Wednesday, April 26, 2017

PlumX for Altmetrics on Scholarly Impact

Previously, I discussed the problem with impact factor in law and the seemingly insurmountable task of creating a meaningful impact factor.

But as any good law librarian would do, we always try to "make it happen." To that end, I recently ran across PlumX as a platform to aggregate various metric sources.


As noted on Texas Tech University's LibGuide on point, besides traditional citation counts, there are many ways of tracking research impacts. They try to capture the presence in new scholarly venues, presence and impact in social media and other forms of online engagement, such as views, downloads, bookmarks etc. Collectively, we refer to these as altmetrics, as opposed to traditional citation measurement using Web of Science, Scopus and other citation enhanced databases.

PlumX is a subscription-based platform for tracking research impact. PlumX gathers and brings together appropriate metrics for all types of scholarly research output. They categorize metrics into 5 separate types: Usage, Captures, Mentions, Social Media, and Citations.
Examples of each type are:
Metrics_Icons_Usage Usage – clicks, downloads, views, library holdings, video plays
Metrics_Icons_Captures  Captures – bookmarks, code forks, favorites, readers, watchers
 Mentions – blog posts, comments, reviews, Wikipedia links
Metrics_Icons_SocialMedia Social media – +1s, likes, shares, tweets
Metrics_Icons_Citations Citations – citation indexes, patent citations, clinical citations

Many libraries, including a few law libraries, are now integrating PlumX directly into institutional repositories to capture these altmetrics.

As Karen Shephard from Pitt Law Library recently commented in an AALL discussion on faculty services:
With the University's support, we have been creating PLUMX profiles for our faculty members. They are connected with our University's digital repository, D-Scholarship, and bring together an amazing amount of publication usage data, from downloads (via SCOPUS publications, EPrints, SSRN and more) - including related citations - to social media mentions (FB, blogs, etc.), captures (i.e. Mendeley) and more.

While the traditional sources still hold the most weight, our Law School is using the altmetircs available through PLUMX to supplement information concerning faculty impact. It's "really cool" being able to see when someone across the globe is talking about a faculty member's recent work!

If all law libraries start measuring impact with a service such as PlumX, we may just have the metrics that we need to compare meaningful scholarly impact.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Law Librarians Who (Know) Code

At a recent talk, it was recommended that law librarians learn enough about coding to understand how coding intersects with the organization and retrieval of information. To ensure that our systems function properly, we should all, at minimum, know what a programming language is, how to talk about it, and what coding can and cannot do.

We must understand what coding is, how it relates to libraries, what can reasonably be asked of code, and the threshold concepts that are required to work alongside those who actually write the code.

Law librarians understand how the end user interacts with the various retrieval systems. We understand the intersectionality of cases, statutes, and regulations, etc.... As well as best practices for accessibility and the practical search skills of our prospective or practicing lawyers. For a retrieval system to work well, it must be coded with all of these considerations in mind. A programmer, working alone, may not have this wholistic view.

Now that we are fully in the digital era, with many law libraries going effectively print free, we need to understand this skill more than ever. It's a law librarian's expertise, coupled with a programmer's understanding of code, that will allow us to create systems that transform information retrieval.

To that end, law librarians might consider attending a coding camp to learn this necessary skill.


Switchup recently released a list of the top 31 coding schools along with rankings and reviews. A friend of mine who attended a coding camp and is now a successful programmer recommended Bloc for a self-paced experience.

Another option is to find a Coursera coding course (or other available MOOC).

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"Excuse Me, Can I Have a Turn?" Female SCOTUS Justices Heavily Interrupted

The Harvard Business Review recently released the results of an enlightening new study about the speech patterns during SCOTUS oral arguments.

According to the article, a new empirical study shows that the male justices interrupt the female justices approximately three times as often as they interrupt each other during oral arguments. 

HBR examined the transcripts of 15 years of Supreme Court oral arguments, finding that women do not have an equal opportunity to be heard on the highest court in the land. In fact, as more women join the court, the reaction of the male justices has been to increase their interruptions of the female justices. Many male justices are now interrupting female justices at double-digit rates per term, but the reverse is almost never true. In the last 12 years, during which women made up, on average, 24% of the bench, 32% of interruptions were of the female justices, but only 4% were by the female justices.

And there is a consistently gendered pattern: In 1990, with one woman on the bench (former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor), 35.7% of interruptions were directed at her; in 2002, 45.3% were directed at the two female justices (O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg); in 2015, 65.9% of all interruptions on the court were directed at the three female justices on the bench (Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan). With more women on the court, the situation only seems to be getting worse.

Not only do the fellow male justices interrupt the female justices, so too do the male advocates on the other side of the bench. Despite strict rules mandating that advocates stop talking immediately when a justice begins speaking, interruptions by male advocates account for approximately 10% of all interruptions that occur in court. In contrast, interruptions by female advocates account for approximately 0%. 

While the female justices are being interrupted at far higher rates, at least they are learning to stop using polite prefatory words. Early in their tenure, female justices tend to frame questions politely, using prefatory words such as “May I ask,” “Can I ask,” “Excuse me,” or the advocate’s name. 

HBR ultimately found that women gradually learn to set aside such politeness. All four of the female justices have reduced their tendency to use this polite phrasing. Justice Sotomayor adjusted within just a few months. Justices O’Connor and Ginsburg gradually became less and less polite over decades on the court, eventually using the polite phrases approximately one-third as much as they did initially. Justice Kagan is still learning: She uses polite language more than twice as often as the average man, although half as often as she did in 2010.

Not surprisingly, HBR did not see a similar trend with the men, because male justices rarely use these polite speech patterns, even when they first enter the court. It is the women who adapt their speech patterns to match those of the men.
If it's this bad for arguably some of the most powerful women in the world, imagine what it's like for other women in the legal profession. We need to do better. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Problem with Impact Factor in Law

While working as a Faculty Services & Scholarly Communications Librarian, I presume I am not alone in being asked to create an impact factor for which to judge the scholarly work of faculty.

In fact, Gary Lucas at Texas A&M was recently asked a similar question:
Texas A&M University assesses its colleges and departments based partly on scholarly impact and using quantitative metrics. The law school’s dean has assigned me the task of identifying scholarly impact metrics for use in assessing the performance of our law faculty collectively and individually. This essay discusses the major issues that arise in measuring the impact of legal scholarship. It also explains important scholarly impact metrics, including the Leiter score and Google Scholar h-index, and the major sources of information regarding scholarly impact, including Google Scholar, Westlaw, Hein Online, SSRN, and bepress.

Ultimately, Lucas proposes ranking scholarship by Google Scholar citation count to provide a much-needed supplement to existing rankings schemes, including ranking schools based on U.S. News peer reputation score.

Lucas has made a noble effort toward impact in law. But creating an impact factor from scratch and getting other law schools on board to use it is a magnum-opus type work that other brave souls have attempted before to no avail.

Ultimately, it is unlikely that Google Scholar will be adopted to widespread use. The metadata created by Google Scholar is neither reliable nor reproducible, and it distorts the metric indicators at the individual and journal levels, as noted by other authors. Additionally, when broaching the topic of using impact in promotion and tenure decisions, law faculty will inevitably analyze the impact factors to death.

Because of the inherent difficulty and extensive resources that it would take to create an impact factor from scratch that faculty feel is a reliable indicator of their work, we're left without a metric that all schools will adopt and use consistently to make individual impact viable in law.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Law Libraries Supporting ABA Standards

While the very specific requirements of a law library collection have loosened under the ABA Standards, it should not signal that law libraries are any less important. The loosening of the Standards allows us to tailor our resources to truly support the law school and create practice-ready grads. Law libraries still heavily support the ABA Standards and should be seen as a valuable resource as law schools try to meet the new standards. The following standards are (or should be) directly affected by law library support:

1. Experiential LearningThe ABA’s increased experiential learning requirement, requiring at least six hours of experiential courses for each student, is a direct response to the argument that new attorneys lack the necessary skills to act like a lawyer from day one on the job. To qualify as experiential under Standard 303(a)(3), “a course must be primarily experiential in nature and must (i) integrate doctrine, theory, skills, and legal ethics, and engage students in performance of one or more of the professional skills identified in Standard 302,” one of which is legal research. The course must also “(ii) developing the concepts underlying the professional skills being taught; (iii) provide multiple opportunities for performance; and (iv) provide opportunities for self-evaluation.” In addition, experiential courses must be a simulation, a law clinic, or a field placement. Law librarians have focused on creating skills courses for years. We know how to create the simulation courses that fall under this standard. And many of us have even developed for-credit skills courses that help students meet their experiential learning requirement.

2. Formative & Summative Assessment: Legal research is specifically mentioned as a core competency in a law school's learning outcomes. In addition, law libraries have been doing formative and summative assessment for years. Law librarians teach a valuable skill. And we assess comprehension during the instruction (formative), as well as at the culmination of instruction (summative). If you want to see these assessment methods in practice, look no further than your law library where your law librarians have gained meaningful insight to share with the rest of the faculty.

3. The Upper Level Writing Requirement: To satisfy the ABA upper class writing requirement, a law student's writing should come with significant faculty oversight. Law librarians can support this requirement, in part, through implementing and supporting a strong scholarly writing program.

Law schools would be remiss not to use their law libraries to support these standards. Law schools are one unit that should use all of the available resources to create practice-ready graduates. In practice, attorneys spend over 35% of their time doing legal research. And legal research is the foundation of creating connections and building legal analytical skills.

For a more in-depth discussion of law libraries supporting the various standards, see Alyson Drake's wonderful articles on point.