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JILT 1996 (3) - Sarah Carter

A Librarian's Comments on eLR

Sarah Carter
University of Kent
S.H.Carter@ukc.ac.uk

Since I was unable to load eLR on to my hard disk, and had only a single disk drive available, every search involved switching from the index disk to the data disk. It was therefore not a 'real' situation in which to evaluate the CD-ROM, and because it was time-consuming, precluded extensive use. My comments are therefore those of a novice user of eLR, though one with general familiarity with database searching.

I found the software for the most part easy to use, and in some ways very satisfying. Constructing searches was simple, even on the Advanced Searching form. In fact, the simplicity is perhaps not stressed enough: the examples of citation searching (or "Publication Reference" as it is called on eLR) brackets around dates are shown although it is not necessary to use them. Nor is it always clear that minimal information may get you what you want (e.g. with complicated case names involving, say, companies, where one element of the name would be enough to retrieve it). The index browse feature was reasonably transparent (lack of obviousness of this is a fault in many databases)

Some searches required considerable ingenuity. I tried looking for Reg. v. R. [1992] 1 AC 599 (marital rape case), but was unable to find it under parties whatever I put in, and could not figure out why. Cases with initials in the name are always problematic, and this may be something which Context needs to look into.

More online help would have been useful at times, and did not always seem to be available. In the context of networking it is crucial that users can find their way around the system without a manual.

Once in the document, the appearance, replicating the printed page, is very pleasing, and the hyperlinks work most satisfactorily. The limitations are sometimes frustrating, but inevitable - as when you see a citation to a report series which is not on the databases. The case link feature is a rapid method of noting up, and while it is sometimes confusing as to where you are in the database, with practice becomes second-nature. I also liked the Outline feature, whereby you can link directly into different parts of the case - court, parties, judgment, order, etc.

The Dynamic Document Linking (DDL) feature provides internal links where possible, so that you can click on any piece of information, and it will attempt to resolve the reference and, if successful, find it. It can therefore be used to find words or phrases in other cases. It is this feature, presumably, which allows you to click on any reference in the text, whether highlighted or not, and find a link if it is there. This flexibility clearly makes eLR a powerful research tool.

I was not able to test the Mark and Note features in detail. While they are clearly a valuable asset for personal research, I wonder how they would work if the database were networked.

Like any complex database, eLR will become easier with use. With every generation of students, a greater proportion of them have facility in using databases. It took me about an hour to feel comfortable with the system, and would take me more to become familiar with every detail. I was able to retrieve a case and use the hyperlinks almost immediately, and I would expect that our hyper-experienced students would be able to do the same. Indeed, eLR raises hyper-expectations in providing links from any part of the text.

Training in the use of databases is a problem. While eLR is easy to use, and light years away from the old JUSTIS software (which so often leaves people stranded) I can nevertheless see a situation in which students, not to mention academic staff, are frustrated because they cannot comprehend the complexities of navigating the database. The User Guide is useful, but does not train, and in any case could not be made available to several hundred users scattered around a site.It is to be hoped that CONTEXT take the initiative in devising a self-help guide which could be distributed to all users, concentrating on worked examples or a tutorial rather than explaining features.


Date of publication: 30 September 1996.

Citation: Carter, S (1996), 'A Librarian's Comments on eLR', Application Review, 1996 (3) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/elj/jilt/sw/3elr/carter.htm/>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1996_3/elr/carter/>


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