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Showing posts from December, 2016

The Examined Life: A Reading List

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A fairly recent Saturday Essay in the Wall Street Journal started out by noting: We all ask each other a lot of questions. But we should all ask one question a lot more often: “What are you reading?”

It’s a simple question but a powerful one, and it can change lives. Here is a sampling of my reading list for the past year:

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
"It’s impossible not to admire the ambition and scope of Homegoing, and thanks to Ms. Gyasi’s instinctive storytelling gifts, the book leaves the reader with a visceral understanding of both the savage realities of slavery and the emotional damage that is handed down, over the centuries, from mothers to daughters, fathers to sons. At its best, the novel makes us experience the horrors of slavery on an intimate, personal level; by its conclusion, the characters’ tales of loss and resilience have acquired an inexorable and cumulative emotional weight."
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
"Hillbilly Eleg…

Law Librarians Teaching Research Skills for Hire

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Law librarians know how important legal research skills are for practice
It appears that the legal industry is starting to understand how to parse through potential hires to find those with the best legal research skills. The Thomson Reuters Legal Solution Blog recently posted a series of tips for evaluating a potential hire's research skills.As noted, one of the key tasks that an attorney will be expected to complete throughout his or her career is legal research. When hiring or interviewing prospective candidates, a Partner will often want to ensure that the candidate has top notch legal research skills that can be put to use by the firm. 

These skills include: Flexibility - knowing when to use natural language versus boolean searchingCreativity - using creativity to distinguish or analogize a case to a results list instead of searching for the "perfect case" that may not existFamiliarity - looking beyond cases and statutes to other sources such as Trial Court Docume…

Gaming the Article Title

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In past posts, I have highlighted the importance of a well-optimized article title and abstract for discoverability. Titles, in particular, are important because researchers often use keyword searching in the title field to find articles that are highly relevant to their research.

Not only is a title important for discoverability, it's also important to catch the attention of a potential reader and up article views and downloads for impact purposes.

Brian Leiter over at the Law Professor Blogs Network recently highlighted a story illustrating how to game the article title to increase downloads.

I have an article with the (admittedly extremely boring) title "Rethinking Assignor Estoppel" coming out in the Houston Law Review. It has been on SSRN for nine months. I have posted about it twice on Facebook and Twitter, and it has shown up in all the SSRN journals. In that nine months it has garnered 982 views and 172 SSRN downloads.

Late Friday afternoon, prompted by some friend…

How the Librarians Saved History: Harvesting Government Information

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The NYTimes recently highlighted the work of the End of Term Presidential Harvest 2016 -- a volunteer, collaborative effort by a small group of university, government and nonprofit libraries to find and save valuable pages now on federal websites.

With the arrival of any new president, vast troves of information on government websites are at risk of vanishing within days. The fragility of digital federal records, reports and research is astounding. 

Currently, no law protects much of it, no automated machine records it for history, and the National Archives and Records Administration announced in 2008 that it would not take on the job. “Large portions of dot-gov have no mandate to be taken care of,” said Mark Phillips, a library dean at the University of North Texas, referring to government websites. “Nobody is really responsible for doing this.”

Enter the End of Term Presidential Harvest 2016. The project began before the 2008 elections, when George W. Bush was serving his second term,…

AI as Premature Law Librarian Disruptor

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Law librarians do similarly creative work as lawyers, so a computer program like ROSS won’t be able to replace us in the near future. That being said, there may be a time in the future when computer programs will be more adept at many of our tasks.

Artificial intelligence relies on machine learning, which is highly dependent on natural language processing.

There are three main levels of natural language processing:
Syntactic (sentence structure/grammar)Semantic (understanding phrases)Pragmatic (understanding context)
Computer science experts and philosophers have estimated a processing curve based on where computers are now and when computers will master pragmatic natural language processing.


Based on the curve, we see that computer programs are currently at the end of the syntactics curve and are just beginning the semantics curve (think Siri). We still have a long way to go before computers do the high level pragmatic natural language processing, with estimates being close to year 21…