Tuesday, August 23, 2005

West headnote numbers removed from Shepard's

Richard Ducey, Director of the Law Library at the University of Tulsa, today reported on the lawlibdir list about a disturbing change in the functionality of Shepard's Citations. Citator geeks take note:

I believe LEXIS/Shepard's is making a change to Shepard's with little fanfare with the expectation that it will fly below the radar at most libraries and offices. I thought I would alert you to this change in case you have not yet learned about it. Before AALL, I was working on an assignment for my class that included Shepardizing a Maryland Court of Appeals case. Upon Shepardizing (on LEXIS), I was unable to restrict by the West (Atlantic Reporter) headnotes as I have done many times in the past. Our LEXIS representative who was visiting that day also could not figure out why there was absolutely no display option allowing me to limit by West headnotes under the "Focus / Restrict by" feature. The West headnote option reappeared when I checked a couple days later. So, I was wondering what was going on.

At AALL, I made a point of asking about this, only to to be told that LEXIS decided to discontinue both on LEXIS and in print any references to headnotes in West reporters. Restrictions would be available for official headnotes (if any) and LEXIS headnotes. They said they might go back and remove the West headnote references already available. I'm afraid I probably delayed some librarians from getting their LEXIS gift cards stamped (sorry if you were in my group!) because I persisted with my questions as to why such a big change was occurring. Jane (I think was her name) said their survey showed that only 15% of users restrict by headnote number. Also, it was too expensive to continue. I commiserated with Jane on the low headnote statistic, but told her I emphasized this option to my students. I warned her that some researchers might now switch to KeyCite because it would be the only citator for limiting by a West headnote.

With this change, print Shepard's will diminish even more in utility and value. Of course, KeyCite has always only allowed headnote restrictions using West headnotes. Westlaw and LEXIS have become even more self-contained. [Emphasis added.]

It's probably true that the ability to limit by West headnotes is one of the more obscure of Shepard's many obscure features, but it was a valuable tool for those who used it. Alas, no more. The reasoning is understandable; Lexis wants to dissolve the linkage into West's publications and thereby make West's headnotes less valuable. Still, I'm saddened by the thought of a tool like Shepard's being intentionally crippled.

No comments: