Coolcat - Where It All Begins
Coolcat has been around since 1990, yet whenever I write about it, I say “Coolcat, the library online catalog.” It replaces the paper card catalog which is now something that very few current students even remember. When the Library developed its first version of the online catalog, it was likely one of the first 25 academic law libraries to do so. The visionary leadership of Judith Ansbach, with librarians Pam Bartlett and Rita Marsala, as well as staff member Susan Oliver, helped us quickly transition to the newly emerging high-tech record-keeping system that we still call Coolcat.
The catalog is more than just an online index of the printed books we have within our collection. While it began that way, it quickly became the index to multiple special collections. In this century, we began to add links to websites and historical digital books.
More recently, we have added links to current legal treatises from our major vendors such as LexisNexis, Thompson Reuters (West), and BloombergLaw. This makes thousands of our books available to users 24/7. Most publishers require you to authenticate to our network if you are remote yet this little inconvenience greatly expands the hours library material is available for use. There are facets on the left side of search result screens that allow you to further narrow your results. Such factors as location (Lansing, Tampa, or WWW) help you pick materials that are where you are. Also, there is a date restriction box that allows you to cull out the old things (unless that is what you are looking for).
Do you ever wonder where librarians and the staff fit in all this? Librarians are expert researchers and can help you navigate the rough waters of online resources. If you are comfortable with computers and researching, they can still help you be more effective and ultimately a stronger advocate for your clients. Our technical services staff work behind the scenes to make sure records to electronic materials are accurate. There is nothing worse than clicking on a dead link and then trying to figure out what to do next. By using Coolcat as your first stop in legal research, you are only searching in a Legal Google-like arena. No need to go to the larger pond if you can more easily find your information in a law-specific system.
If you have questions about any of our electronic resources, the Reference Librarians should be your first stop. Depending on the questions, they may direct you to the actual vendor of a digital title, but at a minimum, they serve as excellent fishers of the materials cataloged throughout Coolcat.
Coming full circle back to Coolcat, it is important to know that this online index can be useful for any legal research. While it does not search for specific cases and statutes like other online databases, it can lead you to excellent secondary sources. Those in turn will lead you to those cases and statutes that are essential to you being a successful researcher.
Professor Duane Strojny is the Associate Dean of Library and Instructional Support at WMU-Cooley Law School and oversees all aspects of the library operation.