Monday, January 31, 2011

Cats in the Library

I am the most frustrated of cat lovers because I am violently allergic to cats. Growing up, my family always had at least two and sometimes three cats (as well as birds of various types, frogs, turtles, and whatever else turned up), but as an adult, I developed serious allergies to them which made it impossible for me to have even one cat. So I must admire cats from afar--a huge frustration, as I said. I have never worked in a library with a resident cat, although many libraries do have them. The most famous was probably Dewey Readmore Books, who lived at the Spencer Public Library in Spencer, Iowa. Dewey was found in the library book return in 1988 when he was still a kitten, and adopted by the staff after the authorities approved. He was vaccinated, neutered, declawed (I have big reservations about declawing cats, but that is a subject for another day), and named as the result of a contest. The staff and public contributed their soda cans to pay for Dewey's food and care so that he would not cost the taxpayers anything. There is a webpage devoted to Dewey, who died in 2006 at the age of nineteen, and a book has been written about Dewey by the retired director of the Spencer Public Library.

Dewey was a member of the Library Cat Society, whose founding was inspired by Royal Reggie, the resident cat of the Bryant Public Library in Sauk, Minnesota. "The Society is now defunct, but at its peak, it had dozens of member libraries that offered safe havens to cats dumped in their parking lots or stuffed in book-return chutes." This description comes from Wikinut, "an online publisher for the masses." Wikinut goes on to say that "a fact sheet published by the American Library Association ... [states that today] there are 16,671 public library buildings in the United States today. Today there are 200 library cats in the United States but only 35 are the permanent residents of a library." Of course, book stores, especially used book stores, frequently have resident cats. I have only heard of one academic library that had a resident cat, Wesleyan University in Connecticut, but perhaps there are others.

Researching this subject, I came across an article entitled "Does Your Library Have A Resident Library Cat?", written by the same author, Jerry Walch, who wrote the entry in Wikinut quoted above. According to Walch,

Cats have been a part of library history dating back to the middle ages and beyond. Experts trace the origins of library cats to ancient times, when Herodotus reported the existence of libraries in Egyptian temples. While many felines prowled the fields of early Egypt protecting crops, others underwent special training to stop rodents and serpents from infesting houses and temples, where preserved papyrus has since been unearthed. In the Middle Ages, records indicate that monks deployed domesticated mousers to their medieval monasteries to prevent rats from eating costly manuscript[s].

Down through the ages many library cats have [been] immortalized in stone and bronze after their passing on. The New York Public Library's sculpted lions, who have been greeting patrons since 1911, symbolize felines as guardians over literary works. They were sculpted by Edward Potter and were originally dubbed Leo Astor and Leo Lenox for library founders John Jacob Astor and James Lenox.

Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia renamed them Patience and Fortitude in the 1930s, and they have been known by those names ever since. Wondering how many library cats there were worldwide, I came across the Library Cats Map, which has not been updated for almost two years. Iron Frog Productions is responsible for the map, and would like the public's help in compiling a definitive list of library cats. The map shows nearly 600 library cats around the world, but this number is probably not accurate.

This research project began when my husband showed me an online list of public libraries from the New York State Library. As part of the list, there is a small cat icon that indicates if a library has a resident cat. If so, there is a link to a webpage about the cat. I counted only seven public libraries in New York State with resident cats. Still, I thought this feature was charming and really humanized the public library system in my state.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Ooh! Ooh! Don't lose out! Try new OED free by Feb. 5

Oof! I almost missed it! Don't you, too. You can try the New Oxford English Dictionary online for free until February 5. Go to and use the log-in and password

(that's try new oed all run together). The New OED is re conceptualized to really take advantage of its digital nature in a way that its online predecessor has never done. It offers hyper-links, search capabilities, graphing possibilities and new ways to present dense information.

There is a PowerPoint slide show tour that you can take as a tutorial. It shows you how you can do a quick search or a browse. You can browse through in dictionary mode, historical thesaurus, timelines, by sources, and by categories. You can save searches and results.

The quick search is a simple word/phrase search that brings back a group of dictionary terms and a sample of entries so you can decide which to click into for the full entry. But the advanced search capability is really fascinating to me. You can search in a number of different ways. You can search by entry, senses or quotation. Senses of the word, you are searching, is what is meant by "senses." Then they have a Boolean type search anywhere in the text of the OED, with a drop-down menu, where you enter your terms in to windows, and link them with the drop-down menu by choosing the Boolean connector, and choosing further how the terms will appear, "in full text," for instance, or in a ****. Then you can also use filters to select a subject area or a time period, for instance.

Results sets can be refined from a central panel by lots of different criteria: subject, language of origin, region, usage, part of speech, date of first citation or first cited in. You could also choose to see your word's usage in a timeline, set up as a bar graph. It shows the frequency of usage in fifty year blocks on the sample set in the tutorial.

With the new online OED, you can customize the display. You can control how the pronunciation guide displays, for instance. Or you can hover your cursor over a word within an entry and get its definition. You can also click on the quotation offered to see more information about the text, author or work as it appears in the OED. Each definition or sense of the word is linked into the historical thesaurus, showing when it first began to be used. And you can use the center panel to give you a thumbnail summary of the many terms that are presented in each lengthy entry. Real language geeks can click on "about this entry" to get cool details and graphs about the entry itself -- a neat way to package all the information that's in the entry, and compare it to the rest of the dictionary. And you can e-mail it to a friend, save it in your files or download it. You can browse neighboring entries, so it's like paging through a book, in that way.

The historical thesaurus is characterized as a semantic index, which I thought was an interesting way to think about it. There are links, of course, between the thesaurus and the dictionary. But the thesaurus creates an index-like hierarchy of the connected ideas leading to the terms, then displays related terms in chronological order of development. Using the thesaurus, you can see related concepts, as well as chronologically related terms. You can browse down the thesaurus tree, or search it using a simple search. The results come back showing every class where your term occurs. For instance, the tutorial uses "pundit" and finds it occurring in seven different classes. Once you see the entry, you can click on the term if you want to go read the full entry in the dictionary.

Under categories, law is one of the choices. Entertainingly, the timeline for "law" shows a peak in usage in the 1600's not matched since, but a second high point was reached in the second half of the 1800's. Since then, there has been a surprising drop-off. In our litigious times, there is a stunningly low showing on the graph. Of course, the low line on the graph for 2000 represents a 50 year time period and we've only completed 10 of those. So I should keep in mind that we are necessarily short. If you look back at the second half of the 20th century, "law" is making a pretty good showing, but not it has not been so low since the 1300's. Perhaps it merely means that there have been lots of other things to write about lately. What a cool tool!

You can also visit to see the top 100 sources for the quotations in the OED. And they even have a lovely feature on the simple search box, called "Lost for words?" Click it, and it will offer three or four random words to explore. Thank you, OED!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What do they do with all that snow? Snow Farms

What happens to the snow that gets plowed and shoveled and carted away after a big snowstorm? Up in Boston, anyway, there are designated lots for the snow, called, "snow farms." They have to be governmentally approved, too, which I hope, at least, means that they meet some standards. There is an interesting story on, the Boston Globe's online site about the city considering court action against the owner of a lot who has been allowing the dumping of snow there, when it is not an official snow farm.

The lot is piled two stories high with snow, which neighbors say has been carted in by various construction vehicles since the first major storm hit the city three weeks ago. The site is not one of the Department of Public Works' six designated "snow farms," disposal points for excess snow.
The city issued the stop-work order Friday, but inspectors saw trucks loading more snow onto the lot as recently as Tuesday night, Timberlake said. The owners have been served multiple violations, but have not been fined.

"We put the stop-work order up on the property, and they tore it down and continued to dump snow," she said. "They ignored these violations, so we may forward these violations to court."

William Kiley, the authorized agent representing the owner of the lot, did not return multiple calls seeking comment.

Neighbors like East Second resident Lucky Devlin said that vehicles could be heard as late as 2 a.m. scraping snow on the lot. Residents worry about what will happen when the heap melts, since the lot is paved with asphalt, which means the water will run off rather than seep into the ground.

"The DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) has guidelines for snow farms, because of what's in it … oil and rock salt and whatever else," Devlin said. "If it melts fast, it's going to go into the Reserve Channel. And worse than that, it may go into the backyards of these residents' homes, and it could possibly flood some."
Snow farms might be a local name for the phenomenon. Here is a TV news story from 10 days ago, and at least one storm ago. There is a video with it. Since then, we've added about another foot of snow and may add another 10 inches tonight (maybe it'll stay with sleet; we'll see!). Since December 26, Boston area has had 50 inches of snow.

Managing that much snow is something I never thought about. There are real environmental consequences to how they manage this much snow, when it begins to melt! A quick rainstorm could cause flooding or overwhelm the storm sewer capacities and send the melting residues right into brooks and the Boston Bay. That's a lot of pollution, because this is NOT fluffy pristine white snow. It has salt and all sorts of road dirt and exhaust mixed into it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

On Death and Dying

Flipping through the most recent issue of the Columbia University alumni magazine, I noticed a brief article focusing on a former law professor of mine from Rutgers Law School--Newark, Norman Cantor. Professor Cantor's seminar, Death and Dying, was a course that was justifiably well regarded by Rutgers students.

Professor Cantor has just published a new book, After We Die: The Life and Times of the Human Cadaver, whose cover illustrates this blog post. According to the Columbia piece, in his book, "Cantor conducts a legal and historical examination of the disposition and treatment of the human corpse that leaves no stone unturned." The interview with Cantor was conducted at Bodies: The Exhibition in Lower Manhattan. The exhibit is not for the faint of heart. Again from the Columbia piece,

Inside the dimly lit rooms of the gallery were about 20 human bodies in various stages of dissection, preserved through the technique of plastination, by which water and lipids are replaced with polymers and dies. The finished product is both remarkably lifelike and strangely inhuman. Facial features are erased in the process, destroying individuality.

My daughter the scientist has been to the Bodies exhibit, but it's not the kind of thing I am eager to pay to see. Call me squeamish. However, it was interesting to read Cantor's reaction to the exhibition, and to learn about the origins of his interest in the disposition of the body after death. I enjoyed catching up with a favorite professor through this brief but compelling article.

Update on the Kennedy Library

We have previously blogged about the vast digitization project under way at the John F. Kennedy Library. President Kennedy's papers are being digitized to ensure their long-term and widespread availability to the public and to the scholarly community. Unfortunately, one important piece of the historical record of the Kennedy presidency--the papers of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy--will not be released to public scrutiny any time soon, according to an article in yesterday's Boston Globe.

Robert Kennedy's papers are "stacked in a vault at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum ... , individually sealed and labeled." They amount to "54 crates of records so closely guarded that even the library director is prohibited from taking a peek."

[T]he trove contains some of the most important records of Cold War history: diaries, notes, phone logs, messages, trip files, and other documents from Robert F. Kennedy's service as US attorney general, including details about his roles in the Cuban missile crisis and as coordinator of covert efforts to overthrow or assassinate Fidel Castro.

A half-century after those critical events, a behind-the-scenes tussle continues over the Kennedy family's refusal to grant permission for researchers to freely review them. The disagreement lingers even as the JFK Library this month celebrated the 50th anniversary of John Kennedy's inauguration by providing "unprecedented" access to thousands of records of his presidency.

Access to the papers is tightly controlled by Robert Kennedy's ninth child ... [Max] Kennedy, a lawyer whom library officials said has been designated by his mother, Ethel, to take on the responsibility.

Max Kennedy denied that access to the papers is closed, saying he has "selectively granted full access" to prominent biographers, including Evan Thomas and Robert Dallek.

... Library director Thomas J. Putnam said those authors were granted limited access--not the full public scrutiny that researchers now seek. The JFK Library itself would like to make the documents available, Putnam said, but current law stipulates that it must first get a signed deed from RFK's heirs before the documents can be made widely available.

Negotiations with the Kennedy family are ongoing, and in the meantime, the Library cannot process the papers, which "cover [Kennedy's] entire career in government." Why is the family reluctant to make the papers available?
Some historians attribute the family's guarded attitude to a desire to protect Robert Kennedy's image as a champion of civil rights and social programs, and a man who emerged, in the years after his brother's assassination, as a strong opponent of the Vietnam War. The boxes, they say, may contain evidence of Robert Kennedy the ruthless anticommunist who broke laws in the quest to take out Cuba's leader, and perhaps other abuses of power.

The Globe points out that the "[p]recedent regarding the treatment of attorney general records supports making the records public."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The STOP Act

Representative Christopher Lee (R-NY) introduced a bill in the 112th Congress, H.R. 292, known as The Stop the OverPrinting (STOP) Act, that would require the Public Printer to "make bills and resolutions available for the use of the House of Representatives and Senate only in an electronic format which is accessible through the Internet." There is an option to provide some print copies of bills, but print would be the exception rather than the rule going forward. The snippet of the bill text quoted above comes from OpenCongress, which also provides a summary of the bill and other information about it. The bill passed the House unanimously (399-0) yesterday, and must go to the Senate. Supporters claim that in addition to creating greater access to bills for members of the public, the measure would also save the government considerable money--approximately $35,000,000 over ten years in printing costs. This is not the first time that Representative Lee has introduced similar legislation, and this time it seems to have a good chance of becoming law.

How Colleges Are Failing Students

Because I am still in the process of paying college tuition, I was interested to read an article about the learning that goes on in college. The news isn't good. According to a new book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, written by two sociologists, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, 45 percent of 2,300 undergraduate students surveyed showed "no significant improvement in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years." This is probably not surprising, because "Not much is asked of students ... . Half did not take a single course requiring 20 pages of writing during their prior semester, and one-third did not take a single course requiring even 40 pages of reading per week." No wonder they get to law school and are overwhelmed by the amount of reading assigned. I was at a new students' orientation event last week, and when I told the students that they should plan on reading each assigned case at least three--and probably more--times in order to understand and outline the issues it presented, they looked at me as if I were crazy! If Arum and Roksa's findings are accurate, students are simply not prepared for the close reading, intense analysis, and lengthy writing assignments that law school requires. Law-school orientation events should underscore the level of work required in order to master the material.

What else did the study show? "Students who study alone and have heavier reading and writing loads do well." In other words, taking courses perceived as easy or undemanding is counterproductive when it comes to learning, as is what the authors call "social engagement," such as fraternity or sorority membership. This seems intuitive to me. Students at "more selective schools" and majors in traditional academic disciplines such as arts and sciences tend to have "greater learning gains" than do students who major in business, education, or social work. "Working off campus, participating in campus clubs and volunteering did not impact learning." It was disheartening to read that "Black students improve their assessment scores at lower levels than whites" while at the same time "students from families with different levels of parental education enter college with different learning levels but learn at about the same rates while attending college."

There is an excellent article about the study at Inside Higher Ed, which points out that what students learn at college comes down to what goes on in the classroom and the expectations that schools have of their students. The harder students work, the more they will learn.

Resource for Display, Blog, Newsletter Ideas: Wonderopolis

Ha! It's really hard to come up with good ideas for blogs and newsletter columns, and themes for displays. I stumbled on a website that might be handy when I'm stumped: It's designed as an education website for kids in the K-6 (I'm guessing) age range, but it's full of cool posts that you could build off. A lot of them are not going to be useful for law libraries, naturally -- I'm afraid I can't use an entry on why flamingos are pink. But the ones about holidays are going to be a nice start to an entry for me, and something I can build from. If you click on the "about" tab, you will find a nice index to the archived posts, that lets you browse by categories. I think Holidays will be the most useful, and it's a nice change from always going to Wikipedia. The Food and Candy entries might be a surprising and useful springboard for posts and really fun displays. They have surprisingly good entries under Language, with palindromes and musings on idiomatic phrases like being "under the weather." There are some nice entries under Nature, too. An entertaining site to explore and it just might save the day when you are stuck for a good idea! Also a nice way to procrastinate (a.k.a. work avoidance technique).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mentorship Programs

State bar associations are reacting to the wave of unemployed law graduates hanging out their own shingles by instituting required mentorship programs. The National Law Journal (subscription required), ABA Journal, and Above the Law all report on Oregon as the latest state to jump on the bandwagon. From the National Law Journal article, by Karen Sloan:

The New Lawyer Mentoring Program — being developed by the Oregon State Bar at the request of the Oregon Supreme Court — will be the third such program in the country when it begins in May. "Part of this program is intended to address a problem that didn't exist in the past," said Steve Piucci, president of the Oregon bar.

"You would graduate law school, get a job at a firm and people there would serve as mentors," Piucci said. "Now, there are so many people who can't get firm jobs and are hanging out their shingle. We're trying to connect them with the professional side of the job and teach them the culture — teach them how to be civil, how to network and introduce them around at the courthouse."

Many state and local bars, law firms and other legal organizations offer smaller-scale or voluntary mentoring, but only Utah and Georgia have bar-­mandated mentoring programs now. The idea appears to be catching on, however. The Wyoming State Bar plans to add a mentorship requirement in July and the State Bar of Nevada hopes to roll out a yearlong program in 2012. Other states are considering similar efforts.
The concerns reported range from large firms which still maintain their own mentoring programs, to law grads who fret at paying the $100 fee to cover administrative costs of the program on top of their law school debts. There is also the real art to pairing up mentors and mentees. I was part of the AALL committee that pairs up official mentor/mentee couples this past year. And I have participated in the program both as a mentee and a mentor. It really matters getting the chemistry right between the two parties. And what looks good on paper may not work in real life. But getting demographic information can help whittle things down. Asking what is important to the two parties in making the match -- do they care about geographic networking? Or do they care about ethnicity or subject matter specialty? These questions are important to ask, if somewhat delicate.

It's important, too, to ask what is the goal of the mentoring program. Here is the Utah State Bar New Lawyer Training Program Manual. It lays out the goal of the program:
The goal of the Utah New Lawyer Training Program is to train new lawyers during their
first year of practice in professionalism, ethics, and civility; to assist new lawyers in acquiring the practical skills and judgment necessary to practice in a highly competent manner; and to provide a means for all Utah attorneys to learn the importance of organizational mentoring, including the building of developmental networks and longterm, multiple mentoring relationships.
Mentors and mentees in Utah receive CLE credits for participating in the mentoring program. New lawyers can request to change their assigned mentors once, no questions asked. A second change can be requested at the discretion of the New Lawyer Training Program administrator. Utah started working on their program in 2005.

The Utah history notes that Georgia began working on their state bar program even earlier, than they did, ten years ago, which would be 2001. And the story in the National Law Journal says that Georgia started a pilot program in 2000. The Georgia pages, though, state that in February, 2005, the Georgia Supreme Court directed the State Bar to proceed with establishing the Transition into Law Practice Program.
The core of the Program is to match beginning lawyers, after admission to the Bar, with a mentor during their first year of practice.

The purpose of the Program is to afford every beginning lawyer newly admitted to the State Bar of Georgia with meaningful access to an experienced lawyer equipped to teach the practical skills, seasoned judgment, and sensitivity to ethical and professionalism values necessary to practice law in a highly competent manner.

The Program was developed by, and is operated under the auspices of, the Standards of the Profession Committee of the Commission on Continuing Lawyer Competency (CCLC).
As I saw in Utah, Georgia speaks about "inside mentoring" and "outside mentoring," referring to whether the new lawyer is being mentored within a firm where he or she is employed or by a lawyer outside of the employment situation. But like Utah, the mentoring is required for all new lawyers in their first year of practice -- that means law clerks to judges have to go through the process when they enter practice.

In Georgia, they surveyed the mentors and new lawyers who completed the program. In 2008, of those who participated the previous year, 95% of mentees and 99% of mentors recommended continuing the program, according to the National Law Journal. Inspired by these pioneers, other states are on the verge of introducing their own mandatory mentoring programs. According to that National Law Journal article, Wyoming may be next, closely followed by Nevada. Washington state was considering a program very seriously, but for now has opted for special CLE requirements for new lawyers.

There are informal mentoring programs in place through other organizations than bar associations. The American Inns of Court, for instance, were established specifically to mentor and encourage professional growth of lawyers and law students.
American Inns of Court (AIC) are designed to improve the skills, professionalism and ethics of the bench and bar. An American Inn of Court is an amalgam of judges, lawyers, and in some cases, law professors and law students. Each Inn meets approximately once a month both to "break bread" and to hold programs and discussions on matters of ethics, skills and professionalism.

Looking for a new way to help lawyers and judges rise to higher levels of excellence, professionalism, and ethical awareness, the American Inns of Court adopted the traditional English model of legal apprenticeship and modified it to fit the particular needs of the American legal system. American Inns of Court help lawyers to become more effective advocates and counselors with a keener ethical awareness. Members learn side-by-side with the most experienced judges and attorneys in their community. (snip)

The membership is divided into “pupillage teams,” with each team consisting of a few members from each membership category. Each pupillage team conducts one program for the Inn each year. Pupillage team members get together informally outside of monthly Inn meetings in groups of two or more. This allows the less-experienced attorneys to become more effective advocates and counselors by learning from the more-experienced attorneys and judges. In addition, each less-experienced member is assigned to a more-experienced attorney or judge who acts as a mentor and encourages conversations about the practice of law.
(AIC About) The Inns have a number of local presences. I would not have known about this organization except that Suffolk has quite an involvement in several local Inns. But there was not an Inn in the city where my law school was, and where I practiced most of my brief law career, and still does not appear to be one. It would have been a good thing.

I was lucky, though, to ask a very good mentor at my employment to take me on. She could be abrasive and quite direct, so I certainly knew when I messed up. But I really got some excellent feedback in that first, traumatic year after law school. It's a very difficult year for a young lawyer. So I am very glad that bar associations are doing something to support young lawyers during that time. Law school, even with lots of skills courses, does not do enough -- could never do enough, to prepare one for the first year of practice. This is a very good development. And it's fair to give the mentors CLE credit. They certainly get something intangible and good out of mentoring young lawyers, but they need to get something more as well -- it should be taking some time for them to really be doing a good job.

The image of helping hands is courtesy of Taney Parish in Ireland.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Lawsuit Lenders

Litigation finance is a complicated subject. On the one hand, it truly helps litigants and their attorneys when a lawsuit costs too much, or a litigation is too drawn out, health costs are out of hand. In cases where a plaintiff might not be able to afford to hang on to make a fair settlement, defendants might bully or simply delay their way out of the problem. On the other hand, there may be lawsuits that should never be filed that are funded, or drawn out with these loans. From the defense bar's point of view, the lenders are underwriting cases that should not be moving forward. And on the other other hand, as Tevye might say, the lenders are under- or unregulated, and often seem to take high interest rates, with insufficient notice to the borrower.

According to an article at, dated June 4, 2010, the U.S. is late coming to this business. Third party lending to finance litigation first arose in Australia, and then spread to the United Kingdom. This article traces the rise of the U.S. market in litigation finance to the collapse of the derivatives and mortgage-backed securities markets. The money that had been funding those suddenly was looking for new investments at high returns, and is finding it in litigation finance. The article does a nice job of analyzing recent changes in the law of champerty, which until recently barred interests in the outcome of lawsuits. Although the legal bar to third party investment in litigation has been removed in most states, there seems to still be some ethical queasiness. The article includes a link to a report by the Institute for Legal Reform, on Third Party Litigation Financing (which attributes to attorneys from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom), which argues against lawsuit loans. They fear that the firms that now make loans on individuals' civil cases will soon be financing mass and class actions and personal injury actions, opening the floodgates of high-risk, high-expense litigation. They also raise the specter of unjustified litigation being funded by the loans. But the author of the article balances the report with interviews from attorneys from other silk stocking firms, such as Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft who are seeing an uptick in their business due to litigation finance in a very poor economy.

The Boston Globe ran an article that led me to the New York Times, where the full article was originally published by Binyamin Appelbaum on the business and abuses of lawsuit lenders. The article is part of a series on the topic, which has been a collaboration between the Times and the Center for Public Integrity, a non-partisan, journalism non-profit in Washington, D.C. (here is a link for their investigation, "Betting on Justice: Borrowing to Sue.") The problem is that the companies that lend to individuals who are involved in lawsuits but find their daily expenses require a cash infusion are not regulated much at all. They often charge interest rates that would be usurious in any other loan setting (sometimes 99-100% compounded interest in the first year). And they do very little to inform the borrower of the cost of the loan.

The individuals who take these loans may feel they have few options if they want to maintain their suit. The Center for Public Integrity reports that a civil lawsuit may cost between $15,000 and $100,000, depending on whether there is complex scientific evidence to be presented. The costs of the suit, added to living expenses and the costs incurred by treatment of injury or illness exceed most individuals' capability to pay. And people do not understand what they are signing up for. Often the details of the contract are hidden in fine print or vague, or minimized by the loan officer. These may amount to contracts of adhesion, where the individual has very little negotiating power or feels they have very little ability to shop for alternative sources. Advertisements emphasize the ease and speed of the loan, and loan officers are instructed to never mention the cost of the loan unless directly asked. Some of the stories reported misleading information about the interest cost on the contracts.

The lawsuit lenders fight against being classified as traditional lenders, according to these articles, because they point out that, if the litigator loses the suit, they are not required to repay the loan. They say they take more of a risk, and should be able to charge higher rates accordingly. But there is a growing backlash among the judiciary and legislators against the industry.

James N. Giordano, chief executive of Cambridge Management Group, a New Jersey lender, compared the deals to venture capital. “It’s as if your buddy came up to you and said, ‘I’m starting a business, I need $25,000 — and, by the way, you may never get your money back,’ ” he said.

Lawsuit lenders, however, are much better than venture firms at picking winners. Lenders pay lawyers to screen cases, looking for slam-dunks like Vioxx. Three of the largest companies each estimated that they rejected about 70 percent of applications. Oasis said it had approved about 80,000 of 250,000 applications in recent years. To further limit losses, companies say they generally lend no more than 10 or 20 percent of the amount they expect the borrower to win.

Companies say they still lose money in a significant share of cases, from 5 to 20 percent, although there is no way to verify those numbers.

But courts in several states — including Michigan, New York and North Carolina — have ruled in recent years that individual borrowers did not need to repay lawsuit loans, finding that the apparent risks did not justify the outsize prices. The rulings have encouraged lenders to avoid judicial scrutiny. Dimitri Mishiev, who runs Alliance Claim Funding, another Brooklyn lender, said that while his prices were fair, he tried to invest only in cases he expected to be settled before trial. (snip)

The industry’s pursuit of regulation on its own terms began in Maine in 2007.

Sharon Anglin Treat, a lawyer and state legislator, had proposed a bill making clear that lawsuit lenders were subject to state consumer protection laws. She said she could not understand why the industry should be allowed to charge higher rates than other lenders. (Maine passed P.L. Ch. 394, “An Act to Regulate Presettlement Lawsuit Funding." I hope you can get the link to work -- I am missing a plug-in.)

Oasis, LawCash and other companies persuaded other legislators to reverse the intent of the bill, instead making clear that the rules did not apply to lawsuit loans. Both Ms. Treat and Mr. Hirschfeld said the debate turned on the testimony of three Maine residents who had benefited from the loans. “These are powerful companies that have lots of money, and they brought in people with these sob stories,” Ms. Treat said.

Supporters of lawsuit lending next turned its attention to Ohio, where the state’s Supreme Court had declared lawsuit lending illegal in 2003. This time, Mr. Hirschfeld said that the industry asked lawyers throughout the state for examples of clients who had suffered because they were not able to borrow money. Both chambers of the legislature voted unanimously in 2008 to legalize the loans. (see brief article here by attorney Mark Bello announcing in summer, 2009, Ohio House Bill 248 effective August 27, 2008, Ohio Revised Code § 1349.55) (Mark Bello turns out to work for Lawsuit Finance, and blogs at Lawsuit Finance Blog) (Ohio's Supreme Court had first declared litigation finance barred by champerty, in Rancman v. Interim Settlement Funding Corp.,
99 Ohio St.3d 121, 2003-Ohio-2721). Last year, Nebraska followed suit, passing a bill sponsored by State Senator Steve Lathrop, a trial lawyer.

“My own personal view of these groups is that I discourage clients from using them,” Mr. Lathrop said during the final debate. “I tell them, go borrow from anybody you can before you have to use them.”

“But,” he concluded, “the reality is, sometimes there’s no other place to turn.”
(from the N.Y Times article)An article in The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel May,3 2010 by Tiger Joyce reports that the American Litigation Finance Association was lobbying in six states that they could identify: Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska and New York for legislation in their interest. I will cover Illinois below. Kentucky does not seem to have passed a bill yet. I would guess the statute would probably be codified either at Chapter 360, Interest and Usury, or Chapter 367, Consumer Protection, which, in Kentucky has many detailed subdivisions. I cannot find that Maryland has passed a bill yet. Maryland's statute would probably show up in Commercial Law, 12-301 - 12-317, Maryland Consumer Loan Law -- Credit Provisions, or perhaps the usury provisions 12-101 - 12-127. Minnesota's legislature has a wonderful website, and I looked through it for a bill on the topic. There does not seem to be any pending bill filed yet. The best guess for where a statute would be codified if it ever passed would be Chapter 334, Money, Rates of Interest, or possibly in Chapter 332, Collection, Credit Services, Consumer Protection, which has 332.52 - 332.60, Credit Services Organizations. I cannot locate the Nebraska statute, despite what the article above says. Here is the section of the code where it will probably reside: Chapter 45, Interest, Loans, and Debt. Likewise, I cannot locate a New York statute specifically on lawsuit finance, but expect it would reside in New York Code, General Obligations, 5-501 - 5-531.

In Illinois, I found an article at Legal Newsline dated January 7, 2011, by Jessica Karmasek, stating that the Illinois legislature had voted down the so-called "Lawsuit Loan Shark" bill, SB 3322. Even one of the bill's co-sponsors ended up voting against it, after word got out about the terms. Lawsuit lenders would have been exempt from Illinois consumer loan regulations, and instead be under the laxer Department of Professional Regulation. In addition, newspapers began comparing the interest rates in the bill to payday loans, and legislators began to feel more uncomfortable about the terms. The official title of the bill was the Non-Recourse Civil Litigation Funding Act, and another criticism was fear that it might encourage frivolous lawsuits, and would be detrimental to job creation.

There is a lead article, LITIGATION FUNDING: CHARTING A LEGAL AND ETHICAL COURSE, Julia H. McLaughlin at 31 Vermont Law Rev. 615 (no.3, 2007). At the other end of the literature spectrum, here is an e-zine article at Legal Affairs dated September - October, 2004, "Litigation by Loan Shark," by Daniel Brook. He tells about a desperate litigant/borrower, and a visit he made to the lender, Plaintiff Support Services, which then had offices in Getzville, N.Y. (near Buffalo).
PSS was founded in 1992 by Ken Polowitz, a mortgage banker who realized that there was an untapped lending market in cash-strapped plaintiffs awaiting potentially massive settlements. Unlike DiSalvo's loan sharks, Polowitz's company charged fixed interest rates rather than a percentage of the final settlement.

In 2000, Joe DiNardo, a Buffalo-area personal injury lawyer, purchased PSS from Polowitz. At the time, its portfolio of cases was worth roughly $1 million, meaning that if every case were settled successfully at that moment, the company would collect $1 million in principal and interest. Leaving the practice of law to take over PSS was a forced career change for DiNardo. In the mid-'90s, his personal injury firm was earning nearly $5 million in gross receipts. But in 1997, DiNardo came under federal indictment for tax evasion and for bribing and tampering with government witnesses. According to federal prosecutors, DiNardo conspired to pay upwards of a hundred thousand dollars in kickbacks to a union leader in exchange for case referrals of union members injured on the job. (In a brazen and convoluted scheme, DiNardo tried to write the kickbacks off as a tax-deductible business expense.) Ultimately, DiNardo copped a plea, taking a tax evasion conviction and house arrest to escape jail time. (snip)

The company's chief underwriter, Helen Jones, says PSS invests in about 6 out of every 10 cases it analyzes. Yet even after winnowing down the investment opportunities, there is always risk. The case could go to trial in front of an unsympathetic jury, or a plaintiff claiming to be injured could be spotted playing a round of golf.

When settlement checks go out, the lawyers are paid first, the litigation finance company second. If the company is owed more money than the client wins, it's out of luck (though not as out of luck as the client, who ends up with nothing). To avoid this lose-lose situation, PSS tries to advance only up to 10 percent of what it estimates the case is worth. When company officials meet with a client, they use a computer program to project the interest on the cash advance, which accrues rapidly. At the company's office, I was shown a spreadsheet for a hypothetical client who had received $8,500 in monthly cash advances over six months. Less than two years after the first advance, the client owed PSS nearly $14,500—$8,500 in principal and nearly $6,000 more in interest.

PSS PRIDES ITSELF ON DOING EVERYTHING ABOVEBOARD, and the PSS clients I spoke with confirmed that the company is upfront about the interest rates it charges and what that means in real dollars.
Author Brook tells a horror story about a lawyer whose plaintiff client refused his advice to accept an offered settlement of $1 million because she calculated that after she paid off her lawyer and the loan company, she would have nothing left herself. She insisted on $1.2, took the case to trial and lost everything. Of course, she did not explain her reasoning until afterwards. This is a risk I had not even considered until I read that article!

The scales of justice, in the case, are a nice metaphor for the balancing of benefits and risks in this new development.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Odd Scholarships

The Chronicle of Higher Ed offers a small list of odd-ball scholarships, niche offerings for a small population. They include such amazing items as Loyola University's (of Chicago) scholarship for Roman Catholics with the surname Zolp. The amount available each year depends on the number of eligible Zolps presenting themselves. There is a scholarship for students graduating from any K-12 school on 13th Street in Reading, Pennsylvania at the Albright College, presumably because that's where the college is located, called the "13th Street Gang Scholarships." One supposes the name predates the rise of heavy gang activity. The amount available, though is $15,000, renewable annually. The deadline to apply to Albright College is March 1. The article is in print Jan. 14, 2011, at page A6, in the Tweed Column, if that makes it easier to locate, titled, "Dollars for Scholars, from Albright to Zolp." There are more than I list here.

The article is very nice because it tells you the requirements for each scholarship, some of which are quite quirky, as well as the amount available. Some are paltry sums, $1,000 (from the Tall Clubs), or as low as $250 from the Little People of America scholarship (is that appropriate or what?). Of course, you cannot control whether you are tall or short, and unless you change your name legally, cannot help what family or neighborhood you are born into. And many scholarships are tied to particular schools. But there are some portable scholarships you can get through your own efforts: The Stuck at the Prom scholarship, for instance, requires you to create your prom outfit from Duct Tape and send the photos for judging. The scholarships range from $500 - $5,000. Deadline is June 13. The American Fire Sprinkler Association scholarship is a cool $2,000 you can get by taking a multiple choice test on fire sprinklers by April 5. You don't even have to humiliate yourself and your prom date for this one!

At the higher end of the portable scholarships where you have some control, find Vegetarian Resource Group scholarship, for $5,000. Requires applicants to have shown "compassion, courage, and a strong commitment to promoting a peaceful world through a vegetarian diet/lifestyle." The deadline is February 20. And the biggest of the prizes in your control: Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go! Scholarship for $10,000. Note that this is only for high school seniors. Its deadline is January 15, so it may not be feasible to jump on this one for 2011. You must write a letter to someone who needs it on the theme of the famous book.

And a wonderful commenter on the website added this helpful link, which lists far more wacky and unusual scholarships: FinAid - Scholarships - Unusual Scholarships. This website organizes the scholarships by broad category: last name, sports, creativity, physical characteristics, field of study, the final frontier (includes Klingon Language Institute Scholarship and Starfleet Academy Scholarship! I have known many space cadets, but I didn't know you could get scholarships on that basis.)

Upon close examination, it turns out that the Klingon Language Institute Scholarship will accept nominations from chairs and faculty in language departments for undergraduate students and graduate students showing

...evidence of academic accomplishment and enjoy the high regard and respect of their supervising faculty. (snip) Familiarity with Klingon or other constructed languages is not required, however creative and innovative applicants are preferred.
Since it requires a letter from the dean or chair, two supporting letters from faculty, a CV or resume, and a statement from the nominee, and still only offers $500, I will venture to guess that they don't get a ton of nominations at the Klingon Language Institute. Incomplete applications are discarded out of hand. I would have expected them to be torn to bits, stomped underfoot, and have blood wine poured on them, at least. Oh, and P.S., you have to have been a member of StarFleet for a year before applying for the StarFleet Academy scholarship. I didn't know I could join!

The list of amazing scholarships goes on and on. There is a scholarship with a duck calling contest (for high school seniors, under animal appreciation category, natch!) Scholarships for twins seem amazingly common. I don't know what you do if you are triplets, quads or more.

And don't overlook specialized scholarships and awards that are tied to service. If you have been a volunteer or are volunteering, look at the list of awards and scholarships that may help you pay for college, grad or law school, or pay for student loans. It's nice that all the good deeds you've been doing may finally pay off for you! They offer a list of special scholarships for Hispanic and Latino students, but no other ethnic groups. While this list does not include them, the UNCF has a list of scholarships for African-American students, and Black Excel offers a list of 200 Free Scholarships for Minority Students.

So, starving students, get your scholarship engines ready! You can at least get some spare change through these odd-ball scholarships. If you are lucky, you may score a good bit of money. Be sure to check on the less specialized list of scholarships as well. Best wishes!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Reverse discrimination is an interesting phenomenon. I am sure there are a lot of ways to express reverse discrimination. But I am thinking of plain people being snooty towards beauty. I hate to admit it, but I am quite guilty of this. I am periodically reminded of the fact. The first time I was forced into awareness was when I was a college student. My dorm had two very beautiful and somewhat glamorous women. One had been the winner of a beauty contest. They really were isolated by the other women. This was the early 70's when applying make-up and doing your hair was just not in fashion among college women. We were nature girls and learning to be liberated.

I overheard a conversation between the two beauties once about how lonely they were, and how tired they were of people treating them like dirt because they took pride in their appearance. I had NEVER once considered that they might feel lonely or put down. I felt so disparaged just standing near them that it certainly seemed impossible that I could ever impinge on their self esteem or happiness by the actions of my lowly, homely self. What a shock to me! They really were kind and sweet, and never stuck up in the way they interacted with others. It was only my own perception of my inadequacies that made me think of them as high and mighty.

And yet, even after that revelation, it has been very difficult for me when I meet other women who strike me as beautiful and glamorous to treat them as regular people. I suppose the same is true of men like that, but I meet far fewer men in that category, frankly. In law school, there was a pair of blonde women who were quite beautiful and always in full make-up and nicely dressed. Some of my crueler classmates dubbed them The Gold-dust Twins. I hope they never heard that. I was reminded of the incident when I watched the movie, Legally Blonde, and realized that I still harbor that hostility and reverse discrimination. I assume that the beautiful and stylish cannot possibly also be intellectual. And that is a ridiculous fallacy. It's just very hard to uproot!

Now, the fashion is for women to always present that polished appearance, wearing cosmetics even to the gym. I never mastered it. It's a darned good thing I'm a librarian and an academic. Don't know how I'd manage if I really were in a profession that demanded that Look. So many of the young women I see in law school and the undergrad manage this on top of everything else they do each day. I really don't know how they do it. And I am not sure it's a good thing. I used to say, I'll use nail polish when men do, or I'll wear high heels when men do. But, by golly, I've seen both, by now, and I'm still not willing to do either on a regular basis.

I hope that young men and women both can avoid the self-destructive messages that all the body-image dictates tend to bring on. The recent movie, Black Swan was a very honest depiction of the dark, destructive under-side of ballet, where a young star is shown dieting and going bullemic and ultimately falling apart into madness. The same destructive dictation of the feminine ideal is apparent in the fashion industry. A colleague long ago who had previously worked as a model and a dancer once commented on both fields as being peculiarly misogynistic. Fashion models and Barbie dolls teach us all a ridiculously unattainable ideal of what a woman should look like.

The image is actually from Legally Blonde 2.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Wikipedia's Second Decade

Reading "Wikipedia Comes of Age" in The Chronicle of Higher Education coincided with my turning in the grades for last semester's Advanced Legal Research course. The author, Casper Grathwohl, vice president and publisher of digital and reference content for Oxford University Press, points out that Wikipedia, which is ten years old this month, has created an "an enormous paradigm shift" in how people conduct research. Grathwohl used to dismiss Wikipedia in favor of more traditional, vetted reference works like the ones published by Oxford. Now, however, Grathwohl sees it as a "necessary layer in the Internet knowledge system, a layer that was not needed in the analog age." Contrary to what some professors think, students do not do research on Wikipedia; rather they do "pre-research," "to gain context on a topic, [and] to orient themselves ... " Thus, it functions "as an ideal bridge between the validated and unvalidated Web." Students are well aware that at most Wikipedia should be considered a filter and not an unimpeachable source, according to Grathwohl.

Wikipedia is ideally suited to serve as a link to traditional sources. Grathwohl points to a

project undertaken by the academic music community. In 2006 a large group of musicologists began discussing, on an academic listserv, their students' use of Wikipedia. One scholar issued a challenge: Wikipedia is where students are starting research ... so we need to improve its music entries. That call to arms resonated, and music scholars worked hard to imrove the quality of Wikipedia entries and make sure that bibliograpies and citations pointed to the most reliable resources. As a result, Oxford University Press experienced a tenfold increase in Wikipedia-referred traffic on its music-research site Grove Music Online.

Grathwohl believes that other parts of the scholarly community should "build stronger links ... to more advanced resources that have been created and maintained by the academy," with the ultimate goal of "integration into the formal research process." This can't happen soon enough to make me happy. I read two research guides over the weekend that cited Wikipedia entries. When I went to the entries, I found that their authors were relying on a superseded version of the United States Code (the 2000 edition) for their analysis of the current state of the law. A layperson would have no way of knowing that these analyses were useful for historical purposes only at this point and needed to be updated through another source.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

WestlawNext Printing--April Fools?

We were early adopters of WestlawNext at Pace Law School, and I have only one real quibble. The students have taken to it without a lot of training, and the quality of their searches seems to have improved. I wish the content migration would go more quickly, but materials are available on traditional Westlaw and it's not a huge inconvenience to be directed back to the old platform occasionally.

My quibble is about the printing. Students view free printing to the standalone printers provided by the two database vendors as a right and not a privilege. We could discuss whether that attitude is justified, but in the end, free printing is one way that the vendors get the students "hooked" on online research; it is in the vendors' interest to support free printing. When we chose to adopt WestlawNext, we knew that it could not yet print to the standalone printer, but we were assured that printing would work by early January and we communicated this to the students, who were not happy. We devised some workarounds which worked fairly well, and advised the students to be patient. It is now early January, printing to the standalone Westlaw printer from WestlawNext has not yet been enabled, and we have learned unofficially that printing won't be available until about the first of April. What do we tell students now?

Monday, January 03, 2011

Social Media Study Services

The Chronicle of Higher Education had an interesting article dated November 28, 2010, “New Social Software Tries to Make Studying Feel Like Facebook.” Authors Marc Parry and Jeffrey R. Young survey a number of newer online study aids. They vary from forums for posting class notes to social learning sites with add-ons. The focus is really on undergraduates, but many of these sites could easily be attractive to law students, or even useful to faculty committees.

The article cautions that simply adding Facebook-like features is not what it takes to make a success of an online study tool. They report on Inigral, which offered a Facebook application to allow students to view classmates, and discuss issues, and allow professors to post class assignments. In 2008, Inigral shut down that portion of the service, because students did not use it to access course content, only using it to look at friends' pictures. It appears, however, that Inigral has re-designed itself. If you link to, you find “Facebook for Higher Education.” The current version of Inigral appears to be focused on admissions, not study applications. They call the application “Schools on Facebook,” allowing a university to apply its own branding to a Facebook “gated community.” On the “howitworks” page, explaining who Schools for Facebook is for,

Schools on Facebook is for colleges and universities seeking to impact yield, mix, summer melt, and other enrollment goals within their incoming 2015 freshman class by using the Facebook platform. The latest version of Schools on Facebook for admissions is set to go-live between February and March of 2011 for students matriculating in Fall 2011.
The bulk of the article refocuses on the various study tools that are out there, and how undergraduate students are using them. The note-sharing sites are having to to tread softly in California. It turns out that California has an unusual state law that makes it illegal to sell lecture or class notes. The article mentions it and here is an article from the San Francisco Bee. The news article stresses what an obscure statute the law is, surprising the legal counsel to NoteUtopia. It also comments that some other materials could still be posted under the law, but that some students were so spooked by the letter from the University that they canceled their accounts with NoteUtopia. A number of the study tools which post class notes include warnings addressed to California students, because of this law, and NoteUtopia's experience.

But there are also vexing questions about copyrights in the intellectual property of the course materials. If the professor lectures, and closely follows or just reads from notes, can he or she claim copyright in any notes from class? How much originality must the student add to notes in order to claim ownership? This has not really been settled, yet. There was a case mentioned briefly in a Boston Globe news article in December, 2009. about a University of Florida professor against a for-profit note company. That turns out to be Michael Moulton, who produced electronic textbooks for Faulkner Press, which unsuccessfully sued the for-profit note site Einstein's Notes (Faulkner Press v. Class Notes d/b/a Einstein's Notes, N.D. Fla., No. 08-cv-49, 11/23/10). That news story also mentions a book by Corynne McSherry, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Who Owns Academic Work? The Chronicle article does not report any faculty arguing such claims. They do report a professor who was so dismayed by the poor quality of the notes from her class that she requested that they all be taken down. The site complied with the professor's request.

Here are a sampling of the sites mentioned in the article. I have added some exploration of a few sites that are only mentioned in the article, but not discussed in any depth:

FinalsClub ( )
The article reported that this free website hosted material from 24 Harvard courses, and had 1,355 registered users at the time of writing. The name of the site is consciously modeled (and shifted from) the name of the insular and all-male Harvard social clubs which are rumored to keep old lecture notes on file to help members cram for finals. The founder, Andrew Magliozzi, was quoted in a Boston Globe article dated Dec. 13 2009 ( ) as seeking to make the information sequestered in the ivory tower free to anybody with an internet connection:
I’m a big believer that educational resources should be free, or as free as possible, and in a sense I would like to do it not only at Harvard but at every top institution in the world,
Following on the heels of MIT's open courseware, FinalsClub looks tiny. But Mr. Magliozzi intends to expand, adding course materials from other elite institutions. The Chronicle reports that the site won a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to add MIT, Yale and Brown in fall, 2011. Magliozzi allows professors to opt out of having their classes added to the site. Some fear students will use the site as a substitute for attending class. Others fear public sniping if their materials are posted and viewed. This is the site that took the poor class notes down at the professor's request.

GradeGuru ( )
GradeGuru is owned by McGraw Hill Education. The Chronicle reported that company officials claimed that it covered more than 25,000 courses at the time they spoke, and that number of registered users was not available. The primary focus of the site is note and other class material sharing. Students are encouraged to post materials by payments of cash through PayPal, gift cards to a variety of vendors, donations to charities, or a variety of points toward services such as spa treatments or even a hot air balloon ride. Student posters are rated by other users on a five star system by the quality of the materials they post. Top gurus are features on the home page. Top gurus reach that status more by quality than by sheer quantity, apparently, because the numbers vary a good deal. The Chronicle article quotes the founder of GradeGuru as stating that they “...go to great length to make sure students use the site ethically.” They try to remove all exam answers and term papers within 48 hours of posting. Yet the Chronicle reporters found one of the highest rated documents on the site was an exam from Georgetown, which had been online for months. GradeGuru, once notified, removed it quickly, but could not explain how it had been up so long.

The site hires “campus ambassadors at 50 college campuses to promote the service. The ambassadors are not paid, but are eligible for prizes from GradeGuru. At some campuses, the ambassadors have sent e-mails to the mailing lists of their fraternities and sororities inviting friends to try the service. This January, GradeGuru is offering an institutional subscription, in hopes that universities and colleges will endorse the site and send their students to it.

Mixable ( )
Created and still hosted by Purdue University, Mixable still has certain components that are uniquely configured for that institution. It has 50 courses and about 300 registered users. It is a mixed use site, allowing students to both share notes and other coursework as well as find interested partners for study groups in a Facebook application. There is a free-standing application that allows non-members of Facebook to use the social media aspects as well.

The document sharing is enabled through Dropbox, which is another free-standing web service. Dropbox allows the user to upload files of any sort and size to a web-based dropbox, where it can be kept safe, and shared, if the user desires. The subscriber can control who has access to each document in the dropbox. Thus the dropbox can function as a back-up to computer files, as a transfer mechanism from one electronic device to another, or geographic location to another, a synching mechanism, and as a sharing mechanism between users.

The Chronicle article includes an interview with a junior at Purdue discussing her experiences with Mixable. She really enjoys using the service, and is very comfortable with the interface, as she is a heavy Facebook user. When you go to the Mixable home page, you can see that it notes that you can use it not only on computers but also on mobile devices, which would probably also be very popular with students.

The home page also shows that besides student note-sharing, Mixable enables other media connections as well. Some of this is currently limited to Purdue, such as podcasts, but if a university subscribed to the Mixable service, I think it could offer podcasts hosted on iTunesU through the Mixable interface. Mixable also offers a way for students to build study groups by using a Facebook interface with their course enrollment system (again, I am sure this is currently limited to Purdue, but could be expanded to other universities). Mixable also offers “Media” which allows the user to set up “...context and media filtering options to build a collection of shared resources that are personalized and relevant. … building bookmarks, images, video and files.” ( )

NoteUtopia (
This site is only mentioned in the article. Based in San Francisco, the site offers class notes, primarily, organized by class and professor, as well as study guides, notes, reports and quizzes. They are rated by users on a five star system, with personalized comments added. In addition, there is a social media component. They sponsor discussion boards, “to collaborate on homework or projects (or) (h)ave other students answer your toughest questions.” You can join a social group sponsored by anybody – clubs, fraternities, etc., can sponsor a social group to promote an event or manage a project. This makes “social groups” sound temporary. The site also offers e-mail and IM functions. The have a page titled “Academic Honor,” about not stealing or posting materials not intended for public consumptions. They state that use of NoteUtopia is not intended as a substitute for class attendance. They encourage students to share openly with each other and faculty to use NoteUtopia as a substitute for printing class handouts. This is a little bandaid-ish since they also clearly advertise that students get paid for notes and other handouts (by other students). NoteUtopia takes a small fee from each sale. I cannot find any information about how many members they have or what schools are represented, without joining, which I really don't want to do.

OpenStudy ( )
The Chronicle article reports this site as covering 50 courses and having 11,000 registered users. It focuses entirely on social networking. This is a free spin-off from Georgia-Tech and Emory University designed to create a platform for building personal study networks. The idea was that independent learners accessing the free courseware offered by MIT or Yale might also want to form study groups. There is a free basic version, and the company hopes to make money by offering an upgraded version with extra features. It is apparent at the website that they also intend for the system to be used in classes with students and professors. They contemplate “virtual office hours,” “online tutoring programs” and “enhanced distance learning infrastructure.”

StudyBlue ( )
The Chronicle article does not mention this one. It shows up in the Boston Globe article from December 13, 2009 on FinalsClub. StudyBlue appears to offer a way to make your own digital flash cards. They are accessible on a computer, mobile device, or can be printed. The service is free. I could not access the site, though; there was an encoding error of some sort when I was trying to look at this.


This is a test post.