had debated going to class that morning, and when we got the alert, I realized that I should have leaned into the laze and skipped. Again, no one knew how many shooters there were. The library school was a few blocks from main campus, so the lockdown wasn’t as strict. A friend and I decided that we would head home, taking the back streets and avoiding main campus. This time, news broke so my phone kept ringing with people checking in. I sent a text to my family and silenced my phone, resolving that next time I would have to remember to do that first. My housemates were sitting outside, cheering as, one by one, we all made it back safe. There was one shooter and he only killed himself.

When one considers dangerous lines of work, librarianship doesn’t make the list. The library is where the books are. You don’t really expect anything worse than a shush (whether it’s from a librarian or at a librarian—I’ve had it both ways). But now active shooter trainings are a part of library life, just like fire drills. I’ve sat through trainings and watched videos (like this one and this one) on what to do when in an active shooter situation. It feels different, being a librarian versus being a student. There’s a sense of responsibility. It’s not just me, it’s the patrons too. In the training videos, I couldn’t help but notice that the focus is on offices and classrooms, not a library where one floor could contain several areas where student congregate as well as any number of nooks and crannies where people can be researching, avoiding human interaction, or trying to sneak in a phone call. It doesn’t seem possible to have a plan for all of the possible places one could be at any point of the day in the library.

No one wants to dwell on these situations, but it seems almost unavailable in this day and age. After Parkland I saw post after post of teachers reflecting on having to deal with active shooter training on social media. There have been discussions about active shooter policies in libraries (a separate discussion from the issue of concealed weapons). With the walkout demonstrations, I think it’s safe to say that we’re all aware of the issue. I’m sure there will be more trainings and more discussions. Will it be enough?

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