Friday, October 05, 2007

User burden -- starting a discussion?

Earlier this week, I gave a lecture to students in a judicial clerking seminar, emphasizing how to do a New York state legislative history. At the close of the seminar, Judge Weston-Patterson asked the students to comment on the lecture, asking if they used books in their research. None of them were familiar with the notes and decisions in the annotated codes, except for one student who had interned with a labor law firm. She said that working with the books left her less anxious than searching on-line. Indexes and outlines helped her think through a topic. This was an insightful comment. Another student said he found books intimidating and actually wanted more guidance into using the books.

I left the lecture very hopeful on the role of books in law. I was surprised that a law student would find books intimidating.

The experience also brought up the whole idea of user burden. If you are going to use on-line services, you need to buy auxiliary tools (computer, cables, plugs, electricity), purchase an on-line serive, and then learn alternative formats (folio, pdf, ascii, browsers, e-mail). Then you have to learn search languages. Electronic publishing requires the user to purchase the interface. A book is a more self-sufficient technology.

Now that is just for the computer. What would also bear discussion is how much law is hidden. At my reference desk, I get questions from people being evicted from public housing. Administrative law and law judges opinions are not well published. User burden: finding that stuff out. Blogging law--how many disgrunted employees who blogged and then got fired knew about duty of loyalty to employer? It is in the Restatements.

I wonder how much user burden is tied into de-regulation of government. This fleeting thought has potential.


Betsy McKenzie said...

Dear Jackie,
You might want to look at the Thomson-West White paper on legal research at They did some very interesting research on what were the "pain points" and problems for law students and practitioners. They found that print continues to be important for research (which I was glad to hear, since I feared West, along with other publishers wanted to push us into electronic before it was really ripe). They also provide some teaching materials that may be helpful addressing the issues their research raises. See these at
You can read my notes about the program at AALL in New Orleans where the results of the research were presented, at OOTJ: (posting on OOTJ Sunday, July 15, 2007)

Jacqueline Cantwell said...

Thank you, Betsy. I will follow up on those links. You may want to listen to the Leonard Lopate Show where he inteviews the author of Proust and the Squid. She goes into the change from reading, the culture of reflection, to digital, the culture of multi-tasking and immediate reaction.

Betsy McKenzie said...

Listen to Jackie's excellent reference, the Leonard Lopate show on Reading Neuroscience with neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf, author of Proust and the Squid at