Monday, October 25, 2010


Witches always make the news in October, and 2010 is no exception. Recent market research indicates that pointy hats and brooms remain a top pick for Halloween costumes, for adults, kids and even pets. Witches have also infiltrated the mid-year elections, with Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell’s campaign commercial, designed to ensure nervous voters that her past admission of “dabbling in witchcraft” had been overhyped by the media. (See an alternate take on the campaign spot from Saturday Night Live.)

But witches (and/or suspected witches) have long been accustomed to notoriety. Researching witchcraft and the law is an intimidating prospect, with historical accounts of witch-hunting and witchcraft trials spanning several centuries in a number of different countries. But if you’re inspired to try some Halloween-themed research this month, check out these tricks.

Materials on witchcraft may be found in several locations at the Duke University Libraries. For example, a subject search in the Duke Libraries Catalog for "Trials (Witchcraft)" will return results from the Goodson Law Library as well as the Divinity School Library and Perkins/Bostock Library (but you can request delivery of titles from other libraries by clicking the delivery truck icon next to the title).

You can also limit your catalog search results to just those owned by the Goodson Law Library (as we’ve done with this sample Subject search for "Witchcraft"), but keep in mind that you may limit your results too severely. For example, Malleus Maleficarum (aka “The Hammer of Witches”), the notorious 15th-century guide to witches and witch hunting, is available in translation through the Perkins library and the Divinity School library, but not at Goodson Law.

To locate articles on the topic, you may also want to expand beyond law reviews and legal journals to the various History databases available from the Duke University Libraries – you can access Duke history databases through the subject list.

Got a question about researching witch trials, the history of witchcraft, or just using the Duke Libraries Catalog? Be sure to Ask a Librarian – we’ll even be around on Halloween.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Online Tools for Language Instruction

As law study becomes increasingly global in nature, we are sometimes asked whether the Goodson Law Library offers any CDs, DVDs or other resources for learning a foreign language. While the Ford Library at the Fuqua School of Business contains a Language Instruction section with books and CDs, the Duke University Libraries are also investigating some online subscription-based language tools and could use your help in evaluating a possible purchase.

There are four databases under consideration, which will be evaluated in groups of two. Right now, trials of Byki and Mango are accessible to the Duke University community (with a NetID and password) until October 31. Take advantage of these free trials to brush up on your skills, and share your impressions with the library staff via the online comment form.
  • Byki offers more than 80 language modules, using an interactive flash-card style to teach vocabulary and pronunciation. English speakers can choose from a long list of languages, from Afrikaans to Zulu, while English-as-a-second-language modules are available for a variety of languages (including Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, and Japanese).
  • Mango’s 48 language courses include 14 ESL options. Courses for each language are broken into three levels: Basic (for introductory conversation), Complete 1.0 (an intermediate stage) and Complete 2.0 (more advanced vocabulary and grammar). Each level is comprised of several lessons which focus on a particular topic (such as basic greetings, asking for assistance, or shopping vocabulary).
After the completion of the Byki and Mango trials, the libraries will also test the popular Rosetta Stone product and another language instruction database called Tell Me More. Bookmark the Duke Libraries’ Database Trials page to access the current language trials and to keep abreast of the next language instruction trials.

If you don’t have a current Duke NetID to access the trials, you may be interested in OpenCulture’s list of Free Foreign Language Lessons Online, with links to free podcasts for nearly 40 languages, including a collection for English as a second language.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Law on Lockdown: Building Codes

This summer, the Goodson Blogson wrote about municipal codes, the county- and city-level laws which impact much of our daily lives. But even the valuable resources listed in that entry do not include some critical local legal materials: building codes and other industry standards. Property owners know the importance of keeping a home or business “up to code”: whether it’s electric wiring, plumbing, construction materials, or fire safety, there is a maze of administrative regulations and commercial industry publications which must be navigated.

"No problem," thinks the seasoned legal researcher, grabbing the North Carolina Administrative Code from the library shelf (or from the virtual shelf). But a search for the 'building code' returns only entries like this one:
All applicable volumes of The North Carolina State Building Code, which is incorporated by reference, including all subsequent amendments, may be purchased from the Department of Insurance Engineering Division located at 322 Chapanoke Road, Suite 200, Raleigh, North Carolina 27603 at a cost of three hundred eighty dollars ($380.00). - 10A N.C. Admin. Code 13G.0302
“What?!” thinks our thoroughly-confused researcher. “The state building code isn’t actually published inside the state Administrative Code? Well, I guess I can try to find it in the library...”

But despite the fact that these building and industry codes are given legal effect by states and/or municipalities, our intrepid researcher is far more likely to find them in an engineering library’s collection rather than at the law library. Indeed, Duke’s print copy of the North Carolina State Building Code resides in the Perkins/Bostock Library.

This scenario is common due to the way these codes and standards are published – rather than each government attempting to draft its own building code, state and/or local governments adopt or incorporate existing codes which have been created by the relevant industry’s association. The International Code Council is a major publisher of such material, including the International Building Code, the International Fire Code, and the International Plumbing Code. The ICC codes form the basis of many states’ own codes on these subjects. Other common industry publications which are used by states include the National Fire Protection Association’s Fire Code and standards from ANSI, the American National Standards Institute.

Generally, the administrative and/or statutory publications of a government will indicate which “industry codes” apply, and will also tell you which government entity administers the code in question (such as North Carolina’s Building Code Council). But it’s historically been trickier to locate the text of the codes themselves, unless you subscribed to a commercial database (like MADCAD or ICC’s own site, neither of which is available to Duke University), could travel in person to the administrative government agency to review its public copy, had a library nearby which purchased a print copy, or you were willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a personal copy.

However, there is a push for this information to be more publicly accessible. Public.Resource.Org has built a free, scanned collection of state and municipal safety codes, which is also mirrored at the Internet Archive. While researchers must still take care to note the currency of the scans, and research any later changes which may not be reflected, the collection is a welcome development in making these materials more generally available.

For more help with researching these types of materials, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

First Monday in October

Monday, October 4 marks the start of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 term. It’s been nearly a century since the Judicial Code of 1911 designated the “first Monday in October” as the official commencement of the annual SCOTUS term (Pub. L. No. 61-475, § 230, 36 Stat. 1087, 1156); previously, the Court met for two terms each year.

Although oral arguments begin on the first Monday, the Court has actually been hard at work behind the scenes in the last few weeks, selecting petitions for review. The OT2010 argument calendars provide a preview of upcoming cases, including Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Ass’n (challenging, on First Amendment grounds, a California state ban on the sale of violent video games to minors) and Snyder v. Phelps (an appeal from the Fourth Circuit’s reversal of punitive damages awarded to a father whose son’s funeral was picketed by the Westboro Baptist Church).

Some cases for this term have been granted review, but are not yet scheduled on the oral argument calendar. The Court’s Orders page lists the disposition of various petitions for certiorari. One case which has been granted cert but is not yet scheduled for argument is Stern v. Marshall, a probate law case which would never grab headlines for its legal subject matter. But Stern’s colorful cast of characters (the late model/reality show star Anna Nicole Smith, her long-deceased oil tycoon husband, and Smith’s former attorney and paramour Howard K. Stern, who recently stood trial in California for conspiring to provide Smith with prescription drugs) guarantee a high level of media attention; and it’s actually the case’s second trip to One First Street. The American Bar Association’s Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases includes copies of the briefs filed in scheduled and unscheduled OT2010 cases. SCOTUSblog is also an excellent source of case information.

What else is new around the highest Court in the land? Of course, there’s a new face on the bench with the August confirmation of Elena Kagan, formerly the dean of Harvard Law School. SCOTUS also unveiled a new website in the spring, which promises to improve the speed at which users can access Court information: yesterday, a press release announced that audio recordings of oral arguments will be posted to the website every Friday. Audio recordings have long been available on The OYEZ Project, but this speedy release on the Court’s official page is a welcome development.

On the lighter side of SCOTUS news: with the arrival of Justice Kagan, the Court now boasts a Justice from four of New York City’s five boroughs. Last month, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart went in search of a potential SCOTUS nominee from the last remaining borough, Staten Island, holding a "moot court" on the subject of same-sex marriage to test their subjects’ legal acumen. Could we see these pizza-scarfing justices at One First Street someday? Only time will tell.

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