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Research & Litigation

New Recommended Formats Specifications

In Custodia Legis - Mon, 06/30/2014 - 2:42pm

The Library has just released its new Recommended Format Specifications, a more current set of specifications for “identifying preservable content.”

Library staff, including subject matter and technical experts, joined the team led by Ted Westervelt, head of acquisitions and cataloging for U.S. Serials – Arts, Humanities & Sciences at the Library of Congress, so they could apply their knowledge of preservation, patron needs, specialized content, and publishing and market trends. Team members included Law Library staff, who brought the perspective of the Law Library’s collection needs.

The team met to develop the specifications that would “serve as a set of hierarchies of the physical and technical characteristics of creative formats.” The specifications are designed to complement, not replace or supersede, the Copyright Office’s Best Edition Statement, which the Library uses to select the formats wanted for the collections. The Best Edition Statement has few references to digital formats and is a bit outmoded in its description of analog formats; the intent is for these specifications to aid with those gaps. The team also took guidance from the Sustainability of Digital Formats guidelines and current collection policy statements when designing the specifications for its users.

There are two intended audiences for these specifications: internal users, specifically library staff involved in dealing with acquisitions; and external users, including members of the creative, publishing, media, business, archival and creative communities.  These users can consult the technical specifications for content created in the following categories:

  • Textual Works and Musical Compositions
  • Still Image Works
  • Audio Works
  • Moving Image Works
  • Software and Electronic Gaming and Learning
  • Datasets/Databases

Most of these categories are broken into subsets, for example: Textual works—print; Photographs—digital; Audio-media independent (digital). The subsets are more finely organized by formats and attributes. The subsets have categories of “preferred” and “acceptable” material within those groupings.

Keeping stuff safe.  [Photo by Harris & Ewing. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.]

To keep the specifications current, work on them will remain an ongoing process. Each spring, permanent technical teams will meet to review the specifications for currency and take into account internal and external feedback given by its users. Each June 30, the Library will issue an updated copy of the Recommended Format Specifications that will remain in force for a full year.

Legal material and texts are increasingly published in digital formats. The new specifications will not resolve all questions related to the preservation of these newly appearing formats but should serve as a compass for content creators and users. When selecting and preserving legal materials, the Law Library staff will find these specifications a practical tool. Creators and users of legal materials should find them useful as well, and hopefully will shape the specifications to enhance their relevance by commenting thoughtfully and often. Doing so will keep help legal content freely accessible in future.

If you have questions about the Recommended Format Specifications, please visit its Resources page for more detailed information and points of contact.

Categories: Research & Litigation

No Gorillas allowed in the back seats of cars?

Massachsuetts Trial Court Law Library - Mon, 06/30/2014 - 2:00am
Every once in a while, someone publishes a list of weird or silly laws that were once on the books in Massachusetts, or still are. A recent article from May 2014, for example, repeats some of these silly laws, such as "All men must carry a rifle to church on Sundays", or "In Boston, it's illegal to bathe unless your doctor gives you a prescription", or, most memorably, "No gorillas are allowed in the back seats of cars".  ("OK, well then how about in the front seat?", one might ask.) 

While some silly laws really existed or still do, articles such as these rarely cite where a particular law may actually be found in the present Massachusetts General Laws, or in any previous laws going back to colonial times. This is partly due to journalistic laziness, or simply the desire to be humorous without actually believing that there is or ever was such a law.  Many articles may be found online that repeat the Massachusetts "gorilla in the back seat" law, yet none cites the chapter and section of the law, because there is none. The gorilla law is, unfortunately, an urban myth.  We are not quite sure when or how it started.  

A diverting article from Boston Magazine in 2002, "My Short Happy Life in Crime", about one man's experience with some of Massachusetts' silly laws, mentions his failed attempt to locate the gorilla law. 

It is possible that the misunderstanding began when someone read the first part (only) of Massachusetts General Law ch. 90 s.22H, which reads:  "No person shall transport an animal in the back of a motor vehicle in a space intended for a load on the vehicle on a public way unless such space is enclosed or has side and tail racks to a height of at least 46 inches extending vertically from the floor, the animal is cross tethered to the vehicle, the animal is protected by a secured container or cage or the animal is otherwise protected in a manner which will prevent the animal from being thrown or from falling or jumping from the vehicle."  (Red highlights are mine.)

Ignoring all mention of a requirement for an enclosure, or the portion of the vehicle (presumably a truck) intended for a load, one could then simply extrapolate from the word "animal" and substitute the word "gorilla", to make for a hilarious sounding, but supposedly true law.

The current law may derive, in part, from the Revised Laws of Massachusetts (published in 1902), ch. 52, s. 16: "Whoever leads or drives a bear or other dangerous wild animal or causes it to travel upon or be conveyed over a public way unless properly secured in some covered vehicle or cage shall be punished by a fine of not less than five or more than twenty dollars."

This was from a time, of course, when most vehicles were not motorized; and unlike the present law, it only covers “dangerous wild animals”, not pets such as dogs. (We might assume that a gorilla is a dangerous wild animal.)

Both Massachusetts and federal laws regulate the importation, transportation, and possession of endangered species, and the gorilla is listed by the federal government as an endangered species.  You may see the complete list of endangered species at 50 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) 17.11.   Massachusetts does not list the gorilla specifically,as it is not native to Massachusetts, but M.G.L. c.131 s.23 lists wild animals that may not be owned without a permit, and 321 CMR 9.02(c), on Exotic wildlife, states that: "Any vertebrate taxa not listed in 321 CMR 9.02 shall be presumed to be wild, and shall be subject to provisions of M.G.L. c.131."
In other words, since the gorilla is both a wild and endangered species, you may not have one as a pet.  (Zoos are exempt from restrictions against owning endangered species.)  

But what if the gorilla is not owned by you?  If you happen to find yourself with a free gorilla, can you drive with it in your car?
No, even then, transporting a gorilla would be subject to federal law  9 CFR 3.87 on the transportation of nonhuman primates (NHP), requiring a separate, specially designed enclosure for the nonhuman primate. (You would also need a permit.)

Therefore, your choices are limited.  
If you happen to find yourself in a car with a gorilla, your best bet to avoid a fine would be to exit the vehicle.

Categories: Research & Litigation

Lending of Ebooks by Public Libraries

Massachsuetts Trial Court Law Library - Sun, 06/29/2014 - 1:30pm
The still evolving landscape of Ebook library lending was covered in an informative article, full of facts and discussion of different points of view and interests, by Adam Vaccaro, staff writer, on June 27th, 2014 ("Why It's Difficult for Your Library to Lend Ebooks").

See also our webpages: "Welcome to the MA eBook Pilot Project" and "Ebooks: Massachusetts Court Rules and Documents."
Categories: Research & Litigation

A Walking Tour of St. Elizabeths Hospital

In Custodia Legis - Fri, 06/27/2014 - 9:00am

In May, I  took a walking tour of the western campus of St. Elizabeths (there is no apostrophe) hospital in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The tour was hosted by the D.C. Preservation League. The hospital is situated high above the city, providing the panoramic view you see pictured below. Dorothea Dix, an advocate for the mentally ill and  personal friend of President Fillmore, lobbied Congress for an appropriation to provide a mental health hospital for members of the armed forces and residents of the District of Columbia. Dix and Fillmore personally scouted sites around the city before settling on what was then a piece of farmland that was chosen for its tranquil setting. The hospital commenced operations in 1855 under the name ” The U.S. Government Hospital for the Insane.”

St. Elizabeths Center Building. This building once housed Ezra Pound and Richard Lawrence.

During the Civil War, the hospital hosted wounded soldiers who were  reluctant to tell their loved ones that they were writing from “The U.S. Government Hospital for the Insane.” Instead, they referred to the hospital as “St. Elizabeths,” the colonial-era name for this tract of land.  The hospital’s name was officially changed to St. Elizabeths in 1916. The hospital treated several famous patients over the course of its operations, including Richard Lawrence, the attempted assassin of Andrew Jackson, and the poet Ezra Pound. The western campus is under consideration as the new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.). Our knowledgeable tour guide, a General Services Administration employee, provided insight into the painstaking efforts necessary to preserve the integrity of this historic site while making the site suitable and secure for the needs of the D.H.S. The eastern campus is owned by the District of Columbia and still operates as a psychiatric hospital in a modern structure.

A view of Washington, D.C. from St. Elizabeths

Categories: Research & Litigation

U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Massachusetts Clinic Buffer Zone Law

Massachsuetts Trial Court Law Library - Fri, 06/27/2014 - 7:30am
Yesterday the Supreme Court decided unanimously in McCullen, et al. v Coakley, striking down the Massachusetts Buffer Zone Law.  The 2007 law had instituted a 35 foot perimeter rule for abortion protesters at the entrances to clinics.  The Court said that the law too heavily restricted the free speech rights of abortion opponents in a public way who wanted to talk to people entering the clinics.

Attorney General Martha Coakley said that she would work with the Legislature, Governor and advocates to ensure women safe access to reproductive health care that also meets the requirements of the Supreme Court.  The opinion states that the Commonwealth must find other ways to preserve safety, access and stop harassment at the clinics. 
Categories: Research & Litigation

Cell phone privacy

Massachsuetts Trial Court Law Library - Thu, 06/26/2014 - 7:57am
The U.S. Supreme Court  ruled yesterday in Riley v. California that law enforcement cannot search a person's cell phone without a  search warrant. The unanimous decision disagreed with the argument that there should be no difference between smartphones and legally searchable "pocket litter" such as wallets, cigarette wrappers and address books.  The decision not only protects all of the personal data that may be stored on a person's smartphone, but it also prohibits the police from looking at a suspect's recent calls without a warrant or some other immediate danger.
Categories: Research & Litigation

Expanded Health Plans for Transgender Patients

Massachsuetts Trial Court Law Library - Thu, 06/26/2014 - 7:30am
Massachusetts on Friday became the third state in the nation to cover transgender medical services, including gender reassignment surgery, as a standard benefit in its government health plan for lower-income and disabled people.

The administration of Governor Deval Patrick also moved to prohibit private insurers from denying coverage for gender reassignment surgery or other treatments medically necessary for patients who are transgender, saying that would constitute sex discrimination.
The Patrick administration will strongly recommend similar reforms to the Group Insurance Commission, which provides coverage for thousands of state and municipal employees and their dependents.       

For more information on gender issues visit our page Massachusetts Law About Gender Identity or Expression 
Categories: Research & Litigation

Georgetown Law Library’s Digital Dictionaries Collection

In Custodia Legis - Wed, 06/25/2014 - 2:52pm

This is a guest post by Anne Guha who was an intern with the Law Library’s Public Services Division this spring and is now working in Public Services for the summer.

As I’m collecting degrees (and acronyms) throughout my 20s and 30s, moving from my joint-degree J.D./M.A. (Juris Doctor / Masters of Arts) at the George Washington University (GWU) to a M.S.L.I.S. (Master’s of Science in Library and Information Science) at the Catholic University of America (CUA), I’ve also had the pleasure of exploring and learning about the many fantastic law libraries that  Washington, D.C. has to offer.   Recently, while conducting research in the course of my studies, I learned of a project currently underway at the Georgetown Law Library to digitize their collection of early legal dictionaries.  This will facilitate the entry of these rare editions into the public domain and make them virtually accessible.  

The project is on-going, but the collection titled Digital Dictionaries: 1481-1891, already offers digitized copies of almost 40 early dictionaries.  The Georgetown Law Library provides information about its collection and offers suggestions for related reading on the collection’s landing page, and the dictionaries can be browsed or searched by clicking the link provided in the second paragraph on that page.  The library writes: “Although by no means yet complete, this resource is already supporting a wide range of research and scholarship involving the meaning of a word or phrase contemporaneous with a specific text, as well as the development of the meanings of words and phrases over time.”   

 Georgetown Law Library currently plans to scan a total of 87 titles, comprising over 120 volumes.  Chronologically, the completed collection will begin with Georgetown Law Library’s 1481 Jodocus Vocabularius–held to be the first printed legal dictionary–and will run through 1891, the year of the first edition of Black’s Law Dictionary.  The collection will primarily include English language dictionaries, along with a few non-English European titles.  Each dictionary will be divided into a set of color PDFs, which can be downloaded or accessed online in an embedded document viewer.  The digitized images generally include the front and back boards, spines, front matter, and end matter.  This way online patrons can see all the hand-written markings, stamps, and any other interesting distinguishing features that these volumes have acquired over the years (or centuries) before entering Georgetown’s collection.  In addition to their scholarly and academic value, these beautiful scans are fascinating to flip through due to the method used to replicate virtually the experience of interacting with the physical print volumes.

Here at the Law Library of Congress reference desk, we often receive questions from patrons about accessing copies of early legal dictionaries.  Although there are a few commercial databases that offer digitized version of a few early titles, this freely-available collection provided by Georgetown’s law library should prove to be a valuable contribution to legal scholars, academics, and practitioners.

Joducus Vocabularius / photo courtesy of Georgetown Law Library

Categories: Research & Litigation

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month

In Custodia Legis - Tue, 06/24/2014 - 10:22am

2012 Gay Pride Parade, San Francisco, California / photo by Carol M. Highsmith

Throughout the year, the Library of Congress provides information about a number of commemorative observances.  May is always a busy month with the Asian/Pacific American Heritage and Jewish American Heritage observances while in the Law Library we also observe Law Day.  In June we observe a more recently added commemorative observance for Lesbian Bisexual Gay and Transgender Pride Month.

This month commemorates the events of June 1969 when an uprising was staged in New York City at the Stonewall Inn against the police harassment of LGBT persons.  The first time June was recognized as Gay and Lesbian Pride month was in 2000 when President Clinton issued Presidential Proclamation 7316.  In this proclamation, President Clinton recognized the prejudice and discrimination faced by gays and lesbians who “have had to hide or deny their sexual orientation in order to keep their jobs or to live safely in their communities” and the “prejudice against gays and lesbians can still erupt into acts of hatred and violence .”  To counter this, President Clinton called upon all Americans to observe the month of June “with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that celebrate our diversity and recognize the gay and lesbian Americans whose many and varied contributions have enriched our national life.”

In June 2009, President Obama issued Presidential Proclamation 8387 which designated June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.  President Obama recognized the seminal events of June 1969 at the Stonewall Inn which gave birth to the LGBT rights movement in America.  The proclamation further calls upon us to “commit to achieving equal justice under the law for LGBT Americans” and “to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists.”
Since 2009, President Obama has issued annual proclamations for the celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.  On May 30, 2014 he issued Presidential Proclamation 9136 in which the President called upon us to “celebrate victories that have affirmed freedom and fairness, and we recommit ourselves to completing the work that remains.”  This proclamation references the 2013 case heard by the United States Supreme Court, Windsor v. United States which struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage law as unconstitutional.  The proclamation ends with a call for greater tolerance: “Following their example, let each of us speak for tolerance, justice, and dignity—because if hearts and minds continue to change over time, laws will too.”

Categories: Research & Litigation


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