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Reaching the researchers

Lisa Davies introduces Law PORT and its collection of online training resources. It is the latest addition to the School of Advanced Study’s platform for Postgraduate Online Research Training (PORT).

Since its foundation in 1947 the librarians at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) have been concerned with how best to provide a library service for postgraduate researchers in law from across the country. The IALS library is based in central London and the researchers we support are located in all areas of the United Kingdom. How can we attempt to bridge this gap?

Traditionally researchers have had to travel to London to use the library’s world-class collections. Naturally we have made good use of the internet to make our law materials available to as many researchers as possible. For instance we have digitised rare collections and made them available on our website and we have negotiated remote access to many e-resources for all postgraduate researchers who are members of the library.

Any librarian will tell you that increasing access to collections is only one aspect of providing a library service. We also need to offer guidance and training on the effective use of our resources to ensure researchers know how to use them and get the most out of them. At IALS the librarians run a wide range of training sessions including basic introductions to key resources, advanced use of legal databases, referencing, understanding sources of international law, discipline-specific training and one-to-one advice.

In order to share the expertise of our librarians with UK-wide researchers we have created a range of online guides covering many aspects of legal research. We also run a series of road shows each year, visiting several law schools to provide training on the use of online research tools. Our latest initiative is the creation of a collection of online training resources hosted on the School of Advanced Study’s platform for Postgraduate Online Research Training (PORT). The name given to the resources created for law researchers is Law PORT.

The new tutorials focus on two broad topics; the effective use of the Oxford University Standard for the Citation of Legal Authorities (OSCOLA) and sources of public international law. We chose these subjects after surveying law PhD students in the UK to gauge their confidence levels when conducting certain research tasks and to find out about the support they already receive. The results of the survey highlighted that there was a need amongst researchers for additional training in these areas and we anticipate that our new resources will go some way towards meeting that need.

The Law PORT tutorials are open-access and freely available for anyone who needs them without the requirement to register. Each one is interactive – with optional quizzes to test learning – and is designed to allow researchers to dip in and out according to their own interests rather than being required to complete the entire course. We have tried to make the resources as engaging and visually appealing as possible and we have received some excellent feedback in this regard. The tutorials are pitched at a level suitable for PhD research but in practice will be of use to anyone who needs to conduct public international law research or cite references using OSCOLA. We hope that by maintaining and regularly updating Law PORT it will remain a useful national resource for research for many years to come.

A summary of each tutorial is provided below

  • An introduction to citing references using OSCOLA
    This tutorial offers an introduction to the rules for the citation of legal and other authorities according to OSCOLA. It covers primary sources of law for the UK and EU, as well as secondary sources including books, journals and websites.
  • Researching customary international law
     This tutorial gives an overview of the key sources, print and online, for researching customary international law. It covers finding evidence of state practice in the records of states’ foreign relations and diplomatic practice, and in legislation concerning international obligations. It also looks at researching the practice of the UN Security Council, UN General Assembly and UN human rights committees.
  • Treaties and international conventions
    This tutorial covers the fundamentals of treaty research; finding treaties, checking status and party information, understanding treaty citations and tracing travaux préparatoires. It focuses on authoritative sources of treaties in print and online.

More information
Law PORT
Postgraduate Online Research Training (PORT)

Lisa Davies is access librarian at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS)

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