Web Based Services at the New York Supreme Court Criminal Term Library, New York County*

by: David Badertscher

For those who have not visited us, 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 and Federal courthouses. Like other Supreme Court libraries located throughout the State of New York, it operates under the auspices of the New York Unified Court System and participates in the various state-wide initiatives sponsored by the OCA Office of Legal Information.

Although the primary focus of this library 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 of METRO since 1981. It was through METRO that we first learned of QuestionPoint 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. The New York County Public Access Access Law Library has also been very helpful in enabling this library to maintain an acceptable level of web based reference services. Since may of our QuestionPoint users are public patrons a majority of those questions are now handled by that library; Theodore Pollack, the Senior Law Librarian at the Public Access Library also serves as my backup administrator for QuestionPoint. We are grateful for the assistance of Ted and his staff in helping support this effort.

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 incorporates many features including a link to our QuestionPoint form for submitting reference questions, RSS feeds, and the capability of storing online reference, legislative, and other information useful to patrons. This blog based outreach service also serves as a vehicle for sending New York Legislative Activity Reports, updated information regarding appellate court criminal decisions originating from this court, and other relevant updated information directly to the work stations of judges and judicial staff on a regular, ongoing basis. It is popular with both court personnel and public users and remains our most effective outreach service on the web. As of April 29, 2008 it is visited by an average of 153 patrons per day and 1,069 per week. We obtain this and additional statistical information through special software designed to collect statistical information regarding website use. Reports are sent to me weekly.

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 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. This blog also includes the capability for uploading documents not currently on the web, a useful feature not included in the original blog. Finally, the Criminal Law Library Blog has substantially greater search capabilities. In order to adequately describe the added features included in the Criminal Law Library Blog, we are calling it an “added value blog.”

We are encouraged by the positive responses from library patrons both inside and outside the courts to these services. These responses along with statistics gathered and staff observations demonstrate that by introducing these initiatives along with others sponsored by the Office of Legal Information, the library has been able to meet reference, research, and access needs of patrons far more effectively than in the past. Our hope is to be able to continue developing web based services and to work together with others to improve access and services for all of our libraries. Recently I have taken classes offered by the Unified Court System in the setting up and use of WIKI’s, preparing and tabulating web based surveys, aa well training in the development of public access applications using specialized web based software. Only time will tell if we are able to inplement additional services using these applications.
_____________________________________ *This posting is based on an article recently prepared for publication in a future issue of Pro Se the newsletter of the New York State Unified Court Law Libraries Association.

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