Friday, December 9, 2005

the phone book

Gen X and Gen Y might be better legal researchers if they only knew how to use a phone book.  The paper kind.  More and more of them have had little experience with the language and classifications typical of the old-fashioned yellow pages.  If you think about it, the basic underlying skills needed to use a hard copy phone book are not really so different from the skills needed to use, say, a statutory index, a digest, or a Boolean-based search engine for a computer data base.

Here's one scenario to try with a 1L class:  Tell them it's 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon.  Assume a female friend wants to find a new dress to wear to a fancy party that night, and she just hasn't had time to shop yet.  She wants to know how long her favorite dress store will be open.  Where should she look in the phone book for the store's number?

In my small town's yellow pages there's an entry for "dressmakers," but she doesn't have time for that, and there's no entry for "dress shops."  There's an entry for "women's crisis services," which she's not in need of yet, but no entry for "women's clothes."  There are entries for "storage" and "store fronts," but not for "stores."  Finally, there are entries for "clothing & accessories," but there are five such entries, each followed by a dash and other words.  These include "alterations," "consignment & resale," "leather," "men," and, last but not least, "women."  So the helpful entry is "clothing & accessories -- women."  Several stores are listed there, including our hypothetical partier's favorite, and she can find the phone number, call, and confirm how late they'll be open.

This little exercise alone involved chosing logical terms to get started with, being able to generate alternate terms, trying broader terms, changing the order of the terms, and browsing the sub-topics.  It's interesting to watch the I-pod generation use the phone book.  (spl)

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