Monday, October 31, 2011

Johns Hopkins To Close Its Medical Library

Before going to law school, I did a brief stint as a reference librarian at a medical school in Brooklyn, New York. It wasn't my finest hour. During my last week of employment, I had to visit the emergency room of the affiliated hospital twice--the first time as the result of a subway mugging, and the second time because of a large cinder that had embedded itself in my eye and had to be surgically removed. I worked at that library long enough, however, to develop an appreciation for medical librarians and the conditions under which they worked. For instance, on several occasions, surgeons called the reference desk from the operating room and asked the librarian on duty for journal searches on unexpected situations they had encountered. Database searching was in its infancy at that time, and PubMeb was not yet available. When I was the librarian who got the call from the O.R., I would approach the computer terminal with shaking hands, knowing that there was possibly a life at stake while I fumbled around trying to determine how to search in order to answer the surgeon's question.

One of the libraries that I often called when I needed immediate help in such situations was the William H. Welch Medical Library at Johns Hopkins University. The librarians there were unfailingly helpful in walking me through searches and in teaching me how to use the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), which were a foreign language to me. Therefore, I was surprised and little saddened when I learned recently that the Welch Library will soon cease to be a physical presence and become an exclusively online library. This article describes the change, which will occur on January 1, 2012, when the venerable institution will close its doors to patrons. The focus going forward will be on the delivery of online materials, which is what most of the users at Johns Hopkins want. Staff is not being reduced, and patrons will still be able to contact the library for help if needed. Librarians have been "embedded" within the departments at the Medical School since 2005, and patrons can visit them during their official office hours. The director, Nancy Roderer, is not sure about the ultimate use of the building, although she says that the special collections areas will not be affected. Click here for a podcast featuring Ms. Roderer speaking about the Welch's transition to a digital library.

My daughter is working on a Ph.D. in Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins Medical School, and I asked her what she thought about the changes at the Welch. She told me that she hasn't stepped foot in the library at all since her first semester there when a librarian threw her study group out of a study room. After that experience, she never felt comfortable approaching the librarians again, which was good because everything she needed, she could pull up herself using PubMed. Her story confirms what I have always said--you cannot have confrontations with students about petty issues and then expect them to approach you when they need help. The relationship is forever poisoned. My daughter and her friends have found other places to study on campus, and none of them will mourn the loss of the physical library.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thomson-Reuters review by bond-rating agency affirms oligopoly & barriers to entry

The Fitch bond rating agency, like the better-known Morningstar, rates companies for investors, looking at the income potential and the shape of the market for future earnings. Fitch rated Thomson-Reuters last June. Stock-holders and the executives must have been pleased at the A- rating. But what caught my eye, was this paragraph, which pretty much sums up what Ken Svengalis has been preaching about how the legal publishing and vending marketplace (and the business publishing as well, I suppose as another "core business") have become oligopolies in which the few big players have essentially come to control the market place:

Fitch recognizes that there are meaningful barriers to entry in TRI's core businesses and that there are a limited number of well-capitalized competitors that compete predominantly on product differentiation, quality and delivery (rather than on price).
Tip of the OOTJ hat to my wonderful colleague, Christopher Chiofolo, who showed this to me and also explained the financial reports that compared T-R's income to its competitors, showing that it essentially is making about twice the profit of the average business in its class. Hmm.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hot Coffee Spills on Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert was at his snarky best last night interviewing Susan Saladoff, former attorney and director of Hot Coffee, a new documentary. The film tells the story of the McDonald's coffee case, Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants, No. CV-93-02419 (2d Jud. Dist. Ct. N.M., Bernalillo County, Aug. 14, 1994), a products liability lawsuit. (Law librarians may recall that Lexis recently gave out coffee mugs with the name of this case emblazoned on one side). The plaintiff sued McDonald's after purchasing coffee at a drive-through. When the coffee spilled on her lap, she suffered third-degree burns and required skin grafting and debridement to deal with her extensive injuries. The jury initially awarded her $2.9 million, but the trial judge reduced that to $640,000. Liebeck and McDonald's ultimately settled for an undisclosed amount that has never been publicly revealed.

Much has been written about the case, to which critics point as an example of a "frivolous" lawsuit. In fact, Liebeck's injuries were extensive and serious. In Colbert's interview with Saladoff, he casts himself as an average guy for whom this case represents everything that is wrong with the American judicial system. Saladoff matched him point for point, and emphasized that the system works exactly as it should work. When individuals are injured, they should be able to seek redress against the person or corporation that is responsible for their injuries. There should be no limits on their ability to be made whole through the courts. Stephen was having none of it, but at the end, Saladoff received a hearty round of applause from the audience. The DVD will be available for purchase on November 1.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Excellent book on promoting diversity

The ABA online Newsletter has a fabulous interview with Verna Myers who owns a diversity consulting group, and has written a book, Moving Diversity Forward, How to go from well-meaning to well-doing. It sounds like a great book to add to a library, but a better book to give your administration. There are a lot of terrific things in the interview, and I don't want to quote the whole thing here. Follow the link and go read it! She is very inspiring and challenging.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Occupy Boston maintains a library

The New York Times reports that Occupy Boston and the Occupy Wall Street protesters have set up tent libraries. The Boston Radical Reference Collective have been active in helping set up the library in Boston. The Times reports that the protesters are receiving up to 50 books per day, which are sorted by genre. The most requested book seems to be Howard Zinn's People’s History of the United States which is not checked out because it is in such high demand. Noam Chomsky is another author in high demand. Tip of the OOTJ hat to my daughter's fiance, Eli Gottlieb, for alerting me to the story!

Friday, October 21, 2011

There is Still Time to Sign the Consumer Advocacy Caucus Petition!

You have until November 2 to sign the Consumer Advocacy Caucus petition that seeks to have the group recognized as an official AALL Caucus. The AALL Executive Board will consider the petition during the November 5th Executive Board meeting in Chicago, at which Michael Ginsborg, our chair, will be in attendance.

A final version of the petition will be submitted to the Board on November 2, but it will NOT contain names of individual AALL members who support the petition. AALL has asked that the group simply provide the total number of AALL members who support the petition. AALL Chapters, Sections and Caucuses that have endorsed the petition will be listed, but individual members' names will not.

If you are considering whether to support the petition, but have been hesitant to add your name as a signatory, this development will help you make up your mind. Please contact Michael Ginsborg at if you would like to be counted as a supporter of the petition.

For more information about the history of and reasons for the Caucus and the petition, go to my earlier blog post on the subject. And if you're wondering what any of this has to do with you and your library, read Laura Orr's cogent post on the Oregon Legal Research blog.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Personal History

Dear OOTJ Readers, Here at Suffolk, it's hiring season again. That is, we are interviewing faculty candidates. I sit and listen to amazing brilliant faculty candidates speak at length on all sorts of topics and engage my faculty colleagues in analyzing cases and all manner of legal topics.

And I wonder, what is wrong with me? I just HATE this sort of thing. I think back to law school. And the first semester, I was truly excited, and really engaged. I was so interested in using my mind to think about the issues that were raised in class. But by the second semester, I was starting to get sick with what would now be diagnosed as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I would run a low-grade fever for five or six weeks in a row, ached all over, and was exhausted. I felt like I had the flu on a permanent basis. And then for one or two days, I would feel, gloriously normal. But then, it would all start again. This lasted all the way through law school: 3 years!
I went to so many different types of doctors. And many doctors, when they cannot figure out what is wrong with you (maybe especially a with a woman), they get snarky, and start talking about hypochondriac, and maybe you need to get out more. I was really, really frustrated! But I was really, really sick, too. By the time I graduated, my 3-L portrait showed me looking pretty ragged, with my hair so limp that I decided to get a
Poodle Perm before I went to my first job. The only time I ever had a perm!
But I think the ultimate effect on me was that I became more and more alienated from the law school experience. I had always thought of school as my refuge from an unhappy home, and now it was becoming a very difficult, grim grind, largely because I was so sick. I just dragged through the school, and found my refuges instead, in the library , where I had made friends as I did part-time work, and at the local Legal Aid office where I also did part time work, and made other friends. Both refuges channeled what I did after graduation: I worked for 2 years as a Reggie Fellow for Legal Services and then went back and finished my library degree and became a law librarian.
That feeling of alienation has never left, though, and even when I worked as a lawyer, I did not do legal analysis in a clear-thinking, dispassionate way. I approached my cases in a berserker kind of all-out emotional commitment. It was a very dangerous way to work, and I certainly was a burn-out victim after a mere 2 years! I was actually quite good in the courtroom, though, while it lasted. But I can see why I sort of worry (appall? terrify?) the more careful and corporate sorts who tend to fill the law school world.
It's one of the wonderful things about libraries that we are a group enterprise, not the solo show that (especially Legal Services or small law offices) law practice so often is. Especially in a law law school library, we do things where I can get feedback or groups working together with me on projects. I realize that I have strengths and weaknesses, and others do, too. Libraries are like complex machines made up of lots of different moving parts (people!). So are associations of librarians. We like to do things together, and to cooperate. It's been one of the great revelations in my life, that I can be so much more productive and effective by working together with others, and by delegating, by sharing the work, or by asking advice, I can get such better end results. But I also have a real weakness for just going ahead and DOING IT. So I am still learning, after all these years!
A Poem: In the House of the Law
I have made for myself
A small mouse’s nest
Beneath a cornice
In the grand house of the Law.
Comfortably curving
Walls that hold
The trembling sound
Like a bird held
In a gentle hand.
Betsy McKenzie 32 Legal Studies Forum 207 (2008)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New Institute at Yale Law School

Yale Law alumnus and legendary constitutional lawyer Floyd Abrams has given his alma mater $3,000,000 to found an institute to promote free speech, free press, and access to information. The Yale Daily News article quotes Abrams on the reason for his gift:

'We live in a time of acute polarization of views in our nation ... It is of critical import that no voice be stilled and that government play virtually no role in determining who speaks and to what extent. The First Amendment makes us the envy of the world and it is worth learning and relearning why that is so.'

The Floyd Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression will be overseen by the Law School's Information Society Project, which is led by Professor Jack Balkin. According to Balkin, the main beneficiary of Abrams's largesse will be the Media Freedom and Information Access clinic, a Yale initiative that assists journalists with "freedom of information and open access issues." Some of the donation will ge used to hire a permanent faculty member to lead the MFIA, as it is known, allowing it to "take on more cases and broaden its legal scope."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Amazon Eliminates the Middleman

Amazon has almost put both independent bookstores and chain bookstores out of business. Are publishers Amazon's next victim? The New York Times is reporting that Amazon has gone into the publishing business. This fall it plans to publish 122 books "in an array of genres, in both physical and e-book form. It is a striking acceleration of the retailer's fledging publishing program that will place Amazon squarely in competition with the New York houses that are also its most prominent suppliers." It is unclear to me whether Amazon will offer its authors the traditional services offered by publishers, i.e., editing and marketing, although the Times article states that Amazon is "gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide." Traditional publishers have already cut back on editing (it's rare these days to read anything that wouldn't benefit from careful copy editing), so it's likely that authors won't lose much if they publish with Amazon. And the article points to efforts already under way by authors to market their work themselves, so they won't miss the marketing campaigns of traditional publishers as much as they would have in the days before authors and their readers could communicate directly. The article quotes Russell Grandinetti, an Amazon executive: "'The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader ... Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.'" One question left unanswered by the Times article is royalties. It seems reasonable to assume that by forgoing the services of the traditional publishers and opting for Amazon, authors should be able to bargain for more generous compensation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, and its off-shoots

Occupy Wall Street has grown from a very small protest this past summer, thanks in large part to a brutal over-reaction by New York City police. On September 1, a small, sort of pre-protest was held, to test how it would be to hold peaceful, legal protests by occupying public sidewalks 24 hours in New York City. The protesters encamped relying on a previous decision, METROPOLITAN COUNCIL, INC v. HOWARD SAFIR, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, et al., 99 F. Supp. 2d 438 (S.D. NY, 2000). Nine of the protesters were arrested when they refused to disperse. They videotaped the event, and I have to say the police were quite polite.
On September 17, Occupy Wall Street worked with US Day of Rage, which was, despite its name, launched a peaceful protest. In a well-planned and supported protest, the group organized an occupation of a growing swath of New York City to protest a variety of issues. The group has acted in a democratic fashion to allow the protesters to articulate what they think the protest is about, so the issues are sometimes shifting and sometimes murky. But most agree about the unequal distribution of wealth ("We are the 99" is one common slogan, referring to 99% of the population in contrast to the 1% that has the vast majority of the wealth).
Eventually, a few of the New York City police did act brutally toward some of the protesters, and were caught on video. These reports came out on September 25, and galvanized the protests in New York and elsewhere. Suddenly, the protest seemed much more important.
Occupy Boston sprang up (and last night was rousted out of its expansion onto the Rose Kennedy Greenway by Boston Police). On their website, they claim that there are now 120 Occupy sites throughout the country. I know there is one in Atlanta, Charleston, Chicago, Dallas, Humboldt (California), Knoxville, Los Angles, Oakland, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Fe. Actually, the cities in California have a shared website, Occupy California. To find out what is happening, you can check into Twitter and use the general hashtag #occupy.
In a related movement, Lawrence Lessig and Mark McKinnon have called for for a Constitutional Convention to be hosted at Harvard. The post linked here actually appeared last spring, so this movement began earlier than the Occupy Wall Street, but it arises from the same frustration.
Washington is hopelessly addicted to money and thus to the status quo; drunk with power and incapable of getting sober and fixing itself. It’s time for an intervention—by the states.
Politically, we two disagree on just about everything. But the one thing we do agree on is that the institutions of government in Washington have become corrupt, held hostage by well-funded special interests. It’s no wonder that only 17 percent of the American public in a recent Gallup survey said they had a favorable opinion of Congress. American voters believe, and rightly so, that corporations, labor unions and moneyed special interests have a chokehold on politicians. Voters are disillusioned and discouraged because they don’t believe Washington represents the will of the people. And the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. F.E.C.—which permits unlimited independent corporate campaign expenditures—will only make this worse.
And so too many throw up their hands and say, “We give up. Congress won’t fix itself. And there’s nothing that we can do about it.”
But there is something we can do. We, the People, can take back the power we gave to Congress. We can take it back through the states.
The framers left open a path to amendment that doesn’t require the approval of Congress: a convention. Article V of the Constitution requires Congress to call a convention to propose amendments if 34 state legislatures demand it. Any proposed amendment would then have to be ratified by both houses of 38 state legislatures (three-fourths of the states).
(snip) Even if 34 states don’t call for a convention, history teaches that a real threat is often enough to get Congress to act. The only amendment in our history that changed the structure of Congress (the 17th, making the Senate an elected body) was proposed by Congress because the states were close (just one state short) to calling for a convention. If nothing else, the possibility of a body they can’t control is enough to get Congress to pay attention.
Some will resist the idea of a convention because they fear a “runaway” in which fringe elements would take over the agenda and propose radical amendments. But the framers anticipated such a danger and established a very high bar against it. Amendments are ratified by legislatures (or state conventions), not by referenda. And if even one chamber in 12 state legislatures refused to ratify an amendment, it would die. There will always be twelve solid blue states and twelve solid red states in America. There’s thus no danger that one extreme can overtake the other. Conventional wisdom will argue that constitutional conventions or amendments are just impossible. Just like it was impossible to wrest a republic from the grip of monarchy or abolish slavery. Or impossible to elect Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama. But conventional minds are always wrong about pivotal moments in a nation’s history. And this is a pivotal moment in ours, when a movement to restore democracy is possible.
Indeed, the movement has already begun. Legislators in South Carolina, Virginia, Oregon, Rhode Island and Florida are already throwing sparks that could soon become a brush fire across the country. More and more are coming to see that if reform is necessary—as most all of us, whether from the right or left believe—this is the only way.
Interestingly enough, when I searched for information on Occupy Wall Street, the top item returned was a Wikipedia entry reminding readers of Article Five of the Constitution, giving the citizens the power amend the Constitution or to call a constitutional convention. It was a sponsored link.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Wikipedia's new QR Pedia codes

The New York Times reports on a totally cool new use of QR codes pioneered by Wikipedia. On September 28, Wikipedia announced on their Wikimedia blog an easy method for users to generate QR codes for Wikipedia articles, and paste them where needed. OTJ readers probably already are familiar with QR codes and know that they can be easily read by smart phones, which then will display the wikipedia article, or whatever is linked to the code. The phone has a setting that tells the QR code what language is required for Wikipedia's article. If there is not a copy of the article in your preferred language, it will select "the most relevant article instead." It would be interesting to test the relevance selecting software! But the Wikimedia article explains that the multilingual feature allowed the Derby Museum and Gallery in England to install labels that worked to support visitors from all over the world (here is a link to the map showing their visitors for this project), at very low cost. This is a terrific and very useful new way to use QR codes that could extend the reach of libraries (we keep our fingers crossed that nothing gets linked to sites that get vandalized!). The image of a QR code is from