This blog provides a space for conversations about articles and ideas found in AALL Spectrum
, the monthly magazine of the American Association of Law Libraries. The previous blog was located at aallspectrum.wordpress.com
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 product’s audience, will be less than satisfied.
Dr. Acharya took questions from the audience after his presentation. He addressed issues such as Google Scholar’s 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 librarian’s time.
Posted By 8/2/2012 10:09:35 AM
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 8/1/2012 5:27:40 PM
8/1/2012 4:30:37 PM
Session J5: Class KIA-KIX: A Revolutionary New Classification Schedule for the 21st Century
At AALL’s Annual Meeting 2012, Dr. Jolande E. Goldberg of LC and George Prager of NYU presented on the recent changes to the law classification schedules dealing with the Law of Indigenous Peoples in the Americas (KIA-KIX). Dr. Goldberg developed the schedule with two goals in mind. First, she wanted to organize indigenous legal materials at LC in a more coherent manner. Second, she wanted to give access to a critical mass of primary and secondary resources available on the web.
To achieve the first goal, 1200 tribal law materials were gathered from several areas of LC to test the new schedule. These included tribal codes, reporters, session laws, corporate charters, constitutions, by-laws, and much more. Some were previously located in KF (United States) or KE (Canada), some were never reclassified from Thomas Jefferson’s original classification scheme, and some were never classified at all. During the test they were reclassified into the new KIA-KIX range. The new schedule allows for better granularity, as each tribe has its own series of call numbers. Previously all 560+ tribes shared one call number, KF8228.
The second goal expands the use of the LC Classification Schedule to include links to sources of tribal law. A bibliography of legal materials with those links will be ordered in the same hierarchical structure as the KIA-KIX schedule. Dr. Goldberg explained that there are limited sources of tribal legal materials available. She and her colleagues researched many of those materials for the project and wanted to share those findings in one central bibliography. While the final location is unknown, the current draft of the bibliography along with a new guide explaining the project can be found at http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/kia_intro.html.
The new schedule is in the final stages of completion, with official release expected within the next year. Future updates may be listed under the “News” section of the Cataloging and Acquisitions Homepage at http://www.loc.gov/aba/.
Posted By 8/1/2012 4:30:37 PM