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International Law Librarians Convene at YLS

The week of October 21-25 is Flyback Week at YLS, when the School is quiet, classes are on hold, and students have largely dispersed for job interviews. This year a group of librarians has taken over the corridors and classrooms.

The twenty-first Annual Course on International Law Librarianship, sponsored by the International Association of Law Libraries, is being held at Yale Law School from October 20 to 24. The theme of the meeting is "Order from Chaos: Context for Global Legal Information" and activities and discussions throughout the meeting will focus on the knowledge international law librarians need to do their jobs well.

According to Mark Engsberg, the assistant librarian for international law at YLS and an organizer of the IALL program, this information is "not merely bibliographical in nature. It's not just a list of documents you might be interested in. It's a bigger picture, providing the context to give us a deeper understanding of the issues."

International events create documents, treaties, and other sources of information that eventually show up on the shelves and in the databases at law libraries. The better law librarians understand events, the better they can support the research needs of faculty and practitioners. "If you know that there are conferences, meetings, and international deal-making going on all over the world," Engsberg says, "you might know to expect documents to be published, you might know where to ask, you might anticipate that people you work with will be looking for these."

Engsberg adds, "Many of us are scholars and do our own research... We of course are individuals who are also interested in what's going on in the world around us."

The nearly 130 librarians at the conference are from all over the globe--the U.S., Asia, Russia, the former Soviet republics, Eastern Europe, South Africa, Nigeria, Australia, South America, and the Caribbean. The IALL course traditionally devotes some time to the jurisdiction of the host country, and the activities on Monday, October 21, include discussions of American legal publishing and education, as well as an excursion to the Litchfield Law School, the first law school in the U.S.

In the first panel of the week, for example, Morris Cohen, professor emeritus of law and former librarian of YLS, gave a talk about the history of American legal publishing. Cohen described the transition of British common law sources to the New World and the subsequent development of a domestic legal publishing industry. He drew his narrative up to the present day, with its computer databases and large conglomerate publishers. Richard A. Danner, senior associate dean for information services and research professor of law at Duke University School of Law, followed Cohen with an analysis of how legal research had changed and will continue to change due to digital technologies.

On Tuesday, October 22, the librarians are scheduled to visit the United Nations in New York City to consider the role of international organizations. Wednesday they return to YLS, for further discussions of trends in international law, such as international tribunals and the activities of human rights organizations. The final day of the course is an optional trip to Harvard Law School to tour their facilities and hear a substantive program on the law of the Islamic world.

Other YLS personnel who participated in the planning of the conference were S. Blair Kauffman, librarian and professor of law, and Daniel Wade, associate librarian for foreign and international law.

Beyond the tours and talks, Engsberg says that the international law librarians benefit from meeting each other and discussing the common challenges they face, such as finding ways to bridge print and electronic collections. Engsberg says it's a rare opportunity: "You can sit down at a table with a colleague from Russia, one from China, one from Australia, and one from the Barbados, and have a conversation about like interests."

In addition, the library staff is proud to host such a knowledgeable group of visitors. "This is a beautiful facility--it really is--and we have an excellent collection of materials here," says Engsberg. "Of course we like to show it off, and we don't often have that opportunity."