Friday, August 11, 2006

What Defines the Canon?

An interesting essay in The Chronicle of HIgher Education, Aug. 4, 2005, "Writers Who Price Themselves Out of the Canon" by Kevin J.H. Dettmar, deals with literature anthologies link. Dettmer talks about authors and their estates charging such high rates for reprinting various pieces, that editors of anthologies drop the piece out of the selection. Greed or other factors cause the copyright holder to price the piece out of the canon. That got me thinking, though, about other factors that move literature out of the public eye.

Nowadays, so much legal literature is available in full-text online. My students, like most, expect to be able to access articles, treatises, and primary legal materials online in full text. If it does not exist in an easy-to-reach database, it may as well not exist at all for this generation. That means that articles that are not included on Westlaw or Lexis, are falling out of the canon that we rely on in Law. I have an article in that catagory:

Comparing KeyCite with Shepard’s Online, 17 Legal Reference Services Quarterly 85-99 (1999).

LRSQ is not included on Westlaw or Lexis. You may find the article if you use a journal index, but not otherwise. And if you need to see it in full text, you have to visit a library to copy it. How quaint! Several times, my article has been overlooked in lists of scholarship comparing KeyCite and Shepard's. Another librarian contacted me looking for a copy by e-mail for work he was doing on a related topic.

For all intents and purposes, that article does not exist for the modern scholar. I suspect the same is happening for judicial decisions and perhaps even statutes that use un-expected language or are not available online in full text for whatever reason. There is a vast no-man's-land of legal literature that is only known to those of us who still refer to print, use digests or old indexes. Will it matter in the future? I don't know.

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