Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations: A new way to meet a basic legal research
Peter Clinch, Information Specialist Law, Cardiff University
can be a puzzle to both new students and experienced professionals. Traditionally,
paper-based or electronic lists have been devised to help users identify to
which legal publication an abbreviation refers. This web-based service, launched
in June 2003, harnesses a relational database to the power of the internet to
provide sophisticated searching, ease of updating and world-wide access. The
Index is at http://www.legalabbrevs.cardiff.ac.uk/
This short article discusses how the idea germinated, how the project grew and the developments we hope to feature, both short and long term.
Between 2000 and 2002 I was seconded from Cardiff University to be Project Manager for the Foreign Law Guide (FLAG) Project run from the Library of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies(IALS), University of London. The aim of the project was to map the holdings of foreign, international and comparative law in UK universities, the national libraries of the UK, the Public Record Office and the Inns of Court, London. The major output of the project has been the FLAG Database which is hosted by IALS (http://ials.sas.ac.uk/flag.htm). For more on this project see Clinch, 2002.
The FLAG Project provided me with three valuable experiences which have led directly to the development of the Cardiff Index. First, I personally surveyed the foreign, international and comparative law collections of over 60 law libraries in the UK and handled legal materials from over 200 jurisdictions. To identify accurately the nature of the materials I was surveying often required considerable research and gradually I built up knowledge of the basic legal materials for jurisdictions across the world. Second, to create consistent database entries for FLAG I had to develop authority lists of countries and jurisdictions. Third, with the invaluable assistance of Stephen Whittle, Information Systems Manager, a two stage process for the creation of a relational database and its transfer to the internet was used. A similar method is employed for the Cardiff Index.
During the final stages of the FLAG Project, the Management Committee recognised a number of avenues by which FLAG could be enhanced. One of them was to develop a web-based index to legal abbreviations. The database would cover abbreviations to law or law-related publications only and not abbreviations for legal processes or personalities. This same distinction has been applied to the Cardiff Index.
As the FLAG Project drew to a close I discussed my return to Cardiff with colleagues in Wales. Since I was returning in November 2002 the timing was inappropriate for me to take over the preparation and delivery of legal research skills training of students. So, I put forward the possibility of devoting my time during the academic year 2002-2003 to the creation of the Index. This plan was agreed.
Discussions with colleagues in the Computer Centre established that it was feasible to create the Index employing the same general plan as for FLAG. Entries would be keyboarded into a MS Access database. At intervals, a copy of the database would be converted to web format. The major difference was that with FLAG, commercial web software had been employed (InMagic’s DB Textworks and Web Publisher) whereas, for the Cardiff Index, all the software for the design of the web pages and to undertake the searches had to be written in-house. The general design of the web pages has been determined by the agreed standards used by Cardiff University Web Team. Some of the search software had been developed for an earlier web-based index on the Cardiff University web site, to permit searching of the deposited archive of the Cardiff born national newspaper editor, Sir Hugh Cudlipp (http://www.cudlipp.cardiff.ac.uk/). The reasons behind the decision to write all the software in-house were to ensure Cardiff could build in flexibility, tailor the software to particular needs and be in control of software upgrades.
I recognised that a number of features limit the use of traditional lists of abbreviations:
First, punctuation, ampersands (&) and upper and lower case letters control the order in which abbreviations are displayed on the page;
Second, it is possible to search only one way: from abbreviation to title and not in the reverse;
Third, there is some additional information which conventional lists often omit, but which, if provided, would make the database a richer resource and life easier for users:
- Details of alternative titles
- Details of publications which are part of a series, linking predecessor to successor titles – not just modern changes of journal or law report title but where, for example, an individual law reporter continued the work of a predecessor in the time of the nominate reports (in England and Wales, prior to1865)
- The name of the jurisdiction (to aid identification where titles or abbreviations are popular and used to refer to several different publications)
- The preferred citation abbreviation, as given in the publication itself or from an authoritative list
- For law reports and statutes: the date range of information contained in a publication and for journals, the dates of publication
- Details of where historic law reports are reprinted
- The International Standard Serial Number (ISSN).
Having sketched out these requirements, I asked Paul McGeoghan, Application Support Specialist (Statistics and Databases) to design the MS Access database for me. The Access database design consists essentially of three main Tables: a Table for Titles, a Table for Abbreviations and a third Table named Titles and Abbreviations which is linked to the Titles and Abbreviations Tables. This design overcame the difficulty that a single abbreviation can refer to several titles and a single title might have many abbreviations. The main difficulty for Paul was designing a single data input screen, incorporating every field so that new abbreviations and new titles could be added on the same form. Paul, however, achieved the difficult job by mid-January 2003 and I started to keyboard entries, using a wide range of reference works, which are listed on the web site under the section about the database (http://www.legalabbrevs.cardiff.ac.uk/about.html). I also found a use for information I gathered as part of my PhD research (undertaken in the 1980s) into the development of law reporting in England and Wales between about 1450 and 1985. This comprised some 700 handwritten index cards carrying details of every law report title published over five centuries. It formed the basis for the creation of the Index.
Initial work focused on creating a rich database of titles and abbreviations for the law publications of England and Wales. Then, in order, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic, Isle of Man and Channel Islands were added. Next came the Commonwealth, in particular Australia, Canada, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Singapore and South Africa. Hong Kong was also covered. Finally entries for law publications from the United States were entered. On the way, some international law publications have been entered and a large number of French language materials from Canada.
Frequently, time had to be spent checking information about titles and abbreviations since different sources provided conflicting information. It was also necessary to ensure that the Index contains a single entry for each title. I had to be on constant guard to prevent the creation of duplicate entries where a title is known under several names.
Where a publication is held in Cardiff University Law Library (the main academic law library) or Legal Practice Library (a small library to support the training of solicitors and barristers) a full entry has been created based on an inspection of the actual publication. Once the initial database building phase has been completed, we hope to return to those entries which are less complete (i.e. do not carry the ISSN or dates) and insert the missing details. The priority has been to create as many entries of titles and abbreviations as possible, and fill in the missing detailed data at a later time.
As the MS Access database grew, a copy was made and handed over to Andrew Frayling, Web Developer, to create the web version that users see when they visit the site. Andrew created several test versions during April and May. The design and layout of the web pages had to conform to the University’s standards, which is why a number of links to University services appear at the left side of the screen. In addition, digital photographs were taken and edited to provide the illustrative banner at the top of the web site pages. Andrew added a feature which was not in the project’s original design and which holds possibilities for future development. He wrote a script to link the ISSN of a publication mentioned in the database to the entry for the same publication in Cardiff University’s Voyager library catalogue.
From an early stage it was envisaged that the Index should be unveiled at the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL) Annual Conference to be held in Cardiff during June 2003. That was our deadline for completing work on the initial version. As those who attended the Conference saw, this aim was achieved. At the time of its launch the Index contained about 3,700 entries for titles and 7,000 entries for abbreviations drawn from over 130 jurisdictions.
Apart from the 10 minute presentation during the final session of the BIALL Conference, a message was placed in the following week on the lis-law e-mail discussion list. Law librarians in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States and the Caribbean have contacted the e-mail address at the site: email@example.com to comment on and seek permission to link to the site.
From its launch in early June to the end of August, the only publicity given to the Index was via the BIALL Conference and the message on lis-law. It is a tribute to the use of e-mail as a medium for dissemination of information, and the ability of law librarians to network that, in those 11 weeks, people in 48 countries visited the web site. There were over 26,000 page requests, and the web site was used by people in Australia and New Zealand only slightly less than people in the UK. Also, it is not only the academic community which is accessing the site, for some large law firms have also used the Index.
During June and July, new entries were created and by the end of July the first update of the Index was loaded so that the database contained over 6,600 titles and over 11,700 abbreviations drawn from over 180 jurisdictions. Reprints of law reports in 11 different series, including The English Reports and reprint series covering Scotland, India and parts of Canada, are mentioned.
In early September a third update was loaded bringing the database to over 7,000 titles and 12,500 abbreviations drawn from 197 jurisdictions. The new entries mainly cover international and comparative law publications. During September, a press release went out to law publication editors both in the UK and overseas.
Apart from keeping existing entries up to date, future work falls into three areas: first, adding materials from more jurisdictions including foreign language materials of European countries; second, filling gaps in information provided in existing records; and third, exploring the possibilities for making the ISSN link to interact with the library catalogue in the user’s home location.
We are confident that we have now included entries for the major law publications of the British Isles, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa and the United States. Attention will turn to other jurisdictions such as African Commonwealth countries, the Caribbean and especially the publications and abbreviations for the most commonly used law materials of European countries. In addition, international and comparative law publications need to be identified in a more systematic manner than hitherto. Where an international law publication appears in the Index at present it is only because either it is in stock here at Cardiff or has been mentioned in the country lists reviewed to build the Index.
Undertaking the second area of future work, filling gaps in the information provided within existing Index entries, is going to challenge the ‘detective instinct’ in the law librarian!
On the third future development, there is a possibility that with some programming both at Cardiff and in other institutions, the ISSN link can be made to point to the user’s home library catalogue and so, by clicking on the ISSN, the user would be able to jump from the Cardiff Index to the relevant catalogue entry in their own library. So, a user in, say, Aberdeen would be able to search the Cardiff Index, identify the title bearing an obscure abbreviation, click on the ISSN and be taken not to the Cardiff University catalogue, but the entry for the publication in their own library catalogue. There are many policy and technical issues surrounding the concept of localisation to be resolved, not the least whether the scripts to be written will work for all library catalogue systems, how long the programming development process will take and its cost. This example of localisation is believed to be innovative and a highly worthwhile development for the legal research community. Since the Index is just part of the daily work undertaken by all those contributing, progress will depend on priorities determined outside the project.
We welcome your feedback on the Index so that it can be developed to fulfill the research needs of users more effectively. Please contact the team on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Apart from the work of Paul McGeoghan and Andrew Frayling mentioned in the article, I would like to acknowledge the advice and support at various stages in the development of the Index provided by Duncan Montgomery, Law Library Manager, Cathie Jackson, Information Specialist-Law, Glyn Ryland, Web Team Leader and my son, Graham, a Computer Science student at Lancaster University.
Clinch, Peter. (2002) FLAG: the New Internet Gateway to Foreign Law Holdings in UK National and University Libraries. Legal Information Management 2(4), 37-39.