Friday, September 30, 2005

L'Shanah Tovah

To all my friends and readers who are keeping the Jewish Holy Days, L'Shanah Tovah Tikatevu, and a Good Sabbath, too. For Gentiles, (Goyim) like me, I wanted to attach a picture of Challah, the beautifully braided bread that is served with Sabbath and many holiday meals. I found a very beautiful image at Other traditional foods for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, are sliced apples and honey (cool) and sweet wine (all Kosher, of course).

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Future of Law Librarians

Every so often, I feel somewhat discouraged about the employment prospects of law librarians. My husband, also a librarian, predicts that Google Print will inevitably put most librarians out of work, and that we will join the ranks of extinct professions in the dustbin of history--future generations will have no idea what librarians did.

As a useful corrective to that doomsday scenario, check out the following. In "Deconstructing the Law Library: The Wisdom of Meredith Willson," 89 Minn. L. Rev. 1381 (2005), Bob Berring says that "law libraries can no longer be defined as buildings, and can no longer be viewed as synonymous with the collections of information that they contain." Id. at 1402. He goes on to say that libraries "are no longer the institutions that define legitimate information." Id. If libraries are not buildings or collections, then what are they? Berring supplies an answer. According to him, the "soul of law libraries consists of law librarians." Id. Berring discusses the role librarians play in helping people find information and interpreting it once they have it in hand. Librarians will be crucial in managing the flood of information released from the Internet, and helping people understand issues of authority. What I found most heartening was Berring's reminder that librarians have been evolving for centuries and embracing new technology all the while, and will continue to do so in the future. Equally heartening was his assertion that of all the players in the information scene today, only librarians "have invested themselves in the quality of the information and its equitable distribution." Id. at 1403. If you ever forget why you chose to become a law librarian, read Berring's article and you will be reenergized.

Another publication worth your consideration is the Libraries section of the Chronicle of Higher Education, September 30, 2005. Particularly inspiring is Steven J. Bell's article entitled "Electronic Libraries Can't Be Academic" on page B14. Bell discusses Questia, a commercial vendor of electronic books and journal articles, which claims to provide "the world's largest online academic library and research resource." Id. After disputing this claim, Bell goes on to discuss what librarians bring to their institutions. "[L]ibrarians' involvement in the life of their institution is the catalyst that brings the groups together." Id. Without librarians, Questia cannot claim to be a library. This article is another good reminder of what we have to offer our institutions.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Blogs as Presentation Tools

Here's a thought: using blogs instead of Powerpoint.

Cindy Chick has a very useful post on using blogs as presentation media. She discusses advantages and disadvantages and links to a presentation that she recently did in Blogger. I've been going back and forth on this for a while and I think I'm at the point that I will never present using PowerPoint again. Last week, I spoke at the Nassau Library System and used a blog for my presentation and loved it because the presentation flowed better. Cindy Chick writes:

"The organization of a blog forced me to think, not in bullet points, but in speaking points. I've been skeptical at claims that PowerPoint dictates a certain undesirable structure upon it's users, but after working with a blog, I'm starting to think there may be something to that idea."

Unlike Cindy, I'm finding myself more and more opposed to the use of Powerpoint in instruction. (Everyone who uses Powerpoint should immediately stop what you're doing and read Edward Tufte's analysis.) Powerpoint is very easy to use badly, and very difficult to use well. I've seen too many presentations, especially by students in classes, where Powerpoint is used as a crutch. The speaker sits at the table with the rest of the students and reads the text presented on the screen in front of them. This enables the speaker to speak without having to face the class looking at him or her. Text-heavy Powerpoint presentations are boring, and clip art-heavy presentations are lacking in content (I know, I've fallen into that trap myself too many times). The graphs and charts that Powerpoint produces contain minimal informational content.

Sunday evening I was preparing my first Legal Research lecture for this semester--an orientation to novice and expert information seeking behavior, and an introduction to secondary sources. I was using PowerPoint to draft my presentation, and I finally decided I was better off just printing off the handout and distributing that rather than using a laptop and projector. The technology ties you not only to a preconceived script, but also to one spot in the room. I'm not a great lecturer, but I feel that my lectures are better if I'm free to move about the room and engage students directly.

Powerpoint can be useful as a slideshow tools, when you want to display photos or other images. It's good for that. Other than that, however, I doubt that I will use Powerpoint again.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Square Pegs in Round Holes

I think libraries are full of people who feel like they are square pegs in round holes. The world is not kind to us. Guys who are sweet and kind. Women who just aren't cut out for Suzy home-maker. Those of us who don't quite fit our gender roles as our society defines them. And all of us who are defined, defined, defined by the color of our skins or the texture of our hair, our height, our weight, our stutter, our deafness --- geez, all of us just want to be the person we are.

And somehow, libraries have been like safe harbors in a lot of ways.

Libraries make a safe place, and an interesting place for people to work who might not like working at GE or the mall or Dewey, Cheatem & Howe. It seems to me that libraries thrive because they offer this safe harbor and intellectually stimulating work, and accept a broad range of people.

There is a real strength in having a variety of people. Our strengths complement one another. In many workplaces, there is a there is a tendency to hire clones of the boss, and everybody looks and acts the same. In workplaces like that, everybody has the same strengths and the same weaknesses. In libraries, we really do work together, like an interlocking clockwork, where one piece pushes as another piece pulls, and it makes the whole go around.

Ordered Back to Louisiana

From Inside Higher Ed:

The date is set. A message sent to all Tulane University Law School students last week made it clear that they are expected back in New Orleans in January. They will not be permitted to remain elsewhere as visiting students for the spring semester, and Tulane will not help them transfer....

The Tulane letter is the first of what may be a series of difficult negotiations between New Orleans colleges and their students. In the immediate wake of Hurricane Katrina, flexibility was the name of the game, and colleges encouraged students to find any appropriate place to spend a semester. But with colleges’ finances and reputations on the line, institutions may start bending a lot less....

Some are not following the marching orders happily. E-mail messages seeking to organize a class action lawsuit to force Tulane to release students have circulated among displaced students. An anonymous post on the Tulane law discussion board proposes making a pitch for a story to 60 Minutes detailing what some students think is unfair treatment.

More here.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Inspiring Students and Facilitating Learning

The Institute for Law School Teaching is pleased to announce that its next conference -- "Inspiring Students and Facilitating Learning" -- will take place on June 2-3 in Chicago. The conference will be co-sponsored and hosted by IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law and will include workshops on, among other things:

A. Inspiring Students

How do we as teachers motivate students to want to learn (as opposed to merely get a good grade or prepare for the bar exam)?

B. Learning by Doing: Service Learning & Field Observation

A discussion of how to incorporate into courses a service learning component or observations of the real world and the people in it. Such discussion will also deal with the benefits to students of such experiential learning.

C. Facilitating Learning in Small Groups

A discussion of what teachers can do to facilitate learning in small groups outside the classroom. Such groups may be used anywhere along a long continuum of activities: anywhere from completing an assigned and graded project to functioning as an informal study group. A component of such discussion will be how to teach students to be effective teachers to their peers.

D. Metacognition: Getting Students to Think About How They Learn

A discussion of what teachers can do to assist students in thinking about how they learn and how to learn.

E Tapping Creativity to Aid Visual Learning

A discussion of what teachers can do to assist students in synthesizing information by getting them to create charts, illustrations, and other visual displays.

F Learning by Doing: Drafting Exercises and Simulations

A discussion of how to incorporate drafting exercises and simulations into courses along with the benefits to students of such experiential learning.

The Institute is eager to have additional workshops and presentations on topics related to the conference theme and will waive the conference registration fee for workshop facilitators and presenters. Teachers interested in facilitating such a workshop or making such a presentation should send a proposal to Professor Stephen L. Sepinuck, Co-director, Institute for Law School Teaching, at Please indicate in the proposal whether you would prefer 45 or 75 minutes for the workshop or presentation.

Stephen L. Sepinuck

Professor of Law

Gonzaga University School of Law

P.O. Box 3528

Spokane, WA 99220

(509) 323-6379

(509) 323-5840 (fax)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

What is next\text?

Via The Handheld Librarian:

In this networked age, the printed textbook has likely reached the end of its useful life cycle, but a robust digital competitor has yet to emerge. The next\text project seeks to encourage the creation of born-digital learning materials that enhance, expand, and ultimately replace the printed textbook. The work presented here offers multiple visions of what might be possible.

Another One Bites the Dust

A few weeks ago Lyonette Louis-Jacques announced that she was ceasing the maintenance and distribution of Law Lists, her once-essential compilation of law-related email discussion lists. Now Rory Litwin says farewell to his long-running email publication, Library Juice:

After 330 issues of Library Juice over close to eight years, I find that it is time to close the covers.

There has been a lot of change over the years that Library Juice has been in publication. The environment in which it exists has changed,
and I have changed, too.

Originally, Library Juice was primarily a digest of material that circulated via email and didn't otherwise have an existence on the net,
and couldn't be accessed except by email connections. Most of the things that at that time would be circulated only by email are now also
accessible on the web, in part because of web-accessible email archives, but moreso because web publishing has expanded and become
easier, in part through blogging technology. So, over time, more and more of what would have been part of a typical issue of Library Juice
in the first years became just something to link to, perhaps with a comment (along with two dozen bloggers). As this change took place I
began publishing more original content and longer pieces, and Library Juice became less of an email digest and more of a magazine or journal. My decision in 2002 to go from a one-week to a two-week publication cycle was a part of this trend....

I have changed in this time as well. In terms of Library Juice, the nature of my inspiration has changed. When I started Library Juice I
was still in Library School, and filled with enthusiasm and excitement for a lot of things that, though they still deserve enthusiasm and
excitement, are now simply features of the landscape for me and often objects of my skepticism. Skepticism is now also a major aspect of the way I regard initiatives undertaken by young librarians on the web, where eight years ago I simply would have found them cool. This change in my outlook has changed the tone of Library Juice and made it something different from it was originally. I'm less interested in reporting enthusiastically on the cool things that are going on in the library world (and there are a lot of them) and more interested in
publishing more extended, and I hope somewhat deep, reflections on questions of progressive librarianship. Library Juice can sometimes be a good format for doing that, but it is very difficult to do it according to a regular publication schedule. I would be more content
to be able work on these reflections over longer periods of time and publish them in other venues....

I am not exactly retiring from the scene, however. Out of Library Juice you will soon see the emergence of a couple of new things. One is a blog, to add to all the other blogs, which will also be called Library Juice, and will be updated irregularly with some of the same kinds of
things that you're accustomed to reading here. With the blog I will have the freedom not to update it during times like this when I don't
feel like saying much, and to publish things on it heavily at other times. A year ago I would have been opposed to starting a blog, but at
this point I feel that blogs are here to stay and are the beginning of something important and ineluctable. When the blog is online you will
be able to find it at the Library Juice website, and I will send out an email announcement of it to Library Juice subscribers. I plan on
keeping back issues of Library Juice online, at least in the near term.

The second new thing that's coming up, which will take slightly longer to realize, will be a book publishing company called Library Juice
Press. I have this venture fairly well planned out, and have five titles in the editing stages for publication in 2006 and 2007.

Read Rory's full message. "It's been a wonderful 7 years, 9 months doing Library Juice. I really appreciate my readers and I hope we stay in touch through our future ventures."

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Abolish the Third Year of Law School?

Over at Legal Affairs Debate Club. Laura Appleman and Dan Solove are debating the ever-popular question: do we need a third year of law school? Earlier postings on this topic may be found here, here, and here.

Knock on Wood

In law school, for the first time in my life, I became a little superstitious. If people asked me how I thought I did on an exam, I would try to avoid speculating. If I ever said I thought I did well, I would always knock on wood, just in case, to dispel any evil spirits lured by such a display of hubris. I still knock on wood. It has become a second nature to me. I knocked on wood just recently as I was speaking with an emeritus faculty member who is Jewish. He noticed and told me that the Yiddish version of that would be "keine ahore" (though I have probably spelled it wrongly -- anybody with Yiddische out there?). He explained it's pronounced cane-uh au-hore-uh. And derives from the German word keine, which I recognize, meaning none, or no; and the Hebrew word Ahore (again, sorry about spelling!), evil eye. So, the saying is to avert the evil eye. He said no Yiddish speaker of his youth would ever say their son was successful without adding, "keine ahore," to avert the evil eye. Knock on wood!

We do these things, I guess, to give ourselves the feeling we have some control in times when we feel that our world is out of our control. Perhaps the fact that I began to be superstitious in law school tells me that for the first time in my academic career, I felt that I did not know whether my previous success or skills learned would carry me through. Law school is different from any other school, and is set up in an insane way to allow the entire grade of most classes to hang on a single final exam. How crazy is that? No wonder our law students get a little nutsy at exam time. It's been so long since I've been there, done that, that I have sometimes been less sympathetic. Of course no amount of stress excuses the outrageous behavior that some students engage in, but I do need to remind myself of the stress they are under as law students. Knock on wood!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Thanks, Bonnie

I would like to thank Bonnie Shucha for giving us a preliminary look at the results of her blog survey last week. I'm looking forward to reading her article. It will also be interesting to see if the prominence of blogs in the law library community takes a significant upswing anytime soon. And when will we hear the first law library podcast?

Monday, September 19, 2005

Cell Phone Wah-Wah

So here it is – the reason patrons are so hostile when we ask them to stop using their cell phones in the library – we are pulling the binkies right out of their mouths! This is my new theory. Not all cell phone users are like this, but a lot are – the ones we see using cell phones when they are sitting together in the restaurant. The terrific Zits cartoon about the movie theater full of teens who cannot enjoy the movie without IM-ing their friends incessantly. They are cocooning themselves in an electronic blanket where they do not have to deal with reality face-on. The cell phone, the IM, the I-Pod, the PDA and the Blackberry all form a matrix that is their interface with reality. The hostility we encounter when asking them to lose the cell phone is a symptom of a sub-rational nature of need we accidentally tripped over. We pulled the binky out of the mouth. Of course they cried bloody murder. The picture of the baby withe the binky is courtesy of : firstmonth.htm
The crying baby is from: crying-baby01_300_border.jpg
And the cell phone is from:

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Windhover

I have been thinking of one of my favorite poems lately, The Windhover, by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins was a Jesuit priest living in Ireland who wrote amazing poems with unique rhythms. But I don’t think he shared them with much of anybody when he was alive. At least his poems were not published until after he died at the age of 44 in 1918.

The Windhover
To Christ our Lord

I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Thanks to for the text above.
This beautiful picture of a flying kestrel, or windhover, is courtesy of the folks at Stanford University:

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Law Library Blog Survey: Unsuccessfulness

Yesterday, in continuation of sharing the preliminary results of the law library blog survey, I posted some of the responses that I received from bloggers on ways in which they felt their blogs where successful.

Therefore, today’s responses are to the question, “Please share ways in which your blog has NOT been successful.” Selected responses include:

- Readership not as high as hoped – 13 people noted this. Specific Comments: “Generally we have failed to make [blog name omitted] a compelling ‘must’ read”

- Failure by some contributors to post to group blog – 6 people noted this. Specific Comments: “Not everyone we've invited to participate does. Sometimes people forget to post to the blog instead of sending email (one purpose is to reduce mass emailings).”

- Struggle to post new content (too time consuming; student contributors not supported by faculty) – 3 people noted this. Specific Comments: “Blog has been hard to maintain in the face of other work needs”

- Technology problems (firewalls block access, launch date delayed; software limited number of authors) – 3 people noted this.

- Don’t receive comments as often as hoped – 2 people noted this.

- Struggle to make blog unique – 2 people noted this. Specific Comments: “We are drowning in a sea of sameness - so many. . . blogs - how to do it better?”

- Lack of support from parent institution – 1 person noted this.

- Lack of notice outside law librarian community – 1 person noted this.

And this comment was too good not to share in its entirety – plus I wasn’t too sure how to categorize it!

“No groundswell of people commenting on my items or clicking like mad on my AdSense ad or emailing me with job offers and Tonight Show guest shots. No federal appointment or state cabinet positions offered. No gorgeous love interests located. No free money being mailed in or donated, nor any large advertiser bidding up the space or domain name for purchase. No one announced that I have been added to their will. Other than that it is terrifically successful.”

I found it interesting that, by far, the response most mentioned was that readership was not as high as hoped. Responses to another survey question revealed that efforts to publicize blogs varied widely. Some bloggers took great pains to market their blogs while others indicated that they did little or nothing. Look for more analysis on this in my upcoming article for Law Library Journal.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Law Library Blog Survey: Successes

As Out of the Jungle guest blogger this week, I’ll continue to share the preliminary results of my survey of law library blogs.

The question I’m sharing today was an open ended one in which I asked respondents to share ways in which your blog has been successful.

I’ve attempted to categorize the type of responses and noted how many responses I received for each. As of today, there were 48 total respondents to the survey.


- Successfully sharing info with patrons, (including distance, unexpected, and distinguished readers) - 10 people noted this.
Specific comments: "I have received e-mails from my attorneys telling me that they wouldn't have known about useful cases if they hadn't seen my blog;" "Our lawyers and library staff comment frequently on content that has been helpful to them;" "The dean likes it."

- Archiving useful information for own/library staff use later - 8 people noted this.
Specific comments: "Helps us be more efficient with reference questions re. new developments, for example new statutes or court rules."

- Increased staff communication (one way and two way) and morale- 5 people noted this.
Specific comments: "It keeps our two offices "connected" and positively impacts office morale. People feel they know each other better and that they can communicate in an office forum where their personalities shine through. . . It has resulted in some lawyers collaborating that would not have made the connection otherwise."

- Networking (advice, camaraderie) with law and library colleagues made via blog - 5 people noted this.

- Blog mentioned in other blogs - 4 people noted this.

- Career booster - 2 people noted this.
Specific comments: "Profiled in local business newspaper & two job offers;" "Increased my esteem in my host institution"

- Good PR for firm/school - 2 people noted this.

- Usage statistics high - 2 people noted this.

- Creates impression of being on cutting edge - 1 person noted this.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Shepards, Leopards

Richard Ducey, thank you for raising the issue of whether Shepards is continuing to note West headnotes. Now, we have the CRIV e-mail sent out on all these listserves, announcing in very careful and strange language that of course, they will always continue to include West headnotes, despite how terribly expensive it is becoming:

Recently, LexisNexis has received a number of questions
regarding the analysis of West headnotes by Shepard's.
We deeply appreciate the trust that you place in Shepard's,
and want to allay any concerns. LexisNexis will continue
to provide headnote analysis for West's reporters.
Furthermore, no existing headnote analysis has been
removed from any Shepard's product.

You should know that the production of that analysis is
becoming increasingly complex and difficult. In almost
every respect, analysis of West headnotes by Shepard's
is conducted just as it was when we began producing
that analysis - over a century ago.

We would also like to let you know that we have recently
integrated the LexisNexis headnotes into Shepard's Citations
Service. Legal researchers can now restrict their Shepard's
results by LexisNexis headnote - or Shepardize a LexisNexis
headnote directly from a case - making it easier to find
additional cases that discuss significant points of law.
LexisNexis headnotes are updated frequently, are applied
to a broad number of published and unpublished cases,
and use the court's own language to ensure that they are
consistent with the decision of the case. Shepard's editors
add LexisNexis headnotes to all cases with substantive
discussion, apply Shepard's editorial analysis, and enhance
those Shepard's reports with powerful caselaw and statutory
links - typically in less than 72 hours.

To reiterate, we will continue to provide Shepard's analysis
of West headnotes. At the same time, LexisNexis continues
to develop the next generation of citation research and validation
tools. As always, please do not hesitate to contact your Account
Representative or Librarian Relations Consultant should you
have any questions or comments.

Well, you can do a search yourself for State v. Golding, 567A.2d 823, 213 Conn 233, (Conn, 1989): Excluding prior and subsequent history, there were 1228 citing decisions on Shepard's. Selecting all West headnotes reduced the number to 765 citing decisions. Adding in a 2005 date restriction produced no cites! I think this seems pretty worrying, as though, for instance, Shepards stopped covering the West headnotes in 2005. I am glad that people are looking a little farther into the matter than just taking the statement above at face value.

Law Library Blog Survey: Audience

Continuing with the preliminary results from my survey of law library blogs, today findings concern audience. To whom are we targeting our blogs?

This was a significant area of concern for us when creating the UW Law library blog, WisBlawg. Should we target the blog to our own law students, faculty and staff, or should we aim for a wider audience of legal professionals?

Ultimately, we decided to write the blog for an audience of legal professionals state wide. Our reasons were two-fold: First, we were concerned that if we limited the focus internally, we wouldn't reach a large enough audience to make it worth our efforts. Second, the UW has a grand tradition called the "Wisconsin Idea" which values service to the state and its residents.

Interestingly, we found that our audience is wider than anticipated. We've heard from readers nationally and even internationally, as our visitor map shows.

Through this batch of questions concerning audience, I endeavored to learn about the experiences of other law library bloggers.

Blog Availability:

Limited to a specific group of users 19.57%
Publicly available 80.43%

Primary Intended Audience:
Your library staff 4.35%
Your parent organization (firm, school, court, etc.) 34.78%
Your law library association 0.00%
Legal practitioners in your geographic area 8.70%
Legal practitioners from anywhere 10.87%
General Public 10.87%
Other 30.43%

Do groups other than your primary intended audience read your blog also?:
Yes 54.35%
No 15.22%
I don't know 30.43%

Monday, September 12, 2005

LexisNexis on Shepards Headnotes

We have reported earlier (here and here) on rumors about a decision by LexisNexis to remove West headnotes from Shepards. Now today here is this response from LexisNexis:

LexisNexis has asked CRIV to post this notice regarding headnotes in Shepard's. The purpose of this posting is to provide information and should not be considered an endorsement of a particular company or its products by CRIV or AALL.


Recently, LexisNexis has received a number of questions regarding the analysis of West headnotes by Shepard's. We deeply appreciate the trust that you place in Shepard's, and want to allay any concerns. LexisNexis will continue to provide headnote analysis for West's reporters. Furthermore, no existing headnote analysis has been removed from any Shepard's product.

You should know that the production of that analysis is becoming increasingly complex and difficult. In almost every respect, analysis of West headnotes by Shepard's is conducted just as it was when we began producing that analysis - over a century ago.

We would also like to let you know that we have recently integrated the LexisNexis headnotes into Shepard's Citations Service. Legal researchers can now restrict their Shepard's results by LexisNexis headnote - or Shepardize a LexisNexis headnote directly from a case - making it easier to find additional cases that discuss significant points of law. LexisNexis headnotes are updated frequently, are applied to a broad number of published and unpublished cases, and use the court's own language to ensure that they are consistent with the decision of the case. Shepard's editors add LexisNexis headnotes to all cases with substantive discussion, apply Shepard's editorial analysis, and enhance those Shepard's reports with powerful caselaw and statutory links - typically in less than 72 hours.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact your Account Representative or Librarian Relations Consultant should you
have any questions or comments. To reiterate, we will continue to provide Shepard's analysis of West headnotes. At the same time, LexisNexis continues to develop the next generation of citation research and validation tools. As always, please do not hesitate to contact your Account Representative or Librarian Relations Consultant should you have any questions or comments.

Who Is Blogging? Preliminary Results of Law Library Blogs Survey

Thanks to Jim for inviting me to participate my first-ever guest blogging experience. Among other things this week, I'd like to share some of the preliminary findings of my survey of the law library blogosphere.

Please note that they survey is not yet closed and these finding are only preliminary. Thus far I've received forty-six responses, although as my list of Law Library Blogs and Blogs by Law Librarians or Law Library Associations indicates, there are at least 75 known law library blogs.

The survey is in conjunction with an article I'm writing on the state of the law library blogosphere: Who is blogging? What are we blogging about? Who reads our blogs? What technologies are we using? and Have our blogs been successful? I've focused the survey on professional blogs affiliated with a law library, a law library association, and / or written by a law librarian.

This first batch of preliminary results will attempt to shed light on the question: "Who is blogging?"

Blogger affiliation:

An academic law library 36.96%
A state, court, or county law library 6.52%
A firm/corporation law library 13.04%
A legislative library 0.00%
A law library association 2.17%
Other 8.70%
No affiliation 32.61%

Blogger Location:
New England
Middle Atlantic 26.09%
Southwest 6.52%
Canada 6.52%
Other 8.70%

Posting Frequency:
Daily (weekdays & weekends) 26.09%
Daily (weekdays) 13.04%
Weekly 23.91%
Monthly 2.17%
Less than monthly 0.00%
Other 34.78%

Library director(s) 34.78%
Librarian(s) 82.61%
Faculty/Attorney(s)/Judge(s) 8.70%
Support staff 17.39%
Other 8.70%

I'd like to express a BIG thank you to the forty-six of you who have taken time to complete the survey so far. And if you are a law library blogger that hasn't completed it, I encourage you to share your experiences by completing the survey.

What will happen to the New Orleans diaspora?

From Leiter Reports: What will happen to the New Orleans diaspora?: "A psychologist provides a nice attempt to empathize with the horrible dislocation provided by evaporating a community of several hundred thousand into culturally very different terrain."

Guest blogger Bonnie Shucha

I'm very pleased to welcome our guest blogger for the week, Bonnie Shucha. Bonnie is Reference and Electronic Services Librarian at the University of Wisconsin Law Library, blog-mistress of WisBlawg, and Co-chair of the AALL CS-SIS Blawgs Committee. Welcome, Bonnie!

(In a side note, I'm going to try very hard to limit my Katrina-related postings, but not drop them entirely--it's too important an issue to ignore. I'm planning to limit myself to a few pointers to particularly essential comments and news from the other blogs.)

Over to you, Bonnie.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Open Access to Law Articles

From the listserv:

[Please post as widely as possible to lists that serve law professors and academics within law. Apologies for cross-posting.]


This message is about open access archiving for your scholarly articles and papers. "Open access archiving" means that the review/journal which publishes your work also allows authors to make the published work freely available on the public internet, permitting users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles. Open access archiving is a tremendously significant development in scholarly publishing because it disseminates the fruits of your scholarship to the entire world, for no cost. This means a greater audience and greater impact for your work, and an opportunity for you to influence policy and scholarship in locations and arenas where your printed work is never going to reach.

Through Creative Commons, Larry Lessig (Stanford Law School), Michael Carroll (Villanova Law School) and I have been working on a way to encourage law reviews to move towards open access archiving. We have established the "Open Access Law Program" as part of the Science Commons publishing project. The Open Access Law Program provides a number of resources to encourage open access archiving. These resources include a set of Open Access Principles for law reviews (see ) and an Open Access Model Publishing Agreement (see The former is a small number of principles that commit the law review to taking the
least restrictive license consistent with its needs, a promise to provide an electronic copy of the final version of the article to the author, and a commitment to allow public access to the review's standard publishing contract (in the event that it chooses not to use the Model Agreement). The Principles do not ask the law review to undertake the archiving of articles or change the publication format of the law review: they simply ask the review to allow the archiving of articles by authors. The Model Agreement enshrines these commitments in a neutral contract that is easy for both authors and law reviews to accept.

Open access archiving does not change the commercial publication assumptions of journals. Moreover, open access archiving provides a far greater readership and impact for the scholarship published in the journal. It is not rare for open access articles to receive thousands of downloads. Open access archiving is strongly in your interest, and in the interest of the institutions where you work: it provides a greater audience for your scholarship; it expands the reach of the work of student authors and editors who may be at your institution; and it fits within the mission of educational institutions to push back the frontiers of scholarship in law and related fields. I explain this in a recent article called "Walled Gardens", which is available at if you want further details.

I urge you to consider the benefits of open access archiving in law, and recommend a number of steps that you can take. First, you should consider publishing in journals that comply with our Open Access Principles or which generally adopt open access models. For the most committed (and tenured) faculty, we have established an Author Pledge (see ) where the author pledges only to publish in open access journals. At a lower level we encourage authors to negotiate individually with non-OA journals in which they publish, to ensure that they retain copyright and the right to post their work to open access repositories. Recent research demonstrates that authors have higher impact and citation counts when they also place their published work in open access repositories, or otherwise make it freely available on the internet. You should also consider depositing the electronic versions of your work in open access repositories (like the Social Science Research Network or Berkeley Electronic Press).

Second, where you work in a law school that publishes law reviews you should encourage your journals to move to open access archiving. Already twenty-one US law reviews have adopted the Open Access Principles, or have policies that are consistent with them. Leading journals such as Animal Law, Harvard Journal of Law & Technology, Indiana Law Journal, Lewis & Clark Law Review, Michigan Law Review, Michigan State Law Review, New York Law School Law Review, Texas Law Review, Vanderbilt Law Review, and Wayne Law Review have signed on, as have all of the journals published by Duke Law School and Villanova Law School. We'd love to add additional law reviews to this list. I've recently written to the deans of all American law schools asking them to consider encouraging their law reviews to move to open access archiving. Would you please express your support of open access to your dean and law reviews. They can contact me to discuss specifics of a move to open access archiving.

For those law scholars outside the United States, we have established Open Access Law Programs in a number of countries. We have journals that comply with the Open Access Principles in Canada and the United Kingdom. Please get in touch with me if you are interested in the possibilities of open access for law material in your country.

I hope that you agree that this is an important opportunity for you and your institution. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact me.


Dan Hunter


Dan Hunter
Robert F. Irwin IV Term Assistant Professor of Legal Studies The Wharton
School University of Pennsylvania
662 John M Huntsman Hall
3730 Walnut St
Philadelphia PA 19104 USA
ph: +1-215-573-7154
fx: +1-215-573-2006
Research at

Ideological Incompetence and Homeland "Security"

Slate magazine's Bruce Reed on the Michael Brown/FEMA/DHS fiasco:

Ironically, Bush made homeland security a campaign issue in 2002 by turning Democrats against their own bill because he insisted on civil service reforms to make it easier for the agency to fire incompetent workers. Bush forgot to mention his plan to hire incompetent bosses.
The Washington Post reported yesterday:

Five of eight top Federal Emergency Management Agency officials came to their posts with virtually no experience in handling disasters and now lead an agency whose ranks of seasoned crisis managers have thinned dramatically since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

FEMA's top three leaders -- Director Michael D. Brown, Chief of Staff Patrick J. Rhode and Deputy Chief of Staff Brooks D. Altshuler -- arrived with ties to President Bush's 2000 campaign or to the White House advance operation, according to the agency. Two other senior operational jobs are filled by a former Republican lieutenant governor of Nebraska and a U.S. Chamber of Commerce official who was once a political operative.

One of the many things that frightens and angers me about Hurricane Katrina is how we now see that the Bush administration has absolutely no plans for recovering from a disaster. Instead, the entire focus of the Homeland Security effort, the Patriot Act, and everything else has been on an impossible effort to prevent every risk. We have placed all our eggs in the basket of prevention, when it should be obvious that no system of prevention is perfect--and we have relied on the hope that perfection is possible.

Sometime, somebody is going to succed in bombing a subway, or releasing toxic gas, or smuggling a gun into a school, or something. More people will die, and there will be economic repercussions, but ultimately it will be a small disaster. Meanwhile, we have seen the destruction of a vast area of the Gulf Coast, the loss of hundreds, if not thousands, of lives, and complete bewilderment and incompetence on the part of the federal government. One thing is predictable, though--the next attack will lead to calls for further restrictions on civil liberties and more surveillance and oppression.

What we're witnessing is a vicious circle where the fears and the worst instincts of the political right feed off of each other. The exclusive focus on prevention both leads to, and provides support for, authoritarian control and the restriction of civil liberties--because we can't afford any risk. Broadening the focus to include serious plans for recovery from disaster, on the other hand, would require two things that appear to be impossible for this administration: admitting fallibility (from a president who, in the televised debates, could not think of a single mistake he had made in his first term), and recognizing a role for government in solving problems--an admission that is impossible for a President who famously claimed that "government is the problem."

Friday, September 09, 2005

More on Elsevier and the Arms Trade

The current issue of the British medical journal The Lancet has an editorial on the issue of Reed Elsevier's involvement in the international arms trade and the DSEi (Defence Systems and Equipment international) trade show. Note that Elsevier is The Lancet's current publisher.

DSEi takes place in association with the UK's Ministry of Defence. Over 1000 companies will exhibit their weapons and related systems at the arms fair in London's Docklands. In their promotional literature, our owners emphasise the “selling process” at DSEi, which is cited as a “key event for the total supply chain” of arms. At the last DSEi, held in 2003, this “selling process” included technologies such as cluster bombs, which are widely deplored by UN agencies and human rights organisations.

It would be grossly naive for The Lancet to argue that nations do not need responsible and well-managed defence industries as a means to protect themselves from security threats. Without security, health systems would be neither stable nor sustainable. But it would be equally naive to argue that the legality of a weapon somehow absolves a country, manufacturer, or even an exhibitions company from a judgment about the weapon's use, sale, or promotion....

Reed Elsevier's response is that the sale of military equipment is legal, government supported, and tightly regulated. However, The Lancet's collaborations in child survival and health-systems strengthening, for example, risk being tainted by Reed Elsevier's promotion of the “selling process” of arms. The arms industry draws vital investment away from the health budgets of low-income nations. In 2004, 59% of arms sales were to developing countries, at a total cost to their economies of US$22 billion....

Reed Elsevier has provided enormous material support to The Lancet during the past decade. It has never wavered in backing the journal's editorial independence, as proven by the publication of this leader comment. We cannot believe that Reed Elsevier wishes to jeopardise that commitment by its presence in a business that so self-evidently damages its reputation as a health-science publisher.

The Lancet's editors and the journal's International Advisory Board were unaware of Reed Elsevier's involvement with DSEi until a few weeks ago. We are deeply troubled by this connection to the arms trade. On behalf of our readers and contributors, we respectfully ask Reed Elsevier to divest itself of all business interests that threaten human, and especially civilian, health and well-being.

House of Butter notes that a group of Australian law librarians has sent a letter to Reed Elsevier in London urging that the company cease its involvement in organizing arms fairs. (Lengthy excerpt follows.)


HOB thanks and congratulates Gayle Davies in the library at the DPP in NSW (Australia) for bringing this to our attention and actively challenging Reed Elsevier the parent company of Lexis Nexis to respond.

HOB learns that Reed Elsevier, in addition to its ownership of Lexis-Nexis, has amongst its other companies two subsidiary events companies, Reed Exhibitions and Spearhead Exhibitions, which organize arms fairs around the world, including the DSEi Arms Fair, which is to be held in London this month.

In response to this Davies has drafted a letter to the Chairman of Reed Elsevier (see below)
with a copy to the Chief Executive of Lexis-Nexis Australia, that she circulating to lawyers and librarian colleagues in NSW who use Lexis-Nexis publications.

At the moment she only has around twenty signatures, and she is hoping to get enough to fax it to arrive in London by September 11th .

She has also forwarded the letter to a number of other organisations such as the World Criminal Justice Library Network, and the International Federation of Library Associations for further support.

If you believe that your supplier of legal materials, Lexis Nexis and other subsidiary Reed Elsevier organisations should not have companies within the same network that concern themselves with the world of arms manufacturing and distribution please support Ms Davies ( and all other sane thinkers) by copying and pasting this petition, signing it and emailing back to her at

It goes without saying that HOB fully endorses the following letter and we hope that you will also add your voice and distribute this letter to your colleagues.

Following are some links from activist websites and blogs about the DSEI arms fair in London this month.

We note that London's mayor Ken Livingston has stated his opposition to the event.

Red Pepper
Disarm DSEi
The Campaign Against The Arms Trade

The letter / petition follows

Mr Jan Hommen,
Reed Elsevier PLC,
1-3 Strand,
London WC2N 5JR
Fax: +44 (0) 20 7166 5799

cc: Mr Max Piper,
Chief Executive Officer,
Lexis-Nexis Australia
Tower 2, 475-495 Victoria Avenue
Chatswood, NSW 2067, Australia
Tel: +61 2 9422 2700
Fax: +61 2 9422 2701

Dear Mr Hommen,

We are a group of lawyers and law librarians, who are customers of your subsidiary company, Lexis-Nexis. Many of us have used Lexis-Nexis publications since we were at university. We rely on them now for our daily work. Lexis-Nexis publications are used in our Courts, and are highly visible on Benches and Bar Tables.

We are also aware of Elsevier's considerable reputation in publishing in medicine and other sciences.

We are therefore extremely distressed to learn that another of Reed Elsevier's subsidiaries, Spearhead Exhibitions, is in the business of organizing arms fairs, and is staging the Defence Systems and Equipment International Exhibition in London this month.

While we are not suggesting that there is anything illegal in this association, we believe it to be totally incompatible with Reed Elsevier's core business of publishing for the legal and medical professions. The very phrase "arms fair" is abhorrent: first, because there is nothing "fair" about the arms trade, and second, because the word "fair" implies that it will be a festive occasion - an insult to the children who are killed and maimed every day by land-mines deliberately designed to look like toys and butterflies

As we have seen in Sarajevo, East Timor, and Iraq, libraries are often the targets, and always among the victims, in any armed conflict situation.

By promoting arms, Reed Elsevier via Spearhead Exhibitions is supporting a superfluous industry : if the arms industry ceased production today, there would still be enough weapons of all kinds available to wipe out the entire human race several times over. Yet the events of September 11, 2001, and London on July 7th 2005, show that the United States, and Britain, despite being the two largest arms manufacturers and exporters in the world, were completely unprepared for terrorist attacks which used inexpensive small-scale technologies to devastating effect.

Government outlays for military purposes play a large role in driving fiscal deficits and in raising global interest rates, leading to increased debt, capital shortage, and cut-backs to social and civil infrastructure, all ofwhich result in the exacerbation of social and ethnic tensions, violent crime, fundamentalism, instability and conflict. The current situation in New Orleans provides a stark illustration of what happens to civil society when funding is diverted from social infrastructure to the arms industry, using the pretext of invented wars (on drugs, on terror, on Iraq........) as the justification.

The secrecy and lack of transparency of inter-state arms transfers carry the potential for corruption (see for example this BBC item on the Scott Report on British arms deals with Iraq in the 1980s
and large numbers of legally traded weapons ending up on the black market, where they are used in terrorist and criminal activities, such as drug trafficking and people trafficking.

"Arms fairs" glamorize weaponry and other aspects of military technology, creating a governmental mentality which gives them priority over socially useful institutions such as courts, legal services, and libraries. Even in a developed country like Australia, many government law libraries are being closed down because Federal and State governments cannot or will not fund them adequately - resulting in substantial loss of business for Lexis-Nexis and other publishers. Furthermore, such an association must surely damage Lexis-Nexis' reputation as an impartial conduit for legal information and knowledge. It could lose its respected legal writers and authorities, as well as shareholders, who may not care to be associated with a conglomerate which also peddles death and destruction.

We urge you to uphold in practice the ethical standards to which you have subscribed in writing. In order for your support of the UN Global Compact to have any credibility at all, your company must stop organising arms fairs such as DSEi and Helitech Latin America.

We therefore urge you to stop Reed Elsevier's involvement in all arms fairs.

Yours sincerely,

A Little Perspective is All We Need

On Fridays, I like to put in something a little different sometimes. How is this for a bit more perspective? In 1054 AD, a supernova exploded, creating this beautiful Crab Nebula. From Earth, with space telescopes, we can take a photo like this, enhanced with color. From the Crab Nebula, I don't imagine we could even see Earth. Our Sol would be an undistinguished medium yellow star in the middle reaches of the galaxy spiral, so maybe we couldn't even pick out Sol. With time and distance, it all looks so beautiful... this lovely thing was born in unimaginable fury. I have been stressing big time about New Orleans, politics, and now Jim has me going about Reed Elsevier. Gee. I think I need a vacation to the Crab Nebula. This image is courtesy of , the European Southern Observatory's photograph of the Crab Nebula in Taurus.

Reed Elsevier and the International Arms Trade

This is absolutely the first I've ever heard of this (via

Reed Elsevier [parent company of LexisNexis] is an academic publisher, which also has a subsidary company, Spearhead Exhibitions, which hosts DSEi - the world's largest arms fair. You can see what I've written to Reed Elsevier, and what they've written back, elsewhere on this blog (one, two, three, four).

I believe that the DSEi arms fairs are immoral, geopolitically reckless, sometimes illegal (e.g.) and improperly regulated (e.g.). Beyond this, I resent that a publisher which profits from the hard (and publicly funded) work of academics uses those profits to support the sale to undemocratic & repressive governments of such things as depleted uranium shells, cluster bombs, missile technology and small arms. The arms fairs Spearhead organises (yes, DSEi isn't the only one) are a measly amount of Elsevier's business, but it is a part that makes academics complicit in the deaths of civilians, in torture and in political repression around the world.

What can academics do to pressure Elsevier to drop this part of their business? What should we do? Here's some possibilities. Feedback very welcome - which of these, if any, are reasonable, feasible and might be effective?

1. Write to the Chairman of Elsevier, Jan Hommen, and ask him to reconsider his position: Jan Hommen, Reed Elsevier PLC, 1-3 Strand, London WC2N 5JR.

2. Contact your union, and/or support any motions which express disaproval of Reed Elsevier.

3. If you are member of a scientific society which produces a journal, find out who the publisher is. If it is Elsevier, find out when the contract renewal date is, and the procedure for society members to influence the decision of who that contract goes to.

4. If you write journal papers, bear in the mind the publisher when submitting papers. Obviously you aren't going to withhold submitting a paper just because the journal is Elsevier, but if you are faced with a choice of journals, one of which is Elsevier, you could cross that journal off your list first?

5. For your papers published in Elsevier journals, insert a line in the acknowledgements along the lines of "The author(s) note with disappointment the involvement of Elsevier with the international trade in arms"

6. When reviewing papers bear in mind the publisher of the journal. Put those for the Elsevier journals to the bottom of the pile.

Any more?

John Quiggin at Crooked Timber adds: "Even the legal aspects of this trade are deplorable, given the excessive readiness of governments and would-be governments to resort to armed force, but the boundary between legal and illegal arms trade is pretty porous. For example, there’s evidence that the arms fairs organised by Elsevier subsidiary Spearhead are venues for the illegal trade in landmines. Tom has a number of suggestions for possible responses."

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Practical Skills

Students complain to me from time to time that they are not gaining many practical skills in law school. They have successfully completed criminal law and criminal procedure, but don't think they would know how to defend a DUI. They don't feel competent to draft a will or a contract. They are halfway through law school and are afraid that they won't graduate from law school ready to set up their own practice.

I remember feeling the same way when I first got out of law school. I always practiced in a small firm, so I was able to start by handling simpler matters and work my way up. More experienced lawyers in the firm advised and mentored me. I can't imagine trying to practice on my own with the skills I picked up in law school.

I usually show these students some practice and CLE materials that will help them with the practical basics. I recommend that, while they are still students, they join the bar associations of the states where they intend to practice. Lately I have been recommending some of the blogs written by practicing attorneys. Many of our students plan to practice in sparsely populated areas where there aren't many lawyers. Maybe blogs can help them establish virtual support networks where real mentors are unavailable.

Today Promote the Progress, a blawg on intellectual property and technology law, had a posting about law professors assigning blawgs as part of the course curriculum. That got me wondering whether reading blogs written by attorneys who practice in a related area would help the students connect their coursework with its practical applications. Is this something law professors should strive for?

Even though academic law librarians usually only teach research to first year law students or in a low-credit electives for second- and third-year students, we worry a great deal about whether they leave our classes with all the research skills they will need for summer jobs or their first professional positions after law school. We invite speakers and do surveys and write articles about how students don't have the practical research skills they need when they go out into the real world.

With the exception of legal writing, I don't think that I have ever heard similar criticisms of any other law school course – at least within academia. (I have read some passionate criticisms of the law school curriculum on blogs by practicing attorneys.)

Are there other specific subject areas about which law schools are criticized for not giving students the practical skills they will need to succeed as soon as they graduate and pass the bar? Do law school professors seek input from practicing lawyers on how the professors can better prepare their students for practice? Should they?

Do substantive law professors care what lawyers think? If not, why not? Should they care more about whether students will be ready to practice law when they graduate? Should law librarians care less? Why do we hold ourselves to a higher standard? What accounts for the different expectations about legal research?

I don't have any answers. I just wonder about these things. Resources for Low-Income People Affected by Hurricane Katrina

Law Librarian Blog has a posting about the Hurricane Katrina Relief Resources page available at The page includes legal resources and information on nonprofit legal services providers in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, as well as some general relief resources. was created by Pro Bono Net and eight partnering legal aid organizations as a resource for people living on low-incomes and the legal organizations that serve them. It provides referrals to local legal aid and public interest law offices, basic information about legal rights, self-help information, court information, links to social service agencies, and more for each state.

Legal Information for Everyone

Legal information is not just for lawyers, law professors, and law students anymore. Public law librarians, including librarians at state law schools, serve not just law-trained library users but also members of the public.

We are fortunate at the SIU School of Law to have a Self-Help Legal Center that makes simple legal forms and instructions available without charge through its website and by telephone order. This clinic also sponsors self help classes on divorce, taught by volunteer attorneys, to help people complete the forms and to answer questions about filing, court procedure, and hearings. The presence of the Self-Help Legal Center also justifies a good-sized collection of do-it-yourself law books, which make helping a pro se patron much easier.

For law librarians who do not have the benefit of a resident self-help clinic or a self-help law book collection, there are a number of good self-help resources on the web. Here are some of the best:

The ABA's Public Resources page has information on consumer legal issues and a variety of other legal topics; links to legal research sites; educational materials; Practical Law guides to everyday law; and general publications about the law and the legal system.

The Ohio State Bar Association makes its 200 page book, The Law & You available for free on the web.

The Consumer Action Website of the Federal Citizen Information Center has tips and information on consumer topics, a sample complaint letter, contact information for help in filing a consumer complaint, the Consumer Action Handbook , and other resources.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs has legal guides on a wide variety of consumer issues.

The Illinois Attorney General has many publications on consumer and citizen issues.

The Arizona Supreme Court has a comprehensive Self Service Guide for Divorce Cases.

The Northwest Women's Law Center Self Help Program has packets of family law and other law materials.

The Connecticut Judicial Branch's Self Help web page has publications, answers to frequently asked questions, forms and other information to assist citizens navigating the court system.

The Maryland State Law Library has reference guides for non-lawyers on a number of legal issues.

Although all of these sites are available to anyone with access to the internet, many of the people who need the materials do not have access to the internet, so they still rely on public libraries and law libraries for access to legal information.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Katrina and Community

One of the side effects of Hurricane Katrina is that we are now witnessing a forced experiment in the role of the law school as both a physical place and a physical community.  From the AALS listing of law schools accepting displaced students, it appears that every law school in the United States is offering to do its part for the Tulane and Loyola students in diaspora.  Some schools have accepted dozens of visiting students; here at Buffalo I’ve met two Tulane students so far, and I imagine more will be coming.  Other schools are also offering space for librarians, faculty, and administrators.  On the other hand, Inside Higher Ed reports today that Loyola-New Orleans law school has announced that Loyola is relocating for the fall semester to the University of Houston Law Center.  According to Inside Higher Ed, “several hundred of Loyola’s 800 law students are expected to start the fall semester in Houston soon, where they will be taught by a cadre of at least 20 Loyola professors.”

Obviously the disaster presents huge challenges to every institution intending to recover over the next several months.  Dean Brian Bromberger at Loyola, and the entire University of Houston Law Center community, are showing great wisdom and generosity in this heroic effort to maintain the sense of Loyola’s first year students as a class, and I’m sure this will help enormously in Loyola law school’s recovery and survival.  Tulane has a much harder challenge in maintaining that sense of unity with their students dispersed across the country.  

Perhaps we in the other law schools can help.  Can we use distance education technology to help students, faculty, and administrators from both Tulane and Loyola keep in touch?  Associate Dean Joseph E. Kennedy at UNC-Chapel Hill has proposed a seminar on disaster relief that could be offered by law schools across the country.  I have suggested that CODEC, the CALI-sponsored Consortium for Distance Education, could help coordinate these efforts.  Could we also help by hooking up our foster-students with the technology to keep in touch with their fellow students in student organizations, journals, and the like?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Teaching Students to Use the Books

(Note: I did not know that Betsy had posted an entry about print vs. electronic information until I was ready to post this.)

When lawyers, judges, firm or court librarians speak to a group of academic law librarians, they almost always say that they want us to teach students to use "the books".

Potential employers tell Deans and Career Services offices that they can't afford LexisNexis or Westlaw, or that students aren't allowed to use them unless they have a client to bill, so students need to be able to do research in books.

Of course, the need to teach students to do research in a variety of formats is apparent to academic law librarians. The problem is one of the "leading a horse to water" variety. No matter what we do to teach them, too many students don't learn to do legal research in print until they are actually required to do so on the job.

Sometimes students manage to block completely any memory of non-electronic research. Years ago a student came into the law school library from his summer job and asked whether there was a way to find cases in print. Not how to do it, but if it was even possible. And every summer a couple of bright, helpful students come to a member of the legal research faculty and suggest that we ought to warn the students that they won't always have unlimited access to Westlaw and LexisNexis. (We do just that on many occasions.)

This is not a rant about students. I think that the fact students are unable to retain this information year after year speaks to our failure, not theirs. What's that old saying about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? So, what have we tried that doesn't work, and what can we do that might work better?

One of the popular strategies for "forcing" students to learn to do legal research in print is withholding their Westlaw and LexisNexis passwords – or only allowing very limited access – during all or part of their first semester. In my opinion, that tactic has had exactly the opposite of its intended effect. It makes full access seem like such a prize that once students achieve it they never go back if they can avoid it.

Until this year, we followed the model of giving first-year students limited access to Westlaw and LexisNexis during the first semester, and requiring the students to complete their first semester exercises in print resources only. This year we are integrating formats and teaching about types of materials (cases, statutes, etc.), how they are organized, and the different ways to access them.

Will our new approach work? At this point, three weeks into the semester, it's hard to say. The students seem to be receptive. I think that having to reorganize lesson plans and explain things in a new way is improving my teaching. Format independence also seems to make it easier to compare what we are teaching to something the students already know. I guess the test will be how comfortable the students are with "the books" on their jobs next summer.

Beyond Paper Vs. Electronic

Lightning moves through our brains in stable patterns: zzzt for speech recognition; zzzzat for reading. Our brains work by electrical impulses moving across synapses, triggering chemical reactions. But the patterns are different for differnt types of communication transfers. We have known for some time that people process information differently when they hear it, for instance, than when they read it.

I am betting that if we start looking, we will see a similar difference between processing patterns for information received electronically versus via print. I don't know this for a fact. The print does appear on a screen. But I believe that we are dealing with at least some aspects of the information differently when it's on a computer than when it's in a book. And I think a lot of librarians and lawyers have been noticing the same thing. There are a couple articles by partners from two different law firms, criticizing a sole reliance on electronic research: The Corruption of Legal Research, 46 For the Defense 39 (2004) by Scott P. Stolley tells of examples of new associates failing to complete research assignments because they relied on electronic resources. Stolley found the materials himself using print resources in less than a half hour, and now requires his new associates to go to print first and use computers only secondarily. In This is What I'm Thinking: A Dialogue Between Partner and Associate... From the Partner, 25 Litigation 8, (1998), Mark Herrmann tells his new associates not to begin research with a computerized search unless he explicitly requests it. He does believe that a computer search is necessary to finish the research.

I have an uneasy suspicion that the publishers are planning to push libraries into converting more and more of the collection into electronic formats over the next few years. And I think that would be a huge mistake. For a lot of reasons... partly from my point of view as the erstwhile owner of the information, I really am reluctant to transfer to a licensee, especially at the same doggoned price! But I also think it will forever change legal research. Not necessarily for the better. There are things about electronic research that I love. But there are things about print research that I will miss very much. I think we have a better idea of the context of ideas in print, and that this is especially key for codes. I think we think more deeply and broadly when we read in print -- but I sure don't know why. I just know that I see that over and over in the papers I get from students, and even in the work I do myself. We go slower when we work with print, and faster online. Fast is very good for some things. But fast is not good for thinking.

Think about it.