Thursday, October 30, 2008

Balance in the federal judiciary

Here is an impassioned op-ed piece from today's Boston Globe about the impact of the presidential election on the composition of the federal judiciary now and for years to come. The authors, Michael Greco and Patricia Wald, describe one signal "success" of the presidency of George W. Bush--the lifetime appointment to the federal bench of individuals "with partisan political loyalties who have failed to adequately protect citizens' freedoms." Many of these judges are fairly young, and could be on the bench for several decades. Greco and Wald point out that "[m]ore than 58 percent of current federal judges were appointed by Republican presidents, over one-third by Bush alone. Ten of the 13 federal appellate courts now have wide majorities of conservative Republican appointees. Balance on the federal courts no longer exists." I have been disappointed at the lack of attention to the federal court system during the current presidential debate. Given the dire economic situation the country currently faces, it is probably not surprising that voters are more interested in bread-and-butter issues than in who sits on the federal bench. However, as Greco and Wald point out, the "quality of life for future generations, as well as the nation's longstanding commitment to justice and equality, will depend on whether those judges are impartial and fair." Just think about the kind of judges a President Palin might appoint!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Boy, this is getting hot!

Well, everything seems to line up together on this topic today... The title to this post will link you to the Scholarly Kitchen, a fascinating blog sponsored by The Society for Scholarly Publishing. Tracy Thompson of NELLCO passed this link along, for the blog post titled Article Download Gaming, dated Oct. 27, 2008. Part of what got me to link to this blog post is the report of the British House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee interrogating the CEO of Reed Elsevier on how they can justify their price increases (yay, go get 'em!!! sic 'em). Sir Crispin Davis replied that they were essentially looking at it as pricing the materials as pay per view, and it was a bargain at that...

The rather cheeky response Sir Crispin gave the committee members raises the specter of what library users and libraries may be looking at if repackaging of copyrighted materials continues in the hands of publishing megaliths. Or am I just paranoid and a left-over 60's radical? I am rooting for the Google Books/HathiTrust folks more and more, though...

Ooh, ooh, there's more!

Google has worked out a settlement with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers over Google’s book-scanning project.

The company and the book groups said Google would pay $125 million and legal fees to resolve claims by authors and publishers. Several universities have agreed to let Google scan their libraries and make the texts fully searchable online. But the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers sued in 2005, arguing that the plan violated copyright protections.

Google’s payment will go toward the creation of a Book Rights Registry, which would allow holders of United States copyrights on books to register their work so they can get a cut of Internet ad revenue and online book sales.

According to a statement issued Tuesday by the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and Google, the agreement “will expand online access to millions of in-copyright books and other written materials in the U.S. from the collections of a number of major U.S. libraries participating in Google Book Search.”
(New York Times October 28, 2008, crediting Associated Press)

Tip of the hat to Judith Wright, who posted a brief note to lawlibdir-l about the press announcement Google released about this. It actually means that perhaps the copyrighted materials in the GoogleBooks project (and maybe the HathiTrust, too!) may become accessible to searchers on a pay-per-view basis. That would actually be more profitable to the authors any way, and certainly make the materials more useful.

HathiTrust: out of Google Books' possible rubble

I was reading last week's Chronicle of Higher Education and the Hot Type column talked about a new project, HathiTrust, which has grown out of the digitization at Google Books. Click on the title to this post to visit the HathiTrust website, which has lots more information.

Basically, the original group of libraries have pooled their digitized resources to work together for preservation and access. They are following the same policy as Google as far as copyrighted materials are concerned. So searchers outside these institutions cannot access the materials still copyrighted, about 84% of the total. Some participants are still in the process of adding their digitized images. There is already a list of what is available at HathiTrust (something users wished for at Google Books and never got). And soon there will be a search engine -- time will tell what quality. But the librarians are committing to work together on the search and display capabilities, which I think bodes well.

I recognized the word Hathi, from Rudyard Kipling's good ol' Jungle Book, as the Hindi name for the elephant, who remembers everything. The HathiTrust is a project where the large university libraries who participated in the Google Books project have pooled their digitization, working as the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, explained as...

The Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) is the academic equivalent of the Big Ten, plus the University of Chicago. It includes the University of Illinois, The University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, Indiana University, University of Iowa, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, University of Minnesota, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, Penn State University, Purdue University and University of Wisconsin-Madison.
They are looking for partners, and do expect that this project will complement both the Google Books project and the Open Content Alliance. This seems like a really exciting development!

Hail, Hathi! (image is the Hathi logo from their website, )

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hard Times for Law School Fundraisers

I have reproduced below an article from the National Law Journal about the difficulties law school fundraisers are confronting trying to raise money in these difficult economic times. Some donors have rescinded pledges, while others are waiting to see whether the stock market recovers before they decide whether they can fulfill their pledges. Some schools are postponing their capital campaigns, while others are trying to find ways other than contributing money, such as interviewing prospective students, that alumni can help out their law schools. It's a sobering article. Thanks to Vicky Gannon for sending it to me.

Law school fundraising tightens
Amanda Bronstad / Staff reporter
October 27, 2008

Deans and fundraising administrators at law schools nationwide say donors of large gifts are holding off on committing to contributions, given the current economic climate, while annual giving from their alumni could level off or decline for the first time in years.

In the past month, a few donors to some of the nation's law schools have backed out of pledged gifts, but several more who previously were considering giving large amounts are now taking a "wait and see" approach.

Meanwhile, law schools, many of which have experienced record amounts of fundraising in recent years, are coming up with ways to combat an anticipated slowdown in annual giving.

Some are encouraging donors to take advantage of recent rules allowing them to give up to $100,000 tax free from their individual retirement accounts (IRAs) to a charitable institution. Others are being more specific in the alumni they approach for gifts; some are using "bundlers" to amass larger contributions. Bundlers, in this case, are individuals who collect a significant gift from a group of people on behalf of the school.

A few have delayed capital campaigns, while others have come up with nonmonetary ways in which alumni can contribute.

Regardless of the economy's impact on their fundraising, all law schools have had to address the current crisis, either in conversations with regular donors or in letters to alumni.

"Looking at the overall industry data, what I would expect would be a slowdown in the growth rate of fundraising," said David Van Zandt, dean of Northwestern University School of Law. "We know people are going to be trimming their budgets."

Diffident donors

Law school deans and fundraising administrators said that, although few donors who had committed to large gifts have backed out of their agreements in the past month or so, many of those who had been considering a contribution are asking for more time to assess their financial resources.
Todd Baily, assistant dean for development and alumni relations at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor, said the school has received signed gift agreements from significant donors in the past few weeks, although he acknowledged the economy has affected some potential commitments.

"I can only isolate one case where one person has said, 'I can't do what I had committed to,' " he said. But, he said, "we had more than one, a few, and we probably expect more to come, of people who said, 'I like your project, I want to do something, I just have to wait until I know what my situation can be before I can make a specific commitment.' "

Baily said the school is working with donors to extend their payment schedules or has given them time to be more comfortable about making significant commitments.

The school is in the midst of a campaign in which administrators hope to break ground next year on a new academic building on campus. In order to move forward on the project, the school must raise $70 million; so far, $35 million has been collected.

The school's total receipts from donations, including both annual contributions and large gifts, have increased from nearly $10 million in fiscal year 2005 to more than $18 million in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, he said. This year, the school has raised more than $4.5 million, but it is planning for flat or minimal growth in annual giving, he said.

Van Zandt of Northwestern said the school's administrators are less likely to ask for large increases in donations this year even though only one donor has asked for an extension of six months before committing to a large gift.

In the fiscal year that ended on Aug. 31, Northwestern raised nearly $11 million, up by 40% in overall giving from the previous year. This fiscal year, he anticipates a "slight slowdown in the growth of what we do. I don't expect another 40% up, but I don't expect a decline," he said.

If the economy worsens into a severe recession, however, a decline could be possible, he said.

The University of California, Irvine School of Law, which plans to open in fall 2009, is in the process of raising $100 million in the next few years, said Charles Cannon, assistant dean of development and external affairs at the law school. So far, the school has raised a quarter of that amount.

The effect of the economy on the school's fundraising remains unclear, he said. The school is facing a tight deadline, aiming to raise about $6 million in full tuition scholarships for its first class of 60 students.

One potential solution, he said, has been to mimic a strategy used in political fundraising and use "bundlers."

$5 million short

Other law schools are instituting measures to deal with the economic downturn. The University of Mississippi School of Law, which originally aimed to complete a fundraising campaign in December, is extending that deadline, said Jamie White, development officer at the law school.

He said "there have been a handful of donors who have asked us to wait."

Most of those donors, he said, were planning to give for the first time or had not made a prior commitment. But, in its final months, the school remains more than $5 million shy of its fundraising goal of $35 million for construction of a new law building, he said.

To boost donations, the University of Mississippi School of Law is focusing on specific alumni who might be less affected by the downturn, such as executives or chief counsel at oil and gas businesses, he said.

He also said the school is keeping track of which plaintiffs' attorneys, who are alumni, recently obtained large verdicts.

"If we have one alumnus who wins a verdict and will receive a large contingency fee," he said, "we ask them to keep us in mind."

Another strategy is to encourage prospective donors to take advantage of a recent change to the U.S. Pension Protection Act of 2006, which allows people 70.5 years and older to donate up to $100,000 to a charitable institution, tax free, from their IRAs through 2009.

The provisions, which expired in 2007, were extended by another two years under the $700 billion bailout bill signed earlier this month by President George W. Bush.

That same idea has been floating around at Vanderbilt University Law School, which is in the midst of a fundraising campaign that ends in 2010.

"In lieu of cash gifts, planned giving can be a great area for us to focus on," said Alyssa Wilcox, assistant dean of development at Vanderbilt.

No check required

Wilcox said that the school's alumni advisory board met on Oct. 24 to address how to remain proactive in reaching out to donors given the economic crisis.

One idea, she said, has been the launch of a new program that encourages alumni to interview prospective students going through the admissions process as a way to contribute without writing a check.

She said Vanderbilt hired an administrator in the admissions office to run the program, which launched a few months ago and has attracted the interest of several hundred alumni so far. She said Vanderbilt is one of the few schools to institute such a program.

Most importantly, schools have been quick to address the economic concerns of their alumni.

In a special letter sent earlier this month to previous contributors to the school, Vanderbilt Law Dean Edward Rubin emphasized how appreciative the law school is in receiving their previous gift while acknowledging the credit crisis, mortgage meltdown and increased cost of groceries, she said.

"At this time, we really value their contributions and so we're hoping by letting them know this, we can hang onto these people this year," Wilcox said.

Michael Schill, dean of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law, said economic concerns are going to be a big part of the school's standard fundraising letter to alumni, which is being sent out later this month or in November.

Schill said alumni who are annual givers, many of whom are practicing attorneys who give donations of hundreds, or thousands, of dollars, could see their incomes drop this year, which affects gifts to the law school.

On the other hand, he said, one donor gave $1.5 million to the UCLA School of Law on a recent day on which the stock market plummeted.

In general, he said, "you have to be careful, and you have to be sensitive, to a person's situation."

One bright spot: Some public universities, such as UCLA, which receives a portion of its budget from state resources, have an advantage in asking for dollars from private donors, he said.

"We'll sustain substantial budget cuts at UCLA," he said, due to California's fiscal problems. "The argument for donors and alumni to contribute to this school is even stronger."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

New Animal Law Blog

Two of my colleagues at Pace Law School, Professors David Cassuto and Luis Chiesa, have launched a new blog dealing with animal law. They are assisted in their efforts by a third-year law student, Suzanne McMillan, who is an animal-rights activist. The intent of the new blog is to transcend "speciesism" and to be a "central repository for the latest information about animal issues as they relate to the legal field." Professor Cassuto teaches Animal Law at Pace as part of the Environmental Law curriculum, and he and Professor Chiesa are passionate about the subject. It will be interesting to see how the blog develops.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

An Obama Sighting!

I am in rural North Carolina this week as part of an ABA site evaluation team. Something seemed a little bit odd when I arrived at the hotel last night and found a significant law-enforcement presence, so to speak, which I assumed was not there for my benefit. There were stone-faced security personnel in the lobby with ear wires (I don't know the technical term), and they were clearly on duty. I was not permitted to use one of the elevators, and had to wait (forever, it seemed) for the other one to return to the lobby so I could get to my room. This morning when I came downstairs for breakfast, I learned that Senator Barack Obama was in the meeting room directly across the hall from me. He was holding a press conference, and there were security guards and police officers everywhere. I decided to wait around to see what would happen. As I waited, the lobby began to fill up with other guests and with people from the area who had heard that Senator Obama was there and wanted to have a chance to see him. At some point, I realized that I didn't have my cellphone and couldn't take a picture (assuming I would have an opportunity to do so), but when I tried to get back to my room, I learned that the Secret Service had cut off both elevators and the stairs as well. After about an hour and a half of waiting, the lobby was literally jammed with people, as was the area outside the hotel. I had commandered a coffee table and was standing on top of it in order to get a better view, but at some point the Secret Service told me to get down. It seemed prudent not to put up a fuss, even though there were a lot of awfully tall people there. Finally, Senator Obama came out of the press conference, and greeted the crowd. I was about four feet away from him and didn't get to shake his hand, but I did get a good look at him and was able to observe the effect he had on the people who had gathered. He made a special effort to speak to children, and asked to meet the hotel staff, who were thrilled. In person, Senator Obama is even slimmer than he appears on television, and moves with grace. He is self-contained, but not standoffish. I found the whole experience to be fascinating. I cannot imagine how the candidates stand to be on display every minute and how they find the energy to visit two or three states in one day.

The other thing that I find fascinating is to be in a swing state so close to the election. The presidential candidates don't seem to be spending much time in New York, and, at least where I live, there aren't many television ads for either candidate. Some days it's easy to forget that there is a presidential election under way. In North Carolina, however, the ads for the two candidates play constantly on the television, and they are nasty in tone. I also didn't realize that Senator Elizabeth Dole is in serious danger of losing her seat until I got down here. Again, I learned this through television ads that are positively virulent in tone.

Harvard Law School on the Rise

The title of this post seems ludicrous even to me, but that is the point of an article in today's Boston Globe. The article credits the new dean, Elena Kagan, for a number of initiatives that have made the students more happy (free coffee and tampons, for instance), and for a round of high-profile faculty hiring that has brought to Harvard such luminaries as Cass Sunstein, who was hired away from the University of Chicago. Dean Kagan believes that small things, such as the free coffee, can make a huge difference in how students perceive their educational experience, but cost very little in terms of money. Of course, it helps that Dean Kagan has Harvard's huge financial resources at her disposal. The article has some very interesting information about Harvard's notoriously high-maintenance faculty and the controversies that kept them at each others' throats for a number of years. That animosity seems to be a thing of the past, however.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Oh, Happy Day! Spammers get spanner in works!

Click on the title to this tiny spark of happy news to read an article from the New York Times about the foot soldiers of the FTC who persuaded a federal court in Chicago to freeze the assets of a huge ring of spammers known as Herbal King. Don't necessarily count on your spam count to drop, but at least their moneys are tied up for a while. Yay for the rule of law!

Blog Action Day! Poverty

Want to make a difference to somebody today? Want to fight poverty? Look at the Kiva loans site here There are lots of other ways to make a difference. Some folks in our law library group participated in the mass read-to-kids and donate-a-book project with Jumpstart and the book Corduroy. You could donate a book and/or read a copy of the book to a child. Each child who attended received a copy, and many of these children had never had a book before. Of course, each AALL, the SR-SIS (Social Responsibilities Special Interest Section) co-ordinates a book donation project and often a library and school assistance project for the local school system. In Philadelphia, we helped clean a library and shelve books, in St. Louis and New Orleans, we cleaned and repaired schools and libraries. And always, donating books, either by wish lists from the school librarians or just donating money.

You can check your local law library organization here (if it's a chapter of AALL) to see if it has any community service projects. If it doesn't why not set up a committee to start some? I happen to belong to a fairly active group, LLNE and you can look here to see a list of recent service projects.

But non-AALL law library groups may have projects as well. For instance, the Association of Boston Law Libraries (ABLL) is an independent group in my area. It has an annual holiday project to donate money and gifts from a list for a local charity, Bridge Over Troubled Waters. This is a group that supports teens and young adults who are runaways, trying to live on the street. They provide a shelter, medical care, an opportunity to return to school or study for a GED degree, child care if needed, and emotional support. For many of the young people in this group, it is an opportunity to escape a family of violence or sexual abuse and a continuing nightmare as they fall into the clutches of pimps who exploit them here in Boston.

There are a lot of faces of poverty. How you define it depends on where you live. I understand that what looks like poverty to me here in Boston in may look pretty cushy to people elsewhere in the world. But you define your situation by your relative status compared to the people around you. You also feel the pain of poverty as a lack of power, of choices, of respect. And that pain hurts whether you define poverty by urban or rural US standards or urban Chandahar, Bangladesh or rural Soma in Gambia.

I always liked that little motto from the 70's "Bloom where you're planted." Fight poverty where you live.

Friday, October 10, 2008

News from New Hampshire

According to the story below, Franklin Pierce Law Center and the University of New Hampshire are in talks regarding a possible merger. I wonder if the economic crisis will cause the University to rethink a possible merger.

"Live Free or Die" State's Only Law School Looking to Get Hitched

New York Lawyer
October 10, 2008

By Karen Sloan
The National Law Journal

New Hampshire's only law school has entered merger talks with the state's largest public university.

Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord and the University of New Hampshire in Durham announced on Oct. 9 that they have formed working groups to explore the "benefits and risks" of a merger.

Officials from both institutions were not immediately available for comment, but said in a joint statement that the idea has been discussed for several months.

Franklin Pierce, a private school, is recognized as having a strong program in intellectual property law. Franklin Pierce's intellectual property instruction stands to benefit from access to UNH's research and engineering programs. Additionally, law school faculty would gain an opportunity to participate in wider research, according to the statement.

"UNH is interested in pursuing this relationship in no small part because of potential synergies with our business and engineering programs, especially in the area of intellectual property, a major strength at Pierce Law," UNH President Mark W. Huddleston said in the statement.

Conversely, partnering with the law school would create opportunities to incorporate law into UNH's existing programs.

"It would provide a tremendous platform for our law school to integrate both legal education and research opportunities into many of UNH's programs," said Franklin Pierce President and
in the statement.

It's not clear if finances are playing a role in the discussions. UNH wrapped up the last fiscal year with a multi-million dollar deficit, with the current year shaping up to be slightly over budget as well, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Huddleston said that any merger would be "cost-neutral" for the university. The schools will form separate working groups that will coordinate with each other. Final recommendations on a possible merge are expected in early spring.

Franklin Pierce grabbed major attention in 2006 when it established a program that enabled gradates to obtain a law license without passing the bar exam.

Connecticut Court finds DOMA law unconstitutional

Click on the title to this post to read a brief Reuters report that just came out this morning.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Have you been disenfranchised?

Click on the link in the title to this post to read a New York Times article about an investigation into the actions of a number of different states' removing eligible voters from the rolls.

Tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law, according to a review of state records and Social Security data by The New York Times. The actions do not seem to be coordinated by one party or the other, nor do they appear to be the result of election officials intentionally breaking rules, but are apparently the result of mistakes in the handling of the registrations and voter files as the states tried to comply with a 2002 federal law, intended to overhaul the way elections are run.

Still, because Democrats have been more aggressive at registering new voters this year, according to state election officials, any heightened screening of new applications may affect their party’s supporters disproportionately. The screening or trimming of voter registration lists in the six states — Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina — could also result in problems at the polls on Election Day: people who have been removed from the rolls are likely to show up only to be challenged by political party officials or election workers, resulting in confusion, long lines and heated tempers.

Some states allow such voters to cast provisional ballots. But they are often not counted because they require added verification.

States have been trying to follow the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and remove the names of voters who should no longer be listed; but for every voter added to the rolls in the past two months in some states, election officials have removed two, a review of the records shows.

The six swing states seem to be in violation of federal law in two ways. Michigan and Colorado are removing voters from the rolls within 90 days of a federal election, which is not allowed except when voters die, notify the authorities that they have moved out of state, or have been declared unfit to vote.

Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio seem to be improperly using Social Security data to verify registration applications for new voters.

In addition to the six swing states, three more states appear to be violating federal law. Alabama and Georgia seem to be improperly using Social Security information to screen registration applications from new voters. And Louisiana appears to have removed thousands of voters after the federal deadline for taking such action.

Under federal law, election officials are supposed to use the Social Security database to check a registration application only as a last resort, if no record of the applicant is found on state databases, like those for driver’s licenses or identification cards.

The requirement exists because using the federal database is less reliable than the state lists, and is more likely to incorrectly flag applications as invalid. Many state officials seem to be using the Social Security lists first.
Might be prudent to check now to see if you're still registered to vote! The article notes tens of thousands affected in various states, so this is a serious problem if you live in these states. Read the article! And, if you live in Ohio, you may want to know this:
On Monday, the Ohio Republican Party filed a motion in federal court against the secretary of state to get the list of all names that have been flagged by the Social Security database since Jan. 1. The motion seeks to require that any voter who does not clear up a discrepancy be required to vote using a provisional ballot.

Republicans said in the motion that it is central to American democracy that nonqualified voters be forbidden from voting.

The Ohio secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, said in court papers that she believes the Republicans are seeking grounds to challenge voters and get them removed from the rolls.

Considering that in the past year the state received nearly 290,000 nonmatches, such a plan could have significant impact at the polls.
From the same Times article, which provides links to a PDF of the GOP motion and state response.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Boston Tea Party Deja Vu!

Up here, in the land of the Boston Tea Party, the anti-tax activists are pushing a measure that would remove income tax in our state. Talk about an item that would impact libraries! Mass Libraries Association is pushing hard against it (here). Public libraries, school libraries and libraries in state colleges and universities would all be impacted in a major way. Not to speak of those little items such as roads, police, firefighters, hospitals & emergency squads, schools, etc. We'll see if the well-intentioned people descended from the patriots who threw British tea in the harbor rather than pay the import tax come through now....

It's one thing to throw off shackles when you have no say in the government which is housed far away. It's something else when you have town meetings you can go to, where you can have a say in how your taxes get spent. The folks who think they are going to skip down the road free, free, free if income taxes are repealed haven't thought this through. States that don't have income taxes, like Florida, Alaska or New Hampshire, have other mechanisms in place that yield state income to fund the roads, police, emergency personnel and equipment, schools, and libraries that our income taxes are funding. You can't yank the plug without giving time to put a different system in place -- we'll have chaos in the streets, most literally.

Keep your fingers crossed. The library community is buzzing and rallying, as are the school folks. We'll see what happens.

See Vote No On Question 1 for a bit of info from the non-library opponents to the measure. The decoration of the Boston Tea Party is courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol, at I wonder what the original engraver was thinking about with the placement of that map?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Alright, Hein!

HeinOnline is doing interesting things. Besides blogging (, they now have a Facebook presence, and they just commented on social indexing:

Some think of social indexing as social tagging or social bookmarking in which you bookmark your favorite websites, popular blog posts, or news alerts. HeinOnline is now looking at social indexing from a scholarly perspective, bringing to you for the first time in a digital environment the concept of viewing most cited law review articles. For example, when you run a search for "Right to Privacy" across the titles in the Law Journal Library in HeinOnline, you will be able to determine how many times each result has been "cited by" other scholarly law review articles in HeinOnline. This allows you to view articles that have had a heavy influence or high impact on the subject you are searching. From here, you can then view the law review articles that cited this article to further your research in the given subject area. This research approach ! is easy, using simple links available in HeinOnline. Future enhancements in the Law Journal Library will allow you to sort your results based on the number of times the articles are cited, thus bringing the most cited articles to the top of your search results list. Additionally, HeinOnline makes it easy to cross-reference other documents by linking citations if the material is available in HeinOnline.
Very interesting developments

So, here's the score

The six month medical leave I just took made a space in my professional and personal life to consider things. I have been thinking what my life is all about. This might be a sort of generic mid-life crisis question. But it’s MY mid-life crisis question.

What have I accomplished? Have I done anything that has made a difference?

Talk about a depressing question to ask oneself! What if the answer is a big fat NO?!

Why are we here? Is it enough just to exist? Is procreation the only imperative, if there is even that? Or maybe, considering the size of the human population right now, that’s the wrong thing to have done! Is there even any objective way to measure good and bad?

I think there is, in fact, good and bad. And I think we can probably come up with some agreements about examples that would even withstand voting by every culture and time through human time and space.

1. Live a thoughtful, examined life. You may not get things right all the time, but by making an effort, and thinking about things, I am sure we are doing the right thing.

2. Try to make things better where-ever you live. Whether you plant flowers, or a tree, or are kind to animals and people, or volunteer at a school or soup kitchen, or meditate or pray, or bring order or justice to the world, or build a house, or do art or poetry or writing I think you make things better. Even if it’s just temporary, or a tiny increment, I am sure it is important (though I am not able to explain why). I think this is one of the things we can agree universally is good, though we may disagree (sometimes violently) on some of the details, like what is justice.

3. Thus, I am not sure it matters whether we do something big and impressive, or achieve some “success” in our life. I think in the big picture, it is, oddly enough, the little things that add up to mean a lot more.

4. And I think it matters less WHAT we do, and more HOW we did it. If we do a small, everyday task with grace and love, meaning it to make things better, I think it probably counts for a lot more than if we make a grand gesture with selfish motives.

So, what's my score? This is hard, and a bit embarrassing. It's hard to tell. It's not as though what I do is very easy to measure. At the end of the day there is very rarely anything I can look at and say, "Wow, I did that!" Even when I worked as a legal services lawyer, it was not a transactional job, so there were not deals, there were small squabbles. Most of my clients, I could never point to and say that I made their life any better. That was sort of a bummer to realize that. There were one or two, but most of the time, I think I just used up court resources and the resources of landlords and other defendants. Hmmm.

And now, as a librarian.... Hmmm. At least I feel like each day I am doing more positive, happy-making things (at least most days). That's nice. I have helped law students feel more confident in their research skills (and maybe generally), and steered a few into librarianship. I may have helped some librarians feel more confident and networked. I don't know. When my daughter was in middle school, they learned about the ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, where after death, the heart of the deceased was measured against the feather of truth. If it was weighed down with lies and bad deeds, the person was doomed. It would be handy (and maybe a little scary) if we could get a mid- or late-life test to see how we are shaping up. You might see a lot of scrambling. I hope it would not be too bad, though.

As a mom & spouse I think I usually do OK (except when I get mad at Jim -- sorry, honey!). Pretty bad at keeping in touch with sibs, parents & old friends from the past... I don't know how much those things weigh in with the feather of truth.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

What About the Supreme Court?

The always insightful Ellen Goodman has a good column in today's Boston Globe about the future of the Supreme Court. This election is crucial as it is possible that three justices (Stevens, Ginsburg, and Souter) will step down in the next few years, giving the new president an opportunity to shape the Court for years to come, much as Bush has done with his picks of Roberts and Alito. Given the stakes, it is disheartening that very little attention is being paid to the Court during this election. Of course, with the economy in tatters and a two-front war being fought, it perhaps is not surprising that voters aren't focusing on the composition of the Supreme Court. However, it remains an important issue. I don't remember any questions about the Supreme Court during the first presidential debate, and I only remember one mention of the Court during the vice-presidential debate (although there was one fascinating comment by Sarah Palin about the possibility of enhancing the Vice President's powers, despite the limited nature of the Veep's role as laid out in Article I of the Constitution). I guess Governor Palin was too busy cramming for the debate to actually read the description of the job to which she aspires. Perhaps the next two presidential debates will address possible choices for future Supreme Court vacancies.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Born Digital Students

There's a good interview in today's Inside Higher Education about approaches educators might take in dealing with today's "born digital" students. The interviewees, John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, are co-authors of the new book, Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. We haven't received the book yet, so I cannot comment on the content, but I was interested to see that some of Palfrey's examples came from legal education, not surprising since he is a vice dean at Harvard Law School, where his duties include directing the law library. Palfrey and Gasser are opposed to classroom bans on laptop use, but believe that there are times when closing the laptops and engaging "in an intense Socratic-style dialogue with the professor or a structured discussion with peers..." is the most effective way to learn. I was also interested in Gasser's observation that because of their early experience with the Internet, born digital students are more engaged with information than students of the last generation. Palfrey and Gasser agree that libraries need to do a better job of making electronic resources available to users, and I think that's a fair criticism. They also say that librarians need to teach students and faculty how to "use...both rivers and oceans of information," and I think this is something that librarians, especially law librarians, are already doing, and quite effectively in many cases. I'm looking forward to reading the book.

Social Networking

OK. I haven’t been blogging for a while. I”m sorry.

I am back at work after a 6 month hiatus. And at first, I had a surprisingly light schedule. It turns out a lot of what makes me busy is all the stuff that backs up because I don’t get to it, or it’s a long-term project, or is waiting for other people to respond, or.... It just is piled up. So, coming back after a 6 month medical leave, I didn’t have any of that. I had a lot of free time for a few weeks. It was amazing.

It must have been a bit like that when I first started each new job, except I was so busy learning where everything is, and who everybody is, and all the rules & procedures and favorite local tools that all the free time was absorbed.

I think I hadn’t had that much free time since before I went to law school. The first revelation was that I kind of liked it. Whew! I had been afraid I was not going to be able to retire. Not to worry. I kind of like unscheduled time, as it turns out. But I did feel a bit guilty once I got back to work and still had free time.

So, I started exploring social networking (see Social Networking in Plain English at YouTube) by signing up for Facebook and Twitter. It’s been fun. Again, I sometimes have felt guilty. I guess I have a big dose of work ethic, and have always had trouble just exploring. Jim Milles has tried to encourage me that this is a legitimate way to learn about new technologies. But I still feel a bit guilty. To tell the truth, it was Marie’s OOTJ post about the Alex Beam column trashing Twitter and the comments following that got me going on Twitter. I wonder how many other folks got on Twitter after those comments? The best explanation I ever saw about the value of Twitter is

Facebook users didn't think they wanted constant, up-to-the-minute updates on what other people are doing. Yet when they experienced this sort of omnipresent knowledge, they found it intriguing and addictive." I was surprised to learn that there is " name for this sort of incessant online contact. ... "ambient awareness." Of course, Facebook is not alone in offering this kind of contact. This is the sort of thing that Twitter offers its users. "This is the paradox of ambient awareness. Each little update--each individual bit of social information--is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends' and family members' lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible... The ambient information becomes like 'a type of E.S.P.' invisible dimension floating over everyday life."

One Twitter user was interviewed for the article. She is following 677 people on Twitter and 442 people on Facebook. This woman has two small children and travels a lot on business. How does she manage to follow so many people? Her take on this dilemma is that "[A]wareness tools aren't as cognitively demanding as an e-mail message. E-mail is something you have to stop to open and assess. It's personal; someone is asking for 100 percent of your attention. In contrast, ambient updates are all visible on one single page in a big row, and they're not really directed at you. This makes them skimmable, like newspaper headlines; maybe you'll read them all, maybe you'll skip some."

Of course, the reason she can do this is because many of the people she "knows" on Twitter and Facebook are "weak ties," which the article defines as "loose acquaintances." Here's what I found fascinating--these "'weak ties' greatly expand your ability to solve problems." Your friends--the real kind, not the virtual kind--probably have the same contacts you have and thus won't know anything you don't know. Your remote acquaintances, however, "will be much more useful, because they're farther afield, yet still socially intimate enough to want to help you out." One woman said that she "'can solve any problem on Twitter in six minutes.'"

The other insight I gained from the article was that social networking tools may be fostering "a culture of people who know much more about themselves" because the "act of stopping several times a day to observe what you're feeling or thinking can become, after weeks and weeks, a sort of philosophical act. It's like the Greek dictum to 'know thyself,' or the therapeutic concept of mindfulness.'" As the article concludes, "In an age of awareness, perhaps the person you see most clearly is yourself."
(Marie Newman's OOTJ post Twitter Redux, citing a New York Times Magazine article about social networking, "Brave New World of Digital Intimacy," by Clive Thompson, Sept. 5, 2008.

To tell the truth, most of the time, it’s just like a sort of big room where you overhear everybody chatting to each other and catch a lot of cool new programs, websites, music and ideas. I have discovered some fun things on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve met some very nice younger librarians and feel like I am a sort of bridge between a small segment of poets and writers and the librarian community. That’s kind of cool.