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American Today


Law Research Goes Online

By Sally Acharya

It wasn’t so long ago when legal research meant a trip to a library packed with leather-bound volumes. Now, of course, that has changed. But it’s not just a matter of scholarship online. There’s also the question of what to put online: Scholarly articles? Testimony? Blogs?

The online world has raised questions beyond the simple matter of digitization. At the Washington College of Law’s Pence Library, the answer has included two key elements: a WCL-based Institutional Repository that compiles a wide range of faculty writings, and participation in the Social Science Research Network (SSRN), a national effort that spotlights faculty research and encourages collaboration.

The institutional repository is a searchable archive that makes it possible to pull up published legal papers, plus a wide range of other writings. “It captures a lot of things traditional scholarship doesn’t capture,” including court testimony and blogs, notes Ripple Weistling, reference and electronic services librarian at WCL.

Participating in the SSRN means that faculty publications are easily accessed online – even, in many cases, before the publication is finalized. It also enables the school to showcase new faculty research through an electronic series of legal research papers sent out to faculty.

“It started as a collaboration forum,” Weistling says. “In the hard sciences, the idea is more firmly entrenched that research should be shared. The SSRN model comes out of that kind of thinking, which is that research should be a collaborative endeavor and that people should be able to access it.”

Both the repository and the research network serve multiple purposes. They’re tools for collaboration and dialogue, ways to disseminate scholarship, and even ways to serve international law schools, which are heavy users of U.S.-based online resources.

The institutional repository can be accessed at, while the Social Science Research Network is at