Thursday, August 03, 2006

Thomson West Committed to Shoring Up Print Sales, Duplication of Formats

Anne Ellis, Senior Director of Librarian Relations at Thomson West, has published a very odd article at's journal Legal Technology:

Web-Surfing Lawyers Won't Sink Paper and Ink
In this electronic age, it's natural to sometimes assume that all answers are now at our fingertips via a keyboard. To many new attorneys and researchers, a walk down the hall to the law library to research secondary sources can seem inefficient and even quaint.
At no point in this article does Ellis acknowledge that secondary sources are available online on Westlaw; for Ellis, secondary sources are available only in print, and Westlaw contains only primary sources. What's going on here?
A 2005 Thomson West survey of law librarians found that many new researchers lack knowledge and experience in using print resources and understanding how to integrate them with online research. Studies also show a decrease in the diversity of sources being cited by law review articles and attorney-written briefs.
I am unfamiliar with any such study. Those studies with which I am familiar, such as Fred Schauer and Virginia Wise's Nonlegal Information and the Delegalization of Law,
have found precisely the opposite--an increase in the variety of cited sources in law review articles and court decisions.
By not fully using print research, researchers are missing out on a wealth of valuable resources. Print research in particular allows researchers to conduct in-depth research via secondary sources. Though online research is excellent for yielding specific facts or cases, print volumes can provide broad overviews and a more thorough and deeper understanding of an area of law. Footnotes, annotations and indexes in treatises and legal encyclopedias are easily tracked while a researcher reads print volumes, revealing research threads and nuances of law that may not be readily apparent at first glance.
Again, all these things are true of secondary sources, but most of those sources are readily available online. Ellis does not argue that print secondary resources are easier to use than their online equivalents; she seemingly denies their existence.
Teaching attorneys how to become power print researchers can often simply be a matter of sitting down with them to teach them the advantages, breadth, subtleties and best uses of print-based research.
As she does throughout this article, Ellis refers to "print-based research" when what she is really talking about is secondary sources. Read it yourself, replacing the word "print" with "secondary." Why the refusal to identify secondary sources by their function, and the insistence on distinguishing them based on format?
Online research services are constantly adding new information and functionality that produce more thorough and accurate results. But print research remains a fundamental cornerstone of effective research. It provides a breadth of fundamental legal knowledge and perspective that is unique.
Well, no, it's not unique. Again, Ellis might choose to say that print resources have some features that make them more useful in some circumstances, but that's not what she says.

This is hearsay, but for what it's worth, I was told by a colleague last spring that West purchased some multi-million dollar German presses a couple of years ago, and is now stuck having to amortize the cost. Could that have anything to do with Ellis's argument? Nah, that can't be...

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