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Obama, what have you done for me lately? Researching Current Criminal Justice issues

Books are wonderful resources, but when researching current events periodicals like journals and newspapers are often going to be your best bet. Picking up journals and newspapers at random usually isn’t a very efficient way of researching a specific topic, so let’s look at some UAlbany databases that would be helpful. As an example, we’ll try to find out what major laws, bills, and initiatives Obama has undertaken that affect the criminal justice field.

Start by visiting the UA Libraries website, then click Research by Subject from the left. For this topic, both the Criminal Justice and Public Administration and Policy pages might be useful. You can select the link under Databases / Electronic Resources in either of these categories to view the relevant resources, but we’ll go ahead and use the one located on the Criminal Justice page.

LexisNexis Academic and Westlaw Campus are both great resources for viewing legal and newspaper documents. For this topic, the “Search the News��? and “Look Up a Legal Case��? sections of LexisNexis are going to be the most useful. I started by doing a search for “Obama and criminal justice��? in the Search the News box. That’s a pretty general search, so I retrieved a very large number of results. To narrow down my search I clicked on the Subject link at the left. I could use this to get a more specific focus for my research (like “torture,��? which had only 23 results, or “criminal law,��? which had 258). At the top of the results, I can also choose to sort by relevance or by date; once we’ve narrowed down our search, sorting by date will help us start with the most recent news first.

Let’s check out Westlaw Campus next. You can click on either tab at the very top of the page – “News & Business��? or “Law��? – to decide whether you want to look for legal cases and proceedings or news periodicals. I repeated my search by typing “Obama��? in the first box, and then typing “criminal justice��? into the second box. If you click the drop-down button next to the second search box, you will see options for AND and OR – these are called operators, and help you narrow (AND) or broaden (OR) your search. We’re using the AND operator to include both “Obama��? and “criminal justice��? in our searches, just like we did in LexisNexis, but this time we’re using two search boxes and the operator AND is being provided for us. Under categories, I would also recommend clicking the box by Legal & Justice to narrow the search on this first page.

Try these searches for yourself. What options do you see in each database to narrow down your topic? Do you find one database easier to use than the other?

If you have questions about these or any other databases, please stop by the reference desk. For special assistance with your criminal justice topic, you can make an appointment with the Criminal Justice Bibliographer, Mary Jane Brustman, by emailing her at mbrustman@uamail.albany.edu or calling (518) 442-3540.

Blog post created by Lauren Stern