On Internships & eBooks

Me as a young librarian! (Photo by Debbie Melnick, Principal Law Librarian for New York City Civil Court Library, 2010)

Many moons ago, when I was but a young librarian and did not really know what a digital repository was and copyright laws were not yet solidified in my brain, I did a summer project for the New York City Civil Court Library as part of an internship. I was a recent graduate of library school and had never worked in a legal environment before, and was interested because I had enjoyed my Legal Librarianship class in my last semester of library school. Internships are a great way to gain much-needed experience without the pressure of a “real” position, so while I could I took advantage of many opportunities to intern and volunteer. I wanted to gain as much experience as possible before entering the working world.

The Civil Court library had a back room, a kind of archive, where out of date legal reference and research material, mainly treatises, were stored.  Many of the treatises were in terrible condition, not being stored in a temperature-controlled environment meant for preservation.  I would go through a list of the titles and put together data that would lead to figuring out which books the library should keep and which books were available better preserved elsewhere.

An example of a treatise in bad condition. (Photo by Debbie Melnick, Principal Law Librarian for New York City Civil Court Library, 2010)

I was very lucky-there was an existing shelf list of this room some other poor soul had to put together. I used that as a starting point for a complex spreadsheet. I searched for these books in the courts’ catalog, the World Catalog, and in digital repositories, which is where books that have been electronically scanned go to live and can be read. There were and still are a number of free resources for digitized books online. Free digital repositories are very handy for reference, research, and just reading for pleasure, especially when your institution does not have access to something you want or you are not affiliated with any institution (chances are very good your public library has one!).  All told, the project took roughly 250 hours and lasted from late May 2010 until October 2010.

The Open Library, a project of the Internet Archive, was a resource I used to search for my treatises.

I learned quite a few things along the way. Approximately slightly over 50 percent of the book titles I searched were available online with full-text, but not always with all volumes digitized for all editions, and not necessarily the edition we had. As an intern I couldn’t actually buy any books, so I searched the free resources I found on the UCS (Unified Court System) website: the Internet Archive/Open Library, the World Public Library, Project Gutenberg (learn more), and Google Books.  I found that the Internet Archive was the best resource for these titles. I also learned, to my surprise, that Project Gutenberg, which is one of the first and oldest free resources for electronic books, did not have even one of the titles I searched. By far the most intricate and interesting work was done in Google Books. While I found many titles there and snippets could be seen, there was only limited full-text access, and what was there was not necessarily the correct edition or volume (remember, I was dealing with many multi-volume sets of treatises!). The notes column on my spreadsheet filled up with explanations of the links I was including from that source.

A historically important multi-volume set of legal treatises in Italian. (Photo by Debbie Melnick, Principal Law Librarian for New York City Civil Court Library, 2010)


Recently, I read an article from the Atlantic called “Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria”, a comprehensive look at the original Google Print Library Project and its evolution and legal process. This article enlightened me as to why I had to spend so much time that summer hunting for alternate editions and other forms of access when using Google Books as a source. To sum up a lengthy article, it was because Google Books ran into issues with author compensation, copyright law, the definition of fair use, and reader privacy concerns when they began to move the extensive project from their own private databases into the public eye. Every book is assumed to be owned by someone, usually the author or publisher, but the problem with old or out of print books is that sometimes it’s hard to tell who they actually belong to if the original author or source is no longer around. This is something many digital repositories have had to deal with.

Google Books

A summer project such as the one I completed was meant to be the beginning of a process, and was fulfilling in its own way. I enjoyed getting to know the ins and outs of a legal library and have put this knowledge to use in my career as a librarian. One of the main things I take away from that summer, aside from the experience itself, is the realization that though we live in a digital age not everything is actually available online. I hope that one day Google Books can fully realize what their original goal was for the project: to shed light and provide access to materials that would otherwise languish unused and almost forgotten in some library’s back room.

Internships and summer jobs are a great way to use your vacation time from school to learn about a real working environment and/or get some experience in a job field you are interested in but are unfamiliar with. Here are some resources for internships and summer jobs here in New York City:

The Touro College Library Guide for Jobs and Careers can help you put together a resume and connect you to Touro’s Career Services!

Here is a listing of summer jobs and internships from Indeed.com.

Other sources for finding a summer job or internship include Internships.com and Monster.com .

Plus, the New York Public Library has a whole page of job listing websites!

These are some books we have here in the library to give further guidance:

Happy hunting!

Contributed by: Toby Krausz, Judaica Librarian, Midtown

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