For the past 11 years, I have served as a parttime Law Librarian to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent quasijudicial federal agency that adjudicates disputes between employers and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In that decade plus, the Library, which falls under the Office of the General Counsel, has been pleased to provide a wide range of legal research and reference support for the agency’s Commissioners, judges, attorneys, and support staff across three offices nation-wide. This work has included everything from legal research to reviewing, editing, and cite-checking trial and appellate decisions, and assisting Commission personnel in obtaining legal materials as needed.
As part of its research function, the Library maintains a series of research starters to jumpstart basic research in the areas of legislative and regulatory history. Developed over several years using feedback from Library patrons, these research starters are stored on the agency’s network drive — over 10 folders and well over 900 files addressing numerous topics, such as the agency’s regulatory and legislative history, relevant briefs filed in circuit courts, and origins of the OSHA standards and their supporting Federal Register postings. This resource constitutes a significant and extensive treasury, all of it relevant to the narrow and deep mission of OSHRC’s adjudicatory functions.
When one of the agency’s regional offices moved to 100% telework, the Library was presented with the challenge of making this resource more readily available. Fortunately, LAC Federal, my employer, provided me with access and time to complete several courses online to get up to speed on Office 365. Upon completion of a few courses, it was then time to put the training to the test! The Library regularly monitors the progress of agency cases before the circuit courts and shares that update weekly via email with links to the documents on the agency’s shared server. I started a small trial using SharePoint to distribute the weekly update and focused solely on the one regional office. This trial was an immediate success with the personnel in that office, who could more quickly and easily access the briefs, oral arguments and decisions of the circuit courts.
While the trial run was a success, transferring this enormous amount of data to SharePoint is proving to be challenging. None of the more than 1,000 links could be transferred automatically—they would all have to be redone and checked by hand. The template for SharePoint pages didn’t allow for landscape view, only portrait, and the formatting and editing functions were very limited in this environment. The data was stored in Word, which didn’t seem to translate well to a web-based SharePoint environment. The challenges were mounting, even with the agency’s outstanding IT staff providing extraordinary support.
Then came the call on a Friday in mid-March that changed everything. Like many of my colleagues, the COVID-19 crisis meant that I would now be teleworking, providing the same research support, editing and cite checking, as well as transferring these research starters to SharePoint. My focus had to be on providing the same types and levels of service, but remotely.
Continuing to assist with research and reference (my favorite part!), I have been routinely reaching out to Library patrons to check in to make sure they have all the support they need. This gives me an opportunity to seek (then implement) feedback on the SharePoint sites. While transferring data to SharePoint seemed cumbersome but do-able in the abstract, there were even more challenges to face when I could not run down the hall and ask someone from IT to come take a look when something went awry.
The first order of business was to be sure that the circuit court briefs, oral arguments, and decisions were available since OSHRC cases are governed by circuit court precedent. After lots of cutting and pasting and verifying, this went well due in large part to the successful small trial done previously.
As for the other data, charts documenting OSHRC regulatory history seemed to progress at a stately pace, as did the collection inventory, the compilation of Supreme Court cases, and a compiled regulatory history to name a few.
One chart has been particularly challenging: it includes several hundred links to the associated Federal Register postings for all OSHA standards and is over 100 pages in Word. This proved to be far too large for a single SharePoint page. By chipping away at it in smaller chunks, it is progressing even as additional references continue to be added. I am also learning the ins and outs of embedding documents and links.
While there are more challenges ahead, working remotely, yet closely, with agency IT staff and patrons, the Library is making progress toward providing many of its resources and tools accessible virtually. COVID-19 may have been the impetus for accelerating this work, but the transition will continue to benefit the agency for many years to come and may spur new ways of delivering Library services to the entire OSHRC community.
Now that you know what I’ve been working on and the associated challenges, please let me know if you’d like to start a SharePoint user group for law librarians. I’d love to hear your experiences and share ideas with you!
- The author would like to acknowledge the significant contributions of OSHRC’s General Counsel, Nadine Mancini, OSHRC’s DAEO, Pat Moran, Senior IT Specialist Johnathan Whitton as well as Jonathan Barney, VP, Capture and Proposal Development, Audrey McKay Martelle, Deputy Director, Federal Services and Ann Swearingen, Client Engagement Manager of LAC Federal for their thoughtful insights to this overall effort as well as this article.
- This article was originally published in Law Library Lights; Volume 63 2020, no. 2 Summer 2020: Technology and Change.