Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Just the facts, ma'am!

There are "common misconceptions" that are part of everyone's cultural literacy.  Wikipedia's List of Common Misconceptions posts a humorous collection and introduces them as "current, widely held, errorneous ideas and beliefs about notable topics which have been reported by reliable sources."  Somewhat like urban legends, they have wide circulation but little basis in fact.

While some misconceptions do one no harm (Does it matter in the scheme of things whether or not George Washington had wooden teeth?), others can have a significance beyond that which would appear at first blush.

One such misconception is that you can find everything on the web for free.  This is especially fallacious when talking about legal research.  As reported on the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Library website, the "truth is that most of the resources in our law libraries are only available in print or through expensive licensed databases."  The fact is that  these resources are a necessity for anyone who intends to "find the law" and cannot be accessed simply by owning an I-Pad or Smart Phone.  Access to the courts without access to reliable sources of legal information, both substantive and procedural, is access denied.

The good news is that the Massachusetts Trial Court provides free access, both web and on-site,  for citizens of the Commonwealth at its seventeen, tax supported, public Trial Court Law Libraries.  And while some might harbor the misconception that the Commonwealth's public law libraries are less important today than they were when founded in the early decades of the 19th century, the fact is that a look at both web use and brick and mortar statistics proves otherwise.