Thursday, March 29, 2007

Uncivil Behavior on the Internet or Crowds are not always wise, sometimes they become a mob

Betsy’s postings on the Second Life video tied in with an article on “Bad behavior in the blogosphere,” 3/29/2007.

None of this surprises me.

These incidents bring back the stories I heard from women entering the construction trades. A woman working as a carpenter told me that one afternoon, she left the port-a-potty and was greeted by the sight of all the men on the site lined along the pathway with their flies open and their penises out. She had to walk down that gauntlet to get back to her site. She got no support from the EEOC or the union when she filed a complaint. The current cyber episodes have been condemned by many. The police took the death threats seriously. These improvements are due to the past efforts of women to participate in public life.

The anger in these cyber attacks has something in it different than the anger of blue collar men losing their authority. The assaulting language and images remind me of the brutal behavior of former convicts. In these current attacks, I sense more how damaged our society has become by the growth of prisons. Our society has become deformed in ways we cannot imagine because of imprisonment. The vengefulness to incarcerate has been met by the anger of prisoners.

Over the past forty years, cities have changed into angry and despairing places with a large population of released convicts. The economy has moved to the suburbs; the computer revolution is a product of industrial parks in pleasant suburbs. Leaving a problem does not mean avoiding its effects. The hostility of those cyber attacks is a symptom.

I am going to close with a quote from Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties” by Robert Stone. He describes something I have sensed, but could not identify.

p. 67-68
A strange social development was taking place on skid row, something that might have escaped our notice at a different time. The Bowery was undergoing a kind of race war that it would have been absurdly euphemistic to call integration. Black down-and-outers, whose absence few neighborhood whites had noticed before, began appearing at corners and in the doorways of the chicken-wired hotels. In earlier times, the derelict quarters of major cities were segregated. The Bowery occupants were overwhelmingly elderly white men, who ranged in degree of poverty from the scrofulous, dying bundles of rags in the gutter to men in dry-cleaned thirdhand suits and clean shirts who drew some sort of pittance once or twice a month. This small sum they would providently turn over to the owners of the bargain restaurants where they ate or to the hotel keepers at their rooming house. The meal tickets and room chits kept them lodged and fed even if they fell off the wagon. Most, though not all, were alcoholics. There were virtually no women among them.
Who kept up or enforced the racial barriers? Maybe hard cases who ran the beaneries and hotels. Maybe the police, forcing black paupers up to the skid rows in Harlem. But at certain point around 1960 changes were perceivable. Things being what they were and are, black men faced impoverishment more frequently and at a younger age than most whites. For the same reasons, larger numbers of poor black men had served longer terms in prison. The black newcomers were often younger and less physically ruined than the white derelicts, more used to more serious fighting than at least many of the whites and, perhaps, more involved with drugs. They were also angry; there were men who had been brutalized and whipped, or served on chain gangs and in turp camps.
What began to happen was the social system recently established in prisons took over the Bowery. On the most productive panhandling corners, and in the homeless shelters, the older white men began to disappear. In a way, it was simply a question of the young, in a desperate situation, displacing the old. It went, I think, unnoticed and unmentioned by the city at large. Older men of all races fled the Bowery and looked for relative safety. But there was no protection for anyone. The Darwinian quality one glimpsed was as shocking as anything I ever saw.

Freedom, Control and Power

Make yourself free!

I had an interesting conversation today about freedom, control and limits. I was visiting my wonderful muscular therapist, who has been treating me for about two years. In 2004, I hurt my neck very badly. I was in terrible pain and could hardly move. At the worst times, I could not walk, talk, chew food, read or move my head without excruciating pain. Possibly the most difficult was not being able to read – all my life, reading has been a comfort, an anodyne to pain and illness. When I read, it takes me away from myself and my surroundings, so to lose that ability when I needed it most was an awful blow.

Now, after many hours of chiropractic, physical therapy, massage, meditation, acupuncture and muscular therapy, I am finally feeling pain-free for much of the time on most days. I am so glad to feel normal again! I am not out of pain, and am fragile -- I must always be alert lest I re-injure myself. But I feel so much better, that it is like being reborn.

With that sad background, I was very interested when my muscular therapist said, "You can't control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond to it." He was summarizing the message of Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, author and speaker. U Mass link and Wikipedia link. Dr. Kabat-Zinn teaches mindfulness meditation as a way to cope with chronic pain, and has a number of books. If you search his name on Amazon or Google you will find lots of entries. He seems to have done a wonderful job of synthesizing the teachings and practices of yoga and meditation for a western audience.

So, what about freedom, control and limits? We live in one of the freest societies the world has ever known. Education through high school is free for every child. We can choose our career – unlike people in some societies whose job opportunities are defined by their caste, their gender, their father's job. We are free to make our life what we want. You can argue about disadvantaged individuals, but even the worst-off among us is free in ways that many people now and in the past could only dream of. Why do we not choose to live our dreams? Why do we let our lives drift by, without seizing the opportunities that every day brings us?

I believe that we are not awake to the power we have to change and choose. It takes self-awareness, which is sometimes uncomfortable. But if you tell yourself that your pain (or your life!) is outside your control, you give away all your power to change it. By accepting that you cannot change what happens to you, but that you can choose how you respond to those events, you reclaim the power to change your life. You cannot always stop the pain, for instance, but you can change how you think of it, and that changes the meaning and effect of the pain in your life. You limit your choices, your power and your life when you put the control and responsibility for your life outside yourself.

Take responsibility for your life, and take control.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Library 2.0 -- Quality and People Still Matter!

Library 2.0 has become quite the buzz-word, following Web 2.0. The article in Library Journal (here) is a handy explanation. The term can encompass a lot of meanings.

The heart of Library 2.0 is user-centered change. It is a model for library service that encourages constant and purposeful change, inviting user participation in the creation of both the physical and the virtual services they want, supported by consistently evaluating services. It also attempts to reach new users and better serve current ones through improved customer-driven offerings. Each component by itself is a step toward better serving our users; however, it is through the combined implementation of all of these that we can reach Library 2.0.

The main focus is user-participation, user-generated information. An example would be the new tag clouds being added to OPACs to enrich the Library of Congress Subject Headings and added entries provided by catalogers. Users can add tags to a book’s entry on the catalog, for instance, and search by and see what others have added for tags. Some OPACs also allow users to review books, much the way Amazon’s website does.

Other pieces are

* Using technology to push information to users (well that’s not so new, but blogs and wikis are new),
* Recognizing the “long tail effect” – rather than doing collection development just by what is circulating, recognize that you now have technology that can help niche patrons find older materials, and stuff of interest to a smaller group.
* Constantly evaluating services and creating feedback loops for services where patrons can tell you how well they work.

Check the Library Journal article for some terrific links and extra reading.

The March 2007 issue of Information Outlook (Special Libraries Association), vol. 11, no. 3, p. 40, and online with a member password at link, has an article on marketing in Library 2.0, by Jill Konieczko. She says

* Ready, flexible access to information
* Library professionals become partners with their patrons, with common goals
* Tools such as wikis, RSS feeds and tagging allow patron participation and engagement
* Relevance is key

But Ms. Konieczko notes that technology does not supersede the need for excellent service. When the library is well-run,

* Faculty have research support, books and online resources as needed;
* Students have enough books to learn research skills, space to study and meet; and
* Deans are not swamped with complaints and crises over the library.

Librarianship is straddling two worlds and will be for probably another twenty years. We still have, need, and love books. Much of what is in print will not be transferred to a digital form for many years, and maybe never will be. We need to manage both types of information and continually re-educate ourselves about technology, copyright and licensing. Since I became a librarian, we have moved from mainframe computers and dumb terminals to personal computers, and through innumerable iterations of operating systems and software. We moved from card catalogs to library automated systems, and everything continues to evolved and change.

Library 2.0 presents an exciting new way to think about and evaluate library services. But the bottom line is still: Excellent Service And Great Staff!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

USA Patriot Act Gag Order - a public (and anonymous) letter

The Washington Post on Friday, 3/23, published this anonymous open letter describing the psychic fallout of receiving a national security letter and gag order -- from an IT businessman. Not just for libraries, any more.

And in case you're not feeling upset enough about our government, the Post also ran a story (here) about the unforeseen consequences of a federal government list designed to thwart terrorists:

...Office of Foreign Asset Control's list of "specially designated nationals" has long been used by banks and other financial institutions to block financial transactions of drug dealers and other criminals. But an executive order issued by President Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has expanded the list and its consequences in unforeseen ways. Businesses have used it to screen applicants for home and car loans, apartments and even exercise equipment, according to interviews and a report by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area to be issued today. (snip)

The lawyers' committee has documented at least a dozen cases in which U.S. customers have had transactions denied or delayed because their names were a partial match with a name on the list, which runs more than 250 pages and includes 3,300 groups and individuals. No more than a handful of people on the list, available online, are U.S. citizens.

Yet anyone who does business with a person or group on the list risks penalties of up to $10 million and 10 to 30 years in prison, a powerful incentive for businesses to comply. The law's scope is so broad and guidance so limited that some businesses would rather deny a transaction than risk criminal penalties, the report finds.
You can see another version of this article at MSNBC, if you don't want to register for the Post.

Link to Congressional Hearing on Interference with Scientists on Climate Change

Nick Anthis, at the Scientific Activist blog (link above) reports on "the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to "Examine Allegations of Political Interference with Government Climate Change Science." The hearing happened on Monday (19 March)" Visit him for a terrific collection of links to the hearing, including testimony and commentary. It was not the blockbuster it should have been, apparently.

Cyberbullying or Virtual Rape

I have been thinking since the griefing attack in Second Life, about the psychological impact of these attacks. I recognize that a physical, real-world rape is a terrible thing, and do not want to diminish its impact on the victim in any way. Still, I wonder if the effect of being mobbed publicly by images of penises, or being trashed on AutoAdmit is not a similar attack on one's sense of security and belonging. If rape is a crime of violence and domination, not of sexuality, these psychic affronts deserve to be examined as virtual rapes.
There has already been recognized "cyberstalking" or "cyberbullying" (see here for a Wikipedia brief article on the topic):

… harassment by use of electronic devices though means of e-mail, instant messaging, text messages, blogs, mobile phones, pagers, and websites. (snip)

Certain characteristics inherent in online technologies increase the likelihood that they will be exploited for deviant purposes. Personal computers offer several advantages to individuals inclined to harass others. First, electronic bullies can remain “virtually” anonymous. (snip)

Further, it seems that cyber-bullies might be emboldened when using electronic means to carry out their antagonistic agenda because it takes less energy and courage to express hurtful comments using a keypad or a keyboard than with one’s voice. Additionally, cyber-bullies do not have to be larger and stronger than their victims, as had been the case in traditional bullying. Instead of a victim being several years younger and/or drastically weaker than his bully, victim and cyber-bully alike can be just about anyone imaginable.
Second, electronic forums lack supervision.
(Wikipedia "Cyberbullying" visited 3/26/07)

In both the Second Life griefing attack and the AutoAdmit trash-talk attacks, the perpetrators remain anonymous. In fact, on AutoAdmit, the "hottest law student" contest was abruptly called off, not after the women being posted without their consent protested (they were trashed even more when they asked to be removed) – it was called off when a male commentator was inadvertently outed. Oooh.

On the other hand, what is most appalling in both sets of attacks is the misogynistic nature. The griefing attack used penises to disrupt an interview. The attacks on AutoAdmit, while including racist, anti-semitic and homophobic comments, certainly displayed attitudes that devalued women as a group, and specific individuals. There were comments that considered sexual attacks and punishments against these women, and discussed their physical attributes in overtly sexual ways. These are both specific examples of cyberbullying of a sexual nature.

The women attacked both on Second Life and on the AutoAdmit chat have said they felt demeaned, devalued and threatened. Women law students who have been the subject of AutoAdmit attacks have said they felt they could no longer go to the gym, and had trouble attending class. They felt violated and threatened.

At a class website, the professors, Marcia Cohen and Sherrie H. McKenna describe women's reaction to rape.
... but all victims feel varying degrees of fear, guilt, embarrassment and anger. These emotions will not surface all at once but will effect the woman for a long time after the attack. It is important for all those close to her, especially the men to understand her feelings and support her through the crisis.
The fear a woman feels may weave through all aspects of her life. More than likely she was attacked going about her business, feeling safe in her world. Once that security is invaded the woman may be fearful about the once routine activities of her daily life. She may approach strangers and even friends and acquaintances with a new caution.
A woman may feel guilt, wondering why she was the victim. She may question whether she really did “ask for it” or lead someone to the wrong impression. She may also be embarrassed about what other people think of her. These feelings may cause her to avoid sexual relationships for a time.

On the Wikipedia article about rape, these comments about the psychological effects of rape:
Rape has been regarded as "a crime of violence and control" since the 1970s. Psychological analysis literature identifies control as a key component in most definitions of privacy:
• "Privacy is not the absence of other people from one's presence, but the control over the contact one has with them." (Pedersen, D. 1997).
• "Selective control of access to the self." (Margulis, 2003)
Control is important in providing:
• what we need for normal psychological functioning;
• stable interpersonal relationships; and
• personal development. (Pedersen, D. 1997)
Violation of privacy or "control" comes in many forms, with sexual assault and the resulting psychological traumas being one of the most explicit forms. Many victims of sexual assault suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, which also center around control issues. Therefore, some argue that it makes more sense to look at the issue of sexual assault as an invasion of privacy (Mclean, D. 1995)
(Wikipedia, Rape, visited 3/26/07)

I think we should consider how virtual worlds -- whether Massively Multi-Player games like Second Life or chat and listserves, enable such attacks on individuals. We should also recognize that the effects of such attacks, whether you call it cyberbullying or virtual rape, are very bad, attacking the victim's security and sense of self. It is interesting that real and virtual rape can be perpetrated against either gender. I wonder if it will be taken more seriously as a crime against the person as more males report attacks against them, either in the real world or the virtual one. Am I too cynical?

Our multi-talented colleagues!

Check the link in the title above to see Civil Procedure professor Adam Steinman perform a very creditable rap on TurboTax. There is a contest (YOU can enter, too!).

Monday, March 26, 2007

Nova Southeastern announces their law library on Second Life

Wow! Nova Southeastern is building a law library in Second Life! Follow the link in the title to this post to visit their page with a picture of the library. Cool! Do they accept volunteers? (Thanks to Susan Vaughn for pointing me to this!)

Cheer Yourself Up! Vault list of underrated law schools

Congratulations to all the schools listed on the Vault list! And if your school (or your alma mater) is not on there, check the Comments list, which features nice comments about ALL the law schools, not just those on the list. Like all ranking systems, there needs to be grain of salt, but it looks as though the comments are all positive, so give yourself an institutional boost of self-esteem! (tip of the hat to my terrific colleague, Andy Perlman)

Wikipedia's new competitor: Citizendium

Larry Sanger, (disputed) co-founder of Wikipedia, with Jimmy Wales, is unveiling a new project. Citizendium is intended to improve on what Sanger (and many others) see as shortcomings in Wikipedia. Citizendium will still be free, non-profit and open to anybody to edit or contribute, but citizendians will need to use their real names. And Citizendium will be reviewed by academic experts for correctness.

Citizendium begins with a copy of Wikipedia, but it has been undergoing editing:

A fork of Wikipedia is allowed under its "copyleft" license that lets anyone use its content as long as they are equally generous with their output.

In other words, Sanger could cut the vastness of Wikipedia and paste it into a new site, then put it through his own meat grinder, complete with rules about real names and expert review.

Last year, Sanger began organizing Citizendium as a fork of Wikipedia. He raised $35,000 from a foundation and a private donor.

Citizendium has been operating in a limited manner that ends with this week's official launch. Its volunteer base numbers roughly 900 authors and 200 editors. The site has 1,100 articles, with 11 "approved" by editors, meriting them a green check mark. Volunteers can revise any article, though already-approved entries are labeled as separate "drafts" while they're being rewritten again.

The link in the title to this post will take readers to an article from the Associated Press that ran in the Boston Globe today. I am especially charmed that the article features a photo of Sanger posing in a library, with 2 stacks of books (actually, they appear to be bound journals).

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Kathie Price Quoted on Jeb Bush

Former Governor Jeb Bush was denied an honorary degree from the University of Florida by a 38-28 vote of the Faculty Senate on Thursday. The story is here. Professor Kathleen Price, associate dean of library and technology at the University of Florida's Levin College of Law and former president of the American Association of Law Libraries, is quoted as saying that Bush's record on higher education was a problem. "I really don't feel this is a person who has been a supporter of UF," said Professor Price, who also said that Bush's "approval of three new medical schools during his tenure has diluted resources." An additional criticism leveled at Bush was that his "One Florida" initiative ended race-based admissions programs at state universities. According to University officials, the Faculty Senate's vote was unprecedented; normally, the nominees of the Faculty Senate's Honorary Degrees, Distinguished Alumnus Awards and Memorials Committee are rubber stamped by the Senate.

This story has a happy ending, for Governor Bush at any rate. On Saturday, the University's Alumni Association's Board of Directors voted to make Bush an honorary alumnus. According to Steve Orlando, a University of Florida spokesman, "the main difference between the awards is that the degree is given by the university and the alumni association decides who receives honorary alumni status." Only a "handful" of individuals are so honored each year.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Web Design to Increase Accessibility for Visually Impaired Users

Librarians have been leaders in adopting adaptive software and devices to assist disabled users. I was struck today, though, by how far behind developments I've fallen. We had an academic conference with speakers from across the university. My colleague from Suffolk's Sawyer School of Management, Johnathan Frank, spoke about his study comparing web accessibility of more than 100 U.S. and Australian universities, both in 2000 and again in 2005. Evidently, there has been very little progress in the U.S. towards better web access for visually disabled users of academic websites. In Australia, on the other hand, great strides have been made in that time period, possibly pushed by a high-profile law suit and publicity comparing institutions' websites.

Here are some updated resources for you to use if you want to check your website's adaptive quality:

Two tools for Evaluating Web Design Accessibility for the Visually Impaired
(You can see a much longer list with detailed descriptions at the WAI site, listed below)

Adesigner link

Bobby link
(Prof. Frank considers Bobby to be a rather crude tool that measures bare compliance with standards rather than aspiring to better-than-minimum access)

Selected websites with helpful info on Accessibility for the Visually Impaired

DMOZ Open Directory Project (Web Index headings)
Top: Society: Disabled: Assistive Technology : link

Top: Computers: Internet: Web Design and Development: Accessibility

Top: Society: Disabled: Universal Design: Computers

Top: Computers: Human-Computer Interaction: Companies and Consultants: Usability Testing link

Google for Visually Disabled link

TRACE at Univ.Wisconsin – Designing More Usable Websites link

UseIt - Jakob Nielsen’s Website link
And special report on usability for those with disabilities: link

W3C Web
Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) link
Content Accessibility Recommendations link

Web Standards Group - Web Checking for Blind and Vision Impaired link
(United Kingdom, 2004)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Check This Out! Podcast with Jill of Feministe

Check This Out! Podcast Episode 064: Jill of Feministe
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Playing time: 31:40

My guest this week is Jill Filipovic, the lead blogger at, and one of the most prominent and articulate voices in the young feminist blogosphere. Jill is also a second-year student at New York University Law School. So let’s talk with Jill about feminist blogging and blogging as a law student.

Theme Music: T. Nile, Get Together. (T. Nile’s CD, At My Table, is available from Festival Distribution and through iTunes.)
Comment line: (716) 989-4422 or Skype “jmilles”
Add your pin to the Frappr Map.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sexism, Racism, and general Hatefulness Thrives in the Virtual World

There have been several incidents that show how the virtual world and social networking empower the ugliness in the human heart. There is the case of the message board, AutoAdmit (also known as XOXOXHTH). Anonymous messages there so slandered women, people of color and gays, often by name, that some of them saw problems getting jobs after stellar careers in law school. Two law school deans have sent a public letter to the owners of the board, complaining, and Google pulled its ads from the site noted in the Washington Post. Hiding behind the anonymity of the message board chat, disgruntled students made sexist, racist and homophobic comments about their fellows, some of whom had no idea they were featured on the site. The problem first came to light, in another Washington Post article here.

Another disturbing virtual attack was the mobbing of an avatar on Second Life. The largest landowner in Second Life, Ailin Graef, was being interviewed as her avatar on a virtual stage, by a real-life reporter for C-Net. Griefers began posting multiple images of giant penises, and so disrupted the interview that it was stopped. Then, they posted videos of the event on YouTube. Reports and here.

What disturbs me, looking at both the Second Life and the AutoAdmit stories, is the way that virtual networking enables such attackers to remain anonymous. They feel safe to say and do things that are socially unacceptable because nobody knows who they are. I think most of the people would not have the nerve or cruelty to make such attacks in person -- both because they would fear the censure for themselves, and perhaps because it is easier to attack when you don't see the shock and hurt look on the victim's face. I love the developments of virtual society in so many other ways -- you can be anybody online. That's very empowering. If only it just empowered the good parts!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Teaching Opportunities with Wikipedia

Cathy Davidson, in the March 23, 2007 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, "Point of View" column discusses why "We Can't Ignore the Influence of Digital Technologies." She jumps off from exaggerated media reports that Middlebury College banned Wikipedia. In fact, she finds, the history department forbids student references to Wikipedia as well as other encyclopedias. Professor Davidson goes on to consider both why this story was blown out of proportion, and why it was even news. Then, she considers how Wikipedia's community mirrors the ideal we have of academic life and values.

Wikipedia is not just an encyclopedia. It is a knowledge community, uniting anonymous readers all over the world who edit and correct grammar, style, interpretations, and facts. It is a community devoted to a common good — the life of the intellect. Isn't that what we educators want to model for our students?

Rather than banning Wikipedia, why not make studying what it does and does not do part of the research-and-methods portion of our courses? Instead of resorting to the "Delete" button for new forms of collaborative knowledge made possible by the Internet, why not make the practice of research in the digital age the object of study? That is already happening, of course, but we could do more. For example, some professors already ask students to pursue archival research for a paper and then to post their writing on a class wiki. It's just another step to ask them to post their labors on Wikipedia, where they can learn to participate in a community of lifelong learners. That's not as much a reach for students as it is for some of their professors.

Most of the students who entered Middlebury last fall were born around 1988. They have grown up with new technology skills, new ways of finding information, and new modes of informal learning that are also intimately connected to their social lives. [snip] The students at Middlebury have grown up honing those skills. Don't we want them to both mine the potential of such tools in their formal education and think critically about them? That would be far more productive than a knee-jerk "Delete."

[snip; Author investigates two controversial entries on Wikipedia, and finds them improved...]

I clicked on the editing history, to see who had added what and why. I looked up a half-hour later and realized I'd gotten lost in a trail of ideas about postmodernism and the Frankfurt School — when I had a deadline to meet. Isn't that the fantasy of what the educated life is like?

I also find that my book purchasing has probably increased threefold because of Wikipedia. I am often engaged by an entry, then I go to the discussion pages, and then I find myself caught up in debate among contributors. Pretty soon I am locating articles via Project Muse and 1-Click shopping for books on Amazon. Why not teach that way of using the resource to our students? Why rush to ban the single most impressive collaborative intellectual tool produced at least since the Oxford English Dictionary, which started when a nonacademic organization, the Philological Society, decided to enlist hundreds of volunteer readers to copy down unusual usages of so-called unregistered words.

The author then gives several interesting links:

1) The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning initiative, a five-year, $50-million project started last year to study how digital technologies are changing all forms of learning, play, and social interaction. Link to the related blog, Spotlight, allowing visitors to communicate and interact with grant recipients.

2) HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory, but everyone just calls it "haystack") sponsored publication on "The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age" (hosted at Future of the Book).

Bust Your Stereotype! Librarian Tattoos

My sister sent me a little book of temporary tattoos for the discriminating librarian. you can see them at Archie McPhee, though there is a better view at Cheered me right up! Of course, this is the same sister who sent me "Wash Away Your Sins" lip balm and liquid soap -- "Handy Salvation for the Sinner on the Go!"

Monday, March 19, 2007

National Archives

I haven't visited the National Archives in years, but I do remember my visit fondly--attentive staff and a wealth of resources. I learned today in an op-ed piece in the New York Times that the Archives hasn't had a budget increase in years, and as a result, it has had to hire less-qualified staff to organize records. This is making it harder for members of the public to find what they need. In addition, "more than a million cubic feet of documents...need to be organized, described and filed." The Archivist of the United States, Allen Weinstein, a long-ago college professor of mine, calls this situation a "document surplus," not a "backlog," but it amounts to the same thing--the material is not being processed and is inaccessible. It is taking longer for achivists to answer written requests for information, and off-peak hours have been cut, making the Archives more difficult to use for many individuals. As the author of the piece, David Kahn, concludes, "the National Archives does more than display the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. From its astonishing riches emerge not only the records of one's immigrant grandparents but the documents and images that produce books and telecasts about this country. Without the services of the archives, the nation risks amnesia and loses direction." Kahn urges President Bush to ask Congress to increase the budget of the National Archives, and urges Congress to grant this funding request.

Law Reviews Irrelevant?

Today's New York Times contains a startling article by Adam Liptak describing a speech given at Cardozo Law School this month by Chief Judge Dennis G. Jacobs of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Joined by six of his colleagues, Judge Jacobs told the audience, many of whom were law professors, that "their scholarship no longer had any impact on the courts." The professors tended to agree, citing the possibility that modern judges lack the "intellectual curiosity to appreciate modern legal scholarship." Is the problem that law review articles are becoming increasingly arcane, of interest only to a handful of readers? Is the problem that law review authors "seem to think the analysis of actual statutes and court decisions--which is to say the practice of law--is beneath them"? The judges in attendance suggested that academic articles might be cited more often if academics wrote more accessible articles "about actual cases and doctrines, in quick, plain and accessible articles." Judge Reena Raggi made the trenchant comment that "If the academy does want to change the does need to be part of the world."

Liptak points out that some academics are already meeting the challenge, blogging about current cases and legal doctrines quickly and cogently, and engaging in litigation, for which they must prepare briefs. In addition, academic law reviews such as the Yale Law Journal now offer services such as The Pocket Part, which provides shorter commentaries and news items as a companion to the Journal. I think the growing lack of citation of traditional academic law review articles points to a larger problem, and that is that academics have tended to look down on more accessible writing such as newspaper columns, op-ed pieces, and materials geared toward practitioners. And changing the perception that this type of writing is somehow inferior will be difficult because it is entrenched.

I was struck by the citation information that Liptak provides. "In the 1970s, federal courts cited articles from The Harvard Law Review 4,410 times...In the 1990s, the number of citations dropped by more than half, to 1,956. So far in this decade: 937." The phenomenon must be even more pronounced at law reviews that don't have the clout of the Harvard Law Review.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

What does it take to radicalize lawyers?

The Washington Post's foreign correspondent (I am so glad some news organiztions are still maintaining them!) Griff White reports today on lawyers taking to the streets in violent protests against General Musarraf.

The latest round of protests came in the eastern city of Lahore, the scene of demonstrations earlier this week. On Saturday, police lobbed tear gas canisters at lawyers in business suits who responded by throwing rocks, according to witness accounts and television footage.

Rashed Rahman, executive editor of the Post newspaper in Lahore, said that about 100 lawyers were injured when police charged them with batons. He said police later ransacked about two dozen offices belonging to the protesters.

"The police apparently had orders to stop the protests at any cost, and they came out swinging," he said. "The level of violence has clearly escalated."

Unrest has grown quickly in Pakistan since March 9, when Musharraf suspended the Supreme Court's chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, citing unspecified abuses of power. Chaudhry had been expected to rule on several key cases this year, including the timing of upcoming elections and on whether Musharraf can retain his role as head of the army while also serving as president.

The lawyers and journalists expressed concern that the move against chief justice Chaudhry is the first step in extinguishing democratic institutions and the balance of power in Pakistan. Among other outrages of the day, police opened fire with rubber bullets and tear gas against journalists and cameramen covering the riot. General Musharraf issued a statement that the attack took place without his orders. But he cannot place the removal of Chief Justice Chaudhry at some others' doorstep.

How close is the U.S. to this sort of abuse of power? I certainly hope to never see a dictator in power. But the Bush administration has taken many steps that transfer great amounts of power and discretion from Congress and the judiciary, and concentrate it in the presidency. The most recent example is the firing of the formerly independent attorneys general, known as Gonzalesgate. Other examples that spring to mind are the series of presidential signing statements that claim to considerably alter the effect of the laws as passed by Congress (see here, here and here. Then, there was the Executive Order 13422 (here that was designed to rein in those pesky careerists in various agencies who insist on things like global warming. See this Boston Globe article by Charlie Savage on how VP Cheney has pushed to expand presidential powers.

The Pakistani lawyers and journalists were willing to risk direct confrontation with Musharraf's police and troops; will we ever see American lawyers and journalists so outraged by the actions of our administration that they will take stronger action than the ABA investigation of signing statements (link)?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Google Everything (TM)

In its continuing journey to be all things to all people, Google is now becoming the source of choice for those looking for a lawyer:

The days when the majority of people went to the yellow pages and then over the past 6 or 7 years, Martindale's or Thomson's FindLaw are numbered. Google, like it dominates on other Internet search, will rule on local searches for lawyers.

Do a Google search for Austin divorce lawyer. Google provides names and a map with a listing of organic search results below it. The and FindLaw directories are no where to be found.

Like Scoble, who was impressed with his Palo Alto Notary search, says "Google is so far ahead of the others it isn’t even funny."

As Google delivers better and better results, the number of people using Google is only going to increase. And do we really think my kids, who use Google to find everything (taught this in school), are going to look in the Yellow pages or when looking for a lawyer?

(hat tip to Real Lawyers Have Blogs)

In other news, The Onion reports, Google Steps in to Help U.S. with Google Navy.

Monday, March 12, 2007


My daughter, who is a neuroscience major, pointed out this article in yesterday's New York Times Magazine. It discusses how the ability to perform PET scans, MRIs and other tests on the brain may affect the law. If we can see that a defendant's brain is abnormal, what happens to the legal system's concept of responsibility for criminal acts? The article was written by Jeffrey Rosen, who is on the faculty of the George Washington University Law School, where he teaches constitutional law and criminal procedure.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Digitizing History

The Business section of today's New York Times has a front-page article by Katie Hafner entitled "History, Digitized (and Abridged)." The article asserts that materials that are not digitized will very likely be completely forgotten by future generations. The historical record will be the poorer for the lack of these materials.

Hafner refers to the many digitization projects that have been undertaken over the last ten years, citing figures that are truly eye opening. For instance, even the Library of Congress will digitize "perhaps only 10 percent of the 132 million objects the foreseeable future." The situation is the same at the National Archives and at many other smaller institutions around the country. The main problem is funding.

Hafner cites the costs of scanning which are much higher than I thought: "$6 to $9 for a 35-millimeter slide...$7 to $11 a page for presidential papers...$12 to $25 for poster-size pieces." Hafner also points out that the "cost of scanning an object can be a relatively minor part of the entire expense of digitizing and making an item accessible online.)" The scanning projects my library has undertaken so far have been pretty straightforward--8 1/2" x 11" format, black type on white paper, virtually no images--and it would be impossible to estimate the costs we have incurred. Even so, the projects are very labor intensive.

Public institutions are looking to private benefactors to help underwrite the costs of digitization. Google, for instance, has donated $3,000,000 "to help start an effort led by the Library of Congress that will digitize and share materials around the globe, and has also provided technical resources" to LC. In addition, Google is digitizing books at LC. Some of the other benefactors are Reuters, IBM, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

An additional constraint for institutions is copyright, which is not a concern when digitizing old materials, but does affect modern items. The problem is particularly acute with recorded music, where there are "a series of gaps in the popular understanding of the nation's musical heritage." Finally, the items that tend to get digitized are those things that are easy to handle, i.e., printed texts that don't require special handling. Benefactors want to see results for their money--the easier the collection is to digitize, the easier it will be to find grant money to fund the project. Even Google focuses most of its digitization efforts on printed books. As with recorded music, this reluctance to initiate digitization of hard-to-handle materials will result in gaps in the historical record.

The risks of not digitizing our entire historical record are real. According to James J. Hastings, director of access programs at the National Archives, "If researchers conclude that the only valuable records they need are those that are online they will be missing major parts of the story...And in some cases they will miss the story altogether."

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Blog Against Sexism Day: Letter to my Daughter

This is blog against sexism day, as well as International Women's Day. Even more significant to me, it's my only daughter's 17th birthday. In honor of all those things, here is an open letter to Alexa McKenzie, with all my love!

Dear Alexa,

Your great-great grandmother Von Pein was widowed in her 40's, with 12 children. Her options were very limited about how she could keep her family fed. She had a farm, and worked on it. But the family boys had to contribute money they earned to buy things they could not grow or trade for. Great-great grandma Von Pein never voted in her life. Although she lived long enough to see women voting, she had been raised with strong opinions about the "right" role of women, and deciding about government was not right for women.

Your great grandmother McDaniel was abandoned in her 40's by her husband, leaving her with 11 children. She had had to drop out of school in 3rd grade. Her parents thought it was worthless for a girl to get more education than that, and wanted her at home to help them run their leased poultry farm operation. She ran away from home when she was 16, married and then, amazingly for that time, divorced her husband. She had 2 children at that time, and supported them by taking in laundry and doing janitorial work. She married James Earl McDaniel, and had 9 more children. She kept chickens in the backyard, and a garden, to make ends meet. When her husband left during the depression, Grandma McDaniel again took in washing and took janitorial jobs, and all the children worked to keep the household fed. When times were at their worst, Grandma McDaniel had to swallow her pride, and go "on the dole." But she managed to get all her sons through high school, and your grandfather through college and medical school. She felt, though, that daughters did not need that much education, and strongly favored the boys.

Your grandmother Hilda McKenzie was widowed in her 40's, with 5 children. She had actually worked outside the home before being married. She was a secretary briefly, at a candy company. But she told me many times that she told them, smugly, that she was going to be married, and could not come back to work. Although Grandma Hilda had a high school diploma (unusual in those days), and was very bright, she stayed home after marriage, and even after her husband died, relied on Social Security and her brother to bring in the money needed in the household. She told me about women who competed with each other in housekeeping skills to the level that they would measure the setting of the shades on each window, to be sure they were even. That was their measure for success in life, that and their children.

My father made a point that both his daughters should get college educations and more. He always said that every girls should be able to support her family by doing more than janitorial work. He watched his mother (your grandma McDaniel) struggle along, and felt her lack of education made her life much harder. But thinking about the times she lived in, I think it probably would not have helped her farther than perhaps getting a secretarial job. It has been a huge change during my lifetime, that women can expect to get work as lawyers, doctors, politicians, and leaders in business. That would never have been available to our grandmothers. Women in their day relied on their husbands, brothers and fathers, and really had very few options when those men failed them.

However, as much as things have changed, I feel that live is still so much stacked against women. I am so grateful that you have had gumption all your life. You needed all that practice speaking back to big people and arguing with your brother. You will be glad you learned not to back down, just to let a man feel better about himself. But you will also be glad you learned to modulate your voice, not strident as women with no power must be, but assertive, as women with some power can be. We ride upon the shoulders of those who went before. Both in our family and in our society, we live as we do because of those grandmothers, and those suffragettes and feminists who pushed to change our world. I know you are aware of how fortunate a time and place we are in, and are grateful. I also have faith that you will live your life so that your daughters and grand-daughters will have as much or more chance in life.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Presidential Libraries

The Chronicle of Higher Education, linked above, has several excellent pieces about Presidential libraries, including a discussion of the current controversy over the George W. Bush library at SMU. (you can visit a blog maintained by Benjamin H. Johnson, an assistant professor of history who is one of the leading critics of the proposal here)

But this article goes way beyond, with bunches of history on the development of presidential libraries, beginning with FDR. The Chronicle includes a wonderful table with links to all the presidential libraries, and notes on what federal law governs each one. It changes over time, from the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955 , which considers the papers the personal property of the former President. That means, for instance, that the President may pick and choose what is given, and that the Freedom of Information Act does not apply to the collection.

More recent libraries, have different laws that apply. This began with Richard Nixon's library (formerly private and now moving to become public), when he ordered the National Archives to destroy many of his materials, and Congress moved to pass the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act, to prevent this destruction.

And the most recent presidential libraries, from Reagan forward, are governed under the Presidential Records Act of 1978, and now the Presidential Libraries Act of 1986 modifies treatment. You can see full text of all the other acts, regulations and executive orders governing presidential libraries here. This excellent material is all fromthe National Archives, Presidential Libraries site.

Information Literacy

The link in the title above takes you to a Chronicle of Higher Education article about information literacy at the undergraduate level. Much of the article is not news to librarians, since we have a very good idea how poor most folks are at evaluating and choosing scholarly resources in the flood of online options. But, did you know there are tests for information literacy?

Since colleges and accrediting agencies say college graduates must be information literate, a slew of standardized tests now purport to measure students' skills in this area.

Among the most well known is the ICT Literacy Assessment, which was developed and is administered by the Educational Testing Service, a nonprofit group based in Princeton, N.J. "ICT" stands for "information and communication technology." The 75-minute test, offered at two levels, measures students' ability in seven areas, including organizing, evaluating, and communicating with electronic data.

ETS gave an early version of the test in 2006 to 5,338 college students and 1,012 high-school students across the country — including 924 from six Cal State campuses — and concluded that many students were unprepared for college-level work. Forty-eight percent of test takers could not identify the objectivity of a Web site, the testing group said.

Ms. Roth, an advocate for information literacy at Cal State, says a majority of the system's 23 campuses are giving the test to freshmen. The university system, along with a several other colleges, helped ETS design the test. She anticipates that campuses will use the examination to track the progress of its students, perhaps testing juniors who took the test as freshmen.

She praises the test, saying it presents students with the same type of problems they would encounter in college and in the work force, and does so without resorting to multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank questions. "After 10 years of work here in Cal State, we were never able to develop something as sophisticated and as engaging," she said.

Several colleges have developed their own tests to measure students' information-literacy skills. At Cal State's Sacramento campus a librarian has created a multiple-choice online examination that all students in the university's general-education program take. Students who fail to score at least 80 percent are required to take a six-part tutorial. Then they take a similar test that measures their understanding of concepts as wide-ranging as Boolean searching, plagiarism, and the reliability of Web information.

Kent State University has led the development of another popular test, the Standardized Assessment of Information Literacy Skills. About 80 colleges have given the 35-minute, multiple-choice test to their students, whose answers have helped to refine it. It costs colleges about $3 per student to offer the test, while the ETS test costs $25.

Most librarians said they viewed the tests as only one measure of students' information-literacy proficiency. Some anticipated that colleges would move away from standardized tests in favor of interpretive measures of students' skills, like research papers, multimedia projects, and electronic portfolios.

"We're thinking our students will not be taking objective tests. They will be producing products, artifacts, videos, shows, pieces of art," said Charles Dziuban, director of the research initiative for teaching effectiveness at the University of Central Florida. The institution is about 18 months into a five-year, $4-million information-literacy program that it hopes will impress regional accreditation officials.

(the image of the poster for a production of George Orwell's 1984 just looks so much like the wired brain, I couldn't resist using it to illustrate!)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Plugging the leaks in the professional pipeline

Boston Globe staffer Carey Goldberg writes in the article linked above, about a program at Mass General Hospital to support women doctors in their child-bearing years. Like the faculty tenure process and the job ladder in libraries, these folks have the heavy-duty work loaded into the early years of a professional career. We have this worked out all backwards. When I had young children, I was also working 50+ hour weeks to make my mark as a librarian. I was in a job that was, in many ways, more demanding than the tenured faculty/library director position I have now. We should be looking at ways to support our younger colleagues while they have young children, through flexible scheduling, through summer research stipends, and ideally, mini-sabbaticals to do their research without the pressure of teaching (or reference desk or cataloging, or whatever) every day.

There was another article here on the looming labor shortages as the Baby Boomer generation retires (or dies off!). We need, as AALL has already begun, to prepare the next generation to replace us. That should include not only mentoring, but also the kind of support that keeps folks from dropping out of the labor market til their kids get to 1st grade.

(image modified from

Washable PDA

The title above links to a business brief in The Boston Globe about a washable PDA being developed with doctors in mind. If you are like me, you may have dropped a PDA, or other items in your pocket into toilets or other watery graves. What else would you like to see made waterproof? Or, alternatively, what improvements would you make to librarian clothing to prevent these tragedies?! Can you say, cargo pants? Or mitten strings for everything?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Access to Presidential Documents

According to today's Inside Higher Education, legislation was introduced in Congress last Thursday that would nullify President Bush's Executive Order 13233 of 2001. This order "effectively grants current and former presidents--and their heirs--far greater discretion to indefinitely classify documents long after the 12-year post-presidency period during which executive privileges have typically applied. Also, for the first time, vice presidents can likewise enjoy the privilege." What would a vice president have to hide? One of the sponsors of the Presidential Records Act Amendment of 2007 is Representative Henry Waxman of California, who stated that "History is not partisan, ... Historians and scholars need access to our nation's history as it happened, not as a former president wished that it happened." The Executive Order could have a negative impact on presidential libraries and what is available to the public for inspection there. According to Steven L. Hensen, a past president of the Society of American Archivists and director of technical services for Duke University's rare books library, "Any presidential library created under this executive order will be a mockery." I keep wondering why the Bush Administration is so unwilling for the public to be privy to its inner workings.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Alternative Legal Publishing via Blog

Joe Hodnicki at Law Blog Metrics notes:

Race to the Bottom is probably the first effort by law faculty and students to collaborate on a topic in the blogosphere. The topic is corporate governance and the impact SOX has on governance practices. The blog, launched on Feb. 9, 2007, is run by Denver law prof J. Robert Brown and seven of his students. The blog has a companion website, Corporate Governance, which contains primary materials on important matters relating to corporate governance. The blog also contains an excellent selection of pertinent resources.

Race to the Bottom demonstrates how technology can be used by law faculty and students who want to pursue intellectual interests unhindered by law school administrative barriers. This use of web communications for student-faculty collaboration that produces "short form" scholarly analysis and commentary exemplifies the spirit of innovation seen in some of our law schools. One can only hope that more law professors and students follow the example set by Race to the Bottom.

This is pointing very much in the direction of the sort of publishing initiative I called for in Redefining Open Access for the Legal Information Market, 98 Law Libr. J. 619-637 (2006):

¶58 When these niche programs, or brands, develop a critical mass of students, they often generate specialized subject area law journals. Almost every law school now boasts at least one specialized journal in addition to its main journal, and at many schools a handful of specialized journals are supported. Suppose some of these resources—intellectual capital, reputation, and student labor—were to be redirected to publishing legal information for practitioners rather than for legal scholars?

¶59 Law schools, using readily available distribution technologies such as RSS, blogs, wikis, and other collaborative authoring tools, could easily compete with the commercial publishers of many of the legal newsletters and loose-leaf services currently available. One reason for a law school to do this would be to answer the frequently repeated complaint of lawyers and judges that the scholarship published in law journals is of little value to the practicing bar. Law journals once served the function of analyzing and synthesizing developments in the law, as well as commenting on current cases. To the extent that this function is still met by law journals, it is largely relegated to student-authored case comments. Blogs, especially in combination with RSS feeds, make electronic publication and distribution of analysis and commentary quite easy. It has been suggested that legal blogs are already making law journal case comments obsolete. Comments published on blogs are distributed as soon as they are written, without the year-long delay typical of law journals. Certainly such immediate, undigested commentary is of limited value, but it is of some value nonetheless. If journalism is the first draft of history, case comments are the first draft of jurisprudence. [Footnotes omitted.]
In many ways, the appeal of this sort of academic/scholarly/practitioner partnership seems obvious. Will the quality of this particular project prove sufficiently valuable to both the practitioners who would use it, and the students and professors who develop it, to become sustainable? Time and the legal community will tell. The open question is not whether, but when, such alternatives to expensive commercial publications will become widely accepted.