Blogging and Virtual Reference at the New York Supreme Court Criminal Law Library

BY: David G. Badertscher
The New York Supreme Court Criminal Term Library of New York County (sometimes referred to as the New York Criminal Law Library) is located in lower Manhattan near the Brooklyn Bridge, City Hall, and State andFederal courthouses. It is one of several Supreme Court libraries located throughout the State of New York, which operate under the auspices of the New York Unified Court System.

Although its primary mission is to provide reference and research support to personnel of the Criminal Term, its actual responsibilities and obligations are quite broad. Using its various collections in all formats, including digital, in conjunction with various web and online services, including a website and a weblog, this library functions as both an information repository and an information service. These resources and services enable it to reach out to patrons both local and worldwide, as time and resources permit. Part of the library’s responsibility is to provide support as needed and operational oversight to the New York County Public Access Law Library, which is charged with serving those members of the public who need law-related information.

In order to discharge these responsibilities with limited staff, it has been necessary for the library to work cooperatively with library consortia and other groups to provide the added resources and services required to maintain an acceptable level of service. One of the organizations that has been especially helpful to us is the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO). The library has been a member ofMETRO since 1981. It was through METRO that we first learned ofQuestionPoint and were invited to participate in a 2002 pilot project. With some initial apprehension we accepted the offer and became an active participant in the latter part of that year.

Despite some initial reservations that we might not be able to keep up with expectations and workflow, the use of QuestionPoint has been quite successful for us. It serves as a useful and important adjunct to our other web-based services in both reaching out to our patrons and through its referral features. It enables us to augment our resources in ways otherwise impossible. For example on more than one occasion we have used QuestionPoint to search worldwide for materials that would otherwise have been unobtainable. In order to make it work for us, however, we have needed to avoid some of the features that are essential to others. We do not use chat or any form of instant messaging because we simply do not have the appropriate staff resources to make this work satisfactorily for us. We have not, however, found the lack of chat a limitation at all.

Over the past few years many libraries, including this one, have been involved in lively discussions as to how best to respond to demands for digitized information which can be retrieved at any time from a variety of devices, both stationary and mobile. After some experimentation, our response has included the use of blogging technology coupled with rss feeds. In 2004 we introduced the New York Supreme Court Criminal Term Library blog powered by Bloglines, http://www.bloglines.com/blog/pll . It has remained popular with both court personnel and public users to this day. It is mentioned here because it incorporates the ability of users to submit questions via QuestionPoint through a link to the library website.

Although the New York Supreme Court Criminal Term blog remains both useful and popular, we have found it necessary to also create a new blog, http://www.criminallawlibraryblog.com, to take advantage of added features which cannot be incorporated effectively into the original blog. For example, the new blog includes both a QuestionPoint form for submitting questions and a direct link to the public portion of the QuestionPoint global knowledgbase. Using this feature, users are able to type in key words which will in turn retrieve questions/answers in the knowledgbase which correspond to their queries.The global knowledgbase feature is located near the upper left part of the screen of our newest blog. This particularly innovative feature has been developed and included as a direct result of the inspiring online QuestionPoint presentation this summer by Peter Armenti of the Digital Reference Team at the Library of Congress.

With the new blog we are also able to embed documents, some not otherwise readily available on the web, in such a way that one can readily access these materials on the blog by simply clicking on the link provided. In order to adequately describe the added features included in the Criminal Law Library Blog, we are calling it an “added value blog.”

By adding these services to our overall information services program, which are are able to provide judges and other library patrons with needed information on a more timely and selective basis than would otherwise be possible. The overall response has been quite positive and has helped to create the perception that the library is making a concerted effort to address the information challenges of the 21st century.

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