Thursday, March 29, 2012

1940 Census Records Unveiled on April 2

While Sunday’s season premiere of Mad Men spawned countless 1960s-themed viewing parties, next week the National Archives and Records Administration is “taking you back to the 1940s”. On Monday, April 2, at 9:00 a.m., the individual records from the 1940 U.S. Census will be released online, to the delight of genealogists, historians, and other researchers.

Why the delay? As NARA explains on its website, “[t]he 1940 and later censuses are not available for public use because of a statutory 72-year restriction on access for privacy reasons. (92 Stat. 915; Public Law 95-416; October 5, 1978).” (Seasoned legal researchers know that they can find this law via the U.S. Statutes at Large in our Federal Alcove, or in HeinOnline.)

Although the 72-year privacy window will have closed, limitations on the database will present additional hurdles: upon initial release, Census researchers will be able to browse only by address (though an army of dedicated volunteers will begin to create a name index to the massive data set upon its release). NARA has tips for collecting addresses and identifying Enumeration Districts, where the name-level records will be found.

The U.S. Census Bureau has created a page of fascinating historical information about the era and the Census, including socioeconomic statistics and short educational films. NARA provides a scan of a blank form from the era, along with frequently asked questions about Census research.

The Duke University Libraries own a number of publications by the U.S. Census Bureau, which contain more general statistical information collected about the population. To locate them, search our online catalog or Ask a Librarian.

Monday, March 26, 2012

SCOTUS Takes On Health Care Reform

Beginning today, the Supreme Court will hear the hotly-anticipated oral arguments on health care reform. In November 2011, the Court granted review of three separate Circuit Court of Appeals decisions related to the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, with each review limited to particular questions and issues. Orders and case filings are available on the Court’s website at

How big is the health care reform case? Big enough that Court-watchers began lining up on Friday for tickets to first round of questioning. So big, in fact, that the Court is taking the unusual step of releasing the written transcripts and argument audio even earlier than normal. In a press release, the Court promises: “The audio recordings and transcripts of the March 26-28 morning sessions should be available no later than 2 p.m. The recording and transcript of the March 28 afternoon session should be available no later than 4 p.m.” The materials will be posted to SCOTUS typically releases argument transcripts by close of business on the same day.

The OYEZ Project, another source for Supreme Court audio and case filings, also has a special page dedicated to the health care reform case, which may be a helpful link in the event of Supreme Court server overload.

To learn more about locating Supreme Court materials, check out our research guide to the U.S. Supreme Court or Ask a Librarian.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Research Refresher 2012: What to Know Before You Go

Getting ready for your summer job? Law firms consistently cite research and writing ability among the most important traits in new associates. LARW provides the basic foundation, but real-world legal research can be vastly different from your experiences preparing a motion memo, appellate brief, or seminar paper. Are your research skills up to the challenge?

On Thursday, March 22, at 12:15 p.m., join research instructors Jane Bahnson, Marguerite Most and Kristina Alayan in Room 3037 for the Goodson Law Library’s “Legal Research Refresher: What to Know Before You Go.” The lunchtime session, co-sponsored by the Career & Professional Development Center, will introduce students to current awareness and litigation tools that are commonly used in real-world law practice, demonstrate how to navigate local court rules and dockets, and highlight low-cost research database alternatives.

As if the opportunity to hone your research skills wasn’t reward enough, the first 20 attendees will receive a “swag bag” featuring a 1 Gb flash drive, pens, highlighters (just in time for exam preparation), and other goodies, courtesy of Westlaw, LexisNexis, and Bloomberg.

Still hungry for more research insight before you head off to summer employment? LexisNexis and Westlaw will also continue their “Prepare to Practice” sessions on cost-effective research during summer employment through the first week of April. View the calendars and sign up for sessions on Lexis and Westlaw.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Where Do Government Websites Go When They Die?

The U.S. Government Printing Office recently announced that Friday, March 16 will mark the official retirement date for its long-running GPO Access website. At the end of the week, FDsys, which has been available since its 2009 beta test (see earlier Blogson post), will officially take over as the default source for federal government publications, including public and private laws; the federal budget; congressional reports, debates, and hearings; the Federal Register and Code of Federal Regulations; federal court opinions; and countless other materials.

Outdated links will redirect from GPO Access to FDsys for at least one more year, but GPO cautions: “In the event that an exact equivalent could not be provided, users will be directed to the best available resource or the FDsys homepage.” This has left some bloggers worried about resources which are still missing from the FDsys platform, including the e-CFR, an unofficial version of the Code of Federal Regulations which is updated more frequently than the official version’s quarterly schedule. The Office of the Federal Register quickly assured concerned readers that the e-CFR will live on, despite its absence from FDsys, explaining that “[w]e could not migrate the unique e-CFR platform to FDsys, nor could we move it to a non-GPO Access URL before the shutdown.” An updated URL,, will ensure that e-CFR will continue without interruption.

The website transition, and the potential for some collections like e-CFR to fall through the cracks, does highlight the volatility of online materials. In a few years, how can researchers with an outdated GPO Access URL – or any other government website, for that matter – easily access the material they need? In 2011, the Chesapeake Digital Preservation Group published the results of a three-year study which examined “link rot” in its collection of archived online documents, many of which were harvested from federal and state government websites. The group discovered that over a three-year period, nearly thirty percent of the original URLs had stopped working. Government domains (such as and .gov) were the most frequently-broken URLs.

Thankfully, the Chesapeake Digital Preservation Group and other organizations are working to preserve historical government web information. The University of North Texas’s CyberCemetery archives defunct federal government websites. Generally, these are sites from agencies which have ceased operation, or commissions which have issued their final reports. The option to Browse by Date of Expiration provides an interesting timeline view of federal websites which have been dismantled. The Internet Archive also crawls government websites regularly and takes “snapshots” which are preserved for future reference. (For example, here’s the January 2009 home page where the FDsys beta was announced.)

For assistance with using the new FDsys site, or for help finding the new location of a broken URL, be sure to Ask a Librarian.