Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Perspective!

I have just had 3 weeks of parental terror that will make this Thanksgiving really memorable! My 18 year old Alexa was in her first semester at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 2 hours from our home. She called up on Wednesday night, Nov. 5, to say she had mono. When she talked to her dad, she was brief, and just asked to get picked up the next day. But when she talked to me, we got more details, and boy, was she feeling bad! She had got up that morning & could hardly stand up. She nearly blacked out and had to get help to go to the bathroom down the hall at the dorm.

When she went student health services, they told her she had mono -- they did a quick test that showed positive. I assumed she would want to be picked up the next morning, but it turned out she was determined to go to all her classes the next day & would meet her dad after her bio lab ended at 4:30. When her dad got her at the dorm, she could hardly stand up. He shoveled Alexa into the back seat where she could lie down for the drive back home.

She looked so bad when she got home, that I got her to a doctor's clinic the next day. They focused on the mono diagnosis and said, she must be really dehydrated. Alexa was throwing up everything. That was Friday evening. The doctor called us back on Saturday and she was no better, so we took her to the emergency room of our local hospital in Milton. The docs there said she was so dehydrated, they needed to check her in for 24 hours if IV fluid. So that was til Sunday.

Sunday morning, I visited Alexa before church. She had these awful shakes. I rubbed her back until they went away, and helped her get comfortable. Then I went to church. After church, I went back to the hospital with her dad. We saw her eyelid was drooped. It looked like she had had a stroke. I called the nurse. The nurse called the doctor. The doctor right away got serious & started calling to get Alexa into the ICU at a major hospital in Boston, the Beth Israel. I was stunned. I had thought she was very sick, but I was so frightened at this. It turned out to be the thing that saved her life!

The ICU guys did all kinds of tests, including a spinal tap. Alexa had septicemia, toxic shock, renal failure, and the beginnings of bacterial meningitis. The pressure of the inflammation & infection in the cavernous sinus (where the nerves for her right eye come out of the brain) had pressed so much on the nerves that they could not work the eyelid and she actually has lost the feeling in a good bit of her right face. The eye lid still only opens part way, and that's because she can lift it by raising her eyebrow. There is a clot in the area, as well as the inflammation.

Alexa was in the ICU for a week. She was sedated to be on a ventilator for a good bit of that time, which was scary for her and us, both. But she made a remarkable recovery in many ways. She spent another week in a regular hospital bed, and now is home for a day, with a visiting nurse. Her eye still does not open. Apparently, they expect it will take 6 weeks for the pressure to resolve & see what the poor, crunched nerves have to say for themselves. There may be some hope for nerve regeneration even at that point. So we don't know what the long-term prospect for the droopy eye is. She is already feeling some more in the face than before, so things are better, bit by bit.

We are so glad to have Alexa back with us, and in the land of the living! She lost 25 pounds lying in a hospital bed! It was a terrifying experience. There seems to be no explanation, either, for why this happened. It turns out she does not even have mono! But I am so grateful, and feel so glad. This is a very special Thanksgiving at our house! Rejoice with us! I feel I have carried her back to the land of the living on my back, though I am sure Alexa herself, the ICU staff and all the nurses and docs had a few things to do with it, along with her dad and brother Joe and all the folks who have been praying right along!

This is the kind of thing that puts perspective on all the petty irritations of life, and shows you what you really, really value!

Betsy McKenzie

Negative Effects of Online Research?

A new study by Professor James Evans of the University of Chicago suggests that the growth in online research has had a "narrowing" effect on scholarship. An abstract of the study, which appears in the July 18, 2008 issue of Science is here. A recent article in the Boston Globe describes Professor Evans's methodology. He

analyzed a database of 34 million articles in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities, and determined that as more journal issues came online, new papers referenced a relatively smaller pool of articles, which tended to be recent, at the expense of older and more obscure work. Overall ... published research has expanded, due to a proliferation of journals, authors, and conferences. But the paper ... concludes that the Intenet's influence is to tighten consensus, posing the risk that good ideas may be ignored and lost - the opposite of the Internet's promise.
While the Globe article highlights the benefits to be gained from the "old-fashioned style of browsing," which may "lead to serendipitous insights," it also discusses the "vigorous debate over the Internet's effects" and the controversy that Evans has sparked. An upcoming paper will challenge some of Evan's conclusions; Evans plans to rebut the paper. In addition, Carol Tenopir, a well-known librarian and educator at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, says that "her surveys of reading patterns show the reverse of a narrowing effect. 'Electronic journals ... have broadened reading ...'" However, Tenopir concedes that she has not studied citations as Evans did. Research from other disciplines tends to corroborate Evans's conclusions. A recent article by Professor Anita Elberse of the Harvard Business School, discussing home video sales, demonstrated that although the Internet expands the scope of available titles, it also tends to concentrate users' focus on a relatively small number of best sellers.

Other scholars fear that "online winnowing" might "'make[] academic research a popularity contest.'" Another concern is broader--the loss of the context provided by print resources. Context is not easily duplicated in the online world where users "follow hyperlink to hyperlink, in a journey that resembles 'a plunge down a rabbit hole,'" according to Professor Robert Berring of the University of California at Berkeley, and one of the foremost experts on legal information. According to Professor Berring, "'If you get to an index, a table of contents, you see the environment that surrounds it. In the culture of paper, a lot of these signals are important.'"

This is an important topic, and I intend to share the Globe article with the students in my Advanced Legal Research class. It discusses in a compelling way a number of the issues I have raised during the course of the semester.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

ABA Bricks and Bytes Conference Postponed; Nobody Can Afford to Travel

Rayman L. Solomon and Christopher Simoni, co-chairs of the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, Law School Facilities Committee, have announced that the biennial Bricks, Bytes, and Continuous Renovation Conference, originally scheduled for March 14-19, 2009, has been rescheduled for 2010, due to the current economic downturn.  

Given the economic downturn, we strongly believe these conditions will have a serious impact on attendance....

In order to provide assistance to those who wish to consult with others about building projects before the conference in 2010, we will endeavor over the next several months to compile and post on the Section's website; www.abanet.org/legaled a list of current or recently completed building projects that will include contact information from a person at each school who can provide detailed information.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Brooklyn Supreme Court in the news

The Brooklyn Eagle has been running a series on court personnel. There is a nice interview with me talking about the library. The day the article ran, I got such great e-mails from judges and court staff. If anyone is asked to do such an interview -- do it. The attention feels strange, but people enjoy reading these features and it is great library publicity.

Rehnquist Papers Released by Hoover Institution

Yesterday, the Hoover Institution released the papers of the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. The story from the New York Times is here, and the press release from the Institution is here. A finding aid has been made available. Materials released so far include the years 1947-1974, and include files for such high-profile cases as Roe v. Wade, Branzburg v. Hayes, and Furman v. Georgia. "Personal correspondence files will be available by January 5, 2009," according to the press release, and additional materials ("speeches, writings, book drafts, and other documents") will be made available in the spring. At the Rehenquist family's request, all materials for the Supreme Court terms of 1975-2005 will be released while any member who served with Chief Justice Rehnquist is still living. Justice John Paul Stevens joined the Court in 1975, and although there has been speculation about when he will retire, he shows no signs of slowing down.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Don't Mess With My Laptop

A thief learned that it is not smart to try to separate a law student, especially a first year, from his laptop. The story is here. While I appreciate the student's panic at the thought of losing his laptop (it contained four months of work), I wonder why he hadn't backed up his work. This is the same qustion I ask myself when the occasional laptop goes missing from the library where I work. Students are sometimes remarkably casual with expensive objects on which they have become dependent.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Fun

Anyone who has ever been frustrated by a printer that won't work will enjoy this short clip.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More Help for NY's Self-Represented

The 2009 edition of McKinney's New York Rules of Court: Local Civil includes forms from the King's County Office of Self-Represented. The Housing Court Rules section includes the forms available on the Housing Court's website. This new pamphlet is a nice backup for reference. Not all patrons understand computers.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More musings on the Self-Represented

Charliey Dyer wrote about aiding the self-represented in the latest issue of Spectrum. Courts take access to justice seriously and our court libraries are doing their best. An article in the November California Lawyer made me wonder if the non-representation problem is due more to the cost of court procedures than distrust of attorneys. Try to read the entire article; it's interesting.

“Roundtable – Product Liability,” page. 49
"Moderator: What role can the courts play in controlling the cost of product liability litigation generally and to preserve access?

"NEALEY: One issue we are concerned about is access to courts. In cases were somebody was clearly injured, but their medical bills are $50,000 or $100,000, the system is so expensive that it can affect their access to courts. From the defense side, what are your thoughts on cases where the damages are not particularly high?

"KELLY: Those cases have dropped out of the system. [emphasis mine] I grew up on cases like that, and nowadays, you either have catastrophic injury cases or wrongful death cases. But that midrange case—the plaintiffs bar doesn’t seem to be filing them. These are the cases that the younger attorneys need in order to develop their trial skills. It’s a mystery to us on the defense side as to why they aren’t being brought because the level of proof necessary to get a case to jury in a product liability case in California isn’t that high, although the defense will be mounted will probably be stiff, and most of those cases are lost by plaintiffs. But 10 years ago, that didn’t stop plaintiffs from filing them.

"BOSMAN: When those types of cases are filed, we generally contact the plaintiffs[sic] attorney and ask for documentation so we can evaluate the injuries and the damages prior to spending time defending the action. However, the response from plaintiffs is usually silence. So it’s interesting to hear Scott [Nealey] say that he is having a hard time with these cases because of the cost of taking them to court."

Self-Represented Get Help in New York

Law librarians try to help the self-represented, but the complexity of the legal issues limit the amount of the assistance we can give during a reference transaction.
Some of questions that come to me at the Brooklyn Law Library strike me as issues that the courts should not be handling.

Yesterday’s NYT had an article about an African immigrant requiring months of assistance from a social worker to straighten out utilities’ billing errors.
I read the article, impressed by the Catholic Charities social worker’s dedication, but I also wondered why these companies were not finding and fixing their own errors. Why should a person have to go to court or appeal to a charity to straighten out billing errors? Companies should have better feedback on their systems. I cannot help but feel that this is an unjust burdening of the courts and charities by poor business models.

An example of New York Court’s providing assistance to self-represented litigants is the updated New York Civil Court web page and changed court procedures.

The Civil Court has had a surge in credit-card judgments and most cases were going into default. I have noticed a drop off in questions about credit cards companies. The Civil Court Web page provides an faq with defenses against a credit card case. Nothing in the library is as popularly written or coordinated with court procedures as this web page. Take a look at this page and its offerings. You will be impressed with the help it provides.

A New Test for Law School Admissions

It is probably safe to say that no one thinks that the LSAT is a perfect measure of students' ability to perform well in law school or to be effective attorneys. Although success on the LSAT seems to correlate fairly closely with success in the first year of law school, it seems not to predict who is going to be a good lawyer. And I wonder what is the matter with the first-year curriculum if it has a weak relationship to future success as a lawyer. During my years in legal education, I have known students who did not perform particularly well in law school but who turned out to be really good as practitioners. And I have known students who aced law school but would be clueless if they had to go to court. A whole lot of success in the law, as in life, has to do with discipline and hard work.

Against this backdrop, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have been working to produce a standardized test for law-school admissions that would predict success as a lawyer, according to a story in today's Inside Higher Ed. The report, Identification, Development, and Validation of Predictors for Successful Lawyering, is not suggesting that "traditional admissions processes" be abandoned, but it should spark discussion of the qualities that law schools look for when they make their admissions decisions. Professor Ellen Rutt, chair of the Law School Admissions Council, said she hoped the new testing approach, which would look beyond traditional testing methodology and include an assessment of personality, would not "'supplant the LSAT,'" but "perhaps ... provide 'useful information' on top of the LSAT."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Crowded dockets mean empty libraries

“I’d love to have time to visit the crime scene and do more legal research,” Mr. Jones said.

This quote from from today's NYT article states a truth; overburdened attorneys don't have the time to prepare cases. I have read similar quotes from attorneys assigned to family court cases. If our libraries are underutized, or if more self-represented visit the library than attorneys, let's look at the burdens placed on attorneys. Access to justice means many things--competent representation requires support. This blog is concerned with legal research; let's recognize that our libraries can only be used when an attorney has the time to walk down the hall to the library.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Is Google Evil?

The September 2008 ABA Journal Business of Law section has an interesting article on the perils of internet marketing and search engines. Not only does the a searcher have to worry about domain parking and cyberscams, it turns out that Google’s and Yahoo’s search algorithms add unspecified terms to queries. The added terms have been determined to have some relationship to the input terms. The concept is called broad matching.. Advertisers rely upon broad matching for their displays on result screens. The article did not state if the searcher could find out what terms had been added to their search. Yahoo and Google feel it is the user’s responsibility to determine relevancy. I cannot help but feel that these commercial search engines are being duplicitous here. The user thinks of Google and Yahoo as information services, a cooler type of library, but Google and Yahoo have to pay their bills. They rely on advertising, but cloak their work with coolness and techno wizardry. This discovery confirms my feeling that libraries should not try to imitate Google or Yahoo. We have different values and provide different services. A good part of my job is spent explaining to self-representing litigants that entering terms into lexis will not pull up what they want. They have to decide what they want first by reading to gain knowledge so they can find the right answer.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Well, I wasn't going to do it.

But here I am any way, writing about Barack Obama.

I cried this morning over the paper. I really did.

I did not work for Obama's campaign. I probably would have preferred a third party candidate if it would not have thrown away my vote. I did vote for him. And by the end of the campaign, I was truly impressed by the man's oratory and leadership.

But this morning, when I saw that we had a President who is a Black man, I was so touched. America is not redeemed. But it is a different place than it was yesterday.

I recalled all the people of color from my youth. People who lived in a time and place of not-quite-Jim Crow, but certainly segregation. People who were insulted daily simply because their skin was a darker tone. But who I recall clearly as being people of great dignity, great honor despite being treated by the world as second class beings.

I grew up in a border state, Kentucky, in Lexington. At the time I was a child, there were black schools, black shopping areas, black neighborhoods. The integration of all these things took place when I was still pretty young, about 8 or 9 years old to about 12.

I thought this morning about Berryman Foster, who was a good man, and would have been so proud. I thought about Hattie White. They passed too soon. And I cried. It would have meant so much to them. I am glad for all my friends who are here to celebrate. Namaste. I am ashamed that I was afraid to hope.

What does Larry think? Hathi & Google Books & all...

In case you were wondering what Larry Lessig thinks about the Google Book agreement settling the class action by the AAP/Authors Guild, check it out by clicking on the title to this blog post. Thanks to Judith Wright for alerting OOTJ to Lessig's blog post on the issue, since we had raved about the possible linkages between this settlement and the Hathi project here and here.

Just a brief report from MA

Since I confided to you that Massachusetts voters had the option to repeal our income tax, I thought I ought to let you know that we had the good sense to pass on the option. We did not repeal our income tax. We also voted to do away with greyhound racing on a 4 year schedule, and to reduce the penalties for possession of an ounce of marijuana to a fine. We also voted blue for the Prez and our senator Kerry.

What a difference 145 years makes! From 1863, the year of the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in the states of the Confederacy to 2008, is 145 years. And black people in the United States of America have moved in that time from being treated as chattel to becoming electable as the President. The other astonishing thing is that the party which nominated Barack Obama is not the Republican party, but the Democrats!

I was looking at a book of essays by Civil War historian James McPherson, This Mighty Scourge. One of the things that was striking was the shift between what the Republicans stood for in the 1800's and now, and the Democrats as well. And the geographic coverage has nearly completely flipped as their social messages have flipped. The deep South now has a strong Republican leaning, which would never have been predicted when the GOP was the party of Lincoln, the party that freed the slaves and brought about the Reconstruction. The Democrats were the party that held the loyalty of the South at that time. The interests of the regions' races have not shifted so much, but the parties' rhetoric and social agendas have nearly completely switched. I wonder what Lincoln would think?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Professors' Influence Overstated

According to an article in today's New York Times, professors have very little influence over their students' political beliefs. In fact, according to Jeremy D. Mayer, one of the authors of the new book, Closed Minds? Politics and Ideology in American Universities, "'it is really hard to change the mind of anyone over 15 ... Parents and family are the most important influence,' followed by the news media and peers ... 'Professors are among the least influential.'" This rather ego-deflating statement (at least for those of us who teach) would seem to undermine the stereotypical fear among conservatives that their children will go off to college and be radicalized by their liberal professors. The conclusions of Closed Minds are confirmed by two other studies that are discussed in the article. While it is true that college professors as a group are more liberal than the general population and that students tend to become more liberal while they are in college, it is not true that there is any cause and effect at work. Personally, I like to see students engaged in the political process, whatever their party affiliation. It will be fascinating to watch the election results tonight and see if young people turned out to vote.

Monday, November 03, 2008


The Election Protection coalition is a non-partisan effort to make every vote count in tomorrow's historic election.

If you, your patrons or anyone else encounters voter problems during the Nov. 4th election please call 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) for assistance.

For more information about Election Protection see http://www.866ourvote.org.

Tip of the hat to Carol Avery Nicholson and the ALL-SIS listserve for bringing this excellent effort to OOTJ's attention. Media, legal, faith groups and civil rights groups have all banded together on this effort, one of the largest to try to ensure that all properly registered voters can vote this election. The American Bar Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, N.A.A.C.P., and giants like MS-NBC and NBC are among the groups involved, as well as newer media like You Tube. They will be monitoring the election's validity live.

So, people, if you are hassled when you try to vote, or see others hassled as they try to vote, call it in, or use your Blackberry to notify this group. The website also has easy ways to volunteer if you are interested in assisting this group. Visit their website, which is full of information & links. It's a very interesting use of social media to respond to a new wave of voter intimidation & disinformation campaign in some parts of the country.


Click on the link above to see Jan Eliot's very nice non-partisan, but passionate comic-strip urging us all to VOTE! She does Stone Soup, a family comic that once featured her younger daughter enjoying the Nancy Pearl Librarian doll. Yay!

Don't forget to vote!