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Website reviews

1 July 04

Reviews of websites of leading law libraries

by Iain Nisbet

The Signet Library

www.signetlibrary.co.uk
The website of the Society of Writers to Her Majesty’s Signet (or the WS Society) goes by a web address which refers to its library. Obviously, there is more to the WS Society than its library, but it is on the library features that we will concentrate primarily.

As well as providing general information about the library (opening hours, location etc), the site has an impressive range of interactive features for the member of the library (and some for non-members too).

First of all, you can look at the categories of material available. Following that, visitors to the site can browse the computer catalogues of material from 1996 until today. This includes legal textbooks, law reports, periodicals, conference papers and so on. You can then find out if the Signet Library has the book or paper you are looking for and where in the collection you might find it.

Then skip to the online library services form and email a request to the library staff for research, photocopying or document delivery. You can also specify how urgent the request is by setting a deadline. The request form seems to work well enough, but does not appear to operate by way of a secure server. Which is fine, so long as you are not concerned about the CIA or anyone else checking out which journals you are checking out.

You are also required to download and submit a copyright form, as the WS Society take their responsibilities and the terms of the Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003 very seriously. The form and the site also explain the various concepts involved: “judicial proceedings”, “private study”, “commercial use” etc, and do so very well and in brief compass.

All in all, the site is a good one and provides useful online access to the library.

Ease of Use: 3/5
Site Design: 3/5
Usefulness: 3/5

Advocates’ Library

www.advocates.org.uk
The Advocates’ Library is, it seems, widely regarded as the finest working law library in the British Isles. Its online provision is less impressive than that of the WS Society. There is an online catalogue search, which works well enough, and some additional features I was unable to access, not being a member of the Faculty of Advocates. Beyond that, there is an interesting history of the library and its relationship with the National Library of Scotland. The link to the “Library Chart” revealed only a blank page when I visited.

The website of the Faculty of Advocates is not a very accessible website. By accessible, I mean accessible by disabled web users and, in particular, those with visual impairments. A quick “Wave” analysis (www.wave.webaim.org) of the site reveals that many of the images used for navigational purposes lack “alt” attributes and that this renders the website incompatible with minimum standards of accessibility, including the international W3C (WCAG) and the United States’ section 508 standards. The latter means that the Faculty will be ineligible to be awarded US Government contracts. I hesitate to mention the legal implications of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 on websites, as I would imagine the Faculty has access to adequate legal advice on this subject?

Ease of Use: 3/5
Site Design: 2/5
Usefulness: 2/5

Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow

www.rfpg.org
The library resources on the Royal Faculty of Procurators site are very similar to those provided by the Signet Library’s site. The user of the site can find out about the items which are available at the library and can submit (apparently non-secure) requests for copying, delivery and research to the library. The same copyright considerations apply and again a form can be downloaded for complying with the requirements noted above.

However, for members there does seem to be a better online service in that there are other pieces of information which can be accessed. On logging in, I was delighted to find that I could access all sorts of reader information: what books I have on loan at any given time; titles I have reserved at the moment; my borrowing history and, most excitingly, a list of items recently added to the catalogue in areas of interest nominated by me online.

Ease of Use: 3/5
Site Design: 3/5
Usefulness: 4/5