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Empirical Study Shows Algorithmic Bias in Library Discovery Layers

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Discussions surrounding algorithmic bias are fairly common. We've even seen discussion of algorithmic bias in library discovery tools. Most of this discussion, though, has been theoretical. In what is purportedly the first empirical study to analyze algorithmic bias in library discovery systems, Matthew Reidsma put ProQuest's Topic Explorer to the test to review potential biases affecting results.

More and more academic libraries have invested in discovery layers, the centralized “Google-like” search tool that returns results from different services and providers by searching a centralized index. The move to discovery has been driven by the ascendence of Google as well as libraries' increasing focus on user experience. Unlike the vendor-specific search tools or federated searches of the previous decade, discovery presents a simplified picture of the library research process. It has the familiar single search box, and the results are not broken out by provider or format but…

The Information Business; The People Business

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Law libraries are in the information business. To act as superior guides to this information, we must also be in the people business. We must be concerned with the people who seek our information. And we must be concerned with the people who guide those seekers to the information (i.e., our staff).

Contrary to popular belief, it's not easy to be a staff person in the rigid hierarchy of an academic law library. Particularly at a time when law libraries are facing increased budget pressures that require staff to do much more with much less. This is especially challenging with longtime staff who have seen their jobs change dramatically since they were hired. Many of these folks were not formally trained in librarianship, and they may be resistant to the flexibility needed in today's law library.

Given these challenges, how do we motivate our staff to be the very best guides to our information?

To that end, there was an enlightening program at the AALL Annual Conference in 2013 t…

Law Librarian Status as Gender Equity Issue

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There's been much written about gender bias in legal writing and how legal writing instructors inhabit what is referred to as the "pink ghetto" of the legal academy (see, e.g., here, herehere, and here). The pink ghetto of the legal academy refers to the lower status, lower paid positions that women often occupy. What's interesting is that law librarians are often left out of this discussion (though, not always).

Historically, law librarianship has been a field dominated by women.In the 1999-2000 academic year, for example, 52 percent of law school library directors were women (up from 44 percent in 1994-95). ' In 1999, 67 percent of all academic law librarians were women. If directors were subtracted from that figure, the female percentage of nondirector librarians would be substantially higher than 67 percent. 

Historical statistics on law library directors are instructive in another way. In 1950, 55 percent of the directors were women, but at that time only …

The Importance of Using Reasonable Care When Relying on Algorithms in Law: A Case Study

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Given the issues with the "Google Generation" and seeming ease of using algorithms in law, there are increasing challenges in using reasonable care to comply with the newer Duty of Technology CompetenceAs noted in a previous post:The Duty of Technology Competence requires lawyers to keep abreast of “changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” To date, 28 states have adopted the duty.
Using reasonable care to understand the benefits and risks associated with relevant technologies is increasingly difficult as society moves beyond the abundance of information that defined the Information Age to increasingly rely on algorithms that sort big data in the Algorithmic Society.
However, reasonable care is essential when using algorithms in law. Take the COMPAS risk-assessment tool, for example. Developed by a private company called Equivant (formerly Northpointe), COMPAS—or the Correctional Offender Management Profilin…

Coming Full Circle: Law Library as Laboratory

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As we consider an innovative law library of the 21st Century, a few things are self evident:
Law libraries are less about physical materialsLibraries, in general, are much more focused on creating inviting spaces for collaboration and studyAcademic law libraries tend to have at least some hand in supporting experiential learning Couple these fairly universal truths with a recent article in Inside Higher Ed about an academic library creating an artificial intelligence lab, and there seems to be something there for law libraries, as well.

The 600-square-foot AI lab will be located on the library’s first floor and will offer beginner- to advanced-level tutorials in areas such as robotics, natural language processing, smart cities, smart homes, the internet of things, and big data.

The lab will also provide a space for faculty members, students and the local community to discuss the social and ethical implications of these technology developments. Faculty may also use the space for teaching…

Disruption in Law: Algorithms that Doubt Themselves

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After learning more about AI systems and their predicted disruption in law and legal research, one of the most compelling arguments against blindly relying on algorithms is the lack of transparency and underlying probability for error. 
This may be less of a concern going forward as the MIT Technology Review reports that Google and others are building AI systems that doubt themselves
Researchers at Uber and Google are working on modifications to the two most popular deep-learning frameworks that will enable them to handle probability. This will provide a way for the smartest AI programs to measure their confidence in a prediction or a decision—essentially, to know when they should doubt themselves.
The work reflects the realization that uncertainty is a key aspect of human reasoning and intelligence. Adding it to AI programs could make them smarter and less prone to blunders, says Zoubin Ghahramani, a prominent AI researcher who is a professor at the University of Cambridge and chief…

Williston's Resilient Labor of Love

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A colleague sent me the following image of Samuel Williston with the research -- drafts and notes -- for his venerable treatise:


This is an impressive image of a labor of love. We'll likely never see anything like it again (nor should we, poor trees). Just imagine the countless hours of toiling in the books that Williston (or his research assistants, as it were) undertook to develop the preeminent contracts treatise. This was certainly a golden age for the print-lined walls of the law library. 
It's interesting to look at the tangible work product and understand the research behind it and compare it to what we're likely to see today. While we won't see piles of papers, we'll see documents stored in electronic folders. And while we won't, generally, toil in books, we are still toiling in electronic databases doing the creative analysis required of effective legal research. 
After seeing the image, I was intrigued to read the accompanying article in Harvard Magaz…