The University of Pennsylvania's Online Computing Magazine

PENN PRINTOUT April 1993 - Volume 9:6

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At the Library: LEXIS/NEXIS

By Jane Bryan

On October 19, 1992, during the last presidential campaign debate, Ross Perot told millions of viewers that he got the facts on U.S. appeasement of Iraq by searching NEXIS, Mead Data Central's full-text database of newspapers, wire services, and other information sources-and they could too. The very next day NEXIS experienced a huge surge in searching.

And maybe you've noticed that National Public Radio's news programs "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" regularly thank Mead Data Central for its LEXIS/NEXIS "research services."

People all over the globe search LEXIS/NEXIS for up-to-the-minute political, business, and legal information, often at substantial cost. Through its educational contract, Van Pelt Library is making it easy for Penn students and faculty to take advantage of this rich resource and educational tool free of charge.


Several workstations in Van Pelt Reference offer LEXIS/NEXIS as a menu choice, along with Franklin/PennData, RLIN (the Research Libraries Information Network), and Internet access to online catalogs of other libraries. To use LEXIS/NEXIS at Van Pelt Library you must be a currently affiliated Penn student or faculty member, and you must have a PennNet ID and password. PennNet IDs/passwords are available at the PENNcard Center, 3401 Walnut St., or through self-service stations at the Computing Resource Center (on Locust Walk across from the Bookstore) or at the Biomedical Library.

Other libraries on campus offer LEXIS/NEXIS to their primary user groups. Biddle Law Library provides the service to Law School faculty and students. The Library of the Annenberg School for Communication and the Lippincott Library of the Wharton School also provide search services to their affiliates.


What can you expect to find in LEXIS/NEXIS? Mead Data Central characterizes NEXIS as the world's most comprehensive file of news and business information, with more than 750 full-text titles. Its companion file LEXIS provides full-text legal, legislative, and regulatory materials. Both are available nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Both are continuously updated. The University's contract allows for printing or electronic capture of text, screen by screen.


Both the types of publications carried in NEXIS and the truly international range of its coverage contribute to its utility for curriculum-related research. NEXIS includes, for example
  • Full-text of scores of U.S. and foreign newspapers, and abstracts of many more
  • Full-text of national and international wire service stories (UPI, Reuters, TASS, Agence France Press, Xhinhua News Service)
  • Transcriptions of news programs (McNeil/Lehrer Newshour, CNN), translations and transcriptions of foreign news sources (the BBC's Summary of World Broadcasts, the Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press)
  • Substantial country reports from organizations such as the Economist Intelligence Unit and Walden Reports
  • Texts from selected business and medical journals

Searchers can select a relevant "library," a group of many titles, which might focus on a region of the world (the Middle East and Africa or Europe), on a broad subject (environment, transportation), on a type of data (patents, biographical information), or on a "hot topic" such as Somalia or the presidential transition. Alternatively, searchers can limit their work to a single or a few selected titles by choosing to search only The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal (abstracts only), and The Washington Post.

Students and faculty have researched topics ranging from recent International Monetary Fund activity in Ghana to real estate redistribution in the former Communist states of Eastern Europe, from commentary on President Clinton's economic proposals to changes in NCAA rules and regulations.


LEXIS provides texts of current bills and laws, legislative histories, full-text of the Congressional Record, Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations, and more, plus court decisions from federal and selected state courts. Using LEXIS, you can, for example, trace the progress of a piece of legislation through Congress or read the decisions and dissents of Supreme Court Justices. Students in sociology and political science have used LEXIS to research Supreme Court rulings on abortion cases and the preceding state court decisions, and the effect of federal government regulation of a particular industry.

Getting started

The LEXIS/NEXIS search commands are powerful and easy to learn. A quick guide developed by Van Pelt Reference staff provides a useful starting point, and staff are available for consultation. Group training sessions are scheduled regularly: Check PennInfo, consult the "Electronic Calendar" section of Penn Printout, or call 898-8118 for details on dates, times, and registration. One-on-one training can be arranged by appointment.

Because of its breadth and timeliness, LEXIS/NEXIS fulfills a surprising array of information needs for students and faculty. To find out more about LEXIS/NEXIS, or to start searching, come to the Van Pelt Reference Desk.

Sidebar: LEXIS/NEXIS: Office access

Faculty from the School of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School of Education, and the School of Social Work who need ongoing regular access to LEXIS/NEXIS and who have networked microcomputers installed in their offices are invited to speak with Jane Bryan (898-2817 or bryan@a1.relay) or Bob Walther (898-8118 or walther@a1.relay) of Van Pelt Reference about the possibility of office access to LEXIS/NEXIS using shared passwords. Faculty affiliated with the Annenberg School for Communication or with the Wharton School should contact their respective libraries for more information on LEXIS/NEXIS.

JANE BRYAN is Head of the Reference Department at Van Pelt Library.