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The AALL Spectrum® Blog is published by the American Association of Law Libraries. Submissions from AALL members and other members of the legal community are highly encouraged. Opinions and editorial views expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of AALL. AALL does not assume any responsibility for statements advanced by contributors. The previous Spectrum Blog was located at aallspectrum.wordpress.com.
4/22/2014 3:07:06 PM

Book Review: The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance

Underhill, Kevin. The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance: And Other Real Laws that Human Beings Have Actually Dreamed Up, Enacted, and Sometimes Even Enforced. ABA Publishing, 334 pages. $22.95 (paperback).


A few times a year, patrons will call the reference desk at my library and ask if Maine has any silly or wacky or funny laws. The staff of the Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library is loath to call any work of the Maine Legislature wacky, which makes this a particularly difficult question to answer. It was with much anticipation that I received my copy of The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance by Kevin Underhill, a book I hoped could be a reference for my patrons in search of wacky or silly or funny laws. Also, I was generally excited about any book about law with a cryptid on the cover.

Instead of immediately searching the index for Maine laws, I decided to start at the beginning and read the chapters in order. The book, written by Kevin Underhill of the legal humor website loweringthebar.net, starts with an introduction and disclaimer and proceeds by devoting a chapter each to various laws, starting with ancient Sumer and ancient Babylon; proceeding through pre-modern times;  then examining United States federal, state, and municipal laws; and concluding with modern laws outside the United States. The book ends with a bibliography section, an acknowledgement section, and endnotes. There is no index.

Each chapter provides the text of a law, some humorous discussion of the text, and a citation to the law. Underhill is most successful when he gives context to the plain text of the laws and makes what appears to be a wacky law more understandable and more accessible to modern readers and/or those who aren’t legally trained. For example, he provides context about the historical value of a shekel from the Code of Hammurabi (p.11). Also, sometimes the laws he chooses to highlight, such as a law about trees and neighbors from the Code of Justinian (p.27), show that some of the legal struggles we have today are not far from those of ancient times. In addition to the text, there are a few images of the primary source documents or photographs of objects mentioned in the laws, which help bring the subject matter to life.

While the text is accessible and well researched, it falters at times because it is blatantly trying too hard to be funny. The true humor of the book is in the laws themselves, and at times the author’s commentary detracts, not adds, to the comedy.

Despite the occasional groaning and eye-rolling, I am in awe of some of the research in the book. For example, according to the text, three states have official state neckwear (p.86). I appreciate that someone, the author or his researcher or a law librarian, compiled a 50-state survey of official state neckwear!

While the endnotes provide guidance on how to find the cited laws and provide a trove of legal ephemera, the author fails to provide footnotes to matters he asserts in several chapters, which would have provided additional information for readers. For example, in the chapter about Oregon designating an official state microbe (pp. 207-8), there is discussion of two other states considering this issue, but there is no further citation to substantiate this claim.

Disappointingly for my patrons, the book did not mention any wacky Maine state laws. However, public law librarians in many other states will be thrilled with this collection. Overall, I would recommend this book for public law libraries, legal humor collections, or a gift to the lawyer in your life who appreciates the zaniness of law, legal history, or legal humor.

© Nicole P. Dyszlewski, 2014. Senior Law Librarian, Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library, Augusta, ME. nicole.dyszlewski@legislature.maine.gov

Posted By Nicole Dyszlewski at 4/22/2014 3:07:06 PM  1 Comments
4/15/2014 10:05:38 AM

Book Review: What the Best Law Teachers Do

Michael Hunter Schwartz, Gerald F. Hess, and Sophie M. Sparrow, What the Best Law Teachers Do. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013). 355 pages. ISBN: 9780674049147. $29.95 (Hardcover).

In What the Best Law Teachers Do, Michael Hunter Schwartz, Gerald F. Hess, and Sophie M. Sparrow present a perspective that has been lacking recently in the legal world, one that is focused more on positive than negative.  Instead of discussing the topical issue of how legal education calls for change, they write about the methods used by twenty six of the top professors that are getting it right; that are teaching in a way that is widely recognized by students, colleagues, and other legal professionals, as exceptional.  The authors document the success of these professors throughout the book by including personal interview narratives from the professors themselves as well as reflections from their students on the classroom setting.

“But who claims that these are the best professors?  And, how are those claims verified,” an inquisitive reader may ask.   Schwartz, Hess, and Sparrow are quick to lay that qualm to rest.  They open the book with a detailed map of the phases they went through to gather and analyze the information that serves as their basis.  In 2008, they began seeking nominations for professors that were considered “the best” by law students, alumni, professors, and deans.  The second phase of their research called for selecting their subjects from the nominations, followed by the third, which they conducted in depth interviews of the professors and critically examined their credentials and teaching methodologies.  This data gathering phase also included onsite visits to witness firsthand the instructional prowess of the professors.  The fourth phase required the authors to analyze their findings and led to the final phase where they organized the findings and conclusions and produced their written manuscript.

This diligence is well reflected in the book.  Schwartz, Hess, and Sparrow break down their work in ten rich chapters.  Chapter 1 includes the introduction, presents the roadmap for the book, and gives details outlined above delving deeper into methodology of the authors and giving background on the twenty six professors highlighted.  Chapter 2 includes the results from another study conducted of the individuals that nominated the “best” professors, which requested that the nominators define their criteria for “extraordinary learning.”  This provides the reader with much needed context to assess the standards of the law professors’ methodologies.   

Chapters 3 to 9 include large portions of narrative text, transcribed from interviews with the “best” professors and the students they taught.  These chapters covered topics from what the professors actually do in their classrooms to the expectations the professors have for their students, and equally important, for themselves.  They also discuss topics such as the nature of the relationships between the professors and the students and how the professors prepared for class.  I found these portions of the text to be particularly useful, as a new librarian who just completed her first semester of teaching legal research.  Finally, in Chapter 10 the authors conclude and give suggestions of practical applications for law schools and individuals to implement in their programming and courses.  For example, Schwartz, Hess, and Sparrow suggest creating a visiting-teaching-excellence program where schools invite professors that are widely acknowledged for their skill in teaching to come to a law school, observe the teaching there, and suggest possible improvements.   

The book documents the best practices followed by the best professors.  It is an excellent guide for someone that is just beginning to teach and is looking to build a good foundation.  The book also has high utility for seasoned professors in search of ways to improve their teaching.  There is always room for some change and perhaps reading about the methods used by others will inspire all law teachers to try their best.  The final take away point, which I found to be the most compelling, is that the authors continually presented the perspective of students.  It is most important to cater to the audience.  Listening to the students and soliciting their thoughts about their experience is key for a “best” professor.  Professors teach students, students learn from professors, the best professors learn from students. 

Anupama Pal is the Reference and Government Documents Librarian at Elon University School of Law.

Posted By Anupama Pal at 4/15/2014 10:05:38 AM  0 Comments
4/7/2014 11:56:42 AM

New Technical Services Law Librarian Issue Available

The March 2014 edition of Technical Services Law Librarian is now available and it is packed full of information and updates.  Lia Contursi explains the new KIA-KIX classification.  Anne Myers, the new Acquisitions Columnist, discusses issues to consider when purchasing electronic resources.  Robert Bratton discusses the RDA update regarding treaties.  And, Maxine Wright provides some insight on forming a preservation plan in your library.  There is also reprint of an interview with Joe Janes about his book Library 2020: Today’s Leading Visionaries Describe Tomorrow’s Library.  And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg!      

Posted By Kristen Moore at 4/7/2014 11:56:42 AM  2 Comments