Before going to law school, I did a brief stint as a reference librarian at a medical school in Brooklyn, New York. It wasn't my finest hour. During my last week of employment, I had to visit the emergency room of the affiliated hospital twice--the first time as the result of a subway mugging, and the second time because of a large cinder that had embedded itself in my eye and had to be surgically removed. I worked at that library long enough, however, to develop an appreciation for medical librarians and the conditions under which they worked. For instance, on several occasions, surgeons called the reference desk from the operating room and asked the librarian on duty for journal searches on unexpected situations they had encountered. Database searching was in its infancy at that time, and PubMeb was not yet available. When I was the librarian who got the call from the O.R., I would approach the computer terminal with shaking hands, knowing that there was possibly a life at stake while I fumbled around trying to determine how to search in order to answer the surgeon's question.
One of the libraries that I often called when I needed immediate help in such situations was the William H. Welch Medical Library at Johns Hopkins University. The librarians there were unfailingly helpful in walking me through searches and in teaching me how to use the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), which were a foreign language to me. Therefore, I was surprised and little saddened when I learned recently that the Welch Library will soon cease to be a physical presence and become an exclusively online library. This article describes the change, which will occur on January 1, 2012, when the venerable institution will close its doors to patrons. The focus going forward will be on the delivery of online materials, which is what most of the users at Johns Hopkins want. Staff is not being reduced, and patrons will still be able to contact the library for help if needed. Librarians have been "embedded" within the departments at the Medical School since 2005, and patrons can visit them during their official office hours. The director, Nancy Roderer, is not sure about the ultimate use of the building, although she says that the special collections areas will not be affected. Click here for a podcast featuring Ms. Roderer speaking about the Welch's transition to a digital library.
My daughter is working on a Ph.D. in Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins Medical School, and I asked her what she thought about the changes at the Welch. She told me that she hasn't stepped foot in the library at all since her first semester there when a librarian threw her study group out of a study room. After that experience, she never felt comfortable approaching the librarians again, which was good because everything she needed, she could pull up herself using PubMed. Her story confirms what I have always said--you cannot have confrontations with students about petty issues and then expect them to approach you when they need help. The relationship is forever poisoned. My daughter and her friends have found other places to study on campus, and none of them will mourn the loss of the physical library.
Monday, October 31, 2011
Thursday, October 27, 2011
The Fitch bond rating agency, like the better-known Morningstar, rates companies for investors, looking at the income potential and the shape of the market for future earnings. Fitch rated Thomson-Reuters last June. Stock-holders and the executives must have been pleased at the A- rating. But what caught my eye, was this paragraph, which pretty much sums up what Ken Svengalis has been preaching about how the legal publishing and vending marketplace (and the business publishing as well, I suppose as another "core business") have become oligopolies in which the few big players have essentially come to control the market place:
Fitch recognizes that there are meaningful barriers to entry in TRI's core businesses and that there are a limited number of well-capitalized competitors that compete predominantly on product differentiation, quality and delivery (rather than on price).Tip of the OOTJ hat to my wonderful colleague, Christopher Chiofolo, who showed this to me and also explained the financial reports that compared T-R's income to its competitors, showing that it essentially is making about twice the profit of the average business in its class. Hmm.
Posted by Betsy McKenzie at 6:27 PM
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Stephen Colbert was at his snarky best last night interviewing Susan Saladoff, former attorney and director of Hot Coffee, a new documentary. The film tells the story of the McDonald's coffee case, Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants, No. CV-93-02419 (2d Jud. Dist. Ct. N.M., Bernalillo County, Aug. 14, 1994), a products liability lawsuit. (Law librarians may recall that Lexis recently gave out coffee mugs with the name of this case emblazoned on one side). The plaintiff sued McDonald's after purchasing coffee at a drive-through. When the coffee spilled on her lap, she suffered third-degree burns and required skin grafting and debridement to deal with her extensive injuries. The jury initially awarded her $2.9 million, but the trial judge reduced that to $640,000. Liebeck and McDonald's ultimately settled for an undisclosed amount that has never been publicly revealed.
Much has been written about the case, to which critics point as an example of a "frivolous" lawsuit. In fact, Liebeck's injuries were extensive and serious. In Colbert's interview with Saladoff, he casts himself as an average guy for whom this case represents everything that is wrong with the American judicial system. Saladoff matched him point for point, and emphasized that the system works exactly as it should work. When individuals are injured, they should be able to seek redress against the person or corporation that is responsible for their injuries. There should be no limits on their ability to be made whole through the courts. Stephen was having none of it, but at the end, Saladoff received a hearty round of applause from the audience. The DVD will be available for purchase on November 1.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
The ABA online Newsletter has a fabulous interview with Verna Myers who owns a diversity consulting group, and has written a book, Moving Diversity Forward, How to go from well-meaning to well-doing. It sounds like a great book to add to a library, but a better book to give your administration. There are a lot of terrific things in the interview, and I don't want to quote the whole thing here. Follow the link and go read it! She is very inspiring and challenging.
Posted by Betsy McKenzie at 2:53 PM
Monday, October 24, 2011
The New York Times reports that Occupy Boston and the Occupy Wall Street protesters have set up tent libraries. The Boston Radical Reference Collective have been active in helping set up the library in Boston. The Times reports that the protesters are receiving up to 50 books per day, which are sorted by genre. The most requested book seems to be Howard Zinn's People’s History of the United States which is not checked out because it is in such high demand. Noam Chomsky is another author in high demand. Tip of the OOTJ hat to my daughter's fiance, Eli Gottlieb, for alerting me to the story!
Posted by Betsy McKenzie at 1:59 PM
Friday, October 21, 2011
You have until November 2 to sign the Consumer Advocacy Caucus petition that seeks to have the group recognized as an official AALL Caucus. The AALL Executive Board will consider the petition during the November 5th Executive Board meeting in Chicago, at which Michael Ginsborg, our chair, will be in attendance.
A final version of the petition will be submitted to the Board on November 2, but it will NOT contain names of individual AALL members who support the petition. AALL has asked that the group simply provide the total number of AALL members who support the petition. AALL Chapters, Sections and Caucuses that have endorsed the petition will be listed, but individual members' names will not.
If you are considering whether to support the petition, but have been hesitant to add your name as a signatory, this development will help you make up your mind. Please contact Michael Ginsborg at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to be counted as a supporter of the petition.
For more information about the history of and reasons for the Caucus and the petition, go to my earlier blog post on the subject. And if you're wondering what any of this has to do with you and your library, read Laura Orr's cogent post on the Oregon Legal Research blog.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Dear OOTJ Readers, Here at Suffolk, it's hiring season again. That is, we are interviewing faculty candidates. I sit and listen to amazing brilliant faculty candidates speak at length on all sorts of topics and engage my faculty colleagues in analyzing cases and all manner of legal topics.And I wonder, what is wrong with me? I just HATE this sort of thing. I think back to law school. And the first semester, I was truly excited, and really engaged. I was so interested in using my mind to think about the issues that were raised in class. But by the second semester, I was starting to get sick with what would now be diagnosed as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I would run a low-grade fever for five or six weeks in a row, ached all over, and was exhausted. I felt like I had the flu on a permanent basis. And then for one or two days, I would feel, gloriously normal. But then, it would all start again. This lasted all the way through law school: 3 years! I went to so many different types of doctors. And many doctors, when they cannot figure out what is wrong with you (maybe especially a with a woman), they get snarky, and start talking about hypochondriac, and maybe you need to get out more. I was really, really frustrated! But I was really, really sick, too. By the time I graduated, my 3-L portrait showed me looking pretty ragged, with my hair so limp that I decided to get a
A Poem: In the House of the Law
I have made for myself
A small mouse’s nest
Beneath a cornice
In the grand house of the Law.
Walls that hold
The trembling sound
Like a bird held
In a gentle hand.Betsy McKenzie 32 Legal Studies Forum 207 (2008)
Posted by Betsy McKenzie at 5:10 PM
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Yale Law alumnus and legendary constitutional lawyer Floyd Abrams has given his alma mater $3,000,000 to found an institute to promote free speech, free press, and access to information. The Yale Daily News article quotes Abrams on the reason for his gift:
'We live in a time of acute polarization of views in our nation ... It is of critical import that no voice be stilled and that government play virtually no role in determining who speaks and to what extent. The First Amendment makes us the envy of the world and it is worth learning and relearning why that is so.'
The Floyd Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression will be overseen by the Law School's Information Society Project, which is led by Professor Jack Balkin. According to Balkin, the main beneficiary of Abrams's largesse will be the Media Freedom and Information Access clinic, a Yale initiative that assists journalists with "freedom of information and open access issues." Some of the donation will ge used to hire a permanent faculty member to lead the MFIA, as it is known, allowing it to "take on more cases and broaden its legal scope."
Monday, October 17, 2011
Amazon has almost put both independent bookstores and chain bookstores out of business. Are publishers Amazon's next victim? The New York Times is reporting that Amazon has gone into the publishing business. This fall it plans to publish 122 books "in an array of genres, in both physical and e-book form. It is a striking acceleration of the retailer's fledging publishing program that will place Amazon squarely in competition with the New York houses that are also its most prominent suppliers." It is unclear to me whether Amazon will offer its authors the traditional services offered by publishers, i.e., editing and marketing, although the Times article states that Amazon is "gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide." Traditional publishers have already cut back on editing (it's rare these days to read anything that wouldn't benefit from careful copy editing), so it's likely that authors won't lose much if they publish with Amazon. And the article points to efforts already under way by authors to market their work themselves, so they won't miss the marketing campaigns of traditional publishers as much as they would have in the days before authors and their readers could communicate directly. The article quotes Russell Grandinetti, an Amazon executive: "'The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader ... Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.'" One question left unanswered by the Times article is royalties. It seems reasonable to assume that by forgoing the services of the traditional publishers and opting for Amazon, authors should be able to bargain for more generous compensation.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Washington is hopelessly addicted to money and thus to the status quo; drunk with power and incapable of getting sober and fixing itself. It’s time for an intervention—by the states. Politically, we two disagree on just about everything. But the one thing we do agree on is that the institutions of government in Washington have become corrupt, held hostage by well-funded special interests. It’s no wonder that only 17 percent of the American public in a recent Gallup survey said they had a favorable opinion of Congress. American voters believe, and rightly so, that corporations, labor unions and moneyed special interests have a chokehold on politicians. Voters are disillusioned and discouraged because they don’t believe Washington represents the will of the people. And the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. F.E.C.—which permits unlimited independent corporate campaign expenditures—will only make this worse. And so too many throw up their hands and say, “We give up. Congress won’t fix itself. And there’s nothing that we can do about it.” But there is something we can do. We, the People, can take back the power we gave to Congress. We can take it back through the states. The framers left open a path to amendment that doesn’t require the approval of Congress: a convention. Article V of the Constitution requires Congress to call a convention to propose amendments if 34 state legislatures demand it. Any proposed amendment would then have to be ratified by both houses of 38 state legislatures (three-fourths of the states). (snip) Even if 34 states don’t call for a convention, history teaches that a real threat is often enough to get Congress to act. The only amendment in our history that changed the structure of Congress (the 17th, making the Senate an elected body) was proposed by Congress because the states were close (just one state short) to calling for a convention. If nothing else, the possibility of a body they can’t control is enough to get Congress to pay attention. Some will resist the idea of a convention because they fear a “runaway” in which fringe elements would take over the agenda and propose radical amendments. But the framers anticipated such a danger and established a very high bar against it. Amendments are ratified by legislatures (or state conventions), not by referenda. And if even one chamber in 12 state legislatures refused to ratify an amendment, it would die. There will always be twelve solid blue states and twelve solid red states in America. There’s thus no danger that one extreme can overtake the other. Conventional wisdom will argue that constitutional conventions or amendments are just impossible. Just like it was impossible to wrest a republic from the grip of monarchy or abolish slavery. Or impossible to elect Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama. But conventional minds are always wrong about pivotal moments in a nation’s history. And this is a pivotal moment in ours, when a movement to restore democracy is possible. Indeed, the movement has already begun. Legislators in South Carolina, Virginia, Oregon, Rhode Island and Florida are already throwing sparks that could soon become a brush fire across the country. More and more are coming to see that if reform is necessary—as most all of us, whether from the right or left believe—this is the only way.Interestingly enough, when I searched for information on Occupy Wall Street, the top item returned was a Wikipedia entry reminding readers of Article Five of the Constitution, giving the citizens the power amend the Constitution or to call a constitutional convention. It was a sponsored link.