Ridicule and research support: Library Twitter strikes back!

Library and research branches of Twitter were outraged recently when two American Law students published a paper in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy relating to abortion rights. The anger centred around the hypothesis that because the students didn’t find any historical literature relating to the term ‘abortion’ in their searches, that abortions simply didn’t exist in American history.

Tweet from Jacqueline Antonovich which reads: Fun story: These two law students published a paper about how they typed in the word "abortion" in a primary source database, didn't find much, and therefore conclude that "Founding Era Americans" didn't really know what abortions were and it was synonymous with miscarriage.

The thread of tweets goes on to explain that the furore surrounding this published paper is not that there was an investigation into historical abortions (which is topical worldwide since the recent overturn of the US Roe V Wade case), but that the flawed methodology was passed through teams of reviewers and editors and allowed to be published. Jacqueline Antonovich goes on to cite an article by Dr Lauren MacIvor Thompson published in the New York Times in 2019 entitled ‘Women have always had abortions’. (This article is behind a paywall but staff and students at the University of Edinburgh can read it in full using some of the news databases that the Library subscribes to.)

Aside from there being an entire school of academic research dedicated to the history of birth control rights, you may be wondering ‘what did those students actually do wrong?’ Dr Gillian Frank (@1gillianfrank1) provides some guidance in his tweets:

Fun fact: Just because you don’t find evidence in one database when you type in the word “abortion,” doesn’t mean a practice didn’t exist. Better historical questions are: Am I using the right keywords? Under what conditions could matters relating to abortion be spoken about?

Ronit Stahl (@ronitstahl) agreed:

And from there, ask questions like *Who* would be talking about this? Who would *write* about this? What *kinds* of documents/sources might include mention of this? *Where* might we find those sources? *How* do we think about/interpret silences?

More information about how to critically assess a search like this can be found by reading through Dr Frank’s twitter thread. Twitter can be an excellent tool for sharing resources and promoting discussion. This example is not only relevant because of the current news cycle but also because awareness of the importance of interrogating research methodologies rigorously is crucial if you are to publish well respected pieces of research.

Consider the bias in all your sources.

  • What power structures led to this work being published?
  • Who is speaking and why is their viewpoint important?
  • Who is missing from the conversation?
  • If there is a solitary viewpoint, why is this one in focus?

Librarians talk about bias quite often when discussing critical information skills with students and staff, because we want to be sure that the inferences you make from your source material are sound and fully considered. The Academic Support Librarian team have recently been working with one of our student interns to produce an online resource to help students to expand their searches and diversify their reading, due to be published this summer. We’ve also been crafting a toolbox to help our academic staff colleagues start conversations about including a wider range of resources in their core reading lists. Watch out for more news of both of these going live on the ASL blog.

In the mean time, if you’re struggling with your research and would like some advice on more robust search methodologies, you can contact the Law Librarians by email: law.librarian@ed.ac.uk, or any of our colleagues from the ASL team using the contact information on the ASL by subject area page. Although classes and exams are finished, we are around all summer so please contact us to make an appointment!

Roe v Wade, or how to find international resources

A scanned photo of the original black and white photograph taken by Lorie Shaull at the Supreme Court. Norma McCorvey, left, who was Jane Roe in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, stands with her attorney, Gloria Allred, outside the Supreme Court in April 1989. They hold a circular sign that says 'Keep Abortion Legal'.

Norma McCorvey, left, who was Jane Roe in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, with her attorney, Gloria Allred, outside the Supreme Court in April 1989, where the Court heard arguments in a case that could have overturned the Roe v. Wade decision. [Photo by Lorie Shaull, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons]

If you’ve been online over the past few days it is likely you’ll have heard about the leaked majority draft from SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) which suggests that landmark case Roe v Wade may about to be overturned. This news comes from Politico, a political news company based in the USA.

If you are interested in the outcome of this draft, you may be interested in finding reputable sources for American legal information. Fortunately we have access to several.

In the UK the Act to amend and clarify the law relating to termination of pregnancy by registered medical practitioners came into force in 1967. It is referred to as The Abortion Act 1967, and the full text can be viewed on Westlaw.

Don’t forget that when viewing legislation on Westlaw it is possible to view amendments and previous versions of Acts by using the navigational tools. In the below image you can see where to locate information about previous versions of this section. By clicking on each hyperlinked version title you will see the text of the Act as it was when each version was in force.

Snapshot of a page of legislation from Westlaw UK. A red box highlights the area towards the bottom right of the page, showing that this section is version five of five, and listing the timeline for previous versions and the dates each was in force.

If you have any questions about finding legislation or reputable law sources for your research you can contact us on law.librarian@ed.ac.uk at any time to arrange an appointment with one of us. We’d love to hear about your research and help you find academic resources for your work.

True crime podcasts: finding the real story in law reports

If you listen to true crime podcasts you may recently have heard Bad People (BBC Sounds) report on the story of little Helen Priestley, a child from Aberdeen who was killed in 1934 in a case famously referred to as the ‘Aberdeen Sack Murder’. The evidence from this case was analysed and presented in part by Dr Sydney Smith, Regius Professor of Forensic Medicine at the University of Edinburgh and a forefather of forensic pathology, who used bacteria from vomit and hairs found inside a sack to identify the suspect Jeannie Donald. The jury deliberated for only 18 minutes before returning a guilty verdict. This made Mrs Donald one of the first people in the world to be convicted on the basis of forensic evidence.

Digitised version of the Daily Record front page from July 1934. Headline reads 'Woman condemned to hang: Jurywomen weep at sack trial verdict'. Photographs of Helen Priestly (victim, aged 8) and Jeannie Donald (accused) feature below the headline.

Image of Daily Record newspaper dated Tuesday 24th July 1934.

Although there are some sources online to back up the podcast’s story (such as from an article on Aberdeen Live, or an entry which might be useful for background reading on Murderpedia), as a librarian with a world of Scottish legal resources at my fingertips I felt it was important to verify the reporting of the story with good academic resources. I was particularly interested in how the case was reported in Justiciary Cases, however when searching Westlaw I found that access to the archive of material online from 1934/1935 is incomplete. If I were on-campus I’d be able to visit the Law Library to find the item in print, and even though I’m working remotely I could request scans via the Scan & Deliver service, however as this is just out of interest and not for research I thought I’d persevere online. Not to be deterred, I decided to try my luck with HeinOnline as I know it provides good access to many historical resources for Scots Law.

When I clicked through to Hein’s Scottish Legal History section and searched for ‘Jeannie Donald’ in the text box the first article of commentary I found was by William Roughead Juridical Review 46 Jurid. Rev. (1934). While skimming through the case I began to wonder if there was a market for significant crime reports being read aloud as audiobooks rather than podcasts, as Roughead’s analysis of the case made for engaging reading!

MURDER has a magic of its own, its peculiar alchemy.
Touched by that crimson wand things base and
sordid, things ugly and of ill report, are transformed into
matters wondrous, weird, and tragical. Dull streets
become fraught with mystery, commonplace dwellings
assume a sinister aspect, everyone concerned, howsoever
plain and ordinary, is invested with a new value and
importance as the red light falls upon each.

Although I couldn’t locate more information from Session Cases or another legal report, the 46 pages of Roughead’s account certainly provided a great deal of detail. I also found from searching online that a PhD student in Manchester used Sydney Smith’s writing up of the case from 1940 in the Police Journal 13, no.3 (1940): 273-87 as part of his thesis, and so was able to find further analysis of the case in that way. (Please note: The Police Journal is currently outside our subscription but if relevant for research it would be possible for the library to secure access using the Interlibrary Loan service.).

If you’re struggling to find good academic resources related to a case or legislation, you may find the following resources to be helpful:

If you feel that you’re familiar with these resources but need a bit more guidance, why not book a one-to-one appointment with a law librarian. We offer bespoke 30 minute appointments to help you with your area of study; simply book the date and time that works best for you using the MyEd booking link. A week before the appointment date we will contact you to ask for information about your query or area of interest, and then we will arrange either a Teams call or a location to meet in person.

If the appointment times listed don’t suit or you have any queries you’d like email assistance with, please contact us on law.librarian@ed.ac.uk.

Legal resources: taking care of quizness!

A neon sign is mounted on a dark wall. The sign shows a green old-fashioned television set with pink dials and grill on the front below the screen. Inside the screen are the words 'Quiz Time' in pink capital letters.

Image from USA-Reiseblogger on Pixabay.

It’s week one of semester two and we’ve already run several induction sessions for our January starts (and refresher sessions for current students who need them). Now would be a perfect time to put your newfound legal information resource skills to the test, and what better way than to with our quiz?

tinyurl.com/lawlibquizjan2022

Twelve questions with no time limit to test what you’ve learned about searching and using the library catalogue and databases. Have a go, and let us know how you get on!

 

New Resources on HeinOnline: Covid-19 Research

HeinOnline is one of the most used legal resources that staff and students have access to. It offers access to a large number of resources including:

  • Full text legal journals
  • U.S Treaties and Agreements
  • U.S. Supreme Court decisions
  • Over 15 million pages of image-based, fully searchable material.
  • Access to several smaller collections for example:
    • Law Journal Library,
      • Criminal Justice Journals,
      • European Centre for Minority Issues,
      • Scottish Legal History,
      • Selden Society Publications and the History of Early English Law,
      • Slavery in America and the World
      • History, Culture & Law
      • The Open Society Justice Initiative.

The most recent addition is a collection on Covid-19: Pandemics Past and Present. This covers materials on the global, societal and economic impact of COVID-19, and also has material on past pandemics and vaccinations.

Worth a look for those staff and students who are undertaking research in this area. You can access HeinOnline using the link above, or via the Law Databases A-Z page.

 

New Year, New UoE Library Services training sessions

A blue and golden sky with a few scattered fluffy clouds is visible, with a black city skyline at the bottom of the image. Beams of light seem to be projecting from a golden glow in the centre of the image, where the sun is just visible setting beyond the buildings.

Rays of sun through houses at sunset, Morningside, Edinburgh (@eilisgarvey via Unsplash)

Welcome back to Edinburgh! Although we don’t yet know what 2022 has in store for us, we do know that we’re keen to make sure our students are the best prepared they can be! For the Law Library team that means offering you a full range of induction and refresher sessions on how to use the library. If you’re feeling like you could do with a little update on the best ways to find resources, book on to one of our upcoming events using the links below.


Library Refresher: Wednesday 12th January, 11am to 11.50am (online)

Aimed at all undergraduate and postgraduate students, this session is a whistle-stop tour of all the things we told you at the start of the year. We’ll rattle through the resources and links relatively quickly so that we’ve lots of time to answer your questions, and if you’re feeling confident by the end of the session we’ve also got a quiz for you!

Come along if… you found researching your assignments just a little bit tricky at the end of last term, and you can’t remember where to go to find help.


PG Using the University Library – Law: Wednesday 19th January, 10am to 11am

Join us for an introduction to using library resources at the University of Edinburgh. Topics covered will include how to find and access books, journal articles and legal databases using library resources, and how to get help if the library doesn’t have what you need. The second part of this presentation will take a closer look at major legal databases including Westlaw and Lexis Library where you will learn how to find full text cases, legislation and commentary, and tips on how to use these resources efficiently and effectively.

Come along if… you’re a PG Online student starting in January 2022 at the School of Law.


Library Support for the School of Law (STAFF): Wednesday 19th January, 12noon to 12.30pm (online)

We don’t just work directly with students, we’re keen to speak to fellow staff members about how we can support their work too. We’re running a short session where we’ll present a bit and chat to anyone who works with the School of Law to make sure they know about all the ways we can help enhance their teaching or support throughout the year.

Come along if… you’re a member of staff and want to find out more about how we can help you!


PhD Sources, Materials & Bibliography: Wednesday 26th January, 11.30am to 12.30pm

(contact the Law PhD office for a link to the Collaborate room)

This session is aimed directly at PhD and PGR students, and takes the form of a one hour session featuring top tips on how to conduct complex research and construct your projects. We also look at some of the key resources you will need and signpost some bespoke materials that may be useful for students at this level.

Come along if… you’re a PhD students starting in January 2022 at the School of Law.

Finding International Legal Resources

Following on from our last post about Finding Material for your Research and Study, we’ve just recorded a new video to introduce some of the databases we subscribe to for international law. If this is an area that is relevant to your study, grab a cup of tea and spend eight and a half minutes finding out more about how library subscription services can support your work.

Screenshot of the opening slide from the 'International legal resources' video. The slide indicates the presenters are from the Library Academic Support team, displays the title of the video, and three quarters of a greyed out university crest on a white background.

Is there an area of legal research you’d like to know more about, or would like to find resources for? Email us on law.librarian@ed.ac.uk to discuss, or book a one-to-one appointment with us via the MyEd booking system; search for “Literature search clinic” and select the Law specific event, or search for “Law” and select provider group “IS Library and University Collections” to find all our Law related training.

Finding material for your research and studies

It is nearing the end of semester and the pressure to complete dissertations and study for exams is on. The Law Subject Guide is one place where you can find quick links to useful resources.

As well as linking to the databases we also have a section on where to find the key eBooks and Law Reports. This provides a helpful at-a-glance guide to where to find particular reports or statutes, and we’ve also added a document which shows which books are available via each of our databases.

TIP: When you download the PDF, open the document use the CTRL+F shortcut on your keyboard to search for the name of the book you’re looking for to see which database has it! 

Don’t forget there are also videos demonstrating how to use the law databases more effectively available on the Law Librarian Media Hopper Channel, and you can always email for advice if you encounter any issues: Law.Librarian@ed.ac.uk

Meet your LexisNexis Student Associate for 2021/22!

We’d like to introduce you to Noah Norbash, one of your fellow students who is a specialist in working with LexisNexis and all their resources – such as the invaluable LexisLibrary and Lexis PSL databases! We recently met with Noah to discuss what he has planned for the year, and he’s answered the following questions so you can get to know him too.

Tell us a little bit about yourself! Who are you and what do you study at Edinburgh?

Noah stands in the foreground of the picture, smiling at the camera. He has dark hair and beard, and is wearing glasses. He has a colourful tshirt on. Behind him the pillars of a building in Old College are visible. The photo is taken with the camera from a low angle so that a portion of blue sky and white clouds are also visible.

Noah outside the magnificent buildings of Old College

I’m Noah – currently a student in the Graduate LLB programme. I grew up in the United States just outside of Boston, but I have spent many a year studying and living in St Andrews, the Veneto region of Italy, London, and finally here in Edinburgh!

Why did you apply to be the student representative for LexisNexis?

I applied to be the LexisNexis Student Associate on campus to not only enhance my own understanding of legal databases, but also to convey my knowledge to my fellow students. As an added extroverted bonus, I also get to have a bit of a chat here and there with interesting people! LexisLibrary has been of extraordinary help to me in my degree programme so far, and no doubt LexisPSL will be of equal significance when I begin the diploma and a traineeship. As a simultaneous LawPALS leader and a LexisNexis Student Associate, I looked forward to giving members of the university community the tools to succeed and achieve whatever they put their minds to.

What do you think is the best feature that Lexis offers for students in the Law School?

The #1 top-notch feature that can be accessed on LexisLibrary is without a doubt the Stair Memorial Encyclopaedia – it is a resource exclusive to LexisNexis, and it contains a wealth of information on every imaginable topic in Scots law with links to any relevant case law and legislation. In a nutshell, it serves as a textbook on the entirety of the laws of Scotland, and its usefulness cannot be overstated! When it came to preparing for moots or even getting a birds-eye view of material in advance of tutorials, the Encyclopaedia can quickly steer you in the right direction for where you need to go.

If you could name one top tip that everyone should know about your platform, what would it be?

A top tip everyone should know about the platform is that you can easily narrow searches of case law to only a particular firm: this is especially useful to those seeking a traineeship to be able to discuss specifically what issues their firm of choice may be facing in today’s legal climate. There is no better way to stand out from the crowd in an interview setting – being able to express niche insider-quality knowledge about the firm that is totally available to applicants is a spectacular way to impress. By reading a firms’ submissions and the judge’s opinion on LexisLibrary, you as an applicant can see the fruits of the firm’s labour and gain a clearer understanding of what the firm seeks to achieve in the courtroom.

When students book a training session with you, what can they expect to get from the meeting?

When students book a training with me, they can expect to gain insight into how to use LexisNexis software in an approachable and friendly setting. Over the course of the year, I will be running training sessions for Foundation- and Advanced-level LexisLibrary Certifications, LexisPSL certification, and Commercial Awareness more generally. Otherwise, students can get in contact with me for any Lexis-themed questions and I will be happy to help! Although I’m not an expert on par with the full-time Lexis Customer Success Managers, I will do all I can to imbue you with the knowledge I have been given and to give you a solid base of LexisNexis database-searching skills that will prove indispensable for the legal journey of your lifetime. Don’t be a stranger!


You can find Noah in his new and fabulous Teams group: tinyurl.com/LexisCorner

Alternatively youcan reach him by email at n.norbash@sms.ed.ac.uk.

Finding Journals and Law Reports

A row of leather bound books fills the frame from left to right. The title 'Session Cases' and the year are embossed on the spines. The leather is blonde and each spine has a red and black square.

Session Cases, image courtesy of the Supreme Court Library team, SCTS

Law reports and journal articles become increasingly important as students progress through their studies and research, and finding them can be tricky at times.

The library has access to a plethora of reports and journals but not everything is available online. Although we continually look for online access wherever it is available there is material that we can only receive in print.

The main places to get online access to law reports and journals is through our legal databases – mainly Westlaw, LexisLibrary and HeinOnline.

The Law Subject guide includes a section on Law Reports and access to eBooks. There is also information on the hierarchy of law reports to help students decide which reference to use when citing cases.

What to do if we do not have full online access?

Students often contact us asking why they can only get an abstract to the item they want in the online databases. This is because we do not get full text (full online) access to everything within all the databases. Sometimes we only have access to the bibliographic details such as the reference and abstract. So how can you get a copy of the full item?

Staff and students can use the interlibrary loan service to request items. This service involves us requesting material from partner libraries. There is a limit on how much can be requested and full details are on the interlibrary loan pages:

In Edinburgh staff and students also can get access to the National Library of Scotland who have a great range of resources available from their own collection and also through their relationship with the Faculty of Advocates’ Library.

If you’ve tried all the above avenues and are still struggling to get access to what you need, drop us an email on law.librarian@ed.ac.uk for some help.