Monday, April 25, 2011

Laptop Bans Revisited

Professor Jeff Sovern declares in his article, "Law Student Laptop Use During Class for Non-Class Purposes: Temptation v. Incentives," that when students witness their classmates using laptops for amusement during class, "it may be comparable to placing beer in front of alcoholics as they watch other alcoholics imbibing." To counter the temptations that laptops present in the classroom situation, he favors banning laptops. Note that the article is still a draft, and some sections still need to be fleshed out. Professor Sovern's article grew out of sixty class visits at St. John's University School of Law made by observers in fall 2010. The purpose of the visits was to observe the behavior of laptop users during class. Over half (58%) of upper-class students used their laptops for other than class-related purposes, but for less than half of the class period. In contrast, only 4% of first-semester Civil Procedure students used their laptops for non-class-related purposes for more than half of the class. How does Professor Sovern account for the stark contrast between the laptop use of 1Ls and upper-level law students? "First-year grades have far more significance for most students than upper-year grades." That is probably the biggest incentive for 1Ls to stay focused on classroom discussion. Other factors that he points to include increased temptation to use laptops as time goes on and boredom as law school ceases to be "exciting." Not exactly the word I would have used to describe my first year in law school! Based on the results of his study, Professor Sovern advocates banning laptops in upper-level classes, but not in first-year classes.

On the other side of the laptop debate is Professor Kristen E. Murray, whose article, "Let Them Use Laptops: Debunking the Assumptions Underlying the Debate Over Laptops in the Classroom," argues that laptops can enhance students' self-directed learning, and that "to ban them completely from a lecture hall is to deny students a powerful learning tool--one that many students already use to enhance their learning."

The debate between proponents and opponents of laptops in the classroom has been raging since schools began wiring their campuses. Many educators at both the undergraduate and graduate level are concerned that students who access the Internet during class will tune out and cease to pay attention to lectures and classroom discussions, compromising their educations. Laptops offer tremendous possibilities as educational tools, but many instructors are not taking advantage of their potential; as a result, students distract themselves during class by checking their Facebook pages, playing games online, checking email, etc. In the article, "Tangled in an Endless Web of Distractions," the Boston Globe describes the situation at MIT, "home to the father of the World Wide Web," where "some ... professors are urging college leaders across the country to free students from their tether to technology." They want to pull the "virtual plug to encourage students to pay more attention in class and become more adept at real-life social networking." Despite professors' concerns about distractibility in the classroom, MIT has not yet cut off access to the Internet in its classrooms.

However, law schools such as the University of Chicago have "blocked wireless access in classrooms to keep students engaged in Socratic discussions ... " At Harvard Law School, Professor Jonathan Zittrain, a specialist in Internet law, "has banned laptops and all mobile devices from his first year torts class since 2004." Despite this decision, he would still be against a "blanket university policy that blocks Web access from classroom," favoring instead a strong policy against student use of wireless devices in the classroom that students would violate at their own peril.

Stanford University's Professor Clifford Nass conducted a study in 2009 that "showed that students who were chronic media multitaskers were more easily distracted." Moreover, they have problems "switching tasks" and "ignoring irrelevant information. They also don't write as well and use simpler sentences." Professor Nass discussed his study in a Frontline interview in February 2010. He advocates "limiting multitasking in the classroom"; more important, however, is to "limit it when [people] are alone, too." This generation of college students is "becoming socially autistic because they lack the practicing skills to navigate social and emotional life."

The Globe article suggests one approach to control the distractions created by ubiquitous mobile devices--software that blocks certain websites for up to twenty-four hours at a time. The three apps listed are SelfControl and Freedom, which work on Mac computers, and LeechBlock, which is designed for the Firefox Web browser.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

"A Breach of Trust" at the New York Public Library

The archives collection of the New York Public Library is a treasure trove containing the papers of President Thomas Jefferson and authors such as Herman Melville and Truman Capote. It has a reputation for adhering to the highest standards of archival practice. Now, however, a ugly dispute between the library and author Paul Brodeur, who used to write for The New Yorker, has become public knowledge thanks, in part, to this article in today's New York Times. Brodeur, "known for his zealous pursuit of asbestos manufacturers and corporate polluters as a journalist," donated approximately 320 boxes of his papers to NYPL in 1992. He was led to believe that the library finished processing the collection in 1997, but later learned that the processing was not in fact finished until 2010. In addition, Brodeur was

notified ... that [NYPL] no longer wanted three-fourths of his papers. He was instructed to either retrieve the undesired documents or to allow the library to destroy them ... [Mr. Brodeur] was livid. In a June 2010 letter to the library demanding the return of his entire collection, Mr. Brodeur wrote, "I no longer have confidence in the New York Public Library's stewardship of the papers I donated more than 18 years ago."

The record for the collection indicates that it now contains 53 boxes, not the 320 Mr. Brodeur originally donated. The library explained to him that "as they did with every donation, they had carefully weeded out what would be useful ... (original letters and rare primary documents) amd excluded less-meaningful artifacts (photocopied news stories and multiple drafts of New Yorker writings)."

NYPL's disposition of the papers is consistent with the deed of gift Mr. Brodeur signed, in which he relinquished all rights to his papers. However, why did it take the library almost two decades to process the collection and decide it did not want the bulk of it? Mr. Brodeur apparently had no reason to believe that the collection was not processed in 1997, when he was told that the "documents had been reviewed and prepared for public viewing" and invited to tour the archives by a senior curator. As Richard J. Cox, Jr., a professor of archival studies at the University of Pittsburgh points out, the library decision seems to have come "out of the blue." Mr. Brodeur now regrets his decision to donate his papers to NYPL, and is vowing to "continue fighting for the return of all his work. 'None of this would have happened if the library had decided to return my collection.'"

Felix Salmon's blog post on this topic highlights an essential lack of meeting of the minds on the part of NYPL and Brodeur. The library sees Brodeur as a writer, and deems only what he actually wrote to be of archival value and worth saving. Brodeur, however, sees himself as an investigative journalist; to him, the sources he used are of equal value and equally worth preserving. As Salmon says:
The NYPL is treating Brodeur as it would an imaginative novelist, which seems to me to be something of a category error. All writers are not the same, and if you’re going to go to the trouble of archiving a journalist’s work, you should take the subject matter of the journalism seriously and also preserve the record of how that writer wrote, on top of what that writer wrote.

What will happen to the bulk of Brodeur's materials which were rejected by NYPL? Brodeur has constructed a storage shed at his home on Cape Cod where he is planning to store them. This is not a secure facility and does not have climate control. Nor is it easily accessible to potential researchers. Victims of asbestos exposure are fearful about the possible loss of Brodeur's sources because they consider them to be a unique font of information available nowhere else. Brodeur's own account of the controversy is available on the Authors Guild website.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Great Way to Celebrate Earth Day

We learned yesterday that two of Pace Law School's environmental law blogs, PEN-e, maintained by Jack McNeill, the Associate Law Library Director and current chair of the Academic Law Libraries Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries, and GreenLaw, which is maintained by our environmental law faculty, have been recognized as among The Top 50 Blogs for LexisNexis's Environmental Law & Climate Change Community. According to the press release,

These top blogs offer some of the best writing out there. They contain a wealth of information for all segments of the environmental law and climate change industry, and include timely news items, expert analysis, practice tips, frequent postings and helpful links to other sites and sources.

These blogs also show us how environmental and climate change issues interact with politics and culture. These sites also demonstrate the power of the blogsphere, by providing a collective example of how bloggers can—and do—impact and influence the law and business in the environmental and climate change arena.

Each of the Pace environmental law blogs fills a niche. GreenLaw supplies insightful analysis and commentary about environmental law issues in the news, while PEN-e "provides a gateway to news, commentary, legal research sources, new books and articles, and legislation on Environmental Law, Energy, Land Use Law and related legal topics."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Orphan Works

What are orphan works? These are copyrighted materials whose "owners" cannot be located. This has become a huge problem for scholars, and particularly for any sort of historian, including those in law schools who use older texts. As our faculty and we, ourselves, do more interdisciplinary work, we will be running into this more frequently. The frustration is huge. The Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke University has two proposals on orphan works and orphan films and mitigating the costs of each to scholarship, libraries, and archives.

How did we get here? Over 30 years, copyright law has bit by bit relaxed the requirements that copyright owners DO anything to assert or manage their right to that property. At one time, a copyright owner had to register a copyright with the Library of Congress, and to renew their ownership interest every so many years. But a series of public laws extended the copyright length several times, now to the life of the producer plus 70 years.

In 1989, Congress removed the condition that published works must contain a copyright notice. In 1992, it removed the last vestiges of the renewal registration requirement. In 1994, many foreign copyrights were extracted from the public domain. The net result of these amendments has been that more and more copyright owners may go missing. To be sure, such revisions were enacted to protect authors from technical traps in the law and to ensure United States compliance with international conventions. But there is no denying that they diminished the public record of copyright ownership and made it more difficult for the business of copyright to function.
(The Importance of Orphan Works Legislation, September 25, 2008, Marybeth Peters, Register of Copyrights. As requested by Senator Orrin Hatch and Senator Patrick Leahy, the Office submitted its Report on Orphan Works to the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 31, 2006. visited 4/18/11) The most recent legislation referred to in the report mentioned here, Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008, SB 2913, passed in the Senate, but apparently died in the House. (use the link at the Copyright report site to go to and see the information)

The Google Books Amended Settlement Agreement was a different way to deal with what are called "orphan works." In fact, the progress of this Settlement may be why there was no further effort in Congress at legislation after 2008. In fact, part of Judge Chin's dissatisfaction with the Settlement was its method of dealing with the orphan works, agreeing with many of the critics of the Settlement. Judge Chin's ruling called specifically for legislation to deal with orphan works.

In a lengthy article that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education March 23, 2011, "Research Libraries See Google Decision As Just a Bump on the Road to Widespread Digital Access," by Jennifer Howard. The author reports that John Wilkin, executive director of HathiTrust (and Associate University Librarian for Library Information Technology at University of Michigan), says that they are talking with Google about a possible renewed coalition to lobby for legislation on orphan works. They want to look, not just at the U.S., but around the world, at copyright legislation that affects orphan works because it really is a global issue. The Digital Public Library of America, envisioned and publicized by Robert Darnton here and here and hosted by the Berkman Center, sessions blogged by John Palfrey, one, two, three and four; and workshop blogged by Dan Cohen and David Weinberger and March 1 Workshop notes. I only find mention of orphan works in any of the notes in Palfrey's session notes, 3 first paragraph, speaking about the need for the different problems of copyright problems for the library to be invisible to the users of a Digital Public Library:
1) Materials that are in copyright will have to be thought about by the DPLA differently (the red zone) from those in the public domain (green) or orphan works and gray literature (yellow). But ideally the members of the public accessing the works would not know about these differences when approaching the content. This issue leads to the tiering issue (or perhaps we need a different word) for DPLA. From a user perspective, could we make it not matter whether the material, before coming to DPLA, was red, yellow, or green? There are a variety of ways that might come to pass, including a possible alternative compensation model for books as a way to pay creators. (For a proposal to create two types of alternative compensation system in a parallel field, music and movies, see William W. Fisher, Promises to Keep, Ch. 6).
and his fourth notes:
As another related point: We should have a legislative solution to tricky copyright restrictions in mind, as a proposal (or a package of proposals), but we need also to make progress absent, or at least prior to, legal change. In addition to orphan works issues, there are copyright issues laden in scholarship associated with computation and massive data sets, as an example.
And a very similar comment in the March 1 Workshop notes under the heading "Copyright problems are the biggest issue facing a DPLA," with a conclusion that "legal reform" will be required. So, it appears that the Digital Public Library folks are still thinking of working towards legislative solutions for orphan works problems, as at least one tool in their chest. I find it hopeful that they are willing to try for progress even while waiting on the legislative solution, which looks like a lengthy road. Copyright lobbyists for major corporate copyright holders these days (like Disney for instance), push incessantly for more and more, regardless of what it might mean for the rest of the world. I wish the Digital Library folks well!

The decoration for this post is actually an advertisement from a Chicago newspaper about orphans, but the blog post where I found it was fascinating (Petticoats & Pistols: The Orphan Trains, dated May 13, 2008, by Stacey Kayne, visited 4/18/2011). These orphanages were not really what we think of as adoption placement agencies, and not all the children received were actual orphans, either, according to the blog. This was during the Industrial Revolution, and many parents were injured or killed at work and the single remaining parent could no longer afford all the children, so they were sent away. Or they simply could not afford all the children they had, and some were sent off. These children from the big cities were shipped out west to the settlers on the prairies along railroads, who could select children to "adopt" or take into their families. They signed a contract with the agency. Apparently some had happy lives, and some were essentially unpaid laborers exploited cruelly. Some agencies checked back on the children they sent out, and some apparently did not. A fascinating piece of history I had never heard of, not being from that part of our country! Stumbled upon, looking for an illustration of "orphan works!"

Friday, April 15, 2011

It's Tax Day. Do you know where your taxes are?

The White House has developed a cool little widget that will let you calculate how much of your tax dollars go to different programs. They call it your Federal Taxpayer Receipt. Visit here and enter the amounts you paid for your federal income tax, your Social Security taxes and your Medicare taxes, and it will calculate for you all kinds of different categories of expenditures. You can see, even without adding in the dollar amounts, the percentages of expenditures.

They let you expand certain categories. So, the 26.3% of your Income Tax that goes to National Defense can be expanded to show you that 6% goes to military personnel, while 10.5% goes to "ongoing operations, equipment and supplies." That means the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and now the no-fly zone over Libya, plus the ship-aid we are supplying in Japan. Attsa lotta dough! You can hover your mouse cursor over the various lines and an explanation bubble will pop up over the line. Some explanations are more explanatory than others.

On this day when taxes are due, what better way to avoid doing your taxes than playing around to see what happens to the money you ought to be calculating?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Why You Should Join The New AALL Caucus on Consumer Advocacy

Note: This identical statement is being simultaneously posted at a number of blogs and wikis, including Law Librarian blog, and SarahGlassmeyer(dot)com. You can visit a webpage for the group at

We are a diverse group of law librarians and legal publishers who favor fair, and competitive, business practices among vendors of legal information services (LIS). We will soon apply to become an AALL caucus, and we will meet informally during the 2011 AALL Annual Meeting. (We will announce the time and place here.) We ask you to join us as we reinvigorate our profession's commitment to consumer advocacy. Why should you support this grassroots initiative?

Some LIS vendors continue to profit from unfair, and anti-competitive, business practices. Unfair business practices include opaque pricing, non-disclosure clauses, defective editorial standards, misleading advertising, duplicate billing, and unrequested shipments. The Information Access Alliance (IAA) has considered “problems in the scholarly and legal publishing markets,” such as “insupportably high prices, accelerating industry consolidation, and anti-competitive practices by some large publishers.” In 2006, an attorney for IAA said that “single-firm anti-competitive conduct accounts at least in some part for the serious problems confronting research libraries today.” His statement targets anti-competitve restrictions in "bundled" subscription licenses. These and other anti-consumer practices have been sufficiently widespread to exact enormous, cumulative costs on all types of law libraries and LIS consumers. They also disadvantage LIS vendors who comply with AALL's Guide to Fair Business Practices for Legal Publishers.

As a profession, we would advance the collective interests of our employers and our patrons if we did more to overcome shared consumer problems in LIS markets. We would also promote a vital public interest, because the contested practices undermine the quality and availability of copyrighted legal publication. (See related arguments or observations here, here, here, here, and here.)

AALL has a valuable role in consumer advocacy, but falls short of its promise. Our organization participates in IAA, and has sponsored research on merger-related pricing by economist Mark McCabe. McCabe found that following the Thomson-West merger in 1996, prices of Thomson treatises and encyclopedias increased by 40 percent, and the acquired West titles increased by 23 percent. Yet this finding did not lead AALL to expand its consumer advocacy, and IAA appears to have been dormant since 2007. CRIV more than merits our praise and gratitude for resolving individual complaints when LIS vendors violate AALL's Guide. Yet AALL has no policy to redress a history of pervasive violations by some LIS vendors. Neither AALL nor its Chapters have investigated the national scope of unfair, or anticompetitive, business practices by LIS vendors, or considered commensurate remedies. Our organization does not even rank LIS vendors by how their practices affect consumers, even though the Guide and other benchmarks would provide means of comparison.

The new AALL caucus would reinvigorate our profession's commitment to consumer advocacy:

Statement of Purpose of New AALL Caucus on Consumer Advocacy

Business practices of legal information vendors (LIVs) warrant more vigorous consumer advocacy than our profession has pursued. Our caucus may: (1) recommend or implement improved disclosures of LIV practices that harm consumers or weaken LIV competition; (2) determine if law librarians and their supporters should renew efforts to investigate unfair, or anti-competitive, business practices by LIVs; (3) recommend further investigation to AALL, interested parties (such as library and attorney associations), or government agencies; (4) examine whether voluntary guidelines have provided adequate remedies to unfair, or anticompetitive, business practices by LIVs; (5) propose legal remedies to AALL, interested parties, or government agencies; (6) encourage law librarians to discuss or pursue these options among themselves and attorneys; and (7) partner with all parties seeking stronger consumer protections from unfair, or anti-competitive, business practices of information vendors. Our caucus may also take other actions to advance the strongest consumer advocacy allowed by law.

Once AALL approves our caucus application, we will welcome partnerships with other LIS consumers like attorneys, their affiliated associations, and LIS vendors who follow the letter and spirit of the law in their business practices.

The success of our initative depends on your support. Please contact our representative, Sarah Glassmeyer, if you wish to join in even a limited capacity, whether or not you can attend our informal meeting in Philadelphia. ( We promise to keep all inquiries confidential.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Oh, the irony! Lawyer cribs from Wikipedia on ineffective assistance of counsel ; Judge Warns

OOOF! In US v. Sypher, from the Federal District Court, W. Dist., KY., Judge Charles R. Simpson, III, chides the lawyer for the defendant, in footnote 4, at page 6:

The court notes here that defense counsel appears to have cobbled much of his statement of the law governing ineffective assistance of counsel claims by cutting and pasting, without citation, from the Wikipedia web site. (snip) The court reminds counsel that such cutting and pasting, without attribution, is plagiarism. The court also brings to counsel’s attention Rule 8.4 of the Kentucky Rules of Professional Conduct, which states that it is professional misconduct for an attorney to “engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” SCR 3.130(c). (sic, SCR Finally, the court reminds counsel that Wikipedia is not an acceptable source of legal authority in the United States District Courts.
It seems particularly ironic, not to say poignant, that the article from Wikipedia that was plagiarized was about ineffective assistance of counsel. Now, I suppose, they will have to crib one about plagiarism, where, conveniently, the current edit states that legally, the concept of plagiarism really doesn't exist.
Though plagiarism in some contexts is considered theft or stealing, from the point of view of the law, it is a non-existing concept. "Plagiarism" is not mentioned in any current statute, either criminal or civil.
(Wikipedia article on plagiarism, visited 4/8/11) Hmmm. Tell it to the judge. The attorney for the defendant in this case does not appear to be a law student in some under-supervised clinic, but a practitioner who took actual money from the defendant to represent her in her motion for a new trial on the claim that she had ineffective assistance of counsel at her trial for extortion. Now, considering what the judge wrote in his footnote, as well as a number of over-looked deadlines to file motions for extensions, one suspects that Ms. Sypher may be bringing another action for malpractice and the bar may be looking hard at this lawyer's actions in this case.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A Coup for Lexis

Lexis has announced that as of May 1, it will be the "exclusive third party online distributor of ALM's broad collection of industry-leading legal content worldwide." What this actually means is that Westlaw will no longer offer access to The National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, New York Law Journal, New Jersey Law Journal, and a host of other publications. All of these titles will be available on Lexis, where they will help to level the playing field between the big two legal database vendors. As a teacher of legal research, this news is heartening. Students sometimes ask why they have to learn Lexis (students at my school tend to favor Westlaw, perhaps because we use TWEN), and access to the ALM publications will be a strong incentive.

Online Research Exposes Legal Researchers & Clients to Ethical Issues!

Our colleague, Anne Klinefelter, has written a stunner of a new article at 16 Virginia Journal of Law & Technology 1 (16 VJoLT 1), Spring, 2011, WHEN TO RESEARCH IS TO REVEAL: THE GROWING THREAT TO ATTORNEY AND CLIENT CONFIDENTIALITY FROM ONLINE TRACKING. The title explains a lot about her ideas, but here is a bit more detail. Her thesis is that online legal research providers often track, either for their own use, for corporate parents, or for advertisers or other third parties, the actions of the researcher. This includes the really expensive commercial services, like Lexis or Westlaw, as well as the lower-rent services that I immediately assumed we were talking about! ISPs (the internet service providers) also track use, as most librarians know. Both types of trackers (as well as vendors of all types) use or resell the info, but the tracking info can also be "hacked" by unaffiliated third parties as well.

This has been recently highlighted by a subpoena issued for the music service, Pandora, to share information about its app for the Android and Apple mobile platforms. The concern is that both iOS and Android have been reported to share user data with third parties, and it appears that federal prosecutors are considering bringing very rare criminal charges for violation of online privacy laws, or civil charges under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The creators of the apps could also face charges from the FTC for unfair and deceptive practices, since the users of Pandora on their mobile devices, for instance, had no idea that they were also sharing all their information with third parties. The apps appear to be free, because they are supported by ads in the "Apple store," and users download them in the belief that the ads have "paid for" the application, without ever considering that part of the payment or "monetization" might be tracking their internet use. Well, it turns out that free legal research sites, as well as some rather expensive research sites also "monetize" our research behavior in similar fashion!

Using Google or other ISP sites that begin with https:// means you are using encrypted technology and that stops a certain amount of the "packet sniffing." You can search Lexis-Nexis, Westlaw and GoogleSearch (and GoogleScholar) over https ISPs. But other research services often do not allow encrypted searching. Klinefelter mentions Casemaker, a popular, lowercost search service that is offered as a free option with bar membership in many states.

Klinefelter briefly glances over the issues raised by government tracking of internet users, mentioning a wide variety of issues, but specifically stating that this article is focused on the problem of commercial tracking. She also glances at the problem of mal-ware designed to track users' movements, but again, the focus is elsewhere. In both cases, Klinefelter provides a rich trove of citations on both topics for those who wish to explore the side-bars.

She sees two threats specifically for legal practitioners in this development:
1) Breach of Attorney-Client Privilege;
2) Damage to the Work Product Protection rule.

Ethical rules governing requirements of confidentiality and competency drive developments for attorneys. Read the article.

Dick Does Duke

Duke Law School does not go out of its way to publicize the fact that the only United States President ever to resign, Richard M. Nixon, is an alumnus of the Class of 1937. Last week, however, a musical about Nixon, Tricky Dick, was put on by Duke Law School professors, staff, and students. The play was also written by Duke Law School students. The New York Times reports that the musical was first performed last year, but without "acknowledgement" from the school. "This year, the play received a $5,000 donation from the Allen & Overy law firm." Proceeds from the production went to the Duke Public Interest Law Foundation, according to the WSJ blog. In the play, "Nixon is imagined as a young, ethically challenged Duke law student running for student body president." Duke Law School's website features photos of the production and of Duke's portrait of Nixon, long kept out of sight, now on display in the law library, "where students posed with it and flashed Nixon's trademark V sign. The law school is even considering creating a permanent display about Nixon to accompany the portrait ..." To someone who lived through Watergate, Nixon's rehabilitation at Duke is a strange turn of events. Contemporary law students, however, don't remember the damage done by Nixon and his cronies. According to the Times,

Duke students these days seem less embarrassed by the disgraced former president than amused by him. While historians and Nixon contemporaries may debate the lingering toll of the Watergate scandal, current Duke students seem simply proud to have had an alumnus elected president--even one who was forced to resign.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

In Praise of Robert Morgenthau

Robert Morgenthau, the legendary former District Attorney for New York County, is the subject of a compelling profile written by Rand Richards Cooper, a fellow Amherst alumnus, in the Winter 2011 issue of the Amherst College alumni magazine. Morgenthau led the District Attorney's office for thirty-four years, retiring in 2009 at the age of ninety. During his tenure, it became one of the most highly regarded prosecutorial offices in the United States, a famous training ground for attorneys, some of whom went on to have distinguished careers in law, politics, and on the bench--Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor; New York Governor Andrew Cuomo; John F. Kennedy, Jr.; Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.; Eliot Spitzer, former New York Governor; Linda Fairstein, former head of the Sex Crimes Unit and author of crime novels. According to the profile, Morgenthau became "a kind of one-man networking maven."

The profile summarizes Morgenthau's life as follows:

Morgenthau is a figure of tantalizing paradoxes: a reedy patrician who became a gravelly voiced, profane prosecutor; the scion of a wealthy family and graduate of Deerfield, Amherst and Yale who spent his career confronting every variety of urban depravity; a Jew, proud of his heritage, whose loss to Nelson Rockefeller in the 1962 governor’s race was once attributed to his not knowing what a knish was; a self-described “shy” person whose work placed him at the center of New York City’s raucous politics, linked him to some of the most notorious names of 20th-century America—and made him the model for the DA in the long-running TV drama Law & Order.

Morgenthau prosecuted a number of extremely high-profile cases--the murder of John Lennon; the "Subway Vigilante" case; the "Preppie Murder" case; the Central Park jogger case; the BCCI money-laundering case--and was known for his pursuit of white-collar criminals. During his time as District Attorney, Morgenthau also pioneered "major upgrades to prosecuting cases ... from computerization to videotaped confessions and DNA analysis."

He was born to a life of wealth and privilege. His parents were friends of the Roosevelt family, and "as a teenager, [Morgenthau] roasted the first hot dog ever served to the British royal family, during a visit of King George VI to Hyde Park." I wonder what the King had to say about that gastronomic treat! Morgenthau's decision to enter public service was made when the destroyer on which he served as an officer during World War II was sunk by German bombers in April 1944.
In the hours he spent adrift before being rescued, he found himself thinking intensely about what to do with his life if he survived. "I guess I started making promises ... There I was, floating around the Mediterranean--and it sounds kind of corny now, but I decided to devote my life to public service."

The illustration is from a laundatory Village Voice article written at the time of Morgenthau's retirement.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Sorry State of Academic Publishing

The article, "Libraries, Publishers, and a Plea for Shotgun Weddings," by Bryn Geffert, the librarian at Amherst College, really struck a chord with me. Geffert decries the sorry state of academic publishing which is exemplified by a book he was recently asked to review.

At first glance, the work appeared promising. The publisher's Web site pledges research based on "recently opened archives," "surprising" revelations, and a "comprehensive overview" of important and neglected topics.

The list of contributors includes important figures in the field. The editor, a reputable scholar, teaches at a good university.

The publisher is a well-known commercial press.

And the book is an absolute mess.

Sentences do not parse. Punctuation comes and goes as it pleases. Basic grammatical standards retreat in the face of indifference. Narrative coherence gives way to meandering, self-absorbed stream of consciousness. The essays largely eschew arguments and theses. New information and archival research: not so much. Inanities abound. And those essays that do evidence some internal coherence bear little relation to their neighbors.

Perhaps most troubling is the almost utter lack of correlation between the book's content and the content promised by promotional blurbs. "Key themes" noted in the introduction appear nowhere else. We can only assume that topics presaged in advertising copy took a wrong turn in Albuquerque.

Geffert concludes that a number of publishers are "charging outrageous prices for embarrassingly bad books, knowing that enough individuals and institutions will snap them up." I am responsible for most of the acquisitions decisions for my library and personally look at every book (except for standing orders) we receive before it is processed. Given the volume of what comes in and the scope of my other responsibilities, I can't spend more than a few minutes on each book. Obviously, this isn't enough time for me to make a thorough evaluation of every book, but it is enough time for me to form an overall impression of which publishers produce books of quality and which produce schlock. As a result, I have a list of publishers from which I no longer purchase because of the "inverse correlation between the price and quality of [their] books," as Geffert puts it. He concedes that there are "good university presses [that are] bucking" the trend to publish books "with meager or no editorial support." How do they survive?
[B]y canceling series, releasing fewer titles, slashing runs, and declining to consider manuscripts that lack broad appeal. The result: Scholars increasingly throw their lot in with the disreputables; libraries purchase garbage; promising manuscripts go unpublished; and good manuscripts go to press half-baked. University presses committed to publishing worthy books—the presses we admire and on which we rely—can no longer give us what we need. And those that try find that libraries—each year spending ever-greater portions of their budgets on commercially produced serials—can't afford to buy what we beg the presses to produce.

Geffert believes that the current situation will not be remedied until libraries "step into the breach." He points to the University of Michigan which merged its press and its library two years ago; it pledged to "publish all future books online, free of charge." He says there are similar experiments at Utah State, Penn State, and Stanford. Geffert concedes that library resources are so stretched that
We cannot provide those we serve with what they need. Perhaps it is time to produce ourselves what we can no longer afford to purchase; to use personnel and financial resources from our libraries ... to save and revive academic publishing of high quality.

The Oberlin Group, an informal confederation of 80 selective liberal-arts college libraries, is considering creating a "liberal-arts press" which would be a "serious, scholarly press committed to rigorous peer review, superb editing, and the free dissemination of publications." This would require libraries to "reconfigure" library positions to support such an effort. Time will tell if libraries will actually be willing to free up human and financial resources. For a good overview of the issues facing academic presses, see Sustaining Scholarly Publishing: New Business Models for University Presses, a recent report from the Association of American University Presses. Geffert's article is available online to those who subscribe to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Printing from WestlawNext Enabled

This is not an April Fool's Day joke--I tried to print this morning from WestlawNext to our standalone printers, and it worked. Hallelujah! I can't wait to let our students know. I had heard through the grapevine that April 1 was to be the big day, but didn't believe it until I tried it myself. I still don't understand why it took until so late in the academic year to get the printing going, but I'm grateful all the same. My school was an early adopter of WestlawNext. We taught it to our first-year students last fall, and haven't regretted our choice at all. Students have taken to it very well, but were put off by the inability to print to the standalone printers. We publicized workarounds, but it was annoying all the same. With more content migrated to WestlawNext, having the standalone printing in place will be all the more valuable.