June 5, 2013 – In the fall of 2012, the Legislative Reference Bureau released a beta version of the Wisconsin Statutes eBook. This article summarizes how the eBook functions, its benefits, drawbacks, and how it differs from traditional print and online formats.
File Formats and ereaders
The Wisconsin Statutes eBook is available in two file formats: the standard EPUB format as well as the MOBI format used in the Amazon Kindle ereader. The eBook can be used on a variety of ereader devices such as the as iPhone and iPad, Barnes & Noble Nook, Androids, Amazon Kindle, as well as personal computers and laptops. The Legislative Reference Bureau's Wisconsin Statutes eBook help file contains pertinent information on which file format works best in various ereaders on multiple device types. External linking on any ereader requires an Internet connection, as cited Wisconsin regulations link to the Legislative Reference Bureau website, cited cases to Google Scholar, cited federal codified statutes to Cornell University's Legal Information Institute site, and cited federal public laws to the U.S. Government Printing Office FDsys site. Internal linking to cross-referenced Wisconsin Statutes does not require a live Internet connection.
Laura Olsen is the Legal Research Operations Specialist at Quarles & Brady LLP in Madison. Olsen advises attorneys and other researchers on legal research methodology and evaluates legal research information sources in a variety of formats to recommend the most authoritative, reliable, and cost-effective research tools.
The EPUB format is not recommended for use on iOS devices such as the iPhone or iPad due to significant performance issues; therefore, use of the eBook in the iBook application is discouraged. When using an iOS device, download the Amazon Kindle application and the MOBI eBook file. The Kindle application requires an Amazon account, but there is no associated cost for the application. The MOBI format in the Kindle ereader on my iPhone and iPad worked well with one serious flaw: linking from the table of contents to individual chapters and sections is inoperable. As such, the only way to access a specific chapter or section is to page through, jump to a page, or search for a chapter, section number, or basic text, such as "Milwaukee parental choice." This can be a cumbersome process, although once you reach the relevant chapter or section, the eBook works very well. Table of contents linking in the eBook is a known issue to the Legislative Reference Bureau, and the Bureau is actively investigating possible solutions. Annotating features such as bookmarks, notes, and highlighting work very well in this format and allow you to personalize your eBook, just as you would with paper sticky notes and a highlighter pen.
I experienced serious performance issues when using the EPUB on the Nook. I found the find feature to be prohibitively slow. Annotating features are the only thing that worked well.
Depending on your specific device, there are many different ereader applications that work on Android devices. Try either the EPUB file in most ereader applications, or the MOBI file in the Kindle application.
The Legislative Reference Bureau recommends the following when using the eBook on a Kindle: "[t]here may be other Amazon-recommended methods, but the easiest way to load the MOBI file is to download and install the Calibre e-book manager and use it to add books to the Kindle device over USB." While I did not use the eBook via the Amazon Kindle device, I used it in the Amazon Kindle ereader on my iPhone and iPad. All worked well, with the exception of table of contents linking.
The eBook on Personal Computers and Laptops
The eBook can be used in the Calibre ereader on a personal computer or laptop and works extremely well in this format. Calibre is a free eBook management software application. To use the eBook on your personal computer or laptop, simply download and install the Calibre ereader and then download the EPUB eBook file. With this ereader, table of contents linking works very well, along with all other standard ereader features, such as font size modifications, paging, and bookmarks. My most favorable experience with the eBook is in the Calibre ereader, due to the table of contents functionality.
Emphasis on Beta
When I began using the eBook early this spring, both Senior Revising Attorney Bruce Hoesly of the Legislative Reference Bureau and a colleague in the Legislative Technology Services Bureau were responsive to my inquiries about the eBook. Both stressed that the eBook is still in the beta phase as they iron out issues getting the eBook to function in multiple formats on various ereader devices. They indicated that their most significant challenge is table of contents linking in certain ereader platforms. At the time of publication of this article, several fixes had been recently deployed, and work is being done to enhance performance, particularly in the Kindle Ereader. The Legislative Reference Bureau welcomes feedback on your experience using the eBook.
Book vs. Database vs. eBook
Wisconsin Statutes are available in print format, online database format, and eBook format. What is the best tool for the task at hand? When in your office, the print copy works well, although it is the least current format available. The print copies cost $86, plus tax and shipping for the hard-bound version and $51, plus tax and shipping for the soft-bound version. Thus, the eBook offers cost-savings, particularly if your office purchases multiple copies biennially. With six volumes weighing in at 29 pounds, the hard-bound version may be cumbersome in the briefcase, whereas the eBook is weightless, minus the weight of the ereader device.
Online database versions, either published by the government or commercial publishers, offer access by both browsing and searching alike, and thus makes the information more accessible if a specific chapter or section is unknown. Database versions also support internal and external linking to cited authority, and more flexibility with output, such as printing and copy/paste.
The eBook offers amalgamated benefits of the print and database versions of the statute. It is portable, can be annotated with personal bookmarks and notes, can be browsed, has basic search and find functionality, and offers external linking providing you have Internet access. In short, each format has different pros and cons depending on the research task at hand, your familiarity with the area of statutes, and the presence of an Internet connection.
Benefits of Commercial Publisher Versions
Electronic versions of Wisconsin Statutes are also available from numerous commercial publishers, including Fastcase, Westlaw, and LexisNexis to name a few. Fastcase is a member benefit, available to all State Bar of Wisconsin members. The key strength of these commercial versions is two fold: better search and output capabilities with all vendors, and editorial enhancements and citator integration with the Westlaw and LexisNexis versions.
The annotations in the Westlaw and LexisNexis versions are generally more exhaustive than those in the government versions. In addition, citators (KeyCite and Shepard's) are integrated directly into the statutes, seamlessly linking to all citing cases and secondary sources, plus references to recently enacted or pending legislation with direct impact on the statute at hand. For example, recently I researched statutes relating to urban transit. The government website statutes database does not indicate the pending legislation directly within the statutes; however, the versions on some commercially available databases point to the relevant pending legislation. This integration is a key time-saver and helps ensure you are using the most current version of the statue and that you are aware of pending legislation that, if enacted, would impact your statute.
Currency is always a central component when conducting code research. Regardless of the statutes format used, is it critical to check the currency dates and update as necessary to identify recently enacted or pending legislation impacting a statute at hand. At the time of publication of this article, the eBook is current through 2013 Wisconsin Act 13 and Supreme Court Orders enacted before May 31, 2013. An RSS feed is available to help you stay abreast of eBook updates. To ensure you are using the most current version of the eBook, it is strongly recommended you utilize the RSS feed to monitor updates and download the latest copy of the eBook as updates are made. To determine if a statute was recently affected by an Act adopted after the statutes were updated, consult the list of Statute Sections Affected by 2013 Acts, which provides a numerical listing of statute sections and links to the acts. To determine if there is pending legislation for a given statute search the text of introduced proposals. These additional manual processes should be done when relying upon any statute obtained from a source that lacks an integrated citator, including one obtained from the eBook.
Are the eBook Statutes “Official?”
Official has no legal definition when it comes to the text of the Wisconsin Statutes. The Legislative Reference Bureau updates the statutes continually and prints them biennially. Note that only the printed statutes are considered prima facia evidence under Wis. Stat. section 889.01 and Wis. Stat. section 990.07. Furthermore, only the printed version is certified. At the time of publication of this article, a motion was adopted for amendment to the budget bill, 2013 Assembly Bill 40, that would provide for certification and prima facia status to Bureau's online statute formats. If enacted, this change would take place Jan. 1, 2015. Watch for updates as the budget bill moves through the legislative process. Nonetheless, the computer files used for the Legislative Reference Bureau's eBook and website are the same used for the print version, thus the text is reliable.
When Does Using the eBook Make Most Sense?
The eBook is of most value when one is unable to secure an online or Wi-Fi connection and in need of specific Wisconsin statutes. The eBook is not a replacement for a fully searchable statutes database. It is, however, useful when you want to browse a chapter or section. eBook formats support basic search and find functionality, but do not foster Boolean or plain English searching like commercial database counterparts. A search in the eBook for the term "fish," for example, yields a linked list of every statute containing the character string "fish," such as fish, fishing, fishery, and Whitefish. When used without an online connection, eBook linking to cited external citations does not work, but internal linking to other Wisconsin statues does work. The eBook is a must-have when you need Wisconsin statutes and lack access to a print copy or an Internet connection. This could be when working at a remote site with spotty or unreliable Internet access.
I have used the eBook from the soccer field in Verona when I lack Internet access, in Marathon County where my wireless hotspot is not always reliable, and during air travel to Miami when I do not want to pay for in-flight Wi-Fi. In short, while the eBook beta is still under development, it is a handy resource to have on your PC, mobile device, or ereader as a back-up, and more portable, more current, and less expensive (free) than the print volumes.
In sum, the Wisconsin Statutes eBook is a worthwhile download that takes only minutes to complete. The eBook is useful to have readily at hand as an alternative source for Wisconsin statutes research. You may prefer a handy print copy on your bookshelf, a fully searchable and editorially enhanced commercial online database version, or the HTML and PDF versions available via the Legislative Reference Bureau's website (with search tips). Nonetheless, the eBook can serve as a useful backup when you cannot access a print copy or do not have an Internet or Wi-Fi connection. If you have not yet delved into the eBook foray, begin your journey with the Wisconsin Statutes eBook. Check it out (library pun intended).