As the name suggests, legislative history is supposed to track all of the legislative parts of a law. Through bill versions, reports, floor statements and committee hearings, we’re supposed to discern lawmakers’ intent behind a particular law. If I have learned anything from my years in Washington, it’s that lawmakers are more likely to express one kind of intent publicly, in the media, and another kind of intent semi-publicly in the Congressional Record and it’s ilk, because they assume that more people watch TV on a daily basis than visit THOMAS. Why, then, does legislative history not include all intent, from everywhere?
In fairness to the art of proper legislative history, I would like to propose a new kind of research guide: legislative storytelling. There is no better time than in an election year to take note of all of the possible outlets of extralegislative information: convention speeches, interviews, party platforms, campaign advertisements and other promotional material, blogs, tweets, Facebook posts. Blogs and news programs are already participating in legislative storytelling with respect to each presidential and vice presidential candidates’ record of governance vs. their current statements as part of their perpetual need for content to fill a 24 hours of air time. Why shouldn’t legislative history combine with some journalistic know how to story the most complete story possible of a law?
Before a bill is introduced:
- If a major program like national health care has been recommended by the executive branch for introduction into the law making process, check out Weekly Radio Addresses (back to 1982 at the American Presidency Project, in the Public Papers of the President in the same place, or in the Federal Register).
- Do a news search of the big national papers (some might argue, but I would say that includes the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times), for keywords related to the program and the phrase “White House staffer” and derivations like “West Wing” or “executive” to get any leaks, intentional or unintentional.
- Look to the Sunday editorials of each of those papers for about 6 months preceding introduction of any on point legislation. Also, look to see who sponsored the bill, and check their local paper, too (which will likely only work if it’s a big name rep or senator doing the introducing).
- Do a search of the major news magazines for about 2 years preceding introduction: Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, The Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, etc. Read the major book reviews. You don’t want to miss an Upton Sinclair.
While a bill is in the legislative process:
- Keep looking in all the above places, but now add in the wonk press: Roll Call, Politico, the Sunday morning shows like Meet the Press, and cable dailies from obviously aligned media houses like Fox and MSNBC.
- By George, don’t forget to check Parade magazine on Sundays. I’m not even kidding.
- Big enough issues will transcend subject and make it into Rolling Stone (remember that Iraq War piece?), Sports Illustrated, Popular Science. Expand your news search to include specialty magazines–all of them.
- Congressional and Senatorial race campaign materials come out every 2 or 4 years, gubernatorial races vary by state, and many races are won or lost based on what’s happening with national issues, flying in the face of “all politics are local.” In a presidential election year, don’t forget presidential ads too. I linked to a couple of resources above, but YouTube was born for this kind of research.
After the President signs a bill into law with 29,274 pens:
- Read the signing statement, if there is one, also located in the Federal Register.
- Read all of the news stories related to the signing.
- The day of the signing is a great time to check out the Extension of Remarks, as legislators are extra eager to take credit and align themselves with the President, or lambast the law and distance themselves.
- Follow the money: it seems to take a while for funding numbers to come out thanks to the least transparent financial disclosure process of all time ever, but once a bill has passed, check out Sunlight, Follow the Money, and Open Secrets to see who funded whom, and how they were related to passing the bill into law. Check out committee positions, caucuses, and of course, fundraising parties for these folks.
Does this sound like a lot more work than a traditional legislative history? Holy cow, yes. But, I truly believe that incorporating extralegislative media, where lawmakers spend most of their talking time, will help future researchers have a more complete picture of what caused a law to come into being.
This week, we’re traveling into the heart of law making darkness to find truth in edits, floor speeches, related laws, court decisions, and press scandal. I’ve written about getting a legislative history started when you’re not sure where to look, bill tracking under special circumstances like when a hold has been placed on a bill in Senate, and the U.S. Statutes at Large. Now, I want to talk about tracking down little known resources, free law and open access, and using non-law stuff to get a complete picture of a law’s place in history. Let’s parliament!
Thingvellir, site of the first Icelandic parliament, by Meg
Whether or not you’re a baseball fan, or even a sports fan, there’s something to be learned about managing from a profession driven by men called Managers. They might not always choose their staffs, but they work with who they have to get the best results–as many wins as– possible.
Ozzie, by Meg
I have had great managers, and terrible managers. Likewise, I’ve had the pleasure of watching successful baseball teams, and the agony of watching dreadful teams. Two ideas unite both: chaos breeds chaos, and consistency breeds calm. Ranting and raving, publicly decrying your staff, and general anger are divisive and destructive. Conversely, public praise, private problem resolution, and general calm are uniting and productive.
Without a checklist: if you’re in a management position right now, be mindful. Things may need to change at your workplace, but you will get more done by being a steady, predictably cool presence than by being an unstable, unpredictable hot head. Be calm, and be effective. Be erratic, and work in circles.
I have never taught a full semester course. I’m not even Dr. Meg, it’s just what my friends in my AP US Government class called me in high school. But, I have gone to school a few times. From my consumer perspective, here are some pro tips on professorship.
Course Design and Syllabus
- Order of operations: If you’re teaching skills that build on one another, be mindful of that fact when ordering your lessons. International Shoe doesn’t make much sense without understanding jurisdiction; the contents of the U.S. Code don’t make much sense without understanding the legislative process. Timing matters.
- The virtue of snow days: Don’t forget to leave wiggle room in your course outline. One lesson might take longer than anticipated to sink in, the weather might not cooperate, you might want to include a review session for an exam. No amount of careful planning can change the randomness of life.
- Get a copy editor: Few things are more disheartening than typos and grammatical errors in a syllabus. It shows your disregard for value, or worse, makes you look incompetent.
Conducting the Class
- Know your stuff: Like typos, inaccuracies in lectures and course materials make you look like an idiot. They might be honest mistakes, but there’s nothing worse for a student than feeling like they wasted hard-earned money on an expensive course taught by someone who has no idea what they’re talking about.
- Students are adult humans, not children, or animals: adjust your tone and inflection accordingly. Parents of infants and toddlers, take note: it’s an easy mistake to make.
- The Army way: “I’m going to tell you what I’m going to tell you, tell you, and then tell you what I told you.” One of my favorite professors in law school was a retired soldier, who had also taught at JAG school, and his method was very effective (especially for property, yeesh).
- Grade and time: If your course will evaluate student performance with something more than a final exam, grade that work in a timely manner. If you can’t do so, ask yourself why you’re assigning it.
- True results: The way a course is conducted should match the evaluation. Skills classes like trial advocacy, legislative history, might only need short answer questions, or hands-on take-home demonstrations. Big idea classes like gender theory in American law might be better suited to long form essay questions.
- False positives for law school courses: Lest we forget, at the end of law school, one takes the bar. If you are teaching bar tested stuff, a bar style test will be disfavored in the moment, but probably really appreciated a few years later.
What was your favorite thing about your favorite professor?
Hey, look, a selection of software books from the early-mid 2000s from a library that shall remain unnamed. Quaint, no? I’m pro print materials, but in the case of teaching yourself how to code, why not get hands on?
Learning How To Code On Your Own:
- Code Year: a Codecadmey project that delivers a lesson every Monday, for those who like to be reminded that it’s coding time
- Lifehacker’s Teach Yourself To Code: Helpful tips on languages and what each one can do, which compilers to use, app and add on development
- Mozilla School of Webcraft: A range of courses and challenges using real life APIs like Twitter
- Google Code University: Including classes for Android programming (who better to learn from?)
Learning How to Code With A Group:
- Meetup: Searching “coding” and your location and be a-mazed. There are classes everywhere! How do I know? I tested it with my hometown, and if there are coding classes around Hampton, VA, they must be everywhere.
- Check your local community college listings. Or, if you’re at an academic institution, it’s time to cash in those free tuition credits, no?
Coding + Girl Power
- Girl Develop It: Based in NYC, Meetup-based classes for women who have been shy to ask about coding, and might feel more comfortable in an all/mostly female setting
- Women Who Code: Based in San Fransisco, another woman-focused Meetup
- Ladies Learning Code: Originally based in Toronto, with a west coast branch in Vancouver
Real Schools, Real Courses, Still Free
Are you ready? I’m most looking forward to Codecademy, but I might look for a lady coding Meetup around DC. How about you?
Before we even get into the skill set that one now needs to be a librarian, we need to create a foundation. That foundation is you accepting that you don’t know everything, allowing yourself to be a novice, and being open to change. It’s hard to do. There is a fine line between accepting that you don’t know something and feeling stupid for not knowing it, between allowing yourself to be a novice and feeling disempowered. Don’t take what you don’t know personally. I find that I learn less when I’m feeling defensive, and I learn more when I am feeling like a badass who’s about to gain a world of knowledge.
Today, I’m putting that theory on the line, and starting my research for Back To School here:
Greetings from the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress. I worked here for a long time, and now I don’t. But today, I am getting over what I think I should know about this collection based on my experience here, starting from scratch, and compiling a giant list of resources for later this week. You, dear readers, deserve everything that this collection has to offer, and frankly so do I.
We may be librarians, but we cannot know everything. There simply isn’t enough time–which also doesn’t leave enough time to feel guilty, or hopeless. Nothing replaces experience, but repeating the same tasks, improving upon the same skills, can only accomplish so much. It’s easy to feel like we’re chasing an ideal can never be caught, but catching up isn’t the goal. We are all learners here, and you are a badass.
One of my favorite bloggers, Garance Doré, posts Weekend Inspirations. They’re just pictures, no text, and they don’t always have anything to do with the last, or the next post. But, they’re the perfect weight for weekend viewing, and they’re pretty. I’m pro-pretty. In that spirit, may I present the first Library Lulu Weekend Inspiration:
At Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, by Meg