Friday, February 27, 2009

Hidden Networks Matter Most on Twitter

Click on the title to this post to reach an interesting paper at First Monday, Volume 14, no. 1, 5 Jan., 2009, "Social Networks that Matter: Twitter under the microscope," by Bernardo A. Huberman, Daniel M. Romero and Fang Wu. First Monday is a peer-reviewed journal published exclusively on the Internet, sponsored by the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The researchers looked at "... a total of 309,740 [Twitter] users, who on average posted 255 posts, had 85 followers, and followed 80 other users." They wanted to compare the difference between followers and followees compared to real friends, whom they defined as people with whom the users shared a direct message twice or more times. On Twitter, users can either post a general comment that can be read by all who follow that user, or potentially, any Twitter user who checks the "all users" version. Or a user can send a direct message to a single user by addressing that user directly by Twitter name.

As a Twitter user, I will say that I do use direct messages with real friends, people I feel I know better somehow. And I will say things in direct messages that I would not say in the general Twitter stream. Thus, I agree, that the researchers are looking at a real distinction between run-of-the-mill followers, who may be people (or even animals or made up characters! There are horses, dogs, cats, Darth Vader, Ceiling Cat, Basement Cat and more...) with whom I have very little real connection, compared to closer friends.

The researchers actually work through many more pieces of data than I discuss in this blog post, but I was struck most by their final conclusion. They draw a picture of the network showing all links between users. Then they erase the lines between all users who have not shared two or more direct messages. They are revealing the hidden network within the outwardly apparent network of Twitter. Their conclusion is that there are two very different networks in Twitter and other social media. There is a dense network made up of very light social contacts between followers. And there is a much sparser network made up of much more enduring social contacts between "friends" who share two or more direct messages. They may not actually qualify as friends in the real world sense, but they do have more social contact in common, more mutuality than the general follower-followee.

A very interesting analysis. Worth considering -- whether you think of Twitter or Facebook as a marketing tool or a social media phenomenon, there are two different levels of contact there.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

United Kingdom moves ahead with Open Source

BBC News reports that the U.K. government will adopt an open source software action plan. This goes much farther than simply selecting open source software when it is the best buy. Tom Watson, M.P., Minister for Digital Engagement (I will pass on that title) says the plan is to put open source software on an even playing field with Microsoft Windows and other proprietary software. The government wants to avoid becoming locked into proprietary software programs. In order to "put teeth" into the plan, they developed a multi-point open source and open standards action plan. The article quotes unidentified sources in the O.S. movement estimating that the move may save the government as much as 600 million pounds a year.

Here are the points of the plan:

* ensure that the government adopts open standards and uses these to communicate with the citizens and businesses that have adopted open source solutions
* ensure that open source solutions are considered properly and, where they deliver best value for money are selected for government business solutions
* strengthen the skills, experience and capabilities within government and in its suppliers to use open source to greatest advantage
* embed an open source culture of sharing, re-use and collaborative development across government and its suppliers
* ensure that systems integrators and proprietary software suppliers demonstrate the same flexibility and ability to re-use their solutions and products as is inherent in open source.

Government departments will be required to adopt open source software when "there is no significant overall cost difference between open and non-open source products" because of its "inherent flexibility".
The article goes on to say they expect some backlash from proprietary software producers, but that they expect the move to go smoothly as more and more of the public are comfortable with such open source programs as Firefox (alternative to Internet Explorer) and OpenOffice (alternative to Microsoft Office suite, including Word).

Monday, February 23, 2009

Presidential Libraries

The presidential library has become institutionalized. Every president since Herbert Hoover has one (the controversial George W. Bush Library is in the works). However, according to a trenchant article in today's Boston Globe, presidential libraries are "undemocratic and unnecessary ... and conducive to unethical behavior." Presidents spend untoward amounts of time raising money to fund their libraries, which, although administered by the National Archives and Records Administration, are built with donated funds. The author of the article, Mark Feeney, worked with the Nixon papers while they were in temporary storage before being transferred to the Nixon Library, and "saw firsthand that presidential archives don't require presidential libraries to be accessible and well maintained." What draws visitors to the presidential libraries is not the public records they contain, but rather the museum exhibitions which are all about "good visuals and PR." The multimillion-dollar "Tutankhamen-style construction projects" result in bland, undistinguished buildings that are "embarrassments." Feeney calls on President Barack Obama to reject a presidential library. "Obama should leave all the slavering over terrazzo and plate glass to chief executives less secure in their legacy. Just say no, Mr. President!"

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Articles that apply to reference

Articles found in my building’s re-cycle bin. They could all help interactions at the reference desk.
“Unmasking ‘racial microaggressions.’ ” Tori DeAngelis. 40(2) Monitor on Psychology 42-46 (Feb. 2009).
Racist actions can be sosubtle that the perpetrator may not be aware of his bias, but the minority individual will pick-up the discrimination. Controntation most likely will result in denials. Derald Wing Sue’s article on this topic in the American Psychologist received letters accusing him of overblowing incidents or creating destructive negativity.
Some interesting criticisms of Sue :
Kenneth R. Thomas “The theory, in general, characterizes people of color as weak and vulnerable, and reinforces a culture of victimization instead of a culture of opportunity.”
Kenneth Sole admits that microagressions occur; clients of his consulting firm speak about them. “But instead of encouraging their anger, he works with them on ways to frame the incidents so they feel empowered rather than victimized.” … ” ’My own view is that we don’t serve ourselves well in the hundreds of ambiguous situations we experience by latching onto the definition of the experience that gives us the greatest pain’ – particularly in one-time encounters where one can’t take more systemic action.”
Sue responds: “My hope is to make the invisible visible. Microaggressions hold their power because they are invisible, and therefore they don’t allow us to see that our actions and attitudes may be discriminatory.”
“Why Can’t We Be Friends?”. Tori DeAngelis. 40(2) Monitor on Psychology 48-49 (Feb. 2009). Diversity programs can distract individuals from structural injustice a study by Tamar Saguy, Nicole Tausch, Jack Dovodio and Felicia Pratto has found. Pleasant social interactions encourage low-power groups to expect kindlier actions from high-power groups. The high-power groups do not extend more kindnesses. Says Dovidio: “You want get beyond simply liking one another to the real issues of inequity and disparities that exist between groups, and to create a space where you can explore each others’ perspectives and understand each other.”
“Mini-multitaskers.” Rebecca A. Clay. 40(2) Monitor on Psychology 38-40(Feb. 2009). Multi-tasking hinders learning. There are two kinds of learning based upon the differences between procedural memory and declarative memory. Procedural memory relies upon the basal ganglia, a less flexible memory than declaraive memory based in the hippocamus.
“Collaboration brings an innovative approach to nursing education." Elizabbeth Poster. 4 (2) American Nurse Today 34-35 (Feb. 2009).
Nursing educators and practitioners were disturbed that graduating students clinicl experience “depended on random events.” Students had gaps . Educators and practitioners defined ten learning modules for common conditions. Since there are complaints that graduating law librarians have gaps, our SIGS and groups could create similar modules.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Facebook Retreats from Digital Rights Grab

The New York Times reported on Feb. 18 that Facebook is backing off an apparent revision of their terms of service. Click on the title of this post to read the full article. Spokesmen for Facebook, claimed that their revised terms of service, which appeared to claim rights forever in any material posted on the site, even after a user removed it, were merely clumsily drafted efforts to simplify the terms to make them easier for customers to understand. But these comments came on the heels of massive complaints from Facebook users who were outraged at the apparent shift; Facebook had repeatedly promised that users retained ownership in all posted materials.

Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) had planned to file a consumer complaint with the Federal Trade Commission on February 25. They have an announcement on their home page today, stating that more than a dozen consumer activist groups were prepared to join their complaint, but that Facebook has agreed to rollback their terms of service to the pre-February 4 version. According to the Times article, Facebook's chief executive, Mark Zuckerman, is inviting users to participate in drafting a new Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, to serve as a governing document for Facebook. This is an interesting development, reminiscent of drafting constitutions in Second Life. But the Times article concludes with some cautionary comments:

“I believe Facebook on this matter, but my issue is that Facebook is not just one person,” Mr. Harper {a Facebook user} said. “They could get bought out by anybody, and those people may not share the good intentions that Mark {Zuckerman} and his team claim to have.”

Analysts say that much of the confusion and rancor this week stemmed from the fact that sites like Facebook have created a new sphere of shared information for which there are no established privacy rules.

E-mail between two people is private, for example, and a post on a message board is clearly public. But much communication among Facebook members, which is exposed only to their friends, sometimes on a so-called wall, lies in a middle ground one might call “semipublic.”

“If I post something on your wall, and then I decide to close my account, what happens to that wall post?” said Marcia Hofmann, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an Internet civil liberties group. “Is that my data or your data? That’s a very tricky issue, and it’s one that hasn’t come up a whole lot in the past.”
Tip of the OOTJ hat to Fred Dingledy on Twitter for alerting me to the NYT article!

Wait, don't count on Open Access yet!

Peter Suber, at Earlham College, and Open Access News, raises the alarm that there is a bill reintroduced to Congress to stop federal agencies from maintaining an open access policy, forcing them to push their research out through third party vendors. Here is Peter's post in full,with a link to his site here:

Yesterday Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) re-introduced the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act. This year it's H.R. 801 (last year it was H.R. 6845), and co-sponsored by Steve Cohen (D-TN), Trent Franks, Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Robert Wexler (D-FL). The language has not changed.

The Fair Copyright Act is to fair copyright what the Patriot Act was to patriotism. It would repeal the OA policy at the NIH and prevent similar OA policies at any federal agency. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where Conyers is Chairman, and where he has consolidated his power since last year by abolishing the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property. The Judiciary Committee does not specialize in science, science policy, or science funding, but copyright.

The premise of the bill, urged by the publishing lobby, is that the NIH policy somehow violates copyright law. The premise is false and cynical. If the NIH policy violated copyrights, or permitted the violation of copyrights, publishers wouldn't have to back this bill to amend US copyright law. Instead, they'd be in court where they'd already have a remedy. For a detailed analysis of the bill and point by point rebuttal to the publishing lobby's rhetoric, see my article from October 2008.

I'll have more soon on ways to mobilize in opposition to the bill and support the NIH and the principle of public access to publicly-funded research. Meantime, if you're a US citizen and your representative is a member of the Judiciary Committee, it's not to early to fire off an email/fax/letter/phone call to your representative opposing the bill and defending the NIH policy. You can find ammo here:

* the open letter from 46 law professors objecting to "serious misstatements relating to copyright law" in the publisher arguments against the NIH policy, September 8, 2008
* the open letter from 33 US Nobel laureates in science defending the NIH policy against the Conyers bill, September 9, 2008
* my article on the bill from October 2008
* the OAN posts on the bill from the last time around
Be sure to set up an RSS feed to this site if you want to follow up on this issue! P.S., as a librarian, I should note that all the links in the pasted article above were Peter's own -- he did a great job linking to the various websites. Kudos!

Durham Statement on Open Access to Legal Scholarship

Dick Danner posted this to the Law Lib Directors' list following a discussion on law journals -- whether libraries have been canceling them, should they be kept in some "analog" format in addition to the Hein/Westlaw/Lexis digital formats, etc.. This is an interesting development.

Durham Statement on Open Access to Legal Scholarship

11 February 2009

Objective: The undersigned believe that it will benefit legal education and improve the dissemination of legal scholarly information if law schools commit to making the legal scholarship they publish available in stable, open, digital formats in place of print. To accomplish this end, law schools should commit to making agreed-upon stable, open, digital formats, rather than print, the preferable formats for legal scholarship. If stable, open, digital formats are available, law schools should stop publishing law journals in print and law libraries should stop acquiring print law journals. We believe that, in addition to their other benefits, these changes are particularly timely in light of the financial challenges currently facing many law schools.

Rationale: Researchers – whether students, faculty, or practitioners – now access legal information of all sorts through digital formats much more frequently than in printed formats. Print copies of law
journals and other forms of legal scholarship are slower to arrive than the online digital versions and lack the flexibility needed by 21st century scholars. Yet, most law libraries perceive a continuing need also to acquire legal scholarship in print formats for citation and archiving. (Some libraries are canceling print editions if commercial digital versions are available; others continue to acquire print copies but throw them away after a period of time.)

It is increasingly uneconomical to keep two systems afloat simultaneously. The presumption of need for redundant printed journals adds costs to library budgets, takes up physical space in libraries pressed for space, and has a deleterious effect on the environment; if articles are uniformly available in stable digital formats, they can still be printed on demand. Some libraries may still choose to subscribe to certain journals in multiple formats if they are available. In general, however, we believe that, if law schools are willing to commit to stable and open digital storage for the journals they publish, there are no longer good reasons for individual libraries to rely on paper copies as the archival format. Agreed-upon stable, open, digital formats will ensure that legal scholarship will be preserved in the long-term.

In a time of extreme pressures on law school budgets, moving to all electronic publication of law journals will also eliminate the substantial costs borne by law schools for printing and mailing print editions of their school’s journals, and the costs borne by their libraries to purchase, process and preserve print versions.

Additionally, and potentially most importantly, a move toward digital files as the preferred format for legal scholarship will increase access to legal information and knowledge not only to those inside the legal academy and in practice, but to scholars in other disciplines and to international audiences, many of whom do not now have access either to print journals or to commercial databases.

Call to Action: We therefore urge every U.S. law school to commit to ending print publication of its journals and to making definitive versions of journals and other scholarship produced at the school immediately available upon publication in stable, open, digital formats, rather than in print.

We also urge every law school to commit to keeping a repository of the scholarship published at the school in a stable, open, digital format. Some law schools may choose to use a shared regional online repository or to offer their own repositories as places for other law schools to archive the scholarship published at their school.

Repositories should rely upon open standards for the archiving of works, as well as on redundant formats, such as PDF copies. We also urge law schools and law libraries to agree to and use a standard set of metadata to catalog each article to ensure easy online public indexing of legal scholarship.

As a measure of redundancy, we also urge faculty members to reserve their copyrights to ensure that they too can make their own scholarship available in stable, open, digital formats. All law journals should rely upon the AALS model publishing agreement as a default and should respect author requests to retain copyrights in their scholarship.

Richard A. Danner
Duke Law School

Taylor Fitchett
University of Virginia

Margaret A. Fry
Georgetown University Law Center

Paul M. George
University of Pennsylvania School of Law

Claire M. Germain
Cornell Law School

S. Blair Kauffman
Yale Law School

J. Paul Lomio
Stanford Law School

Harry S. (Terry) Martin III
University of Texas Law School

Kent McKeever
Columbia Law School

Jim McMasters
Northwestern University School of Law

John G. Palfrey
Harvard Law School

Radu Popa
New York University Law School

Judith M. Wright
University of Chicago Law School

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Update on Ave Maria

The ABA has given embattled Ave Maria School of Law permission to relocate to Florida. See the story below.

Embattled Law School Wins Approval for Controversial Move

New York Lawyer
February 19, 2009

By Karen Sloan
The National Law Journal

Embattled Ave Maria School of Law has won approval from the American Bar Association to relocate to Florida.

The ABA's "acquiescence," which allows the school to move from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Naples, Fla., means it will retain full accreditation after the relocation, which is slated to occur in early July.

It also clears the way for the school to apply for a license from the Florida Department of Education's Commission for Independent Education, which is needed for the school to grant degrees, according to a statement from Ave Maria School of Law.

"We are very excited and grateful to receive this news from the ABA, which is obviously a crucial step in our relocation process," said Roman Catholic philanthropist Thomas S. Monaghan, who founded the Ave Maria School of Law and is the chairman of its board of governors.

ABA spokeswoman Nancy Slonim declined to comment on the decision, citing confidentiality rules.

The ABA's decision appears to bring to a close a strange period for the Catholic law school — a time marked by controversy as well as faculty and student departures.

School officials announced in February 2007 that the institution would relocate to Southwest Florida. The school originally wanted to locate in a Catholic-oriented planned community called Ave Maria, near Naples, which was the brainchild of Monaghan, who founded the Domino's Pizza restaurant chain and formerly owned the Detroit Tigers.

But that plan proved costly, and the school now will move into an existing building in Naples. That decision came after the school failed to sell naming rights for a new building in the Ave Maria community.

The push to relocate was met with anger by some faculty members, who claimed that they were being mistreated and ignored by then-Dean Bernard Dobranski. In addition to issuing a vote of no confidence in the dean in 2006, some faculty members sent a formal complaint to the ABA.

According to the school, the new "Vineyards" campus will consist of five buildings on 12.5 acres, with more classrooms and seats than the school's Michigan campus. Students also will have the option to live on campus, which they cannot do right now. The Ave Maria School of Law currently has about 300 students.

"I believe that the school's new location will afford our students a wide range of opportunities for in-depth practical legal experience and skills training," said Acting Dean Eugene Milhizer. "Our externship program can flourish within a welcoming legal community, our clinical programs can grow and diversify as they serve those in need in southwest Florida, and our skills programs can be strengthened by involving the wealth of legal talent to be found in the surrounding communities."

Students and Grades

This article from today's New York Times deals specifically with the issue of undergraduate students and their expectations about grades, and does not mention law schools. However, the grades students got as undergraduates definitely affect their perceptions of the grades they get in law school. Many undergraduates expect to get a B just for attending class and doing the assigned reading; they don't seem to understand there is a nexus between their performance on tests and papers and their final grades. An additional problem for some undergraduates is their belief that if they work hard, they are entitled to an A. Some possible causes for this sense of entitlement to high grades are "increased parental pressure, competition among peers and family members and a heightened sense of achievement anxiety." No doubt students' worries about finding jobs in this time of economic crisis are further fueling concerns about grades. "The gentleman's C" doesn't cut it anymore. As I told one of my children last night, "Just keep your grades up, and the rest will fall into place." No parental pressure there.

Most students are in for a rude awakening when they get to law school. Law students tend to have excelled academically their whole lives, and they tend to be ambitious by nature. I don't know of any law school where grade inflation is the norm. Doing the reading and attending class are expected; what counts is performance on the final exam, not how hard you have worked all semester, although there is definitely a connection between the two. One could argue--and people have--about the merits of this system, but it is firmly entrenched at most law schools.

I talk to students all the time about their grades, usually because they haven't done as well as they had hoped. Sometimes my advisees come to me after their first semester, tell me how hard they worked and how disappointed they are with their final grades. When this happens, I engage them in a conversation about their study habits and methods and try to figure out what didn't work. I usually end up referring students to our Academic Support Department, but also recommend other things, such as finding different people for study groups than they worked with first semester. I also ask whether they relied on commercial study aids instead of creating their own outlines; the former approach simply doesn't work for most students. Most students feel very vulnerable at this point--they may be on academic probation--and are open to suggestions about how they can improve their performance.

The other context in which I talk to students about grades is if they come to complain about the grades they earned in my Advanced Legal Research class. My course carries three credits, and students are required to turn in an outline, first and second drafts, and a final paper, an extensive research guide. The grades are weighted (thanks to the magic of the TWEN grade book), and most students have a pretty good idea of how well their research guides are coming along before the final grades are posted. No matter the context, conversations about grades are difficult for both professor and student. The Times article gave me a better understanding of why the conversation is so difficult.

Tobacco Company Loses Jury Trial

The Chicago Tribune prints a full Associated Press report here of the jury trial in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Elaine Hess, the widow of long-time chain smoker Stuart Hess, sued Philip Morris after her husband died of lung cancer. The jury deliberated for two days before awarding $3 million compensatory damages and $5 million punitive damages. Mrs. Hess' attorneys had sought $130 million in damages. As a jury decision, there will not be a published decision. Philip Morris is planning to appeal, and that may generate a published decision.

The case is particularly noteworthy because the tobacco companies for many years were sued by smokers or their mourning relations. And the tobacco companies never lost a case. The sense of the judges and juries seemed to be that the smokers took the risk when they decided to smoke. But the revelations in more recent years of the memoranda where tobacco company executives made decisions to keep secret clear evidence of the dangers of smoking. Not only did they keep secret the evidence that their research uncovered, but they vehemently denied that smoking was dangerous, over and over, in congressional hearings, and public fora. (Read an article in the Lancet online from 2004 about this here) The publication of those memos turned the tide in the litigation, and suddenly, juries began to find tobacco companies liable. There are 8,000 smokers' cases pending in Florida alone, following the outcome of the Hess trial.

The Hess case followed a decision by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006, the Engle decision, which voided a class action jury decision in that case below. That jury had awarded $145 million as a class action award to smokers' as a group. The Court ruled that each smoker's case had to be tried individually on it merits. It did, however, let stand a finding that tobacco companies knowingly sold dangerous products and hid the dangers from the public. Here is a link to the FSU collection of briefs and opinions in the Engle case. Many thanks to the folks who maintain the site!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Book Pirates Strike Again!

While I am a strong advocate of open access to scholarly literature (see post below), I also believe in respecting copyright. This article from Inside Higher Ed describes the problem of "pre-publication digital editions [from university presses] ... ending up on ... piracy Web sites." The piracy websites mostly are headquartered outside the United States in jurisdictions with "relatively loose copyright laws, at least as applied to digital publishing." Princeton University Press, a popular target for the book pirates, was able to have "several hundred books removed from Web sites where they were being offered free" in the last year. Despite vigilance on the part of the publisher, pirated versions of its books and those of other publishers are still being made available on the Internet.

Another Victory for Open Access

Boston University has announced that "research by ... faculty and staff will soon be freely available in an online archive, bypassing the conventional and restrictive route of publishing papers in academic journals ..." What makes this announcement particularly noteworthy is that all of BU's schools and college have endorsed the new policy. All of BU's scholarly output will be freely available "as long as the authors are credited and the scholarship isn't used for profit." These conditions seem very reasonable to me. In addition, everyone who participates in the online archive will "retain the rights to their own research." Robert Hudson, BU University Librarian, believes that open access will help libraries cope with the escalating costs of information, and also "showcase the research and scholarship of the university in ways that have not been evident."

The Death of Penmanship

When I read this Newsweek article, entitled "The Curse of Cursive," it triggered a lot of very strong reactions in me. In the article, the author, Jessica Bennett, complains that there is no purpose served anymore by requiring children to learn how to write in script. Printing is good enough when most people do not send handwritten letters anymore and instead communicate via email. Electronic communication better suits our digital age. Bennett is reacting to a new book entitled Script and Scribble, written by Kitty Burns Florey, who laments the loss of the written word. Florey argues that much, including one of our links to our common past, would be lost if penmanship became a lost art. Florey ignores the fact that for many people, learning cursive is simply impossible because they suffer from dysgraphia, and learning how to print legibly is a huge achievement. Trying to learn to write cursive would be extremely difficult for anyone with dysgraphia. My own handwriting is notoriously hard to read, sometimes even for me. It was never beautiful, despite following my grandmother's admonitions to practice every day. Her writing was simply beautiful. When she died at 102, her script was still straight (even on unlined paper) and every letter was always formed exactly the same way. I have kept her tattered, handwritten recipe cards because they are so evocative of her and of another era. My writing, on the other hand, never very good, completely deteriorated during the bar review course I took in 1983 and has gotten consistently worse over time. My daughter is, like other members of her generation, completely dependent on her laptop for almost all of her written communication. She writes thank-you notes by hand, but only because I insist. However, she took a calligraphy course one summer during grade school and became extremely adept at that. I have commissioned her to do name tags and place cards using calligraphy. It seems odd to me that she almost always uses print when she writes, but also is expert at calligraphy.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Khmer Rouge Trial Begins

On Tuesday, the first trial of a high-ranking member of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge began in Phnom Penh. This article from today's New York Times discusses the first defendant, Kaing Guek Eav, who ran the Tuol Sleng prison and torture house. There are four additional Khmer Rouge officials who are set to stand trial, but their trials may not begin until next year. Yale has a good website devoted to the Khmer Rouge Genocide Tribunal, a body which is somewhat controversial. According to the Times, the tribunal "includes Cambodian and foreign judges and prosecutors in an awkward legal compromise that has drawn criticism from human rights advocates and legal scholars. The chief concern is that the Cambodian members of the tribunal will not be independent of their government's political agenda. ... Foreign and Cambodian analysts say the government, fearing that a widening circle of defendants could reach into its own ranks, wishes to limit the number of those being tried, harming the tribunal's credibility." However, others feel that "a flawed trial would be better than no trial at all."

Rearranging the Deck Chairs

From the always provocative Steven J. Bell comes this article on library portals. Bell is a well-known commentator about libraries and librarianship, and blogs at The Kept-Up Academic Librarian. Bell argues that library portals are moribund because neither faculty nor students use them to access electronic content; rather, they find their own ways to get to the content they use often. Librarians know this, and respond by tweaking portals to improve their functionality; this is an exercise in futility. To quote Bell: "Tabbed interfaces, simple search boxes and more personalization are a few of the new features site designers are employing in chasing better focus group responses. All of this change suggests rearranging the deck chairs on this Titanic. Now is the time to let this ship sink to its watery grave."

Bell's approach is to stop trying to tweak the library website, and instead take a more marketing-based approach in order "to create user community awareness about the electronic resources in which the institution heavily invests." He recommends that librarians work with faculty to add links to library content to course websites or "even a faculty member's personal website." I liked this approach that is taken by Temple University Libraries, where Bell works:

[T]he librarians create customized content packages that contain just the right databases that students need for their assignments. They can even add in custom Google search boxes and non-library links that may be of use to instructors and their students. If faculty desire links to specific articles, those can be added as well. The content package is sent to faculty as an e-mail attachment. Faculty then simply upload it to their course site. The content installs itself as a unique courseware page and even adds a library link to the course menu. It eliminates any faculty excuses for not integrating the library into their course.

Bell is a strong advocate of the "'we'll be where you are'" approach to library services. He writes about LibGuides as "an example of an increasingly popular guide creator that allows librarians to create a highly customized research guide for any single course or assignment." LibGuides are a substitute for the traditional research guide that we have all created as a print document, but have now moved over to our library websites. We recently bought LibGuides and have begun to experiment with it. An example of a research guide created with LibGuides is this guide to Feminist Legal Theory Research put together by Cynthia Pittson, who is Head of Reference at Pace Law Library. In addition, we are now putting together podcasts and screencasts in an effort to be where the students are. Bell's article is making me rethink our library website. The more we opt for online content, the more important it will be to make sure that our community is aware of what is available to them.

Courts in crisis

Click on the title to this post to read a Boston Globe article detailing a speech by Chief Justice Margaret Marshall of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to the ABA meeting in Boston.

"I shall be blunt: Our state courts are in crisis," Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall told members of the American Bar Association at its midyear meeting at the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center. "A perfect storm of circumstances threatens much of what we know, or think we know, about our American system of justice."
The speech, and the article by Megan Woolhouse goes on to detail a litany of problems in various states. In New Hampshire, they are pausing both civil and criminal jury trials for a month to save the per diem fees to jurors. That state is also postponing filling fifty-nine vacant judicial seats. That's a lot of postponed trials, one way and another! Florida, which relies on real estate sales taxes to pay for its government, has laid off 280 court employees so far, with more lay-offs in the future.

Massachusetts is cutting its courts budget by 7.5 percent, and folks are bracing in case of lay-offs.
Proposed cuts "will basically put us back to 2001 [staffing] levels," he said.

The cuts come just as the state had made acclaimed changes to the system. The overhaul was five years in the making, and came after a blue ribbon commission said the state's court system was failing the public. The system improved efficiency, analyzing staffing and tracking how long it took to resolve cases. A system of evaluating judges, done by lawyers, court employees, and jurors, was put in place.

The overhaul helped shrink the number of unresolved cases from 177,000 in 2006 to 73,500 in 2008. The National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Va., honored Robert A. Mulligan, who oversaw the reforms as chief justice of administration and management, with the 2008 Distinguished Service Award for his efforts.

Valerie A. Yarashus, president-elect of the Massachusetts Bar Association, said yesterday that the proposed cuts will present the courts with new challenges.

Courts may have to close civil or criminal sessions or consider consolidating. Those changes could reverberate through the system, she said, slowing the courts down again.

"What's particularly frustrating is that the court has worked so hard, particularly in the last five years, to make progress on the backlog," she said. "We want to be really careful . . . not to undo that." (snip)

Marshall did not speak specifically yesterday about Massachusetts' planned cutbacks, but she implored the lawyers in attendance to press political leaders for funding.

"Where do the legal meanings of such elemental concepts as 'birth,' 'death,' and 'family' take shape?" she asked. "Largely in state courts. State courts decide whether the tenant must vacate, whether the criminal defendant was properly charged, who gets custody of the children, who complies with zoning laws, whether the worker is entitled to compensation, or an injured patient to recover from her doctor."

She quoted legal scholar Reginald Heber Smith, calling the denial of justice "the shortcut to anarchy."

"These are words that resonate deeply with me," she said.
Brava, Justice Marshall!

Monday, February 16, 2009

In Praise of School Librarians

All of us who work with law students know how difficult it is to wean them away from quick-and-dirty Google searches and teach them to use more focused research methods and resources. At the beginning of this semester, I did a diagnostic quiz (using clicker technology) in my Advanced Legal Research class to try to get a sense of what level the class was at. Among the things I discovered was that most students had a very poor understanding of how to construct a basic Boolean search on Lexis/Westlaw despite training sessions during their first year of law school, and that even fewer had ever used an index, whether online or print. Things might be better in the future if school librarians have anything to say about it. Today's New York Times has an inspiring article about school librarians who constitute "a growing cadre of 21st-century multimedia specialists who help guide students through the digital ocean of information that confronts them on a daily basis. These new librarians believe that literacy includes, but also exceeds, books." School librarians today are teaching students how to evaluate the reliability of sources (something I reviewed in class last Thursday) and how to develop PowerPoint presentations and online videos. In addition, they are taking advantage of social networking sites to help students debate controversial topics and comment on other students' work. The article points out, however, that as schools are forced to cut their budgets in these difficult economic times, school librarians are often the first employees to be laid off. This statistic is disheartening: "More than 90 percent of American public schools have libraries ... but less than two-thirds employ full-time certified librarians." In New York City, the situation is even worse. "Only about one-third of the city's public schools have certified librarians, and elementary schools are not required to have them at all." You could argue that the New York City schools, which are educating immigrants and other students for whom English is not the first language, are more in need of librarians than most other school systems in the country. The video accompanying the article is worth watching.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day in Brooklyn

Court House libraries deal with a lot of paternity cases, especially in counties where the DAs aggressively collect child support. All the sad stories came back to me yesterday when I was walking down Flatbush and saw a van with this advertisement painted on its rear window: "Does he really have his father's eyes? Call 4DNA. Child Support, Immigration, Criminal Court." Somehow all the red roses being sold by the street vendors appeared terribly poignant. Love sure can go wrong.

Black History Month in the Court Law Library

The Brooklyn Supreme Court Law Library is participating in the Court's Black History Month celebrations by demonstrating the value of the Library's collection. We assembled a book truck with historical print materials and print outs from HeinOnline's historical slavery treatises. Announcements posted in the court house have brought in new users and alerted frequent visitors to our valuable materials.

On the book truck we put the complete run of the Race Relations Reporter. This publication published by Vanderbilt University with the aid of Ford Foundation funds tracked the legislative and judicial actions implementing Brown versus Board of Education. We also put out two volumes from the American Trials set highlighting the trial of the Lincoln conspirators and a trial of a Methodist minister accused of preaching freedom to a racially mixed congregation.

For Bring Your Child to Work Day, I will show the children that instead of Googling, they can go to a library and find encyclopedias and indexes.

Small efforts like this promote the Library and develop new patrons. It has introduced me to some wonderful judges who are involved in writing and history.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Information Wants to be Free

One of my heroes is Carl Malamud, the founder of, whose website makes available government information at no cost. I have to say I find the website somewhat hard to use (it's not particularly user friendly), but I applaud the intent behind it--the dissemination of legal information whose creation was funded by taxpayer dollars. Mr. Malamud has recently turned his attention to Pacer, according to a story in today's New York Times. Pacer (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) is run by the government and is notoriously awkward to use; what's worse, it is fee based--8 cents per page to access records that are not copyrighted. "Recently, however, a small group of dedicated open-government activists teamed up to push [Pacer] into the 21st century--by simply grabbing enormous chunks of the database and giving the documents away, to the great annoyance of the government." Court documents can be extremely voluminous, and the 8 cents per page add up--Pacer runs a budget surplus of about $150,000,000. Mr. Malamud was able to put up Pacer documents by encouraging "fellow activists to go to ... libraries [that were hosting a free trial of Pacer], download as many court documents as they could, and send them to him for republication on the Web, where Google could get to them." One activist was able to download about 20% of Pacer before the the government "suspended" the Pacer pilot program. President Obama is on record as supporting open government, and it will be interesting to see if this translates into free access to government information under the Obama Administration.

CILP Rolls back prices to 2005

This just in: Penny Hazelton, for the Current Index to Legal Periodicals says,

I know we are all worried about how to maintain the quality of our collections and services in light of our uncertain economy.

We have decided to roll back our price for electronic CILP to 2005 levels or $696 for the coming year.

As with any vendor, we have expenses to pay. We are trying to reduce these to give you the best possible price we can.

Any other vendors willing to follow suit?

Microsoft sets a bounty on the guys that created the Conficker Worm

The Conficker worm, also known at the Downadup, Downup, or Kido virus which targets Windows computers, has become such a significant threat that Microsoft has set a bounty on whomever created the virus. Click on the title to this post to read a full report at Network World (you may have to click past an ad to get to the article). But briefly,

The money will be paid for "information that results in the arrest and conviction of those responsible for illegally launching the Conficker malicious code on the Internet," Microsoft said today in a statement, adding it is fostering a partnership with Internet registries and DNS providers such as ICANN, ORG, and NeuStar as well as security vendors Symantec and Arbor Networks, among others, to stop the Conficker worm once and for all. (snip)

Conficker, also called Downadup, is estimated to have infected at least 10 million PCs. It has been slowly but surely spreading since November. Its main trick is to disable anti-malware protection and block access to anti-malware vendors Web sites.

But security experts are concerned about a potentially much worse second stage of the Conficker worm, as it calls home each day to more than 250 command-and-controls servers around the world as it awaits instructions on future downloads or actions.

"The policy we have here is to target the update mechanism," says Gerry Egan, director of product management for security products and response at Symantec, a member of the stop-Conficker coalition.

While the unique domain names for servers used for Conficker control may constantly change on a daily basis, the anti-Conficker coalition anticipates that by the major domain-name registrars working in collaboration, it may be possible to "take out those domains," or otherwise interfere in the smooth flow of the Conficker operations, says Egan.

A Microsoft spokesperson says Conficker is trying to download malware from these domains and it also uploads infection counts to these domains, but this is not a new trend. A large percentage of these domains are being blocked from being registered. Secondly, a number of the domains are being redirected toward "sinkhole" servers that are owned by trusted research partners around the world. Sinkhole servers allow researchers to observe the worm’s activity, according to Microsoft.
Apparently the malware has spread much more in Asia than in the U.S. so far, but it is beginning to show up here. There is a patch for Windows that was distributed in October, 2008. If your work or home computer is not automatically updated with Microsoft patches, now would be a really good time to update your Windows!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Geez. Boycott Nordstroms

If this story from Cato Institute, related at Information Week's Global CIO's Weblog is true, people should simply make a point of boycotting Nordstrom and tell them why:

Witness the story of Beckons, an organic yoga and lifestyle clothing business founded in 2006 by two women in Colorado. Around the time they began selling their "Beckons" clothing line in July of that year, Ann Sather and Becky Prater filed for a trademark on the word "Beckons" associated with pants, shirts, T-shirts, shorts, dresses, sweatpants, and jackets. PTO registered their trademark in June 2007. Ann and Becky have been business partners for 20 years, designing and selling clothing lines while raising their children. They each have two children in or nearing college.

After Ann and Becky filed, but before their application was published, the Nordstrom retail chain filed applications for a trademark on the word "Beckon," planning to use it as a house brand on women's fashion apparel and accessories. The similarity between the two words and the identity of the product lines would have required the PTO to reject Nordstrom's application, but it didn't. Somehow, the examining attorney missed the fact that "Beckons" already was a registered trademark associated with clothing. He approved Nordstrom's applications for publication.

So instead of continuing to build their business, Ann and Becky found themselves hiring lawyers to file an opposition to Nordstrom's trademark applications, something they had to do to protect their mark. Because they were first to file and first to use, the law unambiguously gives them the right to their trademarked term "Beckons" and anything similar. But trademark law and trademark practice are two different things.

With 169 stores, a line of restaurants, and its own bank, $2.75 billion Nordstrom Inc., decided to show Ann and Becky who was boss. Instead of recognizing that the trademark they wanted was taken, Nordstrom's lawyer moved to cancel Ann and Becky's trademark. He argued that their Beckons mark only refers to "yoga clothing." His filing moved the issue to the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board and ramped up the paperwork and legal bills for Ann and Becky."

(the blogger, Bob Evans, continues:At that point, Harper writes, the Patent & Trademark Office lawyer handling the case became aware of his error, and told the TTAB that the Nordstrom applications should be sent back to him for resolution. That was done, and the attorney turned down the Nordstrom application for "Beckon," offering a (temporary) victory to the two women holding the "Beckons" trademark.

However, 10 days after that PTO lawyer turned down the Nordstrom application, the big retailer filed papers saying the two women had "abandoned rights in Beckons," Harper wrote, which sent the case back to the TTAB and triggered another round of legal machinations. And even though the TTAB dismissed this second attempt as "duplicative," the Nordstrom legal assault on Beckons goes on: "Today, Nordstrom's effort to cancel Ann and Becky's trademark is on the TTAB docket on a schedule that will take until at least mid-2010 to resolve."

Harper's newsletter offers a poignant excerpt from one of the business partners to the commissioner of trademarks: now back to the Cato Institute newsletter)

"We filed for a trademark so that we could reasonably secure ourselves from someone else using that name. If your office cannot protect us from this, why would we, or anyone, file an application? The law is supposed to be accessible to all people. Just because Nordstrom has money and we do not does not give them the right to use the name for which we have the trademark. . . . [T]he cost to work through the TTAB will easily exceed $70,000 just to fix the problem The Trademark Office made in the first place. We understand that we must stand behind and police our trademark. How is this possible for a small company to stand up to a behemoth like Nordstrom for $70,000? Your office has ensured our demise."

Monday, February 09, 2009


A few days ago, I had an interesting experience. I carried a cane to work with me. There has been a good deal of ice and snow and slush. I carried the cane more as a preventive measure – to prevent a fall, than because I actually have a bad leg right now. But there have been people in front of our building for some weeks gathering signatures on various petitions – ecology issues, mostly, and they catch law students and faculty as we enter or leave the building. That day, with the cane, I seemed to be invisible to these individuals. It was a very interesting experience. I usually have to duck them.

It has happened to me once before, when I wore a neck brace. A colleague, who knows me enough to ask for library services, completely ignored me at the elevator and would not answer me when I said hello. It was very strange. In both instances, it felt a little like being invisible. I wonder if it is discomfort with a disability in others, or fear of not knowing what to say or how to react, that made people react in such a strange way. I imagine this is a small dose of what a person in a wheelchair or who is blind or has some other striking impairment must run into on a regular basis.

I was thus, all set to blog self-righteously about how it feels to be made invisible. I was recalling how angry I felt as a child to be overlooked as I waited in line to pay for items at a store, and adults were waited on first. I was rolling up a big sermon, full of wrath and fury. But then, I opened the March (how can that be?!) issue of Discover Magazine, and looked at the Brain feature. Sadly, you cannot get the March issue online yet – I will try to remember to link to this article when it becomes available online.

The entire issue is focused on Darwin and his theory of evolution (because it is both the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the book, On the Origin of Species. The brain column picks up the idea that our aversion to strangers and those who look ill may be an evolutionary adaptation to avoid illness. Our brain has adapted our behavior to avoid infection in the first place, as an improvement over adapting our immune systems to battle bacteria and viruses.

So, in one column, all my outrage has been wiped out by the theory of evolution, wisely adapting to help us avoid smallpox. If I lived before vaccinations, my ill-advised tendency to approach the ill and halt would probably have killed me early, according to this theory. Hmmm. I still think we need to reach out. After all, now we have soap, anti-biotics, vaccinations and other modern health care. We have less excuse for prejudice.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Follow animal rights law suit on Twitter

You can follow news of an animal rights law suit, on behalf of elephants in Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey circuses, on Twitter, by following BornFreeUSA. You can link by clicking on the title to this post. If you are already registered in Twitter, log in, and then click on the link or search for BornFreeUSA and choose to follow. Otherwise, you can go to Twitter and register. Then, follow the instructions.

Other events that have been posted on Twitter include the plane that landed in the Hudson River recently, the terrorist attacks in Bombay (in both of these cases, regular folks at the scene with PDAs or at desks with computers or laptops tweeted what they were seeing live -- 'way ahead of professional news), and the Mars Rovers (NASA tweeted the Rovers' results). Cool, huh? They just released the transcript of audio tapes from the Hudson River plane crash and folks are Tweeting that even as I blog.

You can search real time on Twitter. Go to the bottom of your Twitter page and click on search. You can also enter a phrase in your regular twitter window with a pound sign (#) in front: #marsrover and if anybody is tweeting that at the time, it will bring it up.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Deconstructing the Rankings

"Using Foucault to Deconstruct Rankings," an article published today in Inside Higher Ed, highlights a new study published in the American Sociological Review. The article, entitled "The Discipline of Rankings: Tight Couplings and Organizational Change," "demonstrates the value of [philosopher Michel] Foucault's conception of discipline for understanding organizational responses to rankings." (This quote is from the abstract). According to the authors, law schools make a good test case for their theories because the law school world is relatively small.

Extensive interviews with law school deans and other administrators were conducted. It won't be news to anyone who has worked in legal academia to read that rankings skewer how resources are allocated. Deans describe themselves as being "obsessed" with rankings. As faculty members, they tended to pay less attention to the rankings; however, once faculty members became law school deans, they felt compelled to focus on the U.S. News rankings. It is no wonder that law school deans feel a high degree of stress, as reported in this post from In addition to worrying about the rankings, dean also have to spend huge amounts of time fundraising.

State Tax vs. Commerce Clause in Massachusetts

The Boston Globe reports this morning that a case before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will test whether the state can pursue sales tax on large appliance and tires sold to Massachusetts residence who cross the border into nearby states like New Hampshire to avoid state sales tax. The Council on State Taxation, a not for profit organization representing corporations with multi-state and international operations, is very interested and may file friend of court briefs. b

Town Fair Tire Centers is incorporated in Connecticut, but has 25 stores in Massachusetts. It has six stores in New Hampshire. In 2003, Massachusetts investigated and found more than 300 Massachusetts residents had recently bought tires in New Hampshire Town Fair Tire Centers, presumably in order to evade Massachusetts state sales tax. Based on that audit, the state assessed Town Fair Tire more than $100,000 in use tax (a 5% tax on items to be used or stored in the state of Massachusetts) that should have been collected on behalf of the state, arguing that Town Fair knew or should have known that they were selling tires to Massachusetts residents. New Hampshire merchants who sell to Massachusetts residents over the internet are required to collect a sales tax. And if a Massachusetts resident orders items at a multi-state chain store for pick-up in New Hampshire, they must still pay sales tax, per a decision in the 1990's against Circuit City, the recently bankrupt electronics chain.

The state has ordered Town Fair Tire Centers to charge Massachusetts residents state tax, even when they buy tires from one of the New Hampshire stores. Town Fair has filed suit, arguing that the order violates the Commerce Clause of the federal constitution. The suit will be heard next month in the Supreme Judicial Court. The outcome will have huge ramifications for stores like Sears, BestBuy and others, with multi-state stores. I imagine that other states will be watching as well as state residents who like to save the sales tax by crossing the border. Massachusetts is facing a huge budget deficit and is looking hard for ways to close that gap. Meanwhile, residents also face their own budget deficits and are looking equally creatively for ways to make their money go farther. This will be a hotly contested and much-watched argument.

Those interested can watch the oral arguments in the case by clicking on the Supreme Judicial Court link above. You have a choice to watch live or an archived version. Briefs have to be gotten through Westlaw now.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Print Law Reviews

Many law libraries are having to confront serious budget issues as a result of the economic recession. I don't know any library that is totally immune from financial pressures. Some libraries have dropped subscriptions to print law reviews, knowing that they are made available fairly quickly through LexisNexis and Westlaw, and are eventually available through HeinOnline as well. We haven't yet made the decision to cut print law reviews, although we have stopped binding them as a cost-cutting measure and because preservation issues do not loom so large when we have access to the law reviews over reliable electronic databases. A new study by Ross E. Davies, editor in chief of the Green Bag and a professor at George Mason University School of Law, is available from the Social Science Research Network. Professor Davies's purpose was to document whether some of the leading law reviews' circulations had declined, and he looked at their circulation figures over time. While some law reviews did comply with the requirement (including Harvard Law Review, whose circulation fell from 8,760 in 1979-80 (about the point at which LexisNexis and Westlaw began including law reviews in their databases) to 2,610 in 2007-08), he found that a number of law reviews were not complying with the U.S. Postal Service requirements to publish their circulation numbers. There is a pithy article in today's issue of Inside Higher Ed that discusses Professor Davies' study and speculates as to why the law reviews might be reluctant to disclose their circulation figures. "Does the underreporting of the numbers reflect an 'unwillingness ... to confront the possibility that a drop in circulation might be connected to a drop in influence or status[?]' Davies wonders." He also questions whether it is possible that the influence of law reviews is growing because of their wide availability in electronic format, but concludes that it is impossible to know. Given the decline in subscriptions to print law reviews and the well-known preference of users for information in electronic formats, wouldn't it make sense for law schools to publish their law reviews exclusively on the Internet at no charge?