Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Here's Your Chance to Be Heard

As the new AALL Consumer Advocacy Caucus prepares to present its first recommendation to the AALL Executive Board at the upcoming annual conference, it is important to solicit input from AALL members about grievances we have against legal information vendors. Which practices hurt law libraries most? What is your most pressing concern? What is your most longstanding concern? Michael Ginsborg, Caucus Chair, is asking that comments be posted on the Caucus blog, or sent directly to him at The Caucus will respect all requests for confidentiality by those who request it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Movie Recommendation

Movies set in libraries are relatively rare, so it is a pleasure to recommend Quiet Please, Murder (1942) to all my librarian friends out there. We recorded it from the Fox Movie Channel. Its running length is only seventy minutes long, but the action never flags.

Starring the inimitable George Sanders as a murderous antiquarian book thief/forger and amateur psychologist who is in cahoots with glamorous, duplicitous Gail Patrick, turned out in impossibly high heels and ridiculous hats, the movie is set in the K Street branch of what must be the Washington, D.C. Public Library at the height of World War II. And what a library it is! It has an art department with a Picasso hanging on the wall and classical sculptures on display, a music department with beautiful instruments including a harp (which becomes a plot device), and a history department furnished with a lovely old Victorian settee along with some other choice pieces. Strangest of all, at least to librarians, the library has the most efficient shelvers anywhere, who whisk away books and reshelve them with the speed of light. Unfortunately, its security system and procedures for handling rare books are nothing to brag about, and this is what sets the plot in motion. Also not to be missed are the usually upstanding Sidney Blackmer as a ruthless Nazi agent, and a mute assassin who works for Blackmer. My favorite part of the movie was when a perky reference librarian painstakingly explains the Dewey Decimal System to the private investigator (Richard Denning); Denning eventually cracks the case with the aid of a call number.

This excerpt gives a taste of the movie, but here are some lines that I found particularly memorable. Some of them may even come in handy some day.

"Make him talk but don't finish him until we get the books."
"Say, I'm so scared, I have to get something to read."
"That little librarian, maybe she knows."
"Say, you've got a couple of books in here."
"We have two miles of books."
"I hate to disturb you, sister, but if you want books, this is the joint."
"A book never hurt anybody."
"Gee, how do you stand the quiet in here?"
"We've got to get the books and get out of here."

Finally, perhaps my favorite: "Each book has a number, just like the penitentiary."

Friday, February 17, 2012

Kudos to Fred Shapiro

Congratulations to my old friend and former colleague Fred Shapiro, Associate Librarian for Collections & Access at Yale Law Library, who is praised in an article in the February 12, 2012 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education. (A subscription is required to access the article). Donald Altschiller, a librarian at Boston University, highlights several reference works and their authors in "In Praise of Reference-Book Authors."

As someone who has worked in academic law libraries since 1984, I had not encountered (or even thought about) most of the reference works Altschiller writes about since library school. He eulogizes Joseph Nathan Kane, author of Famous First Facts, who died in 2002. I had no idea that Kane hosted a radio program during the 1930s also called Famous First Facts and that he later wrote questions for the TV program The $64,000 Question. Kane wrote nearly fifty other reference works and did most of his work at the New York Public Library, "methodically combing library stacks and card catalogs to produce authoritative reference works." Norbert Pearlroth, author of the "Ripley's Believe It or Not" column, also worked at the New York Public Library, and is described by Altschiller as one of the most "indefatigable and meticulous researchers of factual information." The other reference-book luminaries that Altschiller includes are Samuel Johnson, Noah Webster, Peter Mark Roget, Henry Campbell Black of Black's Law Dictionary fame, and the Reverend Ebenezer Cobham Brewer who compiled Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, a literally irreplaceable reference work in the pre-Internet era.

More modern compilers of reference works are not neglected in Altschiller's piece, including Fred Shapiro, who employs "both painstaking book research along with modern library technology to produce landmark quotation books. His Oxford Dictionary of American Legal Quotations ... [is] "the standard work for law quotations, and later his mammoth Yale Book of Quotations emerged as the pre-eminent general quotation reference work."

It was refreshing to read Altschiller's article and rediscover some favorite reference works and to be introduced to some new ones. At a time when Wikipedia is considered authoritative, many people seem not to recognize or value the meticulous, detail-oriented work that once went into creating high-quality reference works and that is a shame.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Just in time for Valentine's Day: Status of Same Sex Marriage

Washington State just passed legislation and the governor signed it on February 13. (Story from the L.A. Times). The article from the L.A. Times also includes a nice time-interactive map of the US showing how different states have changed over time to increase or decrease the rights allowed for gay couples.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has a nice, comprehensive statement of the status of same-sex marriage across the country here.

So, have a fabulous Valentine's Day, and remember, that IT GETS BETTER!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Proposition 8 Ruling in California

slate gives a very shrewd reading of the narrow decision in the Circuit Court appeal of the Prop 8 case in California that just came out. Dahlia Lithwick does a nice job of reading the crystal ball of politics and gamesmanship that apparently went into writing the decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger. In a 2-1 decision, the 3 judge panel upheld District Judge Vaughn Walker's lower court decision, but on much narrower grounds. Where Walker, in a widely-praised, broadly written decision struck down Proposition 8 with 80 findings of fact to ground his decision on the unconstitutionality of Prop 8, on both equal protection and due process grounds
Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.
The Court of Appeals, by contrast, chose to write a very narrow opinion upholding Judge Walker's decision, and making it very clear that the decision applies only to Proposition 8 in California. The opinion also prevents same-sex marriages from going forward until Proposition 8 backers have opportunities to either appeal to the full 9th Circuit or to the Supreme Court. We are all watching to see what will happen next.

Scholars' Journal Boycott: Open Access Rebellion

On January 21, Cambridge University mathematician Timothy Gowers posted on a blog, griping about the publisher Elsevier (and others). He did a very nice job listing the problems that librarians have complained about as consumer issues:
1. It charges very high prices — so far above the average that it seems quite extraordinary that they can get away with it.

2. One method that they have for getting away with it is a practice known as “bundling”, where instead of giving libraries the choice of which journals they want to subscribe to, they offer them the choice between a large collection of journals (chosen by them) or nothing at all. So if some Elsevier journals in the “bundle” are indispensable to a library, that library is forced to subscribe at very high subscription rates to a large number of journals, across all the sciences, many of which they do not want. (The journal Chaos, Solitons and Fractals is a notorious example of a journal that is regarded as a joke by many mathematicians, but which libraries all round the world must nevertheless subscribe to.) Given that libraries have limited budgets, this often means that they cannot subscribe to journals that they would much rather subscribe to, so it is not just libraries that are harmed, but other publishers, which is of course part of the motivation for the scheme.

3. If libraries attempt to negotiate better deals, Elsevier is ruthless about cutting off access to all their journals.

4. Elsevier supports many of the measures, such as the Research Works Act (112 HR 3699), that attempt to stop the move to open access. They also supported SOPA (112 HR 3261) and PIPA (112 S 968) and lobbied strongly for them.

I could carry on, but I’ll leave it there.
Professor Gowers notes that scholars can fight back by refusing to continue editing for, publishing in or doing peer reviews for such journals. He notes that he has stopped doing these things in Elsevier journals and encourages others to do so. I notice that his post has received 31 comments to date, and 83 people have used Google to +1 it, 614 people have shared it on Facebook, and 778 have tweeted it on Twitter, so this is a very hot post.

Gowers wondered if there might be a website where mathematicians who want to boycott Elsevier journals could sign their names electronically. Within a day or two, The Cost of Knowledge appeared, providing just such a website. Scholars from a wide variety of fields (law is not listed, but is subsumed under "social sciences") have signed, and are listed in alphabetical order. Science, math and humanities are all represented. The impressive part is that the protesters pledging to forgo publishing in journals such as The Lancet and Cell, include not just "made" scholars, but tenure track junior scholars, who are truly putting a great deal on the line by joining the protest. As of right now (Feb. 8, 3 PM ) there are 4,713 signatories total on The Cost of Knowledge.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has noted the protest and notes that Elsevier has felt enough pressure to make a statement in response. Librarians who look at the article will not be surprised by any of the justifications from the Elsevier spokeswoman: The steep price increases of the 1980's are a thing of the past and are coloring the perceptions of the problem now. Elsevier claims that it invests a lot in metadata tagging that adds value and links articles together, making research more efficient(and that would not be available if the scholars published their own materials -- UNLESS they worked with librarians!).
The company's support of the Research Works Act is driven by its investment in those products, [the spokeswoman] added: "It's not a disavowal of the National Institutes of Health or of open access. We are just trying to avoid inflexible regulations." The company was the first and largest contributor to PubMed Central, the NIH repository of free, full-text articles,....

Mr. Gowers, ... told The Chronicle that researchers can now evaluate and review one another's papers on open Web sites. "That would be far cheaper than anything a commercial publisher could hope to offer, and just as effective," he noted.

Nor does the Elsevier infrastructure impress younger scholars like Mr. Abrahams. "It could disappear tomorrow, and I'd never notice that it's gone," he said.
If I were Elsevier, and other, similar journal publishers, I think I would be worrying a bit.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Writing for Impact

I have a student this semester, who wants to write an article, not because he's on a journal staff, or because he is getting credit for a directed study with me. He wrote a research guide last semester on a topic that was near to his heart, and he wants to follow it up. He's doing it on his own time. I don't know if a law student has any hope of getting a journal article published in this situation.... It seems like a pretty long shot to put something like that in any law review, even our own school law journals, but especially going outside. Student-edited journals have big gates that do look at who you are, and where you are from. This has long been a frustration to law professors at 2nd, 3rd and 4th tier law schools who run into these same barriers trying to publish their scholarship. The students don't have a lot of experience judging scholarship, so they often use who and where as proxies for quality when they choose articles to publish.

Well. That's one big reason I have long shied away from publishing in law reviews. I have always chosen to send my stuff to professionally edited or peer-reviewed journals. I think I get a much better review, and I also have a much better chance of getting published, no matter where I have chosen to work.

So, I am trying to persuade this student that perhaps there is publishing beyond law reviews. That perhaps he will have a better chance of getting a well-written article published in a journal beyond the law journal universe. Law students (and I was this way, I think, when I was in law school), believe that there is no intelligent life outside of law school. This makes it extra ironic that other university faculty and PhD students often look down their noses at the law school publication system that sets up our ground-level students as the gatekeepers of our scholarship!

In service of my argument, I am trying to introduce this fellow to the concept of "journal impact factor" which is a measure based on average citation rates of the articles in the journal. So, for instance, a frequently cited journal like Nature would have a higher journal impact factor than a less frequently cited journal. It does not mean that individual articles in each issue have been cited particularly, but that, on average, articles in this journal, are cited more often. Journals advertise their impact factors to potential authors, interestingly. "Publish with us! Our impact factor is higher." As if it were going to guarantee more citations for the article you publish with them. And perhaps it does deliver more eyeballs, and potentially more citations... but nobody knows. Journal impact factor is a sort of blunt instrument measure, especially to those of us in law, who have luxuriated in the fine detail of Shepards and KeyCite citators, which not only tell us how many citations something has, but how they are being treated, and often what is being discussed. Still, journal impact factor is more information on the publication level than is available about law reviews at the publication level.

Now, there is an interesting new addition to impact measurements. Altmetrics is not designed to take the place of e of journal impact factor. It is designed to complement it, to add nuance to it and reach beyond it to publication in social media like blogs, Facebook and Twitter. I think it will be a very interesting new feature. The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting article about Altmetrics. There is a varied group of academics working on the idea, but among them is the group at which has published a manifesto. This includes academics in library science, computer science, somebody from the UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council, and somebody from Wikimedia Foundation, which is related to Wikipedia.

This is obviously going to have more immediate impact in the sciences, where open source publishing already has a toehold (PLOS, for instance is really moving forward with Altmetrics already, apparently). But we in law librarianship are working on open source publishing in our own backyards. And now I have my own personal project. I hope I can persuade this student to try publishing somewhere other than his round peg law review default. Because his square peg article is not going to be a very good fit, I fear!