Monday, April 30, 2007

Discourse in Librarianship

Steven Bell, associate university librarian for research and instructional services at Temple University, writes provocatively in the April 27 issue of Inside Higher Education about the lack of discourse in librarianship. According to Bell, in "traditional library literature one rarely sees an article that takes issue with the research or perspectives of a particular author." Instead, a premium seems to be placed on going along and getting along, a situation that does not promote vigorous intellectual dialogue about issues or ideas. Regular readers of Library Journal and American Libraries know that the content of those publications rarely makes intellectual demands on them. They are essentially current awareness publications, with the former title also publishing book reviews that aren't particularly insightful. At least some law librarians reading this will acknowledge that the educational sessions and discussions at the annual AALL conference are (mostly) far from riveting. Conference attendees sometimes seem to get more worked up about local restaurants than they do about the controversies of the day. Bell asserts that even in the library blogosphere, "the rules of disengagement dominate the landscape. ... Rarely does one see a post that starts with 'I have to disagree' or 'Boy, does he have it wrong.'"

It is interesting to note that the comments that follow Bell's article are not the bland posts of which Bell complaints; some of them are rather pointed, with one writer daring librarians to compare the level of discourse and engagement at an MLA conference with that at an ALA conference. Is Bell wrong about the level of discourse in librarianship, or did his article hit a collective nerve?

New Resource Rating and Sharing site

Carolyn Y. Johnson, in today's Boston Globe (link in title, above), reports on a new social networking site that might be of interest to librarians and our patrons. Carmun presents a way for researchers to share their sources and rate them. Registration is free, and they have a topic category, "law and legal studies." Besides the rating function for resources, they include a tool to create a proper (by what stylebook?) citation for bibliographies and to collect and save URLs. They talk in the article about eventually posting the research papers (which brings on all kinds of plagiarism issues), but right now, it's just a chat and rank sort of place. Very interesting development. Besides the obvious grad student members, there is at least one group called "Santa Cruz Mountain Moms" interested in sharing resources on healthy lifestyle tips. Like all social networking sites, the quality ultimately depends on the contributors, but the groups have a moderator. I'm too new there to know how much editorial control is exerted, and it may vary by moderator. Like the site's motto: Students of the World, Unite!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Betsy has been missing in action

Dear OOTJ folks,

I have been missing in action for several weeks -- hardly a peep out of me. I've had a terrible attack of asthma. I never thought of myself as having asthma, and gave my problem all kinds of other labels: allergies, a cold, bronchitis. Nah! It turns out to be out-of-control asthma.

I knew about 5 years ago that I had asthma. At that point, it was really mild -- just a discomforting little cough that wouldn't go away. It seemed to come under control really well. I stopped seeing my specialist.

When nothing the regular doc gave me was helping, when I thought I'd end up in the emergency room or morgue, I finally got the idea of going back to see the pulmonologist. I couldn't find him on the Web or the phone book; no business card or phone note survived from those earlier visits. Turns out the man moved back to St. Louis, so no wonder I couldn't find how to contact him -- just listings as a co-author on scholarly papers.

Finally got to the new doc. New meds. I am starting to come back to life. So, apologies for the long silence. I can hardly speak in person, and it's been hard to feel like doing anything. I never knew asthma could make me so sick!

Betsy McKenzie

Monday, April 23, 2007

Justice Thomas

Kevin Merida and Michael A. Fletcher write in Sunday's Washington Post about enigmatic Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his troubled family ties. The article is adapted from Merida's and Fletcher's new book Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas, which has been favorably reviewed. Click here for a review by Professor Kenji Yoshino, and here for a review by David Garrow. The sense one gets from both the excerpt and the reviews is that Justice Thomas is a much more complex individual than many of us assumed him to be, and a much more appealing person. For instance, I did not know that he is raising his nephew's teenaged son because the boy's father is serving a prison term. It is hard to imagine that one of Justice Thomas's passions is to drive his RV after the court adjourns in the summer. Driving the RV, Thomas says, "allows [him] a sense of freedom." Garrow quotes a Washington attorney who concludes that, while not a fan of Justice Thomas's ideology or jurisprudence, he likes him personally, and that Justice Thomas is very different in private than in public.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Future of the Reference Desk

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Scott Carlson reports on the future of the reference desk. In some libraries, librarians answer questions using e-mail and instant messaging. Other librarians even use Facebook and library blogs as a way of reaching out to students. At the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, one young reference librarian hangs out in the student cafeteria or in a local coffee shops with his laptop and a wireless connection, and reports that "dozens of students" show up.

It is common knowledge that there is less traffic at traditional reference desks than there used to be before the Internet. At Pace, we find that we get fewer questions, but that the questions tend to be more complex and require a higher level of sophistication on the part of our librarians. More and more, the wisdom of hiring librarians who also have law degrees is apparent. We also find that when we work in the stacks (shelfreading or weeding, for instance) students approach us with questions. For some reason, we seem to be more approachable when we are not tethered to an imposing piece of furniture! We also find that some students who would not approach us in person will approach us via email using a generic account we set up. I found it interesting that at Colorado State University, reference librarians have been pulled off the reference desk and replaced with trained clerical workers. If there is a difficult question, students are referred to librarians who work in offices. As I said, we have found at Pace that complex questions are being asked at the Reference Desk, and I would hesitate to replace dual-degree librarians with even well-trained clerical staff.

As for the physical reference desk, some libraries are doing away with that altogether. We have just finished a major library renovation, and made the conscious decision to include a reference desk in the renovated facility. Instead of the traditional reference desk, however, we now have a reference desk that ends in a good-sized round area that will accommodate several chairs. We are now able to work with students in small groups, a nice amenity when students are working together on a collaborative project and need reference help.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Law School Admissions Blogs?

I noted today in the Boston Globe that some undergraduate schools are now offering blogs directed specifically at admitted students. The MIT sophomore, Lulu Liu, who writes the blog is allowed to discuss anything she wishes. She is joined by nine other students, and four admissions and financial aid officers. "Eager to forge stronger connections with prospective students and parents, MIT and other universities in the last two years have been starting blogs and recruiting undergraduate bloggers. Blogging has become one of the hottest trends in college admissions."

Is the same thing true in law school admissions? If your schools have blogs for admitted students, are current students the bloggers? If so, does the administration monitor the postings?

Time for a Clean Slate on the Internet?

If you've longed for a return to the quiet days of gopher internet searching, before GUI (graphical user interfaces) made the Web so accessible that it's become a huge mall with unsavory, shadowy characters sneaking in the wings with stolen goods and porn, join the club. The Boston Globe offers a story today about efforts at research institutions around the world to create a "clean slate" version to replace or run parallel to the current Internet. The article is worth reading, but here is a nugget that reaches many of the main points:

Clean-slate advocates say the cozy world of researchers in the 1970s and 1980s doesn't necessarily mesh with the realities and needs of the commercial Internet.

"The network is now mission critical for too many people, when in the (early days) it was just experimental," Zittrain said.

The Internet's early architects built the system on the principle of trust. Researchers largely knew one another, so they kept the shared network open and flexible -- qualities that proved key to its rapid growth.

But spammers and hackers arrived as the network expanded and could roam freely because the Internet doesn't have built-in mechanisms for knowing with certainty who sent what.

The network's designers also assumed that computers are in fixed locations and always connected. That's no longer the case with the proliferation of laptops, personal digital assistants and other mobile devices, all hopping from one wireless access point to another, losing their signals here and there.

Engineers tacked on improvements to support mobility and improved security, but researchers say all that adds complexity, reduces performance and, in the case of security, amounts at most to bandages in a high-stakes game of cat and mouse.

Workarounds for mobile devices "can work quite well if a small fraction of the traffic is of that type," but could overwhelm computer processors and create security holes when 90 percent or more of the traffic is mobile, said Nick McKeown, co-director of Stanford's clean-slate program.

The Internet will continue to face new challenges as applications require guaranteed transmissions -- not the "best effort" approach that works better for e-mail and other tasks with less time sensitivity.

Think of a doctor using teleconferencing to perform a surgery remotely, or a customer of an Internet-based phone service needing to make an emergency call. In such cases, even small delays in relaying data can be deadly. (snip)

Of course, a key question is how to make any transition -- and researchers are largely punting for now.

"Let's try to define where we think we should end up, what we think the Internet should look like in 15 years' time, and only then would we decide the path," McKeown said. "We acknowledge it's going to be really hard but I think it will be a mistake to be deterred by that."

Kleinrock, the Internet pioneer at UCLA, questioned the need for a transition at all, but said such efforts are useful for their out-of-the-box thinking.

One big question is how the transition will be accomplished, as the article points out. There is such a huge mercantile presence on the Web, now, that some form of the commercial Internet will carry forward. The researchers want to reclaim the networking functions for researchers (and the military?) and create a new venue that will incorporate new technologies, and avoid the pitfalls of the current Web. We, who sit on the outskirts, will have to wait and see. Be sure to scroll to the end of the article for four links to current clean slate projects.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Could it happen here?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has two articles on the New York Attorney General's probe into higher education relations with the lenders who make loans to the students. One article, by Paul Basken focuses on the relationships:

Following a series of ethics scandals, financial-aid directors at American colleges are resigning themselves to a future of less-cooperative relations with banks, blaming federal officials and their own lobbying group for failing to better protect them, and suggesting students may suffer. Some higher-education advocates are less gloomy, anticipating a future of less-biased advice for student borrowers as they negotiate the $85-billion student-loan industry.

Several financial-aid directors who serve on bank-run "advisory boards" said they realized that recent allegations of unethical conduct by some of their colleagues would probably end such practices as strategy sessions paid for by lenders.

(snip)Are the advisory boards "a mechanism to really build a relationship" with the bank?, Ms. Bauder asked. "Sure. Do they have the fancy dinners? Sure. But they're a common business practice, and I don't want these common business practices to be muddled in with these very flagrant and reprehensible actions that have been taken by individuals within the industry."

Ms. Bauder said she had served on several advisory boards during her 17-year career in college financial aid, including the Citizens Bank board, which she quit last year because her duties as director left too little time.

"There is no connection, there is no cause and effect" between service on advisory boards and the selection of a preferred lender, she said.

I find the story unfolding to be uncomfortably like the relationships between big vendors and law librarians. Does anybody else see similarities here?

Hey, Jim's university is going VOIP!

The Chronicle of Higher Education link above takes you to a brief note from their Wired Campus department. Evidently, SUNY Buffalo is taking the entire campus VOIP. We can hope Jim will fill us in on their experience with this alternative to traditional phone service.

Superstitious? Happy Friday, April 13!

My son's Latin teacher in high school had a thing about Friday the 13, and would occasionally miss classes that date. Read about Friday the 13th (a surprisingly recent combination of earlier superstitions that Friday and the number 13 are separately bad luck):


Wikipedia (which has some good reference links)

National Geographic News (8/12/2004)

How Stuff Works (the source of the image above,

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"The Office" and Wikipedia

The Associated Press reports that fans of the NBC show "The Office" are logging on to Wikipedia to modify its entries on negotiations. This is in the wake of a recent episode when the boss, Michael Scott, "turned to Wikipedia for tips on fending off an employee's request for a pay raise." Because of the volume of activity, Wikipedia administrators had to cut off editing of the entry. "In the case of the 'negotiation' entry, viewers quicky added phony tips in response to clueless advice from Scott, played by Steve Carell, in last week's episode." More than 100 changes to the entry were made before Wikipedia imposed its restrictions. Apparently the same thing happened when Stephen Colbert on "The Colbert Report" said that "all we need to do is convince a majority of people that some factoid is true--for instance, that Africa has more elephants today than it did 10 years ago." Fans then altered Wikipedia's articles on elephants. These episodes make it abundantly clear why we should be very careful about relying on Wikipedia to back up assertions made in scholarly writing.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Immigration boycott May 1, 2007

The AP reports that immigration activists in L.A. are calling for another boycott this coming May Day. The action is in response to President Bush's proposals on immigration, moving away from his earlier support of amnesty. From ABC News,

Many were angry about a White House plan that would grant illegal immigrants work visas but require them to return home to apply for U.S. residency and pay a $10,000 fine.

"Charging that much, Bush is going to be even more expensive than the coyotes," said protester Armando Garcia, 50, referring to smugglers who transport people across the Mexican border.

Immigrant rights advocates say many of the area's illegal immigrants feel betrayed by President Bush, who they had long considered an ally. While illegal immigrants and advocates have long focused their ire at conservative Republicans and Congress, many had seen Bush as an advocate of immigration reform because he had repeatedly said he favors giving many illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.

The White House's draft plan, leaked last week, calls for a new "Z" visa that would allow illegal immigrant workers to apply for three-year work permits. They would be renewable indefinitely, but would cost $3,500 each time.

Then to become legal permanent residents, illegal immigrants would have to return to their home country, apply at a U.S. embassy or consulate to re-enter legally and pay a $10,000 fine.
You can also see an AP report of the plan Bush floated at Washington Times (March 29) and the L.A. Times (April 10), which includes a video clip of the President.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Laptops in class -- again!

The title to this post contains a link to an article in The Washington Post by David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown. He talks about banning laptops to achieve a more engaged class. His great innovation is to allow 2 students to use laptops to take notes to be shared with the entire class. He does not say whether the duty rotates, but that sounds like a good idea.

Faculty at my law school responded eagerly to an e-mail offering this brief article for discussion. They very much want the students to engage in an active dialog, and drop their role as takers of dictation. I remember vividly being a law student, and taking feverish notes (by hand in those days!). I feared missing key statements because I did not know what words were the important ones. Law was such a foreign territory, so full of Latin and old French and ancient history, that it seemed impossible in 1-L to figure out the key phrases, the points that would be either on the exam or (worse!) in my first case as a lawyer.

Yet, law school is all about the dialog between a professor and the students. The way law school is structured, the pedagogical theory underlying it, call for arguing and tugging at ideas like pit bull puppies with a rag. Above all else, law students must be present and engaged. Laptops interfere with this attention. Students are distracted by access to the world of the Web, IM, e-mail, e-bay, or even just by taking dictation instead of thinking about what the professor and colleagues are saying.

That said, I will never ban laptops from my advanced legal research class. In a funny way, students with laptops are more engaged in my class as they check the various resources, test the queries and methods discussed. I am sure there is web surfing and chat going on -- sometimes it's obvious. But I try to keep the class engaging enough that most of the multi-tasking students are involved in the discussion. Cole, in his article, wonders how real the powers of multi-tasking are -- if we are not just fooling ourselves about that. I am convinced that there are limits to excellent multi-tasking, so I agree with his skepticism. But for my purposes, the value of laptops for testing statements about resources outweighs the downside.

The image of a classroom of laptops is from Cornell law school. We who teach often look out at rows of laptop lids!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Self-Destruction Explained

The Boston Globe reported today (link) that the parasite Toxoplasma gondii (which causes toxoplasmosis in cats, mice... and humans - through changing litter boxes) modifies mice’s response to cats for its own benefit. Mice infected with this bacterium not only are less afraid of cats, they are positively attracted to cat urine.

This is because Toxoplasma gondii has a two-stage life cycle. It lives in mice, but can only reproduce in cats. The parasite can only spread when a cat eats an infected mouse. The bacterium

eliminates the mouse's instinctive fear for the smell of cat urine. But the Stanford researchers found that the process went still further -- transforming fear into active attraction. "It wouldn't be totally unbelievable if all it did was destroy the behavior, the aversion," said Robert Sapolsky, one of the study's authors. "But what it does, it creates a new behavior instead." The parasite preferentially targets the amygdala, the part of the brain that generates fear, and it reprograms the mice with remarkably few side effects. The effect applies only to cat urine and not other animals. The mice have normal levels of general anxiety and normal reactions to other instinctive fears, such as bright lights, ...

This story is astounding in its implications, and makes OOTJ wonder whether there are other parasites out there that do similar re-wiring. This parasite re-wires the mouse brain to improve the chance that the mouse will be killed and eaten by a cat. The parasite trumps the host’s interests in survival to improve its own chances of reproducing and spreading.

Hey, think how this could explain all sorts of self-destructive behaviors in people we know!

* Students who skip classes and textbooks and who put off studying until the night before the exam;
* Lawyers who procrastinate, file late, misappropriate and commingle funds
– maybe it’s the effect of a parasite that can only reproduce when the student is out of school of the lawyer has been disbarred. Perhaps the microbe can only thrive and spread through extra sleep and sunshine.

* People with drinking and drug problems
– maybe it’s being caused by a parasite that needs the toxins in the host’s bloodstream.

* Those of us who are a bit too plump for our own good
– maybe this is not a lack of will-power. Perhaps we are host to parasites that need a nice padding of fat to thrive. See?! It's not our fault!

The unnerving image of intestinal parasites is from the online journal Nature,

Influential Regent

Yesterday's Boston Globe has a story written by Charlie Savage about Regent University Law School, one of whose graduates, Monica Goodling, is at the center of the attorney firings scandal at the Justice Department. Goodling resigned her position at the Justice Department last week.

I had been unaware of how many Regent graduates are now working for the Bush administration, but learned that more than 150 Regent alumni have been hired, and some of them are in extremely influential positions. This is because in 2001 Kay Coles James, the dean of Regent's government school, was made the director of the Office of Personnel Management--"essentially the head of human resources for the executive branch. The doors of opportunity for government jobs were thrown open to Regent alumni." Things were made even easier when then Attorney General John Ashcroft "changed longstanding rules for hiring lawyers to fill vacancies in the career ranks. Previously, veteran civil servants screened applicants and recommended whom to hire, usually picking top students from elite schools." Thus the Justice Department was set on a path where academic credentials mattered less than political credentials.

According to Savage, "Goodling...has become the face of Regent overnight--and drawn a harsh spotlight to the administration's hiring of officials educated at smaller, conservative schools with sometimes marginal academic reputations." Further, Savage points out, "across the political blogosphere, critics have held up a prime example of the Bush administration subordinating ability to politics in hiring decisions." Goodling was intimately involved with the decision to fire the US attorneys; yet she herself was a recent law school graduate (1999), and had "scant prosecutorial experience." How could she be consisdered qualified to evaluate the performance of US attorneys?

Friday, April 06, 2007

Student Debt

The new issue of ABA Journal, April, 2007 has an article on law student debt: “Redoing the Math” pp. 46 - 47.

Advice: • Avoid high-interest credit card debt

• Figure your monthly & yearly obligations (rent/mortgage, transportation, food, insurance, loans). Subtract from your take-home pay and then consider your priorities. Look for room-mates, consider selling your car, look for second job.

• Consolidate loans - lower monthly payments by extending payment schedule, and (possibly) arranging better interest rate. More than just federally-backed student loans can be consolidated.

• Find out about loan forbearance or deferments. Both let you put off paying loans, but deferment stops the accrual of interest. Forbearance keeps the interest accruing, but lenders are more willing to extend the time longer since they don’t lose money.

• Some federally-backed loans allow graduates with a high debt-to-income ratio (you owe a lot and don’t make much dough), to use an “income-contingent” repayment plan. Don’t have to pay interest on the loan – reduces monthly payments.

• 20 states have a loan repayment program, but the eligibility varies. Some law schools also have loan repayment programs. (See ABA LRAP page, below.) The states that currently have LRAPs: Arizona, District of Columbia, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Texas and Washington.

• Stay in touch with your lender. Tell them if you are having trouble paying the loan and ask them for help. They would rather work out a payment plan than find you in default.

Here is more advice and some helpful links:

USA Today article on Student Loans, 2/22/06 link
Sidebar, by Sandra Block suggests:

• When borrowing for college, opt for government-guaranteed student loans before you turn to private loans. Because private loans aren't guaranteed by the government, interest rates and fees are usually higher than for federal Stafford loans. The maximum that dependent undergraduates can borrow under the federal program is $23,000. So some students with high college costs have to use private loans. But others are taking out private loans before they've taken full advantage of the federal program. A 2003 study by the Public Interest Research Group of students with private loans found that nearly 24% didn't take out any Stafford loans, and 26% borrowed less than the maximum allowed.

• Don't compound your problems by running up credit card debt. The average undergraduate has a credit card balance of $2,169, according to a 2004 survey by student lender Nellie Mae. Only 21% of students paid off their balances each month.

• Many students use credit cards to pay for books, supplies and class fees. But keep in mind: The average interest rate for a standard, variable-rate card is 13.7%, according to And overdue payments can cause those rates to soar.

Access Group (non-profit Student Loan provider, with a focus on law students) -
Know Your Options
Lower Your Payments
Avoid Default:
Strategies and Resources for Repaying Your Loans

SallieMae - nation’s leading provider of student loans
Includes advice on managing loan repayment, postponing payments, managing debt. Very helpful advice in an easy-to-use website.

Loan Forgiveness - beware searching the web - many websites spoof government or non-profit status but are only out there to lend you more money!
Links to various options for loan forgiveness - a good website with lots of links. Appears honest.

ABA LRAP (Loan Repayment Assistance Programs)

Christian Science Monitor article on student debt, May 17, 2006
interest rates [increased] on July 1, when federal loan programs move from a variable rate system to a higher, fixed rate. Stafford loans will jump from the current 5.3 percent rate after graduation to 6.8 percent. PLUS loans, designed for parents, will rise from 6.1 percent interest to 8.5 percent.

Image is from the Maori/New Zealand education website

Get Your Peeps On!

Just in time for Easter, here is a quick run-down of Peeps - those sugar-coated marshmallow chicks and bunnies. The link above is to Wikipedia's article on Peeps, which includes instructions for Peeps jousting.

Official Peeps website: PeepLink
Check all the newest Peeps - including sugar-free and cocoa bunnies.

Librarians and Peeps:
Testing the research behaviors of marshmallow peeps at Staley Library , Millikin University. Examines feasibility of library research by Peeps, and bravely surveys a variety of inappropriate Peeps behavior

Peeps Research
Investigating the effects of cold, heat, alcohol and smoke on the health of Peeps – including dividing conjoined quadruplet Peeps! Check out their very scientific investigation of the classic puffing response of Peeps to microwave chambers – “clearly demonstrate an adaptive fear response to stressful stimuli in the peep species. This response likely evolved in order to intimidate potential predators through the awesome size and prowess achieved in a frightened peep.” Rest assured, all subjects are volunteers and fully informed before consenting.

Bunny Survival Tests
Peeps Link
What is it about Peeps that elicits this combination of scientific curiosity and tints of sadism? Includes tests with Laser, Heat, Flame, Hot tub, Electrocution, Oxygen deprivation, and of course, the Coyote test. This last does not actually involve a coyote, but is inspired by the adventures of Wile E. Coyote in the RoadRunner cartoons.

And more awful Peeps tests:
Peeps Link
Includes Ant-Honey Torture, the Big Freeze, Explosives, Projectile absorption, Batter Up (baseball bat, that is), and Quicktime videos of Peep autopsies.

It was bound to happen: The Bunnies Strike Back:

Not to be missed: Lord of the Peeps! Fellowship of the Peeps Tells the story of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings with Peeps characters. Gotta love the Peeps!

Peep links page
Lots of great Peeps links. Includes Peeps recipes (for real!).

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Belated April Fools Story

In the spirit of April Fools Day, I belatedly pass along the story from the University of Michigan - Dearborn. It's a hoot, but it may have the ring of truth about it.

"Mardigian Library to remove all books; students won't notice"
Asinusim Inlitteratus
Issue date: 3/27/07

Larry Wormer and Calvin Thorpe duel over one of the few books that were overlooked in the library restructuring. The overachievers made other students look stupid as they clung to the hardcopy. Students visiting UM-D's newly-renovated Mardigian Library will find plenty of room to study and hang out, now that the books are gone.Library administrators undertook the renovations in response to a Student Government petition, removing all books and shelving and installing a state-of-the-art sound system and night club-style lighting. According to the SG petition, the books and shelves were "taking up a lot of unnecessary space that might be better utilized by students who want to see their tuition used to serve their needs."Library Director Timothy Richards explained, "We sold most of the books on eBay and used the money to buy these super sweet strobe lights for the computer lab." He added that library administrators had made the changes with the best interests of students in mind. "We took a good hard look at how best to meet students' needs. We figured no one was using the books, so why not get rid of them? I mean, come on, we all know that students really come here to surf the Internet and make out on the second floor. And with these new innovations, they'll be able to do so much more efficiently."Students visiting the library seemed happy with the changes. Senior education major Helga Dummkopf said, "I guess I never noticed they had books here before because I only came here to buy cappuccino sometimes. But seriously, this is so much cooler, now I really want to come to the library."Mudack Padlo, a junior majoring in comparative literature, echoed Dummkopf's sentiments. "I was never actually inside the library before because I was kind of intimidated by all the books, but it's really more student-friendly now, so I'll be coming here a lot from now on."Aside from making students more comfortable with the library, the book removal has had a positive influence on the library's staff, said Richards. "The changes have really improved morale, the librarians are much happier now," he said. The truth of Richards' statement was attested to by two giggling librarians chasing each other around an unused microfilm reader, while another stood atop the circulation desk giving a rousing a capella rendition of "Fergalicious" as appreciative students looked on.Although the response to the changes has been mostly positive, Richards explained that there was some initial hesitance on the part of some faculty members. "Yeah, a couple of the professors weren't down, they wanted to make waves. It was cool, though. I just had to let them know what's up," said the former Navy Seal, cracking his knuckles menacingly.Faculty and staff have become more supportive of the changes, now that they've seen the positive effects on students and staff, said Richards. "Everyone's on board now, they're all loving it. The whole crew's participating," he said, adding that "Big Stan" (Vice Chancellor Stanley E. Henderson) and "J-Dawg" (CASL Associate Dean Jonathan Smith) were expected to come by later in the evening so Richards could teach them to "walk it out."In addition to this resolution, the SG has proposed a another resolution to add a 25th hour to each day, so as to leave the library open for 25 hours to meet the needs of the students."

Dred Scott Remembered

In today's Boston Globe, Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., Executive Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School, and Johanna Wald, Director of Strategic Planning at the Institute, write movingly about the United States Supreme Court's infamous 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford. Chief Justice Roger Taney held for the majority that African-Americans "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." Ogletree and Wald point out that Dred Scott was not "universally repudiated," but "did stun and anger many people," mobilized the abolitionist movement, and probably hastened the coming of the Civil War.

Since Dred Scott, a number of cases and federal statutes have affirmed "the nation's commitment to basic rights for all." But the march of progress has not been steady. Ogletree and Wald describe a "pattern more accurately described as an ebb and flow than a steady current drifting toward full equality. No sooner do we grant rights and privileges to certain groups than we begin the process of revoking and curbing them." They discuss problems with voting rights, "separate but equal" schools, and basic rights afforded to undocumented immigrants.

Sadly, Ogletree and Wald conclude, the "questions at the heart of the Dred Scott case--about citizenship, belonging, and participation--remain unresolved." They challenge us to "reawaken the America that embraces change, diversity, and progress." This is a compelling editorial, and should spark much debate.

Tomorrow and Saturday, the Institute for Race & Justice is sponsoring a program entitled "150th Anniversary of Dred Scott v. Sandford: Race, Citizenship & Justice," to be held at Harvard Law School. According to the press release, this national conference "will examine Dred Scott, its historical significance, and current application to unique issues of law, particularly those pertaining to race and civil rights." The list of confirmed participants is impressive, including Justice Stephen G. Breyer of the United States Supreme Court, ten federal judges, and a number of other luminaries. A live webcast is available from the link to the program above.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Ms Dewey?

Microsoft's viral marketing campaign features an actress with an attitude, Ms. Dewey. She has little audio files and video clips to pull out when you type in a question. The image here is from, which reckons Ms. Dewey is part of Microsoft's strategy to overtake Google by developing an alternative search engine. I think they need more work. Pandia agrees. See their review.

How will my loved ones remember me?

Grief management is moving way beyond urns into the strange-seeming territory of Victorian hair wreaths. There are several new options to memorialize your loved ones. If you opt for cremation, you can arrange to have a LifeGem created from the carbon, " a memorial to their unique life." This comment page notes that a single individual can be transformed into dozens of gems, or you can use this method to memorialize a pet. You could also encase the cremated remains in an Eternal Reef, and drop it into the ocean to harbor sea life. More practical folks could choose to create memorial pencils. The brief note remarks that the average cremated body contains enough carbon for 240 pencils. They look like golf size, like what we use at the reference desk. HMMM.

Regime Change: DRM tide begins to ebb

Nice post on Boing Boing about the announcement that EMI will begin selling music on ITunes without DRM. Lots of extra links at the end for those who want to track the issue.

PS. Gizmodo link offers "4 rejected mascots for the RIAA" with handy links about the DRM change.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Information Illiteracy

Any librarian who has worked with law students know that they have an unrealistic perception of their research abilities. For instance, they think they are efficient users of the online services, when, in fact, many of the searches the students use are practically guaranteed not to retrieve what they want; the searches tend to be too broad or too narrow. Law students tend to ignore the other specialized databases to which the library subscribes. They rely on Google unquestioningly, and think Googling equals scholarly research. I could go on, but everyone reading this blog has his or her own horror stories about law students' research skills. These stories are consistent with reports that document law students' overall poor level of preparation for the practice of law. See, for instance, Gene Koo's report issued by the Berkman Center at Harvard.

Once upon a time, research skills were taught in high school; I remember learning about Reader's Guide in a high-school class taught by one of the school librarians, and I remember having to use it when I wrote research papers in high school. Today's students have never heard of Reader's Guide. I know this for a fact because I ask my students when we talk about legal periodical indexes if they have ever heard of or used Reader's Guide, and no one has. In college, we had library tours, learned about the resources available to us (even what was in the Rare Book Collection), and later had more specialized bibliographic training when we declared our majors. It is true that I went to a college where writing pervaded the curriculum, and thirty-page research papers (frequently requiring the consultation and citation of primary sources) were the norm. I don't know whether the culture at my alma mater has changed in response to the Internet, but I do know that many students are graduating from college without any idea about how to do research; this makes it very difficult for them once they get to law school and are expected to write research papers and law review articles.

Given this situation, it was heartening to see an article in today's Inside Higher Education discussing an intiative being undertaken by eight Midwestern colleges that focuses specifically on liberal arts (First Year Information Literacy in the Liberal Arts, or FYILLAA). Students' proficiency at research is tested and then improvement is tracked over the next four years. Many librarians feel that the problem with efforts to improve information literary so far is that "librarians are focusing on solutions rather than measuring the skills gaps they're up against." Until we know where the deficiencies lie, it is hard to design targeted training programs; FYILLAA is designed to identify students' research deficiencies.

The article points to several approaches that might "bridge the gap between the library and the classroom." They include holding classes in the library, "building research requirements into grant applications," and creating online tutorials "which like FYILLAA can be used to track individual improvement." Other suggestions for improving information literacy are put forth in the Comments that follow the article. As someone who works with law students on a regular basis, I hope that the movement to promote information literacy will spread to more than just the handful of colleges that are taking part in FYILLAA.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Happy April Fools Day!

If you haven’t looked at Google yet, take a look at their search page before midnight today. They offer a little April Fools joke. And if that isn’t funny enough, visit HoaxMuseum for their list of the 100 best April Fools hoaxes. Thrill to the BBC announcement of the bumper crop from the Swiss spaghetti orchards! Enjoy the story of the hoaxter who simulated a volcano threatening Sitka, Alaska. And find out how Burger King advertised left-handed Whoppers! And 97 more, to boot!

Speaking of the cycle of despair & poverty

Steve Bailey, in The Boston Globe, Friday, wrote the terrific column linked in my title above. He ties the rising murder rates in urban America to economics:

Andrew Sum and his colleagues at the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University draw a devastating picture of what is happening to young black men in an economy increasingly driven by the forces of globalization and technology here. Among black male dropouts age 16 to 24, only one in three was working at all in 2005, far lower than the numbers for same age whites and Hispanics. The loss of industrial jobs and the influx of illegal immigrants have hurt black men in particular, Sum says.

"Many of these men will end up being involved in criminal activities during their late teens and early 20s and then bear the severe economic consequences for convictions and incarcerations over the remainder of their working lives," the Northeastern report says. And many more innocent victims like Chiara Levin, age 22, and Quinntessa Blackwell, age 18, will die.

America's rising income inequality is the scorecard by which we can measure the splintering of our society. In a speech in February, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke warned how globalization and technological innovation are widening the gap between the best and the brightest and everyone else. The future is bright if you are a "superstar," as Bernanke calls them. What's the future if you are a dropout on Bowdoin Street and the competition is a billion Chinese and Indians?

Read the rest of this terrific article by linking through the title above.