Ready or Not, There’s a New Bluebook

BluebookOver the summer, a new twentieth edition of the Bluebook came out. Tarlton now has multiple copies of this latest and greatest edition in its collection, including four on Reserve available for 2 hour checkout from the front Circulation desk. (The Bluebook is supplemented by the Greenbook, a new edition of which came out earlier this year from the Texas Law Review.)

The preface to the new edition of the Bluebook provides an overview of selected changes from the prior edition. (Pace Law Library has turned the changes noted into a handy chart, available in PDF.) The general trend of the changes was to make it easier to cite to materials found online, rather than in print. Here are some highlights from the preface:

  • Rule 14.4 on administrative law sources now “provides detailed information on citing administrative sources found on commercial electronic databases.” In other words, this is a rule for how to cite admin law you’ve come across on Bloomberg, Lexis, Westlaw, etc., rather than print.
  • Rule 16.6(f) on periodicals “clarifies that online newspapers may be used in place of print newspapers.” No need to go on a wild goose chase, not that you were planning on it anyway.
  • In a welcome move to simplify matters, Rule 15.9 on books “removes language that requires the use of ‘available at’ in parallel citations.”
  • Similarly, Rule 18 on the internet now treats all citations to online material as direct, so there’s no need for “available at” to precede a URL in a citation anymore.

One change that does not rise to the level of being mentioned in the preface is the Bluebook’s encouraging the inclusion of an archived link in a citation, alongside an original URL. The archived URLs you are most likely to see going forward are to Spearheaded by Harvard, allows users to create links to archived versions of web pages cited in a work.

As you might expect, there have been complaints about what this latest edition of the Bluebook failed to change and its inconsistencies in what it tried to change. For whatever reason, the rule on statutes doesn’t acknowledge the fact that FDSys, the Federal Digital System from the U.S. Government Publishing Office, offers an authenticated, digitally signed version of the United States Code (USC) in PDF. The FDSys version of the USC is actually more up to date than the print, but doesn’t garner a mention in the Bluebook. Any researcher who comes across the USC in FDSys is sure to be confused by it.

And although the Bluebook continues to allow for statute citations from Lexis or Westlaw, most people find the ensuing wordiness required by such a citation offputting. Here’s an example of an approved citation to the USC from Westlaw: 18 U.S.C.A. § 1956 (Westlaw through Pub. L. No. 113-93 (excluding Pub. L. No. 113-79)). This citation is certainly unwieldy. The one advantage of the Bluebook rule is that by actually spelling out the currency of the session laws, this citation is more informative to a reader than even a print citation. Perhaps the Bluebook editors decided to leave well enough alone, as how statutes are to be cited has been a touchy point over the years–at least one author in the past has bemoaned the slow disappearance from prior editions of the Bluebook requirement to cite to the Statutes at Large.)

Oddly, while Rule 18 is updated as you’d expect with examples of social media citations to Instagram and the like, there still doesn’t appear to be an acknowledgment of Wikipedia. This will leave Bluebook users who do cite Wikipedia, often for very good reason, to create less than optimal citations, when more informative alternatives have been suggested years ago.

Whatever your thoughts on the latest Bluebook, keep in mind that the citation tools offered by Lexis and Westlaw don’t necessarily generate Bluebook compliant citations, at least with regard to treatises.


Posted in for Students, Legal Research

News Topics