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JILT 1997 (2) - Chirsty MacSween

The Scots Law Times Reports on CD-ROM (1893-1995)
..a Librarian's perspective.

Chirsty MacSween
Law Librarian
University of Strathclyde
chirsty@law.strath.ac.uk

Contents

1. Contents & Cost

2. Technical Requirements & Installation

3. Documentation and Onscreen Help

4. Features

5. The Verdict

6. Postscript

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This is an IT Review published on 30 June 1997.

Citation: MacSween C, 'The Scots Law Times Reports on CD-ROM (1893-1995) ..a Librarian's perspective', IT Review 1997 (2) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/sw/97_2slt/libview/>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1997_2/scotslaw/macsween/>


1. Contents & Cost

The Scots Law Times Reports on CD-ROM published by W. Green contains the full text of all SLT reports from its inception in 1893 to 1995 (26000+ cases). Articles and news items are not included. It is to be updated annually. It is therefore designed to complement rather than to replace the printed product, at any rate for subscribers in Scotland.

Cost is £975.00 + VAT. Annual updates for existing subscribers will be c£200 + VAT.

The product comes with a licence to network for up to five users, with the option to take out an extended licence for further users.

2. Technical Requirements & Installation

Minimum specification

  • IBM compatible 386 with VGA monitor
  • 4Mb of memory (RAM)
  • 1Mb of hard disk space
  • CD-ROM drive
  • Windows 3.1 or later

Recommended specification

  • IBM compatible 486 or higher
  • 8Mb of memory (RAM)
  • 10Mb of hard disk space
  • Double speed CD-ROM
  • Windows 3.1 or Windows 95

Installation

Our CD-ROM has been purchased by the Law School for use within the department rather than by the Library, so that I was able to hand over to our Computer Officer. I did, however, manage to install a beta version without incident, on Windows 3.1 and Windows 95. The instructions in the manual are clear and a straw poll of colleagues suggests that no difficulties have been encountered, other than an initial glitch which looks like an installation problem but is in fact related to password input. I gather this has been clarified for subsequent purchasers.

3. Documentation and Onscreen Help

The disc comes in the usual box (anyone know who started calling these jewel cases?), together with a manual and guide card. The manual is compact (A5 spiral bound) well written and clear, but has no index. It is, however, sensibly laid out and it is for the most part possible to locate the part you want from the table of contents. There are useful worked examples, which are well worth spending time on.

Librarians welcome (fall with glad cries on) a useable quick guide to keep us going until there is time to produce something of our own, and initially the brief guide sheet (A5, 2-sided) looked promising. The front, describing the different types of search is clear, but the back, on boolean search terms etc, has obviously encountered some gremlins at the print stage and is pretty bewildering even to those with some inkling of what is meant. No doubt this will be corrected for production of the update. One would also expect to see some instructions on output on this Quickstart guide-card.

On-screen help is in two forms. Firstly, a brief guided tour (with a nice little train icon) designed for the first-time user outlining the four primary routes to information. This is clear but very brief; again, some instructions on how to print/save would be helpful. General help takes the form of an on-screen version of the user manual. In a particular search function, the help button opens up the manual and puts you in at the appropriate chapter, leaving you to scroll down, hopefully, to the section you want. Again, an alphabetical index with links would be useful. A bit more in the way of intermediate help would be very welcome eg suggestions on the search screens themselves.

4. Features

The software is Folio Views, already familiar to many potential users as it is also used in the Current Legal Information CD-ROM - useful from the user education point of view.

There are four main routes to retrieval

- Case Fast Search (when you know the name of a case)

- Citation Fast Search (when you know the full citation)

- Assisted Search (searching by specified criteria, on a template)

- Power Search (expert search mode, with blank template)

Of these, Assisted Search is the one we push students towards, even for case names. With the exception of limiting by date, for which Power Search is the preferred option, most searches users are likely to want to do can be carried out in Assisted Search, as John Blackie notes in his review in this issue.

All the usual search features are available: boolean, phrase searching, field searching (case, court, judges, counsel, rubric, headnote, all text), ordered proximity, unordered proximity, truncation, wildcard, limiting by date. As each element of the search is input it is tracked on the results map (the little tree) - which in the words of the online help "looks forbidding but is in fact extremely useful". You can re-use previous queries within a search session - not as obvious on-screen as it might be - and save queries for later use.

When you carry out a search you are presented with a number of "records with hits". This causes initial confusion. "It says there are 10 cases and I've only got two in the hit list - where have the others gone?" is a common plaint with the new user. "Records with hits" is not the number of cases which meet the search criteria, nor the number of occurrences of the term, but there is the number of occurrences of your search term/s in the fields specified, with multiple occurrences counted once per field, i.e. if "damages" occurs several times in the headnote it will only record one hit for that field. (I can see that I have really clarified this one).

You can print or download all or part of a case, or copy into the clipboard for incorporating into a word processed document. Print instructions are not clear to the first-time user. You print the whole case by clicking on SLT on the Tool Bar (that obvious, huh?); to print part of the case, you highlight and use the File command. Output is attractive and clearly laid out.

The main shortcoming of the CD-ROM for most users at present is the inability to print a list of case names with citations for users to take to the shelf. Library subscribers will very often be using the CD-ROM as an index in this way. (Policies on charging for printing and photocopying will affect how students choose to use). The software can be changed to allow you to print the hit list (Greens technical expert will advise) but to have citations as well as names we will have to wait. Greens have put this facility at the top of their shopping list for the new edition.

There is a bookmarking and annotating facility, personal to each password - wonderful in a situation where users have their own password but something of a mixed blessing in the general library context, where the librarian's first thoughts are not so much "valuable aid to research" as "rude words". Libraries can devise their own means of controlling - it keeps us on our toes. In the same password-specific way you can can also highlight text; a useful feature is the facility to make the print bigger for on-screen scanning. (You can also drag the display window down to maximise the area).

The test of a well designed CD-ROM is that it should be reasonably transparent to the novice user. It is difficult for the librarian to come to the screen without the baggage of experience/prejudice; when we first received this disc, I begged a number of students, techies and not-so-techies, to have a shot at it cold. A consensus soon emerged on areas of difficulty: printing, phrase-searching, confusion between hits and cases. 'Contents' loses people fast. It should be stressed however that students did succeed in carrying out basic searches starting cold in this way, and that with a basic guidesheet the majority do seem to manage fine.

The balance between high functionality and ease of use is a delicate one. Though simple searches can be done very easily it will take even an experienced user some time to discover the full potential of the software. Where possible, librarians should take advantage of the technical help available from Greens. Training is offered to subscribers; if distance precludes, they should contact the digital training representative and get hold of her excellent training notes, which give a good overview and highlight features which do not always leap at you from the manual. No doubt elements will be incorporated in subsequent revisions.

5. The Verdict

The value of having this key resource on CD-ROM is not in question. It is a must-have for any institution in Scotland teaching law or legal studies. Cost is comparable with similar products on the market, and although £1000+ is a lot to find out of tightly sqeezed budgets, intensive use should justify the outlay. In this context, it is good to be able to commend the publisher for taking a generous and flexible line on networking for educational use. It is an approach likely to benefit them in the longer term; sadly, not all publishers recognise that exposing law students to electronic sources at a price their institutions can afford is sound marketing. After the initial outlay, purchasers should find the reduced annual subscription easier to sustain - or at any rate comparable with a new SULI title!

The Lexis agreement for academic libraries is less favourable than it was, so that we are having to re-think our information strategies to minimise use. For us in Scotland the cost of the disc can be partly offset against reduced Lexis bills. The SLT CD-ROM also provides an element of subject access to Session Cases and the other Scottish series, in that relevant citations will be picked up in the body of the text.

Backruns of SLT have till now only been available second hand at considerable (and rising) cost; the early volumes are hard to come by, even for ready money. Libraries in other jurisdictions and individuals now have the opportunity to acquire the information at less expense, and with vastly improved access. If I were a practitioner I would want my own copy, or at any rate access on my desk.

Electronic products seldom come to the market perfectly formed (anyone out there remember the early releases of Justis-Celex?), and in this case the publishers appear to be making every effort to supply what the customer wants, having surveyed all subscribers to determine user satisfaction and to obtain a consensus wish list. It is likely that many of the wrinkles noted will be ironed out in the new edition.

6. Postscript

For UK law libraries, the academic session/parliamentary session 1996/97 has been a momentous one. We may have toyed for years with elements of the electronic library, but now it is upon us with one bound. All of a sudden we have acts, SIs, bills and Hansard on the Internet; Current Legal Information actually works on a network and is now on the Internet too; we have eLR on a CHEST deal (if we can afford it). For those of us in Scotland, all this and SLT too. It will be a busy summer, as we re-think our orientation programmes.

In our institution grateful academic staff and beleaguered librarian are glad to have the SLT Reports CD-ROM, quibbles and all, as found. Our students, Oliver Twist-like, are looking for the news & articles and Internet access. Over to you, W. Green.

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