Friday, September 22, 2017

The 21st Century Law Library: Focus on Service

As we continue to talk about the ABA's watering down of law library standards, as well as the impending squeeze from artificial intelligence, Law Librarian Dan Odenwald reminds us to focus on the fundamental service tenet of our profession. 

In a recent AALL Spectrum article titled "Transforming Customer Service in the Post-Digital Law Library," Odenwald notes that [w]e may be a long way from the day when artificial intelligence discerns legislative intent for us, or drones drop deskbooks at our doors, but we ought to contemplate that future and the critical role that customer service will continue to occupy in it. 

He further articulates rules for law library customer service in the post-digital age: 

1. Stop Selling Yesterday's Fish: Next-generation legal research platforms, linked data and Watson long ago replaced the perfunctory, will-you-pull-a-statute-for-me duties of law librarians.

2. Anticipate Needs Before They Arise: As the practice of law transforms, so too do the needs of our customers. 

3. Make Doing Business with You Remarkable: Every interaction between the library and its customers could fall on a graph of one to 10.

4. Make Others Look Good: How often do we as librarians thank our patrons or recognize their good work?

5. Join the Team ... in Every Sense: Embedded librarianship is by now a familiar concept, and the benefits of weaving the library into the broader parent organization are well documented. 

6. Help Manage the Disruption of Change:  With the ever-expanding burden of mastering change—ironically enough perpetrated on patrons by digital technologies—librarians are uniquely well situated to address those challenges for constituents.

7. Embrace Technology -- and Know its Limitations: Law librarians in particular have a long history of adapting technological advances to their purposes, including electronic research itself.

8. Always Evangelize the WIIFM (What's in it for me?): The importance of marketing your library can barely be overstated

9. Do More With Less -- Automate, Outsource, and Offload: 
Excelling in customer service involves choices, namely, deciding what you’re going to do and what you’re not going to do.

10. Assess. Iterate. Improve: If you’re not already creating mechanisms by which to measure, weigh, and evaluate the results of your labors, then how will you know if you’re succeeding?

These are all wonderful points that also comport with a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled "What the 21st-Century Library Looks Like." As noted, [n]ow, with information always a few taps away, libraries have had to carve out a new niche. They’ve done so by pivoting away from books and toward supporting students. 

As a student-service component, librarians are broadly spending less time with collections and more time teaching students how to do research and use digital tools.

It's clear that our path forward is by going back to the basic, high-level service tenet of the profession. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Our Changing Role: A Survey of Law Firm Librarians

As this study indicates, the legal profession is nearly a decade into fundamental, structural change. And perhaps no single role has seen greater impact than the law firm librarian. Budget pressures, shrinking law library footprints, a decreasing reliance on print, a greater push for online resources, and the advent of new job responsibilities are just a few of the factors that have combined to push law librarians into new territory.

So how much change, exactly, have law firm librarians endured? According to the survey’s 123 respondents from a combination of large and medium law firms, more than half of respondents said their role had undergone substantial change within the past three years, with 15 percent reporting “extreme change.” Forty-eight percent of respondents reported spending more than three-quarters of their time on activities that were not part of their job descriptions three years ago. 

A few of the most-identified changes include:
  • Conducting research, as opposed to facilitating the research process for others, became a new job responsibility in the last three years.
  • Due diligence, with 37 percent of respondents reporting it as a new job responsibility within the past three years. 
  • Competitive intelligence and knowledge management were two additional areas where librarians expect to see increasing responsibility, as approximately 20 percent of respondents saw each as tasks they would assume within the next three years.

While law firm librarians are being asked to do more, it is often with fewer resources. To keep up with these changing requirements, a strong majority of librarians reported needing additional resources to adjust to these expanded roles. According to the survey:
  • 81 percent needed additional technology tools
  • 79 percent needed an increased budget
  • 71 percent needed better knowledge tools
  • 69 percent needed more staff

Ultimately, the study concludes that librarians will likely struggle to find additional budget or head count to address their expanding roles, but the pace of change for those responsibilities seems unlikely to decrease. Doing more with less has become almost cliché, but it remains quite relevant for today’s law librarian.

As an academic law librarian, it's always enlightening to see what is happening in the law firm setting. Those of us in the academe know that the underlying trend is the same -- that most of us are being asked to do more with less. It's a brave new world. One that we all have the skills for. The lack of resources, on the other hand, will be our biggest challenge.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Dark Side of Open Access Publishing

Normally, I am a staunch advocate for open-access (OA) publishing. See previous blog posts on OA here, here, here, here, and here. But with a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (sub. req'd.), it became clear that advocating for OA publishing without mentioning the possible pitfalls is irresponsible.

The CHE article follows the recent demise of Beall's List -- the list created by a librarian to warn researchers about predatory publishers. CHE provides the following possible causes for the demise:

  • [Beall's] fellow university librarians, whom Mr. Beall faults for overpromoting open-access publishing models.
  • A well-financed Swiss publisher, angry that Mr. Beall had had the temerity to put its journals on his list.
  • His own university, perhaps fatigued by complaints from the publisher, the librarians, or others.
  • The broader academic community — universities, funders of research, publishers, and fellow researchers, many of whom long understood the value of Mr. Beall’s list but did little to help him out.
  • Mr. Beall himself, who failed to recognize that a bit of online shaming wouldn’t stop many scientists from making common cause with journals that just don’t ask too many questions.

As to the first point, in Mr. Beall’s analysis, journal-subscription costs had been driven up by a variety of economic, academic, and demographic shifts, compounded by the failure of academic librarians to properly manage those shifts. Rather than admit that, Mr. Beall concluded, librarians had joined in unfair denunciations of large subscription-model publishers, such as Elsevier, for reaping unduly large profits. Those librarians essentially adopted a political perspective, Mr. Beall argued, that led them to overlook a chief characteristic of open-access journals — a model in which authors, not subscribers, pay the cost of publishing. That model, according to Mr. Beall, creates dangerous incentives for corner-cutting and abuse.

I take issue with the notion that advocating for OA also somehow means advocating for predatory publishing models. Many librarians advocate for open access because the underlying research is largely funded by public monies, and the resulting articles should be more accessible to the public.

Although I do, now, recognize that the pitfalls of OA publishing should always be mentioned when advocating for OA, along with a link to any "white lists" -- lists that provide approved OA publishers and are presumably less problematic than black lists.

In the scientific world, leading examples of white lists include PubMed's MEDLINE, the journal archive operated by the National Institutes of Health, and the membership lists of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association and the Directory of Open Access Journals, all of which use quality criteria to limit eligible journals.

Ultimately, Beall was providing a valuable service, largely on his own time. And he was brave for doing so given the associated risks. Many will be sad to see this contribution fall by the wayside.

Thankfully, in law, we have moved toward a model of broad OA, with many reputable journals (that largely do not adhere to the author-funded model) now making their content widely accessible. For a list of OA law journals, see the American Bar Association's Free Full-Text Online Law Review/Journal Search.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Competitive Intelligence in Academic Law Libraries


Competitive intelligence (CI) is decidedly in the law firm setting. Law firms use CI to:
  • gather and analyze information about a competitors’ activities and general business trends to further their goals;
  • gather, analyze, and manage external information that can affect a firm's plans, decisions, and operations;
  • monitor competitors within a specific marketplace; and
  • collect information pieces that have been filtered, distilled, and analyzed and turned into something that can be acted upon.

While it is natural for law firm libraries to create a CI cycle and process within their firms, it can be more difficult to see how CI affects academic law libraries. But academic law libraries certainly have a part to play in teaching CI techniques to prospective lawyers. 

One of the key components of CI is that the information can ultimately be acted upon. And the prospective lawyers will, at some point, be the ones acting upon the information. So it follows that prospective lawyers would do well to understand CI and the underlying information gathering processes. 

In a legal research course with a CI component, the law librarian could help lead the students to CI data for a hypothetical firm and pose action questions to the students based on the information found. This would allow the students to understand the greater workings of the legal economy and be more informed about the market at play.

Data collection and analysis is our future. While law generally lags behind other sectors in terms of technological advances, this is one area where firms who invest in a CI function will be improved beyond current measure. And we want our students to understand the importance of CI as they become the next generation of law firm leaders.

For more information on CI, consider attending AALL's course on Competitive Intelligence Foundations in Chicago on October 27, 2017. Registration ends on October 2. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Law Libraries Retaining Talent

While at AALL Management Institute last spring, one of the other attendees asked Maureen Sullivan, our fearless leader and management expert, how law libraries can stop "hemorrhaging talent."

This question struck a chord. I love this profession, and it feels like a calling. But I often find myself asking "is it time for something else?" The sense from the room at Mgmt Inst was that I am not alone. And we are at a continued risk of losing talented, valuable librarians.

We have to consider why we're losing folks to create change. I'll highlight a few reasons here:
In the academe, the solution is to SUPPORT the talent. We're often talking about what law libraries do to support our community with little regard for our own well being. Law librarianship is so rewarding that you'd be hard pressed to find a career with higher satisfaction. Because the work is inherently rewarding, supporting librarians is key to the retention of talent.

Legal writing instructors have been so successful in securing status across the country, and law librarians need a similarly secure status. Our law faculty colleagues should understand the gender dynamics at play that perpetuate our low status and the systemic devaluing of law librarians because of our institutional role. In particular, faculty should recognize (1) the devaluing of law librarians based on role/credential; (2) changing their accepted behavior based on our role; (3) the actions (ignoring/excluding/surprise/interrupting) related to our role; and  (4) the terminology related to our position.

With the proper support, law libraries will be less likely to suffer at the cost of other programs. And with more security and status, it could be a better "deal" to become an academic law librarian.

Seven years ago, when I approached my mentor and told him that I intended to pursue his profession, he responded that he was afraid I was coming to that conclusion and that I was in for a miserable, frustrating life. Of course, that stayed with me. And while there are days that it feels like too much, I just can't see myself doing anything else. So let's make it less miserable. In fact, let's be agents for change.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Analysis in Legal Research

Too often, searching for relevant information and the ultimate analysis of facts to law is disjointed. That's because teaching the analysis of the law is often left up to the doctrinal professors or the writing professors.

But analysis is inherent to the legal research process. Using the 4-step legal research process to find relevant information requires that the researcher has the ability to analyze the law to select the material that will aid in their arguments. 

Legal research is inevitably a back-and-forth process. The researcher starts with secondary sources to get a better understanding of the cause of action. The researcher moves onto the codified law to understand what needs to be analyzed in light of the facts of the case. The researcher then continues with binding and persuasive precedent to craft arguments by comparing facts and analogizing or distinguishing from case precedent. 

A researcher cannot begin to know what types of binding and persuasive precedent to find without analysis. And this analysis must be part of the discussion in any legal research course. 

Many legal research courses teach the mechanics of finding certain types of content without focusing on the analysis that works to bridge the "knowledge in action gap." This means that the research becomes disconnected from the analysis while in law school, but it is very much connected in practice. And practicing lawyers are left to bridge this gap themselves when they should be prepared, instead, to hit the ground running. 

The creative analysis that is required during competent legal research also means that legal research will be difficult to automate. Sure, some types of legal research could be automated for efficiency. But when it comes to searching case precedent to make creative legal arguments for clients, a machine is just not capable of that level of deep thinking

As law librarians design courses for AY2017-18, please keep the very important analysis portion in mind. To that end, see a previous post on selecting a case to cite

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Law Librarians Improving the Profession

Image from AALL Twitter
During Bryan Stevenson's keynote at AALL in Austin (login req'd), he noted and expounded on 4 things that will improve justice:
  1. Get proximate to injustice
  2. Change the narratives that sustain injustice
  3. Stay hopeful
  4. Do uncomfortable things
His message is an important one, and law librarians certainly have a role to play in improving access to justice. 

Throughout his keynote, I couldn't help but connect these 4 things to the issues facing law librarianship, in general. Like improving justice, law librarians need to work to improve the state of our profession to ensure that we can continue to assist with access to justice issues, among other things, for years to come. 

In that regard, we can do similar things to improve law librarianship: 

     1. Get proximate to the issues facing law librarianship

There is a myriad of issues facing law librarianship: budgets, staffing, librarian supporttechnology, public perception. We need to face each of these head on and work to create solutions. 

     2. Change the narratives that sustain the misunderstandings re: law librarianship

Lately, it seems that we need a wide array of elevator speeches to explain our importance. It's tough to constantly explain in a clear, meaningful way when our importance seems so obvious to us. But it's necessary. I will forever regret letting a faculty member confidently tell me that the only thing that the law library needs is a subscription to Westlaw & Lexis. Law librarians know that there are pedagogical concerns, licensing issues, and many other things wrong with that statement. On this day, I let the comment pass with no retort because I was exhausted from a long day in the office and didn't feel like engaging in the discussion. But we must engage in these discussions. We must advocate for the profession.

     3. Stay hopeful

After attending AALL and talking with other law librarians about our work, it is clear that we are all very busy. And when we get too busy by being asked to do more with less, coupled with feeling underappreciated, it's easy to lose hope. I love this profession, and I, for one, need to do a better job of remembering the intrinsic value of law libraries

     4. Do uncomfortable things

We can't sit still; we must engage. And that's inherently uncomfortable given our responsibilities. 

One of the best things about AALL is meeting all of the wonderful people in the profession and feeling re-energized about tackling these issues. Let's use the momentum until we meet again next summer in Baltimore (with John Waters!). 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

AALL 2017 Poster Session: Scholarly Research & Writing Programs

AALL in Austin is just around the corner. I'm excited to be surrounded by my favorite cohort of humans and feel inspired by all of the wonderful programs! 

If you're in Austin, please drop by the Austin Convention Center’s Exhibit Hall 4, Poster #29: You Can't Write Without Research: Developing a Scholarly Research Writing Program at Your Law School. 



Safe travels to Austin!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Law Library Collections as Palimpsest

According to Dictionary.com, Palimpsest is defined as:
noun
1. a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text

In the case of most law libraries, the "other text" is now electronic. As late as 2015, I was still in denial about the transition. Many of my blog posts have centered around the benefits of print (here, here, here, here). I still love print, and I still believe that there is a beauty in the serendipity of exploring the stacks.

But even physically exploring the stacks is less relevant today. For example, our catalog now shows a preview of the books on the shelf near a book that we are interested in. When performing a search for Divergent Paths by Richard Posner, the following virtual browse display shows the books nearby:



Budget constraints coupled with patron preference for electronic access means that our print collections are dwindling. There's no use romanticizing print while denying that we are fully in the Digital Age (and moving toward the Algorithmic Society). Even though the issues surrounding licensing electronic content are still there, the outside pressures have overtaken these licensing concerns. We are decidedly relying on vendors to provide us with stable content without ownership.

As we continue to transition, reliable resource sharing should be our new focus. We don't all have to be everything to everyone. But we do need to create reliable sharing models to have access to material when we need it.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Law Libraries & University Libraries

As law school budgets continue to shrink, it's not unreasonable to presume that many law libraries are coming under increased scrutiny. Law school administrators cannot touch faculty salaries or law student financial aid. When a dean looks at a law school budget, the biggest expenditure after faculty salaries is the library, and many must now wonder "what are all those people doing with all that money?"

Accordingly, one of the budget-cutting measures may be to consider combining the law library with the university library.

Historically, as the heart of the law school, law school libraries have functioned apart from the greater university library community. In a 1957 study, forty of the forty-one responding law libraries did not want to be considered part of the university library system or be a part of its administrative structure, even if they currently were. This position was codified through section 602(a) of the ABA standards, which requires law schools to “have sufficient administrative autonomy to direct the growth and development of the law library and to control the use of its resources.” Law librarians generally have interpreted this statement as supporting a separation between the university library system and the law school library. Armed with this interpretation, they have resisted efforts to change the status quo, and recent revisions to the ABA standards have not removed the requirement that law schools maintain administrative autonomy.

Professor James G. Milles, in Leaky Boundaries and the Decline of the Autonomous Law School Library, notes that university administrations are now beginning to question assurances that law libraries' independence from the general library necessarily excludes the sharing of utilities, services, staff, and collections .... Administrators are now asking (and, in some cases, demanding) that law libraries cooperate with the main library to free up funds for other uses.

But it has been the view of many law librarians and law school deans over the years that any so-called benefits that are supposed to accrue from the integrated relationship [between the libraries] are more fiction than fact. The unvarnished truth in the great majority of cases would appear to be that any administrative connection with the general library is an unmitigated and chronic pain-in-the-neck, and a condition to be ardently avoided or from which to escape.

Additionally, it has been argued that the greatest single obstacle in the way of improving our [law] libraries and standards for [law] librarians, is the ignorance of our faculties and deans concerning the necessity of a good library in legal education and what is involved in building and maintaining a good library.

To that end, here are a few identified cons of an integrated relationship:
  • The domination of law library functions by the university librarian operates to impair the service of the law library through delays caused by centralized ordering, receipt, and cataloging of law library materials in the general library; the inability of the law librarian to monitor the status of law library funds; and arbitrary and restrictive orders pertaining to the use of materials.
  • Law is unique among disciplines in the way in which its bibliographic sources constitute a separate body of knowledge accessible and generally useful only to those within the law school. Using the sources of legal information requires unique education. 
  • To sever the law library from the law school of which it is an integral part and place it under the general library system is devitalizing to the law school. It should be a requirement that law librarians have a greater role in legal education.
  • Law school faculty members demand and get far better library services than any other faculty members on campus. A major reason that we have autonomous law libraries is so we can provide that type of high-level service.
  • While negotiation of licensing for databases is always for campus-wide access, Lexis and Westlaw, and many other legal database vendors strictly oppose it. This means that law databases must be separately negotiated and maintained. 
It's not to say that there should be no collaboration between the law library and the university library. For example, if the culture of the university encourages interdisciplinary work, then the libraries can work together to create structures to facilitate interdisciplinary work without the need for full integration. But given these valid concerns, full integration is not the best route. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Is It Time For a Legal Research Component on the Bar Exam?

The Wall Street Journal (sub req'd) is reporting on pushback against difficult bar exams (particularly California's bar).

One camp of law-industry watchers blames the drop in passing rates on the declining credentials of incoming classes. Others point to changing study habits of so-called millennials, who grew up with the ability to find information at their fingertips and aren't accustomed to the intensive memorization and writing skills needed to pass a bar exam. 

The article ultimately asks: Does the exam even test what incoming lawyers need to know?

It seems that, based on what a lawyer actually does, the test should be about spotting legal issues, research, and proper legal analysis.
  • A law school education prepares students to spot the multitude of legal issues to
  • Explore those issues using sound (efficient and effective) legal research methods
  • To do a proper legal analysis of the various issues (or the call of the question, as it were) with cites to relevant codified law and case precedent. 
As a very basic example, if the test-taker spots a potential negligence issue, why should the test taker also have to memorize all of the elements (and sub-elements) of negligence? In practice, lawyers research the elements. 

If the test taker was taught to perform effective legal research, the test taker would know how to easily look up the elements of negligence in any database. For example, all that the test taker has to do is set the jurisdiction in Westlaw and type: what are the elements of negligence in the search bar. And the following answer is retrieved: 

“To establish a prima facie case of negligence, a plaintiff must prove four elements: (1) a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, (2) a breach of that duty, (3) causation, and (4) damages.” 
Quinto v. Woodward Detroit CVS, LLC
Court of Appeals of Michigan.April 29, 2014305 Mich.App. 73850 N.W.2d 642311213
*Let's ignore, for a moment, that this might not be the "best" case to cite.

The test taker then uses cases retrieved through the legal research process to do a proper legal analysis (IRAC or CREAC). 

While this would require reconceptualizing the bar exam, it would more fully represent what a lawyer actually does in practice. It would also adjust the test to the digital age where the current crop of law students grew up with the ability to find (and USE?) information at their fingertips.