Monday, January 26, 2009

United States Code Annotated (USCA)

I need your opinions quickly on this. The USCA subscription costs us nearly $2500 per year to keep it up to date. It is all online here and here (although I do find the online hard to use). Do we use the paper edition enough to justify the expense?

I have no plans of getting rid of the NJ Statutes or the NJ Administrative Code. I think we should keep these despite being also online.

The WestLaw pricing for this stuff is very complicated. We pay approximately $300 per month for the WestLaw database, which no one ever uses (and probably never will). However, since we subscribe to that, we get all our print subscriptions at half price, which actually nets us some savings. However, if we cut the print USCA, the database will actually start costing us money, which we cannot justify. So, clear as mud? (Told you it was complicated).

Let me know what you think as soon as possible, since we have to make a decision on this by Friday 1/30.


barbara said...

Don't drop the NJSA or NJ Administrative Code. As far as USCA goes I have literally not used it in several years, paper or otherwise. Even though I used to enjoy legal research my skills are "rusty" to say the least. It's been more than a quarter of a century since I took a Legal Reference class. The USCA is available at the State Library along with knowledgable staff. As Jane points out it is online. I say we drop it.

Cynthia said...

I use the GPO access to find USCA information. I haven't had many questions here on the reference desk, but have had a few for Statewide. It is clunky, but it is also free--you don't need a subscription to use it.

Please note, I did not know we had Westlaw (not listed in the databases A-Z). How do we access it? Perhaps that is why there is so little use.

Catherine Harper said...

Besides the GPO and Cornell sites, the House of Representatives website also offers browsing and keyword searching of the USC. ( and For the general user, any of these free sites should be sufficient. Only legal professionals are likely to need the annotated edition from West—most general users probably don’t even understand what the annotations are there for. Also, my sense is that the paper version of the U.S. Code Annotated is seldom used, certainly not enough to warrant paying $2,500/year for it.

Then, the question is would we miss online access to the New Jersey portion of Westlaw if dropping USCA resulted in a significant increase in cost? I wouldn’t. My (very) few attempts to use WestLaw have been frustrating and unproductive. That’s partly because I haven’t had time to study it thoroughly nor to take advantage of what I understand is excellent customer support. More important, the fact that it is difficult to use (for me) makes me nervous about using it at all, being, as I am, totally unqualified to do legal research. I thought that West was giving it to us free. Had I known we were paying $300/month for it, I would have voted to drop it before now.

I’d recommend dropping them both. For the U.S. Code, in the unlikely event that someone is unwilling to use one of the free online alternatives to the print edition, we can direct them to the U.S. document depository collection at Firestone.

Jane said...

GS says: Based on the neatness of the shelves for the USCA and the amount of dust on the top of the volumes when I add the pocket parts each year, I don’t think many people use this resource. Probably because it is impossible to find what you want or what you think is in it. The online version is actually much worse. I don’t think we can justify the expense considering the lack of use. It is (or should be) available at the State Library and they have the law librarians to help the public wade their way through it. I say let it go.

Jane said...

I talked to the WestLaw rep today. He is going to try to come up with a new pricing plan that will offset the doubling in price of all our print products from them if we drop the database (the only reason we had it in the first place). I stressed that what we need in this library are consumer oriented interpretations of laws like divorce, real estate, wills and living wills, rental, copyright, small business, anything New Jersey, etc. He suggested their Nutshell series, which we used to get before we started to get the Nolo stuff. I'll be interested to see what he has to offer there. Will let you know.

Kristin said...

I love NOLO. But, that is clearly an aside. I say drop the USCA, but please let us know, again, where Westlaw is. Westlaw is a tremendous resource to have, however, we are not a law, what am I saying? Good question, but I think it comes down to precisely what you referred to, Jane, that we need to provide what our consumer lay-person base needs most: direction on real estate, wills, divorce, bankruptcy, etc. Drop the USCA. If we need access, we'll have to do some digging via the GPO site.

Jane said...

LA says: I think we should keep the paper. At least we can use the paper and if the online version is difficult, then we will be no help to our public. Also, many people cannot use the online databases without help. The price of the paper copy doesn’t seem that bad. Let’s keep it. I think a library of our size and position should have these books.