Friday, December 09, 2005

Digital This!

Well, heck, the recent announcement of the rather expensive report, Digital Future has got me thinking. They want $500 for a personal copy and $1,500 for a library copy and still don't want to give you the whole ownership suite of rights for that price. You print it out yourself, all 800 pages, and figure out how to bind it or otherwise store it, but you are evidently not allowed to just put it out on your library's shelf even though you shelled out $1,500, and you can't ILL it, either, buddy.

Jim Milles' excellent and provocative article, Out of the Jungle, wants the reader to equate librarians who refuse to jump on the digital train with the Japanese soldiers hiding in the jungles on Pacific islands, who never knew WWII was over. Well, after thinking about the Digital Future flurry I have a counter message. Maybe this digital train message ought to go both ways. It's time for the vendors to get on the digital train, too, pal. (I am attempting to decorate this with a picture of a little toy train from -- why would Craig's list include toy trains?)

I'm very tired of being asked to pay the same or more for a bundle of rights that are smaller for digital than they were for print. I pay a bazoodle for the electronic version of a title, but when the subscription runs out, my copy evaporates -- piff! If I had the print copy, it goes on sitting on the shelf, out of date, but it's easy to bring it up to date, at least for a while. It goes on being useful. Why can the vendors not give me the digital print of what I paid for AS IT EXISTED AT THE TIME MY SUBSCRIPTION RAN OUT? Why can I not loan my electronic material to another library, as I can my print material?

The vendors are on and on, worrying over protecting their copyrights from piracy. I have news for you honeys, it ain't the librarians who are pirating your materials! If anything, we do something to build business for you. Oftentimes, a lawyer uses the item enough times to see it is essential to her practice and will break down and buy the item for the office. This I do believe. The other thing that happens is the dratted lawyers (or perhaps students, somebody, anyway) steal our copy, and we have to buy a new one. At any rate, the vendor or publisher keeps selling a new one to us. If you had any sense, vendors, publishers, you'd be working with the librarians again!

The other thing about hopping right on this little digital train, is that I want to know where it's heading. For the first half of my career or more, I was a cheerful pimp for Westlaw and Lexis. I shilled for them and worked so hard to get the profs and students lined up to understand and be comfortable using their services. I was a true believer. Now, in the past seven or eight years, I have begun to have my doubts that this is all an unmixed blessing.

We can never put that genie back into its bottle. But we are members of the legal profession and of an allied profession and should be thinking deeply about this. We have some obligation here. Westlaw and Lexis will NEVER stop to consider what their black boxes are doing to the practice of law. They have far too much at stake to question this. I do believe that the use of electronic research is changing the practice of law, the way lawyers and judges do legal analysis, the way research results are retrieved. Things are being skewed, and we need to know how. We need to change what we do in the law schools. We have not done a good job so far, meeting any of the challenges of a changing profession. If we do not meet this challenge, we will have failed in a very big way.

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