By Sanderson, Rosalie M.
Online , Vol. 14, No. 6
THE CONTINUING SAGA OF PROFESSIONAL END-USERS: LAW STUDENTS SEARCH DIALOG AT THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
The dabate on end-user searching is far from over. Inforamtion professionals continue to ponder a number of issues: How effective are the searches? How much training is necessary for busy professionals? Do end-users understand what they are searching, how they are searching, and what else is available? Even while the debate rages end-users are searching in ever greater numbers. (The enormous increase in the availability of compact disks and their fixed costs may have contributed to the increase in end-user searchers.) Although it seems likely that there will always be a place for the trained information specialist or librarian, the professional end-user is here to stay.
New end-users are coming from all the professions, but attorneys and law students have been end-users for some time. LEXIS and Westlaw, the online legal research systems were developed as user-friendly systems for end-users. Attorneys and law students have been searching LEXIS and Westlaw for more than a decade, but now some of them are moving to a new system: DIALOG. DIALOG began a pilot project at the University of Florida College of Law in Fall 1989 to determine whether the system could be used productively in the law schools. The purpose of this article is to examine the DIALOG pilot project at Florida, to study the experiences of law students as DIALOG end-users, and to determine what implications, if any, there are for other institutions working with professional end-users.
THE DIALOG PILOT PROJECT
The pilot project began in Fall 1989 at the University of Florida College of Law. DIALOG agreed to provide six passwords with unlimited usage and access to all databases except TRADEMARKSCAN. The purpose of the project was to integrate DIALOG into the law students' research agenda so that law school graduates would realize how useful it can be in law practice.
The law students did not come to DIALOG as information illiterates, but as experienced LEXIS and Westlaw users. The environment of the Legal Information Center is rich with electronic information sources. At the time the DIALOG pilot project began, the school subscribed to more than twenty compact disk products, as well as a number of online services including LEXIS, Westlaw, NEXIS, RLIN, VU/TEXT, DIALOG, and ELSS. The school houses a Permanent Learning Center facility for both LEXIS and Westlaw. The reference desk is equipped with a personal computer which provides access to LEXIS, Westlaw, DIALOG and RLIN, as well as a variety of compact disk products. Most members of the reference staff are skilled database searchers.
The law school has provided an atmosphere which encouraged the use of online services. Under the direction of Betty W. Taylor, the Legal Information Center has a tradition of leadership in law library computerization and automation. For example the University of Florida was the first law school to subscribe to Westlaw, and several years later, the first to acquire Legaltrac.
COMPONENTS OF THE DIALOG
Students can access DIALOG through a gateway at all Westlaw stations in the Permanent Learning Center. Librarians use it at the reference desk and at personal computers elsewhere in the law school.
To reduce training time to a minimum the law students are using a special menu-driven version of DIALOG, the DIALOG CORPORATE CONNECTION. (DIALOG CORPORATE CONNECTION is not yet commercially available.) Users have access to both this menu-driven system and normal command-driven system, but the menu-driven system is the default mode.
DIALOG CORPORATE CONNECTION was created for end-users. It prompts the user for database selection as well as for search formulation and modification. Depending upon the database the searcher may also be prompted for language or date limits. …