Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bargain Hunting on the Internet

My husband pointed out to me this piece from Sunday's New York Times by David Streitfeld about the demise of traditional bookstores--new and secondhand--in the Internet age. Because books can be purchased extremely cheaply (in some cases) from online sellers, most of whom are individuals who are seeking to unload books they no longer want or need, there is less demand for bricks-and-mortar stores. The article points to a number of venerable establishments that have closed recently, including Olsson's (Washington), Robin's (Philadelphia), Cody's (Berkeley), and stores that are on the ropes, including the Border's chain and Powell's (Oregon). There are ominous signs from publishers as well. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is no longer accepting new manuscripts, "a move akin to a butcher shop proclaiming it had stopped ordering fresh meat." And Simon & Schuster laid off staff in December. There is an additional dimension to this troubling situation. When books are sold by the "worldwide network of amateurs," authors and publishers get no revenues whatsoever. Steitfeld concludes that "no industry undermined by its greatest partisans will thrive long. CD sales plunged after music could be downloaded. Newspapers are hurting even as their readership is mushrooming online. ...traditional bookstores will continue to fade." Streitfeld doesn't address the issue of the e-book (see my previous post below), but if it takes off, the e-book could put further stress on a fragile industry.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

E-Books Taking Off?

According to an article in today's New York Times, the answer is "yes." The Kindle device, which is sold by Amazon, is out of stock (not good holiday planning) and not expected to be available again until February. Amazon's failure to predict the demand for its e-book reader has created an opening for Sony, which is marketing a competitor, the Reader. Sony is putting Reader kiosks in train stations, airports, and bookstores. I spotted one in Grand Central Station recently, but didn't have the time to stop.

This year, we are not exchanging holiday presents in an effort to replenish our nest egg. If we were, I think I'd ask for an e-book reader. When we go on an extended vacation, reading material is always a problem. Our operating theory has always been to bring paperbacks and to share them; once both of us have read them, we throw them out. However, my husband too is a librarian, and neither one of us likes throwing away books. In addition, we don't necessarily like the same types of books, so this complicates the selection process. After we read a book, we become attached to it, assume we will want to read it again, and often end up hauling home the books we truly intended to discard during our trip. An e-book reader would be the perfect solution. I could bring as many books as I wanted (and buy more if I exhausted my supply--this would be great because it can be difficult to find English-language books outside of major urban centers abroad) and not worry about throwing them out. Maybe next year?

Happy holidays to all of our faithful OOTJ readers!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Merry Christmas

Long time OOTJ readers might recognize the drawing from a rant I posted in December, 2005, at the height of the "War on Christmas." As right-wing Christian pundits claimed that folks who asked for multi-cultural sensitivity were marginalizing Christians, I thought they missed the real war on Christmas -- the long-term siege by Mammon. My Santa then was drab, gray and MAD. This Santa has been seriously worked over by my talented daughter, Alexa McKenzie. And he looks a lot more cheerful, which makes sense. There has been a lot less culture war nonsense lately.

So, Merry Christmas, if you celebrate that, like me. If you celebrate Hannukah, Happy Hannukah. If you celebrate other holidays at this winter solstice time, may your holiday be bright and joyful. And may we all have a happy, healthy and prosperous new year -- lots of new beginnings!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

PS, Accel is Bailing Facebook?!

Tip of the OOTJ hat to Jo Giammattei for sending me to read the post at Fortune on CNN money online. Apparently Facebook's money squeeze is being relieved a bit by venture capitalist firm Accel Partners. Accel Partners helped Facebook start up and apparently is still willing to kick in a bit more. Click on the title to this post to read the whole article.

CALI does the right thing

Kudos to CALI for stepping up and arranging for recycling of their leftover disks. For some years now, they have been shipping hundreds of CDs to all the schools in spite of the fact that most of the students I know strongly prefer to access CALI on the Web. While I think it's nice of them to make the CDs available free to our students, I felt bad about all the shipping and unused discs. So I was thrilled to get an e-mail from Austin Groothius telling us that CALI is arranging to recycle the unused discs this year. YAY! Good for you, CALI!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sad Situation at the State Department

I was dismayed but not surprised to read this article from today's Inside Higher Ed. The article discussed the controversy surrounding the State Department's publication of the Foreign Relations of the United States, an indispensable series for those researching United States customary law. It has always been frustrating to work with Foreign Relations because of the time lag, but things have gone from bad to worse.

According to a number of prominent historians, the "office responsible for publishing" Foreign Relations "is in disarrray." As a result of mismanagement, thirty volumes are now overdue. A number of historians have written to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, charging "that the drop in the production of volumes demonstrated both the damage being done to scholarship and an objective measure that something is wrong in the historian's office." Secretary Rice has not commented.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Not too late for Finals & Just in time for the Bar!

It's LOLCats for the Bar Exam on Facebook! Yes! Longtime fans of LOLcats may not know that there is a Facebook group dedicated to those poor schmoes studying for the bar. To solace them, there are LOLcats ready to say, o hai, and bring their special brand of humor. See the link here. Tip of the OOTJ to my nephew Ethan Denum in Austin, TX.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New Course

We are really excited at the Pace Law Library because this morning the faculty voted to approve a new course to be offered by one of the reference librarians during the upcoming intersession. This course is entitled "Advanced Research Skills: Health, Disability, and Elder Law," and will be taught by Margaret Moreland. We have created a podcast to get the word out to the students. The course will be part of our ongoing commitment to graduating practice-ready attorneys, and will be taught over six very intensive days in January. Students will earn two credits, and should come away from the course with an enhanced understanding of how to research not only legal but also medical topics. If the course goes well, we hope to use it as a model on which to base other subject-specific research courses during the intersession.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

New Music Industry Muscle Ploy

Click on the title to this post to read a story from Techdirt about Warner Music's plan to charge universities (and I suppose, everybody) a blanket license fee to cover file sharing. It's another form of extortion if you want to think of it that way: you pay the "blanket license fee" and we won't sue you. Techdirt has some pithy things to say:

The idea would be to get various ISPs to simply add an additional fee to everyone's internet access, have that money go into a pool that the recording industry would be responsible for paying out -- and then let people have free reign [sic] for file sharing. This is a bad idea for a variety of reasons. It's basically a music tax -- allowing the record industry to be lazy. Someone else gets to go out and collect all this money and hand it over to the industry to distribute (or, actually, not distribute). It effectively sets the business model of the recording industry in stone, and harms better, more innovative business models by inserting the recording industry (and not the musicians) into a role where they don't belong. [snip]

Of course, while the introduction frames this as a "voluntary" blanket licensing program, the presentation also mentions that they'll need some way to get all ISPs and universities to buy into the plan, or they'll have to work out a way to "avoid massive leakage." So, basically, it's not voluntary at all. It's either join, or get saddled with significant limitations. In other words: all ISPs and universities need to agree to pay a huge tax to the very industry that hasn't been able to adapt, and then trust them to distribute the funds fairly.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Librarians & new faculty services

AALL has been hosting discussions online about new faculty services. It has not really gone very far yet, but it should be interesting to watch. In the meantime, I was struck by an article that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education recently, Nov. 21, 2008 Faculty column. If you have a password, you can use that link to read the full article, by Jennifer Howard, titled "for Advice on Publishing in the Digital World, Scholars Turn to Campus Libraries." It appeared on page A8, for those who want to see it in print.

The article describes the role of the "university librarian for scholarly resources" at Brown University. The position combines advice on copyright, fair use, open-access, digital publishing and dissemination options, as well as assistance from a top-notch reference and research librarian. The article reports other libraries' naming similar positions "Scholarly Communications -" or Copyright- or IP-Librarians.

The Association of Research Libraries lists "Scholarly Communication" as one of its strategic directions, and I take this to include such new developments in librarianship. I think this is an important service that we can provide to our faculty. It is very labor intensive, but it will be a huge benefit to our faculty. I think we have to do it.

Once again, Super Librarians to the rescue!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Friday Fun

Law students are now in the depths of final exams at U.S. law schools. It's not a fun time for them. Just think, though. You could be a medical student, and be required to dismember a corpse as part of your schooling! Cheer up! Holidays are coming soon, and you'll have a break. Pace yourself and keep your focus while the exams last.

The image is a bronze statue of Themis the Greek Titan in charge of measuring justice evenhandedly -- so she is blindfolded, so as not to tip the scales toward one party or the other! You can purchase the statue at http://www.forcounsel.com

Twitter as a Power Marketing Tool

Click on the title to this post to visit a blog called "How to Change the World" for a post about using Twitter as a major marketing tool. The blogger is Guy Kawasaki and came to my attention as one of the people at the Social Media Museum. SoMeMe is a hoot, and I was alerted to the blog post by a post on Twitter, so it all goes in a circle, round and round. I guess that's how Social Media go, though, isn't it?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Law in the Books Isn't Always the Law

From PrawfsBlawg, a teachable moment about the limitations of traditional legal research, whether print or online:

The Silent Constitutional Crisis?

I recently wrapped up my Con Law II (civil liberties) course here at Georgia. We ended the semester by spending a couple of days discussing the religion in schools cases including Lee v. Weisman (prohibiting clergy-led prayer at public school graduations) and Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe (holding that a system providing for student-led prayer at school football games was unconstitutional).

This was my third time teaching this material and each time the classes have ended with a swarm of students meeting me at the podium. Student after student tells me that they went to a public high school (usually in the South) and they had a minister lead a prayer at their graduation or they had a school-sponsored baccalaureate with sermons and prayers. Just as many of them had prayers before school football games. The students are confused. They want to know how their school could do this after the Supreme Court found such actions to be unconstitutional. They often assume that there is some subtle distinction between what their school did and what the Court held violated the Constitution, and they're eager for me to explain. I can think of no other topic where my answers are so direct and unqualified. "That was very likely unconstitutional," I tell them, and your school officials are simply waiting for someone to formally complain or even to sue before changing their ways.

I've found this to be an interesting teaching moment -- one that is not about the Establishment Clause but about the sometimes questionable influence of the Court's words [emphasis added]. When my class read Brown v. Board of Education earlier in the semester, we talked about the ten-year saga that followed before the Court's decision was put into action. The story of the power struggle between the states and the federal government during desegregation is riveting, and we're all familiar with the incredible show of force that was ultimately necessary to maintain the integrity of the Court's role as final interpreter of the Constitution. Today, however, there are repeated acts of defiance quietly going on in public schools all across the country when it comes to these school prayer cases. I'm wondering if there are more examples in other areas of the law where there has been such a broad and sustained rejection of the Court's rulings. It can make you question exactly what it means when the Court declares: "It is so ordered."

Posted by Sonja West on December 2, 2008 at 10:18 AM in Constitutional thoughts | Permalink

Monday, December 01, 2008

Technology in Government -- the Dream

Quantum of Solace is great fun. The new Bond is edgier, haunted -- and has fewer gadgets! His cell phone tethers him to M! He still drives a fast car, but no nifty gadgets to avoid fights. He gets pummeled. M has the gadgets! She has a table top computer that has a beautiful display. I watched the scene in awe wondering how the data was coded and tagged.

I saw the movie twice this weekend just to see the table top display and gawk at the high tech government offices. Everything was clean, high-tech, and efficient! It looked like private industry! I wanted to work there! I wanted M for my boss!

There are court libraries that cannot put up public computers because the court house needs to be rewired. Think of how much more work we could do if the public sector had greater IT investment. If all of the public could read, my job would be easier.