Thursday, March 31, 2016

Will Libraries Outlast The Internet?

The Telegraph recently reported on Roly Keating, the head of the British Library, who argues that libraries could outlast the Internet.

He said that he is shocked at how many "smart people" still questioned whether libraries were still viable in the modern age. He added, "This feels a pretty brutal choice that we are allegedly confronted with. And it won't surprise you that I think it's a false contradiction and an utterly false choice to make."

Librarians are confronted with this question often - from inquiring acquaintances to unassuming loved ones.

As Keating continued, "When we talk about libraries, I'm told about the old values, the traditional values of these institutions. Some believe they are being replaced by new ones about being more open and connected and virtual. And of course our belief, passionately, at the British Library is that it's about both. And that's the great richness of what a library is and can be."

Speaking of how libraries could and would flourish in a society obsessed with the Internet, Mr Keating added he had been "very struck" by the strength of global networks dedicated to the preservation of information.

Keating is expressing the sentiment of librarians across the world. It's not a choice between print and digital - it's about creating global networks of information (whether print or digital) that preserve information in whatever format.

Additionally, Keating spoke to the library as institution when he said, "They stand for a certain freedom, and privacy of thought and search and expression. They stand for private study in a social space; they are safe, they're places of sanctuary and play a vital role in some of the poorest communities. And they are trusted."

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Change A Subject Heading, Change The World

The Smithsonian Mag is reporting that the Library of Congress is ceasing to use the subject heading "illegal aliens" because of feedback from student activists.

In 2014, the Dartmouth Coalition for Immigration Reform, Equality and DREAMers (CoFIRED), a group dedicated to advancing the rights of undocumented students, first petitioned the Library of Congress to get rid of the term “illegal alien” in its cataloging system in favor of the term “undocumented immigrant.”

What's the big deal with subject headings?

When it comes to Library of Congress subject headings, there’s plenty. The subject lines are an integral part of the world’s most widely used library indexing tool, the basis for thousands of daily searches around the globe. And now, reports the Dartmouth, the Library of Congress will revise its subject heading of “illegal aliens” due to feedback from student activists.

The student group commented on the change by saying, With this change we hope meaningful conversation about the dehumanization of immigrants will be sparked across the nation. 

 And what better place to have that conversation than in a library?

Update: Well, the GOP wasn't happy with this change and created a rider in a funding bill to undo the Library of Congress's change. Looks like we are stuck with "illegal alien."

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Use Of Emotional Language In Briefs

During legal research & writing for international LL.M. students, I discuss the role of logos, pathos, and ethos as modes of persuasion for brief writing. Pathos (plural: pathe) is an appeal to the audience’s emotions, and the terms sympathy, pathetic, and empathy are derived from it.

During the course, I give various examples of choosing specific words and phrases to garner sympathy or empathy from the reader if it is warranted. Until recently, the efficacy of using pathos has been mostly based on anecdotal evidence that it will make a judge feel a certain way about a defendant or victim helping the attorney advocate for his or her client.

In December 2015, a new paper was released that looks at the use of emotional language in briefs before SCOTUS and analyzes the briefs and the ultimate outcome of the case.

From the abstract:
The legal brief is a primary vehicle by which lawyers seek to persuade appellate judges. Despite wide acceptance that briefs are important, empirical scholarship has yet to establish their influence on the Supreme Court or fully explore justices' preferences regarding them. We argue emotional language conveys a lack of credibility to justices and thereby diminishes the party's likelihood of garnering justices' votes. The data concur. Using an automated textual analysis program, we find that parties who employ less emotional language in their briefs are more likely to win a justice's vote, a result that holds even after controlling for other features correlated with success, such as case quality. These findings suggest advocates seeking to influence judges can enhance their credibility and attract justices' votes by employing measured, objective language.

Now we have empirical data that shows that the use of measured, objective language is best - at least in front of the SCOTUS Justices. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Publish In Open Access For Higher Scholarly Impact

The Law Librarians blog posted about a paper by James Donovan, Carol Watson, and Caroline Osborne on SSRN called The Open Access Advantage for American Law Reviews.

From the article:
In answer to law faculty questions about how participation in an open access repository will affect the works’ impact, the present research offers a definitive reply. When looking at citation by other law reviews to all the author’s work, the averaged increase in citations in flagship journals is 53%. In general, half of these cites will be dispensed in the first six years after the article’s publication. OA articles will attract more attention earlier in the lifecycle of the publication, and endure longer on the intellectual stage.

For authors, the message is clear: The open access advantage is real, sizable, and consistent. The minimal effort to upload an article onto an OA platform such as SSRN or a school’s repository pays rich dividends in the currency of subsequent citations in law reviews and court decisions.

From the abstract:
Articles available in open access formats enjoy an advantage in citation by subsequent law review works of 53%. For every two citations an article would otherwise receive, it can expect a third when made freely available on the Internet. This benefit is not uniformly spread through the law school tiers. Higher tier journals experience a lower OA advantage (11.4%) due to the attention such prestigious works routinely receive regardless of the format. When focusing on the availability of new scholarship, as compared to creating retrospective collections, the aggregated advantage rises to 60.2%. While the first tier advantage rises to 16.8%, the mid-tiers skyrocket to 89.7%. The fourth tier OA advantage comes in at 81.2%.

Citations of legal articles by courts is similarly impacted by OA availability. While the 15-year aggregate advantage is a mere 9.5%, new scholarship is 41.4% more likely to be cited by a court decision if it is available in open access format.

The moral of the story is to make sure to upload to SSRN for discoverability. And upload your article to your institutional repository for good measure, too.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Open Access To Congressional Research Service Reports

The Law Librarians blog posted about new proposed legislation that will make it easier to access the valuable Congressional Research Service reports.

The Equal Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Act of 2016 (S 2639 and HR 4702) directs the GPO to establish and maintain a public website containing CRS Reports, and an index, that are searchable, sortable, and downloadable (including downloadable in bulk), for which no fee may be charged. Coverage includes CRS Authorization of Appropriations Products, Appropriations Products, and any other written CRS product containing CRS research or CRS analysis available for general congressional access on the CRS Congressional Intranet. Coverage excludes any custom product or service prepared in direct response to a request for custom analysis or research and not available for general congressional access on the CRS Congressional Intranet.

Any researcher knows about the treasure trove of information available in the CRS reports, and it is a shame that they are not more readily available in a usable format.

For more information, see this post at Information Today.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Enthnographic Study Of Lawyers At Work

A new article was just released that is the culmination of a three-year ethnographic study of attorneys in the workplace called Lawyers at Work: A Study of the Reading, Writing, and Communication Practices of Legal Professionals by Ann Sinsheimer and David J. Herring.

From the abstract:
This paper reports the results of a three-year ethnographic study of attorneys in the workplace. The authors applied ethnographic methods to identify how junior associates in law firm settings engaged in reading and writing tasks in their daily practice. The authors were able to identify the types of texts junior associates encountered in the workplace and to isolate the strategies these attorneys used to read and compose texts. 

The findings suggest that lawyering is fundamentally about reading. The attorneys observed for this study read constantly, encountering a large variety of texts and engaging in many styles of reading, including close reading and also reading broadly, skimming and scanning texts for information. Their writing processes typically began by reading and rereading the information they used to substantiate their written work. They functioned in stressful environments in which they felt pressed for time and had to juggle multiple tasks. 

Upon skimming the article, I noticed a portion that is interesting information for law librarians.

The attorneys frequently read online accessing the Internet or documents housed on their firms’ database. Typically when starting a research project, the attorneys turned to the Internet. They were conscious of the cost of commercial databases like Westlaw or Lexis and tried to use free sources whenever possible.

Frequently, they accessed Google or Wikipedia to get a general sense of the issue. However, they all accessed material in hardcopy forms on a regular basis, often expressing a preference to read information from books or to print out information. 

During the course of our observations, the junior associate in litigation at the large firm, L, and the real estate attorney at the midsize firm, G, used their firms’ law libraries several times to access information in books. Our immigration attorney, K, used primarily Internet websites, including government websites, the Code of Federal Regulations in print, and Kurzban’s Immigration Law Sourcebook on a regular basis. She rarely used Westlaw and Lexis. Often the attorneys turned to books or printed text to read in detail or when they needed to annotate a document.

As the authors note, many legal educators have not been in practice for years, and we are working from a hunch about what is actually happening in "real-world" practice. This article is important in that it tracks the trends of the current legal field and offers a real glimpse into how our teaching might align with practical application. I will certainly keep these findings in mind as I plan my own legal research courses and decide what to emphasize.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Reaching Threshold Concepts In Information Literacy & Legal Research

Barbara Fister over at Library Babel Fish made some interesting observations about threshold concepts and information literacy after reading a book called Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies. 

Academic librarians have been kicking around the idea of threshold concepts ever since a revision of the familiar information literacy standards proposed that we could rethink our approach to instruction in the art and craft of inquiry. The new Framework proposes several big ideas that could inform the learning that happens in our libraries. They describe the kind of learning we design our libraries to nurture, but which is largely dependent on faculty in the disciplines who create the learning situations that will most profoundly influence whether our students cross these thresholds or not. 

To determine how librarians might use threshold concepts Fister read the book, Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies edited by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle.

The book addresses two questions: “what do we know about writing?" and “how can what we know inform curricula and assessment of student writing?” 

Below are the threshold concepts in the book that struck a chord with Fister as paralleling the meaning-making moves we are actually talking about when we say “information literacy.”
  • Writing is a social and rhetorical activity
  • Writing is a knowledge-making activity
  • Writing involves making ethical choices
  • Writing speaks to others through recognizable forms
  • Texts get their meaning from other texts
  • Writing enacts and creates identities and ideologies (Literacy itself is not ideologically neutral.)
  • Writing is linked to identity (something that seems critical as students begin to recognize their own authority to construct knowledge)
  • Failure can be an important part of writing development (and of conducting research)

Now imagine replacing each instance of "writing" or "text" with "research," "information literacy," or "source."

For students to reach these threshold concepts and make connections, law librarian, for example, need assistance from their colleagues. 

Rather like librarians who are committed to information literacy, writing scholars are committed professionals who are often seen as people who merely provide a service. They have to negotiate sharing their disciplinary expertise with recognizing the role faculty in other disciplines play in developing students’ writing abilities. Instruction librarians have a similar dilemma – we feel responsibility for a kind of learning that largely happens in other people’s classrooms. Helping ensure that faculty across the disciplines feel both prepared to enable that learning and committed to making sure it happens is one of the biggest problems we face.

To have our students truly reach these thresholds in information literacy, we must get buy-in from our colleagues to reinforce legal research across the curriculum. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Legal Research Course Syllabi

Are you interested in teaching a legal research course? Or would you like to revamp your current course?

Then you may want to take a look at the Law Librarianship Course Syllabi aggregated at the University of Washington.

There are syllabi from a variety of legal research courses from 1998-2013, so you can see how things have changed overtime.

As mentioned, if you would like to share and/or to help to organize the materials to be most useful, please contact Marilyn Mason, Elizabeth Kellison, or Marti Smith.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

New Google Algorithm Predicts Searches

BBC News is reporting that Google is about to launch a new algorithm that will predict user searches.

A group of programmers at Google claim that their new algorithm knows what you are going to search for even before you enter your query. Starting April 1, 2016, you will be able to click on the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button on the Google search page without entering a query and Google will return the results you were looking for.

"There's  no magic or mind reading involved," explained one of the programmers working on the not-so-secret algorithm. "We already know a lot about users from previous searches, and it's pretty easy to predict what kinds of information they will be searching for at any given time."

While it's an interesting concept, some users are a bit uncomfortable with this technology.

Some users fear the new algorithm may violate privacy and security by using data analytics to predict user behavior, but Shirley Holmes, a Google spokesperson, said that the new service is a matter of logic, and not a breach of privacy.

"It is really only going one step further than Amazon does when showing you items related to your purchases, or than any of the music services do when they suggest artists you  may like," said Holmes.

"Ultimately, Google users are lazy," she remarked. "Forget Boolean operators or advanced searches, our users don't even want to type in two or three short words."

"Now they won't have to," she added.

I'm not sure what this says about the state of knowledge seeking, but I am certainly intrigued enough to find out what Google recommends for me.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Librarianship As Calling

My mentor warned me that librarianship was thankless work. He constantly reminded me that I would get a lot of complaints for doing a job that most people found dispensable, and it would cost me a lot of money to end up there. I would be treated like a second-class citizen in the academic world. Yet, even after all of that, I still couldn't help myself because librarianship feels like a calling.

So when I ran across another librarian's post about librarianship as a calling, it resonated with me.

From the public librarian:
I’m training to be a professional librarian, having just finished a lecture on “semantic web ontologies” and “linked data,” and sat dumbstruck in front of a “Dewey Decimal assembler” without a clue as to what I’m looking at. The course is challenging – it’s a three-year master’s degree that bites eye-watering chunks out of my wages. Why am I doing it to myself?

The fact is, I can’t not. It’s a sort of calling – like becoming a priest, only with warmer business premises. I can’t stand by and let public libraries sink. I won’t.

Forget all about reading as a pleasure, forget that children should have unlimited access to books, throw away arguments about libraries being lifelines for those less fortunate – they’re falling on deaf ears.

For me, it boils down to one important point: the internet is a shallow (but extremely wide) surface-level summary of secondary, often opinionated information that sits on a bedrock of substantive knowledge that either isn’t on the internet, or lives behind a paywall, or is too expensive to purchase. Public libraries broker equal access to all that stuff. Get rid of them, and your information becomes drip-fed through Google filters (if you have a computer to access it).

About the only drawback I’m finding is the (sometimes) well-meaning dismissiveness, particularly from my friends and family. A working-class male taking a degree to be a what? Sometimes, they just laugh. For them, working in a library is like working in a charity shop: a good cause, but not quite a real job. My hairdresser was surprised it was even paid work. I’m not sure how libraries got bound up in these stereotypes: Casanova was a librarian after all (a common cry of the defensive information professional).

I like this librarian's take on complaints - the fact that patrons complain means that libraries are fulfilling an essential service that people feel entitled to, and they will complain when something goes awry in that essential service (say when WiFi acts up). And people are entitled to access information in a free and reliable way. That's a great way to look at it.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Allied Media Conference: Radical Librarianship

Are you a radical librarian who loves Detroit (like me)? If so, you might consider the 18th Annual Allied Media Conference - specifically the Radical Librarianship track.

Here's the info:
Join us for the 18th annual Allied Media Conference: June 16 - 19, 2016. Held every summer in Detroit, the conference brings together a vibrant and diverse community of people using media to incite change: filmmakers, radio producers, technologists, youth organizers, writers, entrepreneurs, musicians, dancers, and artists. We define "media" as anything you use to communicate with the world. You are a media-maker!

Libraries, archives, and museums do media-based work that educates, informs, and creates bridges to culture and technology. The Radical Librarianship Track will address a broad range of media-based organizing themes: envisioning libraries and archives as centers for supporting movements for social equity; as information providers for social justice workers; and as places to explore how to use art, media, and technology for social transformation. In this track we will specifically consider the role of librarians and archivists in strengthening the knowledge, culture, and collective memory of communities impacted by chronic divestment and gentrification.

Radical Librarianship Track Call for Participation

We are seeking collaborators to shape our track at AMC2016. Libraries and archives are more than places for collecting and storing books and artifacts. Libraries can be living, transformative spaces where artists, educators, technologists, and activists convene to access, document, share, organize, and find solutions to issues that impact their communities.

We are especially interested in sessions that:

  • Challenge traditional library and archive structures, institutions, and organizations
  • Discuss best practices for community-based organizations that provide books, technology or internet access, creative materials, or collaborative opportunities centering people of color, queer and gender nonconforming folks, disabled people, incarcerated people, and undocumented people
  • Consider the role of librarians and archivists in strengthening the knowledge, culture, and collective memory of communities impacted by chronic divestment and gentrification
  • Address racism, white supremacy or issues of diversity and inclusion in libraries, archives, or museums
  • Discuss mental health and self-care for workers in libraries, archives, or museums

We will be hosting three online information sessions on "Proposing AMC Sessions" on February 16th at 12:00 p.m. EST; March 1st at 6:00 p.m. EST; and March 11th at 6pm EST. Call 563.299.2090 to join and enter the code: 362-805

Email us with questions at

DEADLINE TO PROPOSE: March 11, 2016 Midnight EST 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Costly Typos Encourage Good Spelling & Grammar

When I teach research & writing to law students, it can be a challenge to get them to buy-in to the notion that they should take great care with their writing - particularly punctuation - with commas specifically.

To encourage care, I highlight cases that have turned on punctuation or the high cost that can result from a typo. Winning cases and saving money tends to get their attention.

There is a post on Mental Floss that discusses some interesting and expensive examples of costly typos..
  • A missing hyphen in a code cost NASA $80 million
  • A spelling mistake in an eBay ad cost the seller $502,996
  • An extra letter in a word caused accounting software to pay out $2.8m instead of $1.4m
These examples are good classroom fodder to make a lecture on punctuation and grammar just a little more interesting. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

FREE Webinars from GPO in March

Presenters from GPO, other Federal Government agencies, and from Federal depository libraries across the Nation will present on topics related to Federal Government information and the Federal Depository Library Program. All sessions are presented virtually through GPO's FDLP Academy.

Don't miss these upcoming, 60-minute webinars. All sessions take place at 2:00 p.m. (Eastern)

Attendees will receive a Certificate of Participation from GPO for each webinar they attend.

View the complete archive of recorded webinars and webcasts. All are encouraged to share and re-post information about these free training opportunities.