Merger of WI’s Legislative Reference Bureau and Legislative Council Considered

In a guest column in the Capital Times, the reports that the Wisconsin Legislature is considering merging the Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) with the Legislative Council.

Both are nonpartisan legislative agencies but they serve different functions.  The LRB provides legal, research, and information services to the Wisconsin Legislature whereas the Legislative Council staff supports effective lawmaking by providing legal advice and guidance to standing committees of the Legislature.

The agencies also have different confidentiality requirements under Wisconsin Statutes 13.91 (Leg Council) and 13.92 (LRB).

See the article for more information.

New Google Apps Help with Accessibility

Image of basset hound with its ears pulled out
Photo via Unsplash.

Google is working to make communicating easier for those with hearing difficulties, recently releasing two new apps, Live Transcribe and Sound Amplifier.

Live Transcribe works as a “live” transcription tool. It uses cloud-based speech recognition to transcribe conversations in real time. This can help those with hearing difficulties to participate in conversations without a time lag or delay, since they can read the conversation as it’s happening, instead of struggling to hear and missing out on what’s being said.

If you have a Pixel 3 device, Live Transcribe is already installed. If not, Google Play is adding it as an option in beta- you can sign up here to be notified when it’s ready. 

Sound Amplifier is like a hearing aid in the form of an app- it functions kind of like noise-cancelling headphones. It can cut out background noise and raise the sound of what you’re trying to hear or listen to. It does require wired headphones to work, and also comes pre-installed on Pixel 3 devices. You can also download it from the Google Play app store here. You can play with the settings in order to tweak it to fit your personal needs.

CRAAP Test Provides Tips on Spotting Fake News

Reports of fake news seem to be increasing every day.  In her recent Practice Innovations article, UW Law Library Reference & Instructional Services Librarian Jenny Zook offers some helpful tips on spotting fake news.  The list is based on the cleverly named CRAAP test (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose) developed by a librarian in 2004.

You apply the test by searching for clues to the authenticity of a news item by asking yourself a series of questions:

  • Who wrote the article? What is the byline ? Does it have an author, and if it is a scholarly article, is the author an expert in that field of study?

  • Check the date. When was the article written? Is it dated anywhere in the article? Fake news is often undated or lacks currency.

  • Is the URL from a trustworthy source or does the URL only mimic a trusted site? For a compiled list of untrustworthy sites, check the listing from Dr. Melissa Zimdars in Tips for analyzing news sites.

  • Is the site clickbait? Do ads pop up the moment you click on the link?

  • Boom! Does the news elicit an emotional reaction, like anger? Is the language inflammatory or one-sided?

  • Look for confirming bias. Fake news spreads quickly because we seek out information that reinforces what we believe.

  • Is the article written well or is it filled with grammatical errors and typos? Is it written in all caps? Fake news creators may be clever, but they aren’t known for their smooth writing skills or style.

  • What, if anything, does the article link to? Does it cite reliable sources of information? Is the data verifiable? Who are the experts cited?

  • If the article includes images or videos, can you trace them to another source? Fake news will often include mislabeled or altered photos or videos.

“Right to be Forgotten” Doesn’t Apply to Searches Made Outside EU

Five years ago, Europeans gained the right to ask search engines to block certain information about them.  It was unclear, however, if this “right to be forgotten” extended to Internet searches made outside the European Union.

It appears now not that it does not per an opinion issued by European Court of Justice advocate general Maciej Szpunar.  “Search requests that are made outside the territory of the European Union should not be subject to the de-referencing of search results,” wrote Szpunar.

The decision relates to a 2015 dispute between Google and the French watchdog group CNIL (Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés) over Google’s decision to limit the right to be forgotten just to its French domain rather than apply it to all its national search engines.

See Reuters and The Inquirer for more.

Scientists Examine What Having Constant Access to Information Does to Our Memory

Several years ago, tech writer Nicholas Carr sparked a debate with his thought-provoking Atlantic article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”  In it, Carr suggested that not only is the Internet shaping our lives – it’s physically changing our the way that our brains function.

“[W]hat the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

Intrigued by this question, researchers from UW-Madison, Columbia, Harvard took a closer look at what having constant access to information does to our capacity to retain information, reports Interesting Engineering.  “Together, they conducted a series of experiments with student volunteers which provides support for the contention that the Internet has an effect on our memory.”

In one experiment, students were asked to write down 40 pieces of trivia.  Some were told that their answers would be recorded, others were told that they would be erased.  When asked later to write down as many statements as they could remember, those who were told that their answers would be erased remembered more statements that those who thought they would be recorded.

In another experiment, a group performed a similar task, but everyone was told their work would be saved in folders with labels.  When asked to recall the written statements, students could only recall 25% of them.  But when asked in which folder a specific statement had been saved, they were able to identify 50% of the folders.

The experiments are telling, although not surprising.  Both demonstrate that we process and remember information differently when we know that we have technology backing us up.

Although exacerbated by the Intenet, this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.  I make a grocery list before going to the store.  As a student, I took notes in class.  As a librarian of a certain age, I even used a physical card catalog to locate library materials.  Pencils, notebooks, card catalogs, books – these are all technologies that have long enabled us to record information so that we don’t have to have perfect recall.

Interesting stuff.  Check out the article for a further exploration of this phenomenon going all the way back to the ancient Greeks.

Videos Highlight how UW Law Library Fosters Research & Learning

Over the summer, the Law Library created a series of videos that highlights the ways that we foster research and learning at the University of Wisconsin Law School. Just in time to celebrate the UW Law School’s sesquicentennial (that’s 150 years if anyone’s counting), the videos highlight not only our beautiful library space but also our collections and research support.

Each 30-second video highlights a different facet of the Law Library:

      • The first video is an introduction and welcome to the UW Law Library

      • The second video focuses on the library’s broad collection of resources

      • The third video highlights the variety of research assistance that we provide

    • The fourth video shows off our beautiful library space where students gather for study and collaboration

    We hope that you enjoy and share these videos widely.  Here is a helpful link to a playlist of all the videos for easy sharing (list appears at the top right).

    Many people were involved in the creation of these videos both behind the scenes and in front of the camera, but I would particularly like to acknowledge the work of Reference & Technology Librarian, Emma Babler, who coordinated the project.

“Year of the Badger”: A Record Year for UW Law School

Law school admissions have been up almost across the board this year, but Wisconsin law schools have seen even more marked figures.

Marquette Law School has reported record numbers of female law students as well as out-of-state students.

UW Law School boasts its largest group of 1Ls since 2009- 275 students. This is almost twice the size of the 2017 incoming class (151 students).

Both law schools saw more applications this year, with UW seeing 25 percent more applications for the 2018 incoming class.

Check out this Wisconsin Law Journal article for the full scoop.

CRS Reports Now Available to the Public

By Eric Taylor, Evening & Weekend Reference Librarian

Once the exclusive province of Congress, the CRS Reports are now available to everyone.  Thoroughly researched and produced by the Congressional Research Service, the CRS Reports are nonpartisan briefing papers about current and emerging affairs of interest to members of Congress and their staffs.

The core mission of the Congressional Research Service, a legislative branch agency, is to provide “timely, objective, and authoritative research and analysis to committees and Members of both the House and Senate.”  Their reports support “Congress in its legislative, oversight, and representational duties.”  The wide range of topic areas for which CRS Reports have been produced include: constitutional questions, foreign affairs, agriculture and economic policy, science and technology, intelligence and national security, health care, education, immigration, transportation, and many others.

The year was 1914 when Senator Robert La Follette Sr. and Representative John M. Nelson, both of Wisconsin, championed a provision in the appropriations act establishing a special reference unit within the Library of Congress.  The new reference unit was based on Progressive Era ideas which promoted “the importance of the acquisition of knowledge for an informed and independent legislature.”  The Wisconsin Legislative Reference Library, established in 1901, was built on the same concept that informed knowledge could serve the best interests of the state.

At various times in its history, reports such as the Public Affairs Bulletins (in the late 1940s) and Congressional Research Service Review (1980s) were made available to the public, but until very recently the vast majority of reports produced by the Congressional Research Service were available only to Congress.  The public, researchers, and advocates alike have long asked for these reports be made freely available.  The passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 last March did just that by directing the Library of Congress to make CRS Reports publicly available online.

“The publication directive specifically mandates that the public website is to be “updated contemporaneously, automatically, and electronically, to include each new or updated CRS report released on or after” the date on which the Library makes the website available for public access.”  The complete inventory of CRS Reports will be made available sometime in 2019.

Just click on the “Search” button to see what is available now.