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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.
8/2/2012 1:43:15 PM

W-1: RDA for Law Catalogers

Presenters: Paul Frank, Library of Congress, George Prager, NYU Law Library, Lia Contursi, Columbia Law School Library, John Hostage, Harvard Law School Library, Melissa Beck, UCLA Law Library, and Pat Sayre-McCoy, University of Chicago Law Library

The presenters designed this all-day workshop to introduce law catalogers to Resource Description and Access (RDA) cataloging instructions and to specifically cover those specialized instances of cataloging legal materials. Knowing that RDA implementation arrives just around the corner and that I will soon be participating in an intense series of training sessions with my university’s library system, I wanted to gain a leg-up on knowing how to navigate the new standards and how to best find those instructions that pertain to legal materials. The staff at Library of Congress have already been training and practicing RDA and full implementation of the standard begins early next year. Thus, it is important that all catalogers begin their education in this new and exciting theoretical practice within our profession.

The morning began with check-in and breakfast at which time participants received a handbook of PowerPoint slides, useful “cheat sheets,” and learning exercises. Laptops were also set up to accommodate two participants sharing a computer to access the RDA Toolkit. Prior to attendance we completed a bit of homework, which included registering for a free 30-day trial of the RDA Toolkit and reading the Introduction through Chapter 3.5 of the standards. Many attendees experienced problems logging into the RDA Toolkit at the beginning of the workshop; however, technical support was called in and most were able to find alternative methods of reaching the instructions for following along with presentations.

The workshop kicked off with a skit by Paul Frank and George Prager portraying a typical reference encounter in the law library. This demonstration exemplified all four user tasks as defined by the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR): find, identify, select, and obtain. We also found within this demonstration an opportunity to discuss FRBR’s Group 1 entities of work, expression, manifestation, and item, Group 2 entities of person, corporate bodies, and families, and Group 3 entities of concepts, objects, events, and places. In all cataloging instances one finds attributes and relationships of and between these three groups of entities. FRBR, along with the user tasks defined by Functional Requirements for Authority and Data (FRAD), (find, identify, contextualize, and justify), serves as the foundation of RDA in which recorded attributes and relationships strive to reach the goal of meeting both sets of user tasks. This portion of the presentation proved a humorously effective introduction by defining the new cataloging lingo and theory. I found it a great recap of the concepts first introduced in graduate school and I imagine that audience members who previously had minimal interaction with the concepts now have a good enough grasp of them to begin thinking in terms of RDA theory.

Mr. Prager continued with his discussion, “Identifying and Relating Resources and Entities.” After the introduction to RDA foundational theory this presentation smoothly transitioned the audience into the RDA instructions and alternatives. The focus of this portion of the workshop centered on differentiating works, constructing authorized access points, identifying different expressions of the same work, and relationships between resources and entities. After lunch Mr. Prager again took the stage to discuss the RDA instructions governing the cataloging of new editions of monographs. We covered various instructions and were shown examples of how one might handle new editions and expressions of the same work.

An audience member raised an interesting question during Mr. Prager’s discussion concerning the extent to which authority records will be created for works under RDA standards. This question provoked a conversation about RDA instructions being based on a three-dimensional theory, but our records still being recorded in the flat, MARC format. This is one of the ongoing topics underlying the implementation of RDA and many believe that the practice will evolve and change as more catalogers begin working through the various new issues.

Next, Lia Contursi introduced us to the RDA Toolkit, the online version of RDA standards. We covered various ways of accessing this essential guide, including the toolkit itself, Cataloger’s Desktop, and OCLC Connexion 2.40. Ms. Contursi explained the benefits of having one’s own subscription to the toolkit, such as creating workflows, performing searches, filtering documents, and adding bookmarks. We also went through the various sections of the toolkit and what each one covers. Interesting discussions generated by this portion of the workshop included the frustration of forcing the new RDA content standard into the current MARC code standard and the need to practice RDA in order to best make sense of the new instructions. Ms. Contursi then took us through Toolkit navigation exercises in our handbooks. Although we were unable to get through all of them I am glad to have worksheets to take home and practice in the office.

The workshop delved into the heart of legal cataloging when John Hostage used his portion of the session to discuss using RDA instructions to record law, constitutions, treaties, and court reports. He also provided us with thoughtful examples and exercises steering our minds toward thinking in RDA terms. RDA standards provide a great amount of detail specific to the cataloging of legal materials and it was very helpful to be shown where we can find that information. This topic is essential to law catalogers and led to thought provoking discussion among audience members. One of the major points expressed by this presentation was that cataloger’s judgment will be an integral part of cataloging legal materials, but we are able to find guidance when time is taken to look up the instructions.

Melissa Beck discussed the cataloging of serials and integrating resources under the new RDA instructions. With limited time left in the day she shortened her presentation, but was still effective in pointing out the pertinent sections of RDA to be studied when dealing with these tricky materials. She also emphasized the importance of practicing the new cataloging standard in order to learn how to best create effective records. As with other portions of the workshop Ms. Beck’s materials will be made available which will serve well for any serials cataloger.

To wrap up the workshop Pat Sayre-McCoy presented the audience with beneficial resources for continued learning and training. The Library of Congress provides training as does RDA and the Name Authority Cooperative of the Program for Cooperative Cataloging (NACO). She also emphasized the importance of practice and allowing one’s self to make some mistakes. Mr. Frank closed the workshop by asking, “What comes next?” As other presenters had mentioned, the point was again asserted that practice is imperative to best learn RDA and build confidence in implementing its practice.

The handouts and PowerPoints for this presentation proved very helpful and easy to follow. If you have an inclination to collect additional RDA training materials I recommend accessing and following along with these handouts, available at the TS-SIS site, and audio recordings as available. Mr. Frank and Mr. Prager’s opening presentation is very much worth the listening. Librarians from all departments will benefit from this clear breakdown of the new theories underlying RDA implementation and how they impact not only technical, but public services as well. Listeners may also find humor in the skit on a topic that to non-catalogers may seem a mundane subject. Although Ms. Contursi’s portion of the presentation used many online demonstrations she effectively vocalized her steps in accessing the Toolkit documents making this a reasonable portion for listening. Any cataloger who deals with legal materials will be well served by listening to audio recordings of Mr. Hostage’s presentation. In addition to the information and instructions provided by the presenters the discussions raised by audience members concerning everyday cataloging practice will help to get the wheels turning in the minds of those who tune in. All of the presenters emphasized that practice is key and that RDA is not yet a finalized product. RDA is a fluid set of standards and catalogers have the opportunity to keep the discussions going on issues and best practices allowing for continued improvement. The workshop served well to demonstrate that this is an exciting time to be a cataloger in that we have the opportunity, through training and practice, to influence the new RDA standards. Let’s get cataloging!

Posted By Allison Reeve at 8/2/2012 1:43:15 PM  0 Comments
8/2/2012 10:09:35 AM

C1: Searching Legal Opinions: The Google Scholar Approach

At the program “Searching Legal Opinions: The Google Scholar Approach,” Michelle Wu, Director of the Law Library and Professor of Law at Georgetown Law, introduced Dr. Anurag Acharya, one of the two creators of Google Scholar, to a near capacity crowd. There was a lot of interest in how to use Google Scholar to find legal information.

When I think of Google, I think of computers and algorithms. Thus my surprise at the passion that Dr. Acharya had for legal information access. He exclaimed that the goal of the project was that "everyone should be able to find and read the laws that govern them. Everyone."

This goal requires the service to be free. He has a team of only six people, and relies on algorithms to do the bulk of the work. This has required finding ways to deal with some tricky issues, like the difference between "in New York" as a place versus "in New York" as a reference to a case.

He demonstrated many different searches on Google Scholar. In every search, cases that you would expect to come up as the most relevant for a search did, like Terry v. Ohio for police stop. You can also search specifically for a citation. Dr. Acharya also pointed to usability features, like making pages with footnotes as easy to read as possible.

The system is designed to be usable by non-lawyers, like Dr. Acharya, but to have features for more expert users too. While it does not have an editor-produced citator, for instance, it does have several citation analysis functions for finding out cases that cited to a given case, and how extensively. Last year Google surveyed users to find out what they wanted, and has been tweaking the product based on those results. Overall, I was impressed by his desire to make improvements for the greatest number of users, even when it might mean that some expert users, a minority of the products audience, will be less than satisfied.

Dr. Acharya took questions from the audience after his presentation. He addressed issues such as Google Scholars coverage, saying that it has coverage of much state material since 1950, and even older federal material. Unfortunately, he would not comment on the source of their primary material, but did say that Google buys it. When asked about expanding coverage to statutes, he pointed out the difficulty in figuring out how to treat citations to statutes in older cases about now-amended laws. He tried to deflect this issue by pointing out that he believed that statutes were generally available online from other sources. He also noted the difficulty of putting material from sources like Google Books into Google Scholar, given the high accuracy needs of people using legal opinions.

This presentation was worth attending as both as a practical refresher on how Google Scholar works and for insight as to the thinking behind a product that is being used by legal researchers of all levels more and more. That demonstration will lose some value without being able to see what he is doing with Google Scholar while he talks, but would still be worth any law librarians time.

Posted By L. Elliott Hibbler at 8/2/2012 10:09:35 AM  0 Comments
TOPICS: AALL 2012
8/1/2012 5:27:40 PM

A3: Guerrilla Usability Testing

Usability testing is the process that allows those redesigning part or all of a website to see what users see.  By asking a user to perform a few set tasks using the website, one can observe their interaction with a website to reveal how the website confuses users and suggest improvements.  For all of its usefulness, usability testing has a reputation for being an expensive and time-consuming process.  The presenters, Jason Eiseman of Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Library and Roger Skalbeck of Georgetown Law Library broke the process down and showed how it can be easy and relatively inexpensive while still getting the same useful information. 

Eiseman and Skalbeck are both veterans of a website redesign process involving extensive usability testing.  They did a great job of giving examples from their own experience, and were also careful to cite the advice of experts, including Steve Krug and Jakob Nielsen.  I found this very helpful.  Too often, Annual Meeting programs focus too much on what worked at an individual institution. 

Eiseman and Skalbeck started their presentation with a usability test demonstration using a volunteer from the audience.  They were careful to run their demonstration test exactly the way they run a real usability test, which gave them an excellent example for the rest of the program.  They recorded this demonstration using Silverback, the same software Yale used in their actual usability testing.  This also allowed those in attendance to see the recommended software in action.  Later, Eiseman and Skalbeck replayed most of the recording to summarize their presentation.  Those listening at home can probably skip this part.

After the demonstration, the presenters gave simple instructions and tips for how to perform usability testing.  These tips were insightful and non-obvious.  For example, they caution against trying to prove a personal theory about how users interact with the website.  The presenters were careful to say that usability testing is better kept open-ended and used to discover how people use the site.  This was an interesting and not necessarily intuitive conclusion.  Usability testing seems to fit with the idea of testing a particular hypothesis.  This advice would help librarians design their usability testing questions to discover the best information about how their users interact with the site.

The presenters’ other most surprising point was the idea of testing “early and often.”  Rather than testing the website once when it is finished or nearly finished, Eiseman and Skalbeck recommended conducting many small tests during the redesign process.  Eiseman conducted usability testing on a simple wireframe illustration of how the website might look and just asked users where they would click if they could.  This allowed him to test how people would use the site before any of the links and other functionality was ready. 

Testing multiple times throughout the redesign process seems intimidating, but that is where the “guerrilla” part came in.  Eiseman and Skalbeck discussed how to simplify the process and make it less expensive.  They simplified the process, in part, by only testing with a handful of users.  To show how usability testing could be less expensive, the presenters discussed tools ranging from the expensive ($1500!) Morae software to the less-expensive mac-based Silverback to a simple paper and pen. 

I am glad I attended the presentation, and I would recommend downloading both the program and the handout.  The handout is a bibliography of sources on usability and usability testing including the Steve Krug book, Rocket Surgery Made Easy, which was referenced several times during the presentation, one website, and the software discussed and/or used in the program.  More helpful than just a list of resources, Eiseman and Skalbeck provide their valuable and frank opinions on each resource.  On the other hand, the handout does not include Eiseman and Skalbeck’s advice or instructions on how to conduct the testing.  Thus, downloading the handout alone will not give all of the useful information from this session.

Although I recommend downloading and listening to this program, I must note that visual aspects of this presentation were very helpful and important.  One of the best illustrations was a series of clips of several Georgetown users getting confused and making the same mistake when trying to use the website.  This illustrated why it is not necessary to see dozens of users to know that something needs to be redesigned.  It was an excellent point, but one that was nearly entirely visual.  This is not to say that the audio-only download will not be worthwhile, but those listening to the audio may be somewhat frustrated.

I would definitely recommend this program for librarians at any institution currently contemplating or undertaking a website redesign.  It provides great advice from librarians who have been there, serves as an introduction to the top books and software tools, and shows how to think creatively about a process that can seem intimidating.

Posted By Clare Willis at 8/1/2012 5:27:40 PM  0 Comments
TOPICS: aall 2012