As the current librarian-in-residence, I am constantly learning from the more experienced legal reference librarians. During my very first week, I had the opportunity to shadow other librarians at the reference desk in the Law Library Reading Room. I would pepper them with questions ranging from details about the collection to how to approach research for an Ask a Librarian question. In addition, I had many questions regarding the ready reference materials because they are incredibly helpful when working the reference desk. These materials are not unique to the Law Library. In any library, the ready reference collection contains materials that are frequently used by both patrons and librarians when conducting research. In the Law Library’s collection, we have materials ranging from the District of Columbia Code and Practice Manual, Black’s Law Dictionary, to the Guide to Congress. I was familiar with some of the materials in the collection. However, there are other items I had never used. I decided to interview a few librarians to learn more about this collection and inquire about their favorite ready reference material, why they find it helpful, and how a patron would find it useful.
My favorite ready reference material is Specialized Legal Research. When I am researching a new topical area, I like pulling this volume and browsing the chapter on point with its overview of the area of law, citations to primary legal resources, and summaries of secondary sources. The simple charts of acronyms/abbreviations relevant to the field can be helpful as well as the explanations for different government regulatory entities. Since this resource is not being updated, I will usually move to an online research guide, posted on a law library website, for more recent content. Our last looseleaf update was from 2018. I would recommend this to a patron if they were new to an area of law and would like to know the main government entities involved, learn about the main legal primary and secondary legal resources, and want the full bibliographic information for a particular title.
My favorite ready reference material is the Congressional Yellow Book, a directory of members of Congress, their committees, and aides. At the reference desk, we regularly receive questions about members of Congress, with patrons looking for contact information or legislation that members have sponsored or cosponsored, and this source has a lot of useful information all in one place. The source is available in print at the reference desk, but it ceased publication in print in summer 2022. Accordingly, the best place to find it is digitally on Leadership Connect, which can be accessed on-site at the Library. I would direct a patron to this resource if they were looking for detailed information about a member of Congress, including contact information, education and career history, committee and subcommittee membership, and recent legislation that the member has sponsored or cosponsored.
I find The Statesman’s Yearbook an incredibly helpful resource when trying to find statistics and background information about foreign jurisdictions. It is also an aesthetically striking book; it has a very eye-catching spine and cover. The Statesman’s Yearbook provides coverage of basically every jurisdiction in the world. It contains an introduction or description about the history, climate, geography, and history of the country. It also provides important statistics, such as population and military strength. Finally, it also has an overview of the government, and includes government leaders and foreign relations information. I prefer the print version of the material, because I find it more efficient to have the material in front of me. Since it provides statistical and identifying information, it is easy to glance down at the physical version while still working at a computer. This resource is reliable for up-to-date information about foreign governments. While this information is available online (often from government sources), having it all displayed in a cohesive format makes it a very helpful resource, especially for researchers who are just beginning research on a specific jurisdiction.
I frequently turn to the State Documents Bibliographies compiled by the American Association of Law Libraries’ Government Documents Special Interest Section. They are very handy and well organized. The bibliographies contain lists of constitutional, legislative, executive, and judicial sources of law, and select secondary sources and reference materials. There are frequently historical sources listed, as well. I mostly use the bibliographies in print because we keep them by the reference desk, but I occasionally use them online via HeinOnline Spinelli’s Law Library Reference Shelf, which can be accessed onsite at the Law Library. Each state has similar sources of law, but the titles can vary. Researchers and librarians use the State Documents Bibliographies when they are looking for a particular source of law in a state jurisdiction but do not know the title of the publication where the law can be found. For example, if you want to identify the title of Alabama’s current statutory code, you can use State documents bibliography, Alabama and look at the section on “current statutes” under the major topic of “legislative sources” (the title is Code of Alabama, 1975).
I like the
Guide to Congress. It is a useful reference about the operations of Congress and its history. I do not believe there is an electronic version, but the “Congressional Encyclopedia” available in the CQ Press Library (a subscription database available onsite at the Law Library) may cover the same ground. I often use this resource for more esoteric questions about Congress, historical events, and its rules and precedents.
During this interview process, I began to think about my own favorite ready reference material. I like Prince’s Bieber Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations. This is an extremely useful resource because it provides the meaning of abbreviations and acronyms found in domestic, foreign, and international agencies, organizations, periodicals, reporters, popular acts, and legal terms and phrases. For example, if a researcher wanted to know the meaning of the legal abbreviation “IRC,” I would use this resource to find that “IRC” can stand for either Internal Revenue Code, International Red Cross, or International Rescue Committee. In addition, this resource helps to identify abbreviations for titles, name, and terms. For example, if a patron wanted to know the abbreviation for the “Supreme Court,” I could use this resource to identify the abbreviation, which is S.Ct. I wish I had known about this resource sooner because it would have saved me so much time and confusion.
I hope these recommendations help illustrate how ready reference material is useful. In addition, I hope others will find this helpful for their own legal research the next time they visit either their local law library or the Law Library of Congress. Happy researching!
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