Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Tech Capitalism & Library Culture

I appreciated Barbara Fister's take on the recent Amazon expose in the NYTimes.

What strikes me most from the perspective of an academic librarian is that [the expose] is basically the story of contemporary tech capitalism, which has had enormous influence on library culture and higher ed.

Faculty must publish more and gather metrics to prove that they’re not only producing more but in the right places using impact factors, which should never be used to evaluate the value of an article, but hey, it’s a number! It must be true! The anxiety level is ratcheted up as only select faculty from the right programs get prestigious jobs and most teaching is contracted out to underpaid independent creatives.That’s why you don’t get an office. They are only for our star employees, all six of them. New journals have to be launched to handle the overflow of perishable publications, but no problem, we'll just send the bill to libraries. When that well runs dry, we’ll have authors build the cost into their grants because tax-supported capitalism is a great investment in our national competitiveness. Libraries can be retrofitted to drive customer satisfaction,er, student success by housing student services in the library (one stop shopping!) and librarians will analyze all the data exhaust from websites and databases to link library use to GPAs. If we do our job right, the administration might show us mercy and we can escape the scythe of irrelevance until next year.

As Fister points out, this is a snarky take on the whole thing, but it does go to the notion of too much collective knowledge, ROI here and here, and relevancy, among other things.

As she goes on to mention:
So many of the fundamental values embedded in the business practices of tech giants whose platforms have become fundamental to the exchange of information today are hostile to library values which include access for all, social responsibility, democracy, diversity, lifelong learning, the preservation of culture, the public good, privacy, and intellectual freedom. Yes, service is also a library value. But service based on our values is not the same as delivering consumer goods more quickly and cheaply than the competition. The more we conflate consumerism with service for the public good, the harder it will be for public institutions like libraries and universities to do their essential work.

There are wonderful things to glean from the tech giants But when it comes to the pressure of always do more, something is lost in the quality. There's no time to consider process when we are constantly holding on for dear life and trying to defend our existence with impressive data.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Cutting Student Aid Is Not The Answer

The NYTimes published an article today called Too Many Law Students, Too Few Legal Jobs. It's the same critique that we've been hearing for awhile now.

This time the onus was to stop allowing federal student aid to freely flow to law schools - especially the schools at the bottom where the graduates have the worst job prospects. Okay, okay, I understand the idea that if we squeeze the purse strings, the schools will finally be forced to do something. 

However, this will have a deleterious effect on diversity in an already fairly homogenous profession. The schools at the bottom are some of the most diverse in the country. And that's not an accident as minorities and low-income students generally lag in being afforded the same resources that (again generally) allow someone to attend a top school - things like not having to work while in undergrad so they can solely focus on grades or not being able to take an LSAT prep course, etc....

We know that legal education is expensive and that reforms are needed, but pulling the purse strings closed to those who need federal aid the most is not the answer. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Internet Has A Library-Shaped Hole

David Weinberger, a senior researcher at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society made an interesting observation about the valuable trove of data a library keeps but does not currently make available online. In short, he said, there’s a library-shaped hole in the Internet.

According to Weinberger, this is not just an inconvenience. As they say, if it’s not on the Internet, it doesn’t exist. But it would be tragic if library culture were to fade into irrelevancy. That means libraries should seize the initiative to fill that hole in the Internet with everything they know and are allowed to make public.

Libraries can do this by making their information available to any developer who has a good idea. There are well-established ways of making this happen. Usually, it requires an API (application programming interface), which is like a website where computer programs can request not web pages but pure information. This would enable developers around the world to create apps that address needs that are local to geographies, cultures, or interests. Perhaps someone wants a browser for works specific to a local West Virginia coal town, or wants a book recommender that places an emphasis on recommendations by teachers, or wants to research the acquisition of Harry Potter novels across urban and rural areas.

Weinberger goes on to say that in order to keep libraries a vital part of our culture, we need to go further. Imagine if data were available about patterns of usage in communities around the world, the digital highlighting and annotations made by users, records of what people are searching for, which books are kept past their checkout date, which books are put on reserve for classes, and the books assigned for particular topics. If all that was broken down by library — but scrupulously anonymized and blurred — there would be no end to the ways in which users could learn from one another and freely explore within the vast web of culture.

This would also go a long way to keeping library knowledge relevant, for this information could be linked from other sources of information about authors, courses, geography, historical weather data . . . to everything.

It's a worthwhile endeavor to find ways to bring the traditional knowledge of the library to the online community. Libraries provide so much pertinent information that if we could also leverage that data online, it would only make us even more indispensable.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Thoughts On Changing Institutions

Last year I went on the market and landed a few amazing interviews. I am at a new institution, and I can't help but ponder the transition.

One article that recently struck me is from InsideHigherEd. While the focus is on shedding the grad student persona, many of the tenants rang true for me as I transitioned to a new role at a new institution. The author offered the following advice, in part:
Graduate students tend to display the classic signs of submission -- tilted head (ref: your puppy), bowed shoulders, tightly crossed legs, weak and vague hand gestures, a tentative, questioning tone. You have a wimpy, cold-fish handshake. You avoid direct eye contact. Above all, you ramble in an unfocused and evasive way. Few people have all of these traits, but most have some.
Square your shoulders, straighten your back, lift your chin and loosen your elbows. Take up all the space in the chair. Make direct eye contact. Do not fuss with your hair, clothes or jewelry. Speak in a firm, level tone. Smile in a friendly way at the beginning and end, but not too much while you’re talking about your work. Beware of mumbling, rambling and trailing off indistinctly. Lastly, attend to your handshake. Get up from your chair, go find a human and shake their hand. Shake it firmly.

I would presuppose that many law librarians have a similarly submissive persona because of the position that we hold in the law school community. Not only can this advice be given to grad students entering the job market, it can be given to law librarians starting jobs or moving institutions. 

Ultimately succeeding in a new position at a new institution, in particular, requires social skills. In most academic law librarian positions, it requires the ability to move across country and find your place in a demanding law school environment. And confidence is key- particularly for women. Fake it 'til you make it, so they say. 

These are good reminders for me as a reflect on my first months in a new position. The work is challenging and wonderful. After being with the same group for over 8 years at my previous institution, it's quite a shock to the system to get to know new colleagues and make new friends. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Technological Perspective & Student Learning

Everyday we are inundated by articles that pronounce major shifts in perception based on our use of technology.

Once recent article is NPRs announcement that Beloit College's annual "mindset list" is out. It's a series of historical and cultural references that will supposedly bewilder incoming college freshmen. A few facts about the class of 2019:
  • They have never licked a postage stamp.
  • They have grown up treating Wi-Fi as an entitlement.
  • The announcement of someone being the "first woman" to hold a position has only impressed their parents.
  • Kyoto has always symbolized inactivity about global climate change.
  • The Lion King has always been on Broadway.
  • TV has always been in such high definition that they could see the pores of actors and the grimaces of quarterbacks.
  • The proud parents recorded their first steps on camcorders, mounted on their shoulders like bazookas.
  • The therapeutic use of marijuana has always been legal in a growing number of American states.
  • They have avidly joined Harry Potter, Ron and Hermione as they built their reading skills through all seven volumes.
  • Google has always been there, in its founding words, "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible.
This list is always interesting for what it reveals about the way that the incoming freshmen class views the world. And for educators, we have to keep in mind the cultural references that might go over their heads - the article uses referencing Watergate as an example. 

In addition, a rising majority will also read on their phone. A recent WSJ articles discusses how publishers are reimagining books for the very small screen. As noted, "Ever since the first hand-held e-readers were introduced in the 1990s, the digital-reading revolution has turned the publishing world upside down. But contrary to early predictions, it’s not the e-reader that will be driving future book sales, but the phone."

In a Nielsen survey of 2,000 people this past December, about 54% of e-book buyers said they used smartphones to read their books at least some of the time. That’s up from 24% in 2012, according to a separate study commissioned by Nielsen.

The number of people who read primarily on phones has risen to 14% in the first quarter of 2015 from 9% in 2012.

A question that is still being resolved is "whether deep, concentrated thinking is possible amid the ringing, buzzing and alerts that come with phones." Are our brains being rewired to account for all of this multi-tasking? Will this be modern-day evolution? It should get us thinking about the way our students will access, learn, and synthesize material - particularly in the legal research context. 

After all, some of these freshmen will our 1Ls before we know it. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Fall Law Review Submission Season 2015

As the fall law-review submission season winds down, it is great to be reminded of some of the practicalities of the submission process.

Here are previous posts on point:
While all of these posts are helpful for the law-review submissions process, there is still a lot about the process that boils down to timing and luck.

Do not fret about the lack of an offer to publish. Remember to revise and resubmit, and with some 2,000 general and special-interest law reviews out there, there is a good chance that your article will eventually be picked up. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Law Librarian Conferences

My 2015-2016 conference travel plan is due shortly. I came across this list from BIALL that I thought might aid others in their conference planning.

2015 Conferences

IFLA 81st General Conference and Assembly
IALL 34th Annual Course
Internet Librarian International

2016 Conferences

SLA Annual Conference
CILIP Conference
AALL Annual Conference
ALLA Conference

2017 Conferences

AALL Annual Conference

Happy planning!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

LOC's In Custodia Legis Law Librarian Blog

If you haven't visited the Law Librarians of Congress blog In Custodia Legis, you should make a point to check it out.

In Custodia Legis is Latin for “in the custody of the law,” a nod to the fact that the Law Library of Congress is a custodian of law and legislation for both the nation and the world.  Our team of bloggers covers current legal trends, developments and enhancements to, issues in collecting for the largest law library in the world, legal history and arcana and a range of international perspectives including New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Israel, Eritrea, China, and Mexico.

While all of the blog posts are great, I particularly appreciate the beginner's guide and research guide series. The Law Librarians have created very helpful guides on a number of topics, including:

Monday, August 10, 2015

IBM Watson For Legal Research Dubbed Ross In Development

IBM's Watson is closer to the legal research realm than I initially realized.

According to The Globe and Mail, a class project-turned-startup launched by University of Toronto students that uses IBM’s artificially intelligent Watson computer to do legal research now has backing from Dentons, the world’s largest law firm. Called Ross, the app uses Watson to scour millions of pages of case law and other legal documents in seconds and answer legal questions. Its founders liken it to a smarter version of iPhone’s Siri, but for lawyers, and say it could one day replace some of the grunt research work now done by low-level associates at the world’s top law firms. It is one of several attempts to apply what is called “cognitive computing” to the historically technology-averse legal profession.

And Ross is learning quickly. “It’s early days for sure,” Mr. Arruda said. “But what we are seeing is Ross grasping and understanding legal concepts and learning based on the questions and also getting user feedback. … Just like a human, it’s getting its experience in a law firm and being able to learn and get better.”

This will eventually have major ramifications for legal research as we know it. As mentioned in the article, this will likely replace much of the grunt research like finding particular statutes or cases by citation. But Ross is nowhere near being able to creatively use case law to form arguments. And there are many issues to be worked out with Ross storing proprietary information.

While there is no denying that Ross will help to augment intelligence (which is a wonderful thing), Ross will not replace the need for law librarians to teach law students how to research and bridge the gap using Ross.

Friday, August 7, 2015

NALP Releases Positive Attorney Jobs Report

NALP recently released its "Selected Findings from the Employment Report and Salary Survey for the Class of 2014."

The good news:
  • the employment rate for 2014 graduates rose over 2 percentage points compared to the class of 2013, the first increase since 2007
  • the percentage of employed gradutes in JD required or JD Advantage jobs also increased
The bad news:
  • the actual number of jobs obtained by the class of 2014 was actually smaller than that in 2013;  the smaller graduating class size accounted for the increased employment rate
  • because the ABA shifted the "as of" reporting date from Feb. 15 to March 15, these results may slightly overstate the success of graduates compared with 2013
The future:
  • with class sizes continuing to decline, the percentage of graduates finding employment should continue to rise, as long as there is not a setback in the slowly recovering job market
I'll take the good news. With LSAT takers up and a positive jobs report, it's a nice change of pace from the law-school news of last 5 years or so.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Jurisdictions Use Software To Settle Disputes

Not only are law librarians at risk for automation, it appears that attorneys are also in the mix as some jurisdictions and companies are using software to help resolve personal injury claims, tax disputes, traffic tickets and divorce issues.

One company, Modria, is branching out after developing software to help eBay and PayPal solve customer complaints, the Associated Press reports. Modria’s software is now used in several jurisdictions to help resolve appeals of property tax assessments. Its software is also being used by an arbitration association to resolve medical claims in some types of car crashes, and in the Netherlands to help couples going through a divorce. The divorce software asks couples questions about their children and whether they want to co-parent. Areas of agreement are noted, and suggested values for spousal support are suggested. Areas of disagreement are negotiated, resulting in divorce papers that can be printed and reviewed by lawyers.

In addition to the software from Modria, another company, Court Innovations, offers software that helps resolve traffic tickets in four Michigan counties. Those who receive a ticket for speeding or running a red light can provide an explanation online, which is reviewed by prosecutors who make a decision that can be rejected or accepted by the defendants.

If the software proves successful, there could eventually be widespread use, which has the potential to change the entire legal system as we know it. And not all of this change will be negative. As a professor from Vanderbilt noted, this will give attorneys more time to spend on important client matters and free up resources. And more of the population will have access to justice.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Beware Historical Codes Disappear From Westlaw

Law librarians are just realizing that West has removed the content from many of the state historical codes without notice.

A law librarian from North Dakota mentioned that the flushed content consists of all Michie’s-hosted historical statutes, comprising nearly 15 years of archival content, for that state.

A law librarian from Alaska noticed a similar removal of Alaska historical statutes, and there was another from Wyoming who mentioned the removal of Wyoming statutes. The law librarian from Wyoming guessed that the contract West had with Lexis to include the older statutes expired and that they were not able to come to a new agreement.

But a law librarian from New Hampshire has stated that the archival content is still available from 1989-present, and it used to be published by a company that eventually became part of Lexis.

It'll be interesting to see the final outcome, but I know how valuable the historical statutes content on Westlaw has been to my research over the last 5 years or so, and I would hate to see this as a continuing trend.

Update: news from a Westlaw rep "this happened as of July 31.  It only affects materially that is specifically Michie, so general Lexis statutes shouldn’t be impacted, only those that were branded as Michie."