Friday, February 04, 2011

Title 51 US Code and beyond: Unintended Consequences

Tip of the OOTJ hat to Grace Mills at Hamline, who alerted me, and to Brian Huddleston of Loyola, New Orleans, who alerted the rest of the world that the U.S. Code now has 51 Titles. In December President Obama signed Pub. L. 111-314, which took sections from titles 15, 42 and 49 to create a new title, "National and Commercial Space Programs."  So far, it is only accessible on Lexis. Westlaw does not have it yet. I have not found it at GPO Access' FedSys service. You cannot yet get the Public Law itself at FedSys, or at At Thomas, I link you to the page where you can follow the original bill, HR 3237, and, eventually, it will include a link to the Public Law. You can also access a House committee report at this link, HR 111-325.

But now, we are informed that the floodgates have opened! Rick McKinney at the Federal Reserve Board reports:

Title 41 USC  on Public Contracts was also just "revised, codified, and enacted" by Public Law 111-350 on January 4, 2011. In addition, Titles 52 thru 55 are in the works to be codified as well. See and
If you look at the Codification website above, it's really fascinating. The nice thing is that it provides the names of the new titles of the Code, as well as alerting us to a reorganization of Title 35, Patents, Trademarks and other Intellectual Property and Title 41, Public Contracts. You can click on the links at this site, and apparently be taken to the full text as it exists now for each Title. But don't try Title 51!! It's agonizingly slow, apparently because it's the only title with any real content. That's kind of too bad, because it's the only non-commercial access to Title 51 right now. It's not available in print form anywhere yet, and not on the government websites yet. I suppose the public will have to wait to see the U.S. Code on space programs.

I understand why they are adding new titles. A few years ago, I attended a fascinating program at AALL that featured a speaker from the Office of Law Revision Counsel, the same guys who codify the U.S. Code. The speaker urged the listeners to join him in lobbying Congress for new Titles in the U.S. Code because certain titles had become so overcrowded that citations were unwieldy and the logic of the structure was destroyed.

However, the unintended consequence of adding new titles to the Code is that many libraries will be making deaccession decisions based on this new development. The cost will not be trivial. Libraries will be expected not only to purchase new volumes with the additional titles, but every re-organized title will require new volumes to be purchased as well. I don't know how many libraries still retain print copies of the annotated U.S. Code, much less how many still have it in both U.S. Code Annotated and U.S. Code Service. But of those libraries, many will agonize (as will mine) over whether they will retain a copy of both services, or even one, in print, in the face of this new expense.

This is an interesting development, coming right on the heels of an interesting discussion sparked by a question asked by Simon Canick at William Mitchell – Why not cancel print statutes? There were only a few who spoke up in favor of retaining print statutes in a large number of jurisdictions. Most libraries said they only retained a small number of print statutes in order to teach their Legal Research classes, and for their own state, a few adjacent states, and a few of the largest jurisdictions. And many librarians said they had checked back with users and, after making certain that folks knew they had access to online substitutes, they had no complaints. The voices that held firm for print made a few points worth noting, though:

* Bluebook rules require referring to print versions; the interlibrary loan requests from faculty and journal students sometimes seem overwhelming. There have been a lot of difficulties in obtaining the correct version of a statute book through interlibrary loan;

* Statutory research online can be more difficult for novice researchers than in print;

* If school mission includes public access, print may be an important aid, (though some directors offered online alternatives, that they said were cost effective. Lexis State Capital Universe was mentioned;)

* Preferences of faculty, and legal research and writing instructors;

* Authentication issues with online versions of statutes;

* The only online annotated versions of statutes are expensive proprietary databases. There are no free annotated statutes available;

But the most interesting comment, to me, came from Greg Laughlin, at Samford University, who commented
As a philosophical matter, I view this as a trade off of two goods: having all American primary law in print versus saving money for our students (whose tuition pays the lion's share for our collection).  Given the huge debt loads with which many students leave law school and the growing chorus of complaints about the rising cost of legal education (which I believe are justified), I concluded that the greater good is to save our students money when we can provide more than sufficient access online less expensively than in print.  I certainly understand that different law libraries have different needs, responsibilities and priorities and don't believe there is one right answer here that applies to all law libraries.  The question for me is whether I can meet my patrons' needs adequately without maintaining everything in print.  I believe we can based on our experience.


Victoria Szymczak said...

Well, I guess I have to redo my statutory research class this semester! With respect to Simon's query to which I responded off list to him, we retain the print codes because we have researchers who write and lecture on linguistics and statutory interpretation. They, like most, find comparing the structure of codes and their language difficult to do online. And, if they are doing it over many hours, the more friendly printed page saves their eyes much strain. But that is a highly localized decision for my school. Lack of a decent national archive policy should encourage large research facilities to retain print versions of the codes until some authentication process is settled upon. It also makes me chuckle to think cancelling annotated codes is going to keep tuition costs at bay. But that is a different story...

Betsy McKenzie said...

What an excellent point about thinking that tuition costs will go down if you manage to cancel some print sets! If only! The vendors are making up anything we save in print by raising subscription prices for electronic versions. And the biggest part of the tuition costs are going to fund salaries and benefits, if my calculations are correct.

Marie S. Newman said...

It is naive to think that the library is driving tuition increases. Think about the huge growth in administrative staff at most law schools, the proliferation of centers which compete for resources with the parent law school, clinical legal education which does not permit large student-faculty ratios, the perceived need for improved facilities in order to attract new students, the cost of technology and ongoing replacement costs. I could go on. The point is that legal education is simply not the cash cow it once was; let's not blame the library for that.