I think many people probably still have an image of the reference librarian as someone who answers calls on an old black rotary phone and helps patrons search the card catalog. The Law Library does have a more up-to-date phone system and the card catalog is online, but in addition to interacting with patrons in these traditional ways, a significant portion of our time is spent answering reference questions through the Library’s digital reference platform, Ask a Librarian. Answering questions through digital reference helps us to serve patrons across the world, provide more detailed information than is often possible in a phone call, and provide links to online resources. Digital reference can also allow us more time to research a question in depth.
As well as providing a platform to send in an online query, in recent years, Ask a Librarian also has a section of FAQs (frequently asked questions) for patrons to use. These FAQs provide information on a broad variety of topics which range from information on Law Library procedures to information on doing research on different areas of the law and legislative procedures. Patrons can search these FAQs to see if there is an answer to their inquiry or they can browse a list of all 85 FAQs the Law Library has prepared.
A favorite of mine is the FAQ on researching public international law. This FAQ provides information about public international law as well as a link to a Law Library research guide on this topic. This FAQ also provides references to another research guide on the related topic of treaties and an FAQ on treaties. Another favorite is the FAQ about where to find the Congressional Record. This FAQ provides information about free online sources for the Congressional Record as well as information about subscription databases. It also provides links to the catalog record for the print editions of the Congressional Record and links to the Congressional Record’s predecessor publications.
FAQs are also assigned “topics” and users can click on a topic for an FAQ to find other FAQs on related issues. For example, one of the topics assigned to the FAQ on the Congressional Record is “federal legislative history.” If the user clicks on this topic, they will retrieve 10 FAQs that provide information about doing federal legislative history research.
It is important to remember that FAQs are not intended to be in-depth responses on a topic but rather provide basic information as well as point to additional existing resources. It is possible that the FAQ and its links to related resources will be enough to answer a question. On the other hand, if after reading the FAQ you have additional questions, please send us your inquiry through Ask a Librarian. We are always happy to assist you with your research!
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