The UK summer of sport was to be my topic this month, but Michel-Adrien has done a far better job than me recently in SLAW, so I take this opportunity instead to shamelessly promote three resources our staff provide for the use of the global legal community. The services are indexes to legal information which may be difficult to locate in other ways. The first is an index to the title, author and subject of legal dissertations written around the late 19th / early 20th centuries, which we call our Foreign Dissertations Database.
The second is an index to the online location of law reports and journals, in an age when there are many publishers having exclusive rights to resources, and yet not providing free, seamless ways to identify across databases what lives where. For example, if you want the Law Quarterly Review, do you search Lexis, Westlaw, Justis or Hein? Who holds the Family Law Reports or the Dominion Law Reports? We call this service ‘Search Law Reports and Journal Online’
And the third is a detailed index to the Foreign Office & Colonial Office Confidential Prints series held in our Official Papers Collection.
Hidden collections – a Foreign Dissertations database
Digitising books has been one of the most wonderful developments to come out of the past 30-odd years for scholars, researchers, and just about anyone who has had used any aspect of this service, from full text cases through to older generalist texts would agree. Researchers have found useful, if obscure, legal references in books that were classified by librarians as history or philosophy or other not-so-law-related subjects. This is no fault of those who classified the books, but shows the shortcomings of library catalogues.
Sometimes libraries also hold materials that have never been catalogued or otherwise brought to the attention of researchers . The larger the library, the more common the chances are of finding hidden ‘sins’ – collections that have been acquired by donation or other means a long time ago, but the resources have never been allocated to catalogue or otherwise bring to life the collection. One of these collections existed in the basement of the Bodleian Law Library for several decades, so we set about doing something about it 4 years ago.
The collection comprises some 18,000 dissertations collected by the Bodleian Library from the 1880’s through to about 1930. The ones we hold have often been bound together, so there may be one volume with 4 dissertations on a similar broad topic (eg, Railways) sitting on the shelf. On examination of WorldCat we found that many of the titles were commercially published volumes, despite being short dissertations of only 30 or 40 pages. None appear to be held in the UK, but the National Libraries of France and Germany hold quite a number. We did not have the resources to properly catalogue each thesis, so we set about creating an index to them on an Access database, which can be searched freely from our website.
Why bother, you might ask? There are several reasons. Some of the authors went on to become famous jurists later in their careers, and a search of names can yield an early piece of writing. Several of the topics on which they wrote provide interesting insights into the legal mindset on topics such as an academic legal discussion on the Rules of War in 1909, in the lead up to what we now know was the Great War. Sadly the collection was not digitised as part of the 2005-06 Oxford Google project, because it post-dated our cut-off publication date of 1870. But most importantly for us, we are finally bringing to light the contents of over 5,000 volumes held in our library for over a century, and hopefully giving some researchers in the UK access to materials that were previously thought to only be available in Europe. Although still a work in progress, our staff have indexed over 11,000 theses so far.
Search Law Reports and Journal Online
A great frustration exists around the inability to quickly identify the location of many law reports and journals on various databases without dipping in and out of each one. There are now resource discovery tools such as Primo to take you to the title you want when you search an online catalogue such as Aleph. But when we started this database no such tools existed.
This little database started as a holdings list of our library’s paper journals and law reports; in a library the size of ours, with over 2500 law reports and journals currently organised by jurisdiction, it was very hard to browse the shelves just to find a title.
It was also too hard to quickly find an item on the catalogue, because past cataloguers did not use commonly known brief titles for law reports, taking the extended long name from the title page. A Holdings List is a tool I have always provided in for library users, but this time, rather than using an excel spreadsheet which could be printed, I chose Access. This meant easy manipulation when new titles were added, and it also seemed an ideal chance to list an e-resource location (eg, Hein online) for a title, alongside the paper copy’s shelf mark.
And being a database, we could link to the relevant provider’s website and make it easily searchable for anyone.. It has proved useful both within Oxford, and for users beyond. The major limitation is that it reflects one library’s holdings and e-resource collections.
Foreign Office Confidential Prints and Colonial Office Confidential Prints
Our third database with indexed information is a unique index to papers of significance which began to be distributed from the 1820s to officials in the UK Foreign Office, Cabinet and other departments as Confidential Prints. The practice grew until the 1850s when nearly every important dispatch or telegram was routinely printed. The Confidential Prints vary in format from a single page to a substantial volume, many have maps (we have over 700) and diagrams. The documents are numbered 1-10,600 (1827-1914) in roughly order of printing.
For the historian this is an incredible set of primary source documents. They are a window to Britain’s colonial past covering subjects such as slavery, railways, expeditions, diplomatic relations and war, from Abyssinia to Zanzibar.
The index, ‘List of Confidential Papers Relating to Foreign Affairs’ (No. 10330, covers no.1-10,000) has been transcribed into a the Confidential Prints database. The index was arranged alphabetically by country, and the documents listed roughly in date order.
The documents themselves are held in the Law Library or the Rhodes House Library and can be provided via document delivery for users based outside of Oxford.