Friday, July 29, 2016

The Last of the Free Ranging Library Cats

In what is a sad day for the library-cat profession, it appears that the odds are stacked against them when it comes to future job prospects.

The Chicago Tribune reports that "Stacks" is believed to be the last full-time, free-ranging library cat in Illinois.

As noted, library cats face an uncertain future. Their ranks are down considerably from 2010, when there were at least five library cats statewide. A Tribune search, based on an old master list and a query published in the Illinois Library Association's electronic newsletter, turned up just two full-time feline residents: Stacks, of course, and Newby, a handsome black cat with a dash of white on his chest who resides in the staff offices of the Nippersink Public Library in Richmond.

Librarians point to several factors working against the pint-size literary lions, including concerns about allergies, the digital age pressure to seem "modern" and "relevant," a highly litigious society, even social media, which can amplify the concerns of a small but passionate anti-cat minority.

This will likely end a long-standing tradition, as the post of library cat is often traced to ancient Egypt, where cats protected precious papyrus scrolls from the ravages of hungry rodents.

A photo of my "library cats." 
They both have honorary JDs & MLIS degrees after 
sitting on my papers and laptop through all of those years. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

20,160 Survey Respondents Find Legal Research as Most Important Skill

In the past, I have blogged extensively about the importance of legal research skills for practice and the myriad of evidence that supports just how important it is.

And now we have even more evidence. Recently, a large survey (24,000 responses) was conducted on what new lawyers need for success in practice.

Some interesting aspects: (1) the long list of possible skills and characteristics are classified according to urgency: necessary in the short term; must be acquired; advantageous, but not necessary; and not relevant; and (2) many so-called "soft skills" and personal qualities (e.g., listening respectfully, strong work ethic, timeliness, courtesy) were ranked urgent to a greater degree than many academic or practice competencies.

Not surprisingly, legal research was deemed necessary in the short term by a very large percentage of respondents.

In fact, the ability to effectively research the law was the foundation most often cited as necessary in the short term (84%). 

And there you have it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

SSRN & Copyright: Is It Time to Move to SocArXiv?

The Elsevier takeover of SSRN is getting interesting. Recently we heard that Elsevier made a positive change when it adopted full-text searching on SSRN. But it appears there have also been some negative copyright changes.

One author's recent experience highlights the negative:
It appears that the corporate takeover of SSRN is already having a real impact.

When I posted a final PDF of an article for which not only do my co-author and I retain the copyright, but for which the contract also includes _explicit_ permission to post on SSRN, I received the typical happy “SSRN Revision Email” saying all was well.  Only when I went to take a look, I found there was no longer any PDF to download at all—merely the abstract.  So, download counts are gone, and no article.  Not the former working version nor the final version.  And then in the revision comments, I found this:
It appears that you do not retain copyright to the paper, and the PDF has been removed from public view. Please provide us with the copyright holder's written permission to post. Alternatively, you may replace this version with a working paper or preprint version, if you so desire. Questions and/or written permissions may be emailed to, or call 1-877-SSRNHELP (877-777-6435 toll free) or 1-585-442-8170 outside the US.

So, not only have they completely changed their model, but—at least to me—they gave no effective notice, and they pull papers without asking.  Nobody bothered to _ask_ whether I had permission; they simply took down every version of the article and said nothing.  Alas.  And when I called customer support and someone called back, I pointed out that some profs have hundreds of articles posted for which SSRN doesn’t hold the copyright agreements.  “Are you going to take all those down too?,” I asked.  The answer, in essence, “Those were posted in error.”  Unbelievable.

Of course, for years they have insisted on maintaining “citation counts” for legal papers despite knowing their algorithms don’t work for papers with footnotes as opposed to endnotes.  So, I suppose one should not expect much.  But this is new and much worse.  So, be wary, and long live Bepress Digital Commons!

As noted over on the TaxProf Blog, [t]his policy fails to honor the rights individual authors have negotiated in order to put their work on services like SSRN. It misreads the Creative Commons licenses authors adopt in order to share their work. And it is a marked departure from the standard notice and takedown procedures typically used to remove user-uploaded copyright-infringing works from the web, eliminating both any apparent notice from the putative copyright owner and any clear recourse for the affected authors.

So what should you do if you are unhappy with SSRN?

Go elsewhere. Try your institutional repository or look into SocArXiv as a new alternative. From its website, SocArXiv promises to develop a free, open access, open source archive for social science research. The initiative responds to growing recognition of the need for faster, open sharing of research on a truly open access platform for the social sciences. Papers on SocArXiv will be permanently available and free to the public.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Senate Approves New Groundbreaking Librarian of Congress

From NPR:

With the overwhelming support of the Senate, Dr. Carla Hayden has been approved as the next librarian of Congress.

Hayden, the head of Baltimore's public library system and the former president of the American Library Association, is the first woman and the first African-American to hold the post.

It's actually rather newsworthy that the next librarian of Congress is, well, a librarian.

Many previous librarians of Congress have been scholars or writers. Both Billington and his predecessor, Daniel J. Boorstin, were historians. Before Hayden's nomination, the American Library Association (which Hayden used to lead) had called for Obama to nominate a professional librarian for the post.

And, as many have noted, all the previous Librarians of Congress were white men. In nominating Hayden, Obama said it was "long overdue" for that to change.

Congratulations, Dr. Hayden!!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Research Shows Black Judges Reversed On Appeal More Often

This morning, NPR highlighted research that black judges are reversed on appeal more than white judges.

President Obama has tried to diversify the federal judiciary by appointing more black judges, and there are currently more black judges in the federal judiciary that at any other time in history. But data shows that black federal district court judges are overturned on appeal 10 percent more often than white judges.

In 2015, Harvard Political Science Professor, Maya Sen, analyzed how often black judges were appealed between years 2000 and 2012. During that time, black judges were overruled at significantly higher rates.

In real terms, this means that between 2000 and 2012, a black federal district judge will have statistically had around 20 extra rulings overturned than if they had been white. The average number of cases authored by black judges and reversed over that period is 196.

Being overturned generally means that higher courts are questioning the legal reasoning of an opinion.

So is this phenomena really a factor of race? Or just a different view of law? The researchers controlled for ideological differences, and they still found a gap by race.

The researchers went on to hypothesize that it may be implicit bias at work. Implicit bias refers to subtle forms of possibly unintentional prejudice affecting judgment and social behavior. In this case, implicit bias appears to be held against black federal judges, and carried by their mostly white colleagues at the federal appellate level.

Presidents have tried to diversify the judiciary to have a broader point of view, promote public confidence, create better and richer decision making, assure that different perspectives are included, establish role models, and contradict prejudices.

As it stands, the judicial system is still overwhelmingly and disproportionately white and male, and the diversity point is being overruled by the higher courts.