Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Writing While Law Librarianing

Being on the tenure track is hard for everyone. It's really hard for law librarians because we have so many roles to fill. We often have our administrative library roles, as well as the teaching, research, and service required of faculty. Writing tends to be the thing that gets cast aside as other, more pressing concerns carry the day.

For the last few years, I've designed my weeks to write on this blog and a couple of others because I enjoy learning and thinking about the profession. Being required to write full-length law review articles or book chapters has been a good change of pace because it allows me to dig deeper into a topic, but it is much harder to carve out the time and attention necessary to write a full-length piece.

Last weekend, I finally submitted a book chapter for publication in a forthcoming book called Millennial Leadership in Libraries. My chapter covers creating a leadership philosophy. I had been working on it since April, and it was a challenging, yet rewarding process - most of all because it got me thinking about my own leadership philosophy.

The process was also good for what it taught me about fitting full-length pieces into my everyday work. Admittedly, a lot of the writing happened on weekends when I had more time to fully devote to it. I suppose that's why it's so important to find a topic that interests you. Otherwise writing will feel like a chore and become an over-extension of the work week and ultimately cause burnout.

A couple of points of advice for anyone undertaking a full-length writing project as a law librarian:

  • Choose a topic that interests you - This cannot be overstated. 
  • Find a writing project with a reasonable deadline - I find that a deadline means that I make it a priority. 
  • Keep your writing muscle toned every day - After outlining, a full-length piece is naturally broken into shorter, more manageable subparts. Choose a subpart and devote a set amount of time to it each day.
  • Choose the best time of day for you to make progress - I can't start writing until after my first cup of coffee. But I need to start before there are too many demands on the day. This will be different for everyone, but make sure to carve out the time and guard it.
  • Have a RA help with the citations - Because of the various demands on my day, I focused on spending writing time working on the substantive parts of my chapter. I provided my research assistant with enough information in the footnote to know where the source came from, and I provided the original sources. This was well worth the money, and I'll never go back if I can avoid it. 
I spent just enough time on the book chapter to be happy to see it go off to the editor. My writing muscle is toned to the point where I am excited to maintain it by delving into another full-length piece on a different topic. Hopefully I can follow my own advice. 





Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The State of Open Access in Academia

Earlier this year, Forbes ran a great article on the state of open access in academia. More than any other technology, the web has revolutionized access to the world’s information. While nearly every other form of informational output has been reinvented in some fashion in the internet era, academic literature has remained steadfastly locked in the centuries-old subscription format, paywalled away from all but those who can afford to purchase access

Even at public universities, where the salaries of faculty and staff and the operating costs of the institution are often heavily subsidized by taxpayer money, either directly by their states or indirectly through grants from NSF, NIH and other federal agencies, the majority of the research output of the institution is not publicly accessible.

Instead, much of the world’s scholarly knowledge is owned and controlled by commercial enterprises that operate the journals that academic researchers publish in.

The extreme cost and paywalled access to information of traditional journal publishing has led to the open access revolution in which grant funding agencies (such as NIH) are increasingly requiring publications stemming from research they support to be made publically accessible. 

As part of the open-access movement, many academic disciplines now permit preprint publication of works in arXiv and similar scholarly repositories, as well as institutional archives.

Why is academia so far behind in terms of open access? Perhaps the simplest answer is that in academia promotion and tenure are still tightly linked with publishing in top-tier journals, which are largely well-established commercial venues. Faculty who choose to simply post their research on their personal or institutional websites or in archives like arXiv will find that those papers do not count towards their performance reviews for tenure and promotion.

As noted, one possible solution is to transfer the burden of subscription costs to the national government as a service to its citizens. Last year the government of Egypt launched an ambitious initiative called the Egyptian Knowledge Bank, described as “the biggest digital library in the world, housing contents of the most prominent publishing houses all over the world such as National Geographic, Discovery Cambridge, Oxford, Reuters, Britannica and others.” Instead of the American model in which each individual university purchases its own journal subscriptions and ordinary citizens have no access at all, the Egyptian government purchased national site licenses to a wide array of content, making it freely available to its citizens. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Use Google Scholar's Advanced Search for Narrow Case Law Searching

There are various tricks to using Google Scholar for free case law searching that will help you narrow your search results to relevant cases.

To narrow your search results, make sure to use the Advanced search menu.

To use the Advanced search menu for case law searching, click into the case law radio button on the Scholar home page. Then, click the down-arrow on the right side of the search box to invoke the Advanced search menu

While the first four Boolean connector and phrase search boxes located on Scholar’s Advanced search menu are the same as Google.com’s Advanced Search menu, there are three “field” search boxes and one drop-down list unique to Scholar’s Advanced Search menu.

Unfortunately, many searchers don’t use these features because Scholar never bothered labeling them with appropriate case law terminology—they simply left the articles’ database labels on them. For example, the field search box labeled as:

  • Return articles authored by should really be labeled Return cases authored by
  • Return articles published in should really be labeled Return cases published in
  • Return articles dated between should really be labeled Return cases dated between

If you didn’t know that the Return articles authored by field search could actually be used to Return cases authored by, you might simply enter the judge’s name (e.g., Charles Vogel, a California judge), into the all the words Boolean search box and limited your search to California. You would retrieve 476 opinions and it’s possible your results for that name could also be that of a party, an attorney, a witness, or an expert, and so on, many of which would be irrelevant to our analytics.

But restricting the judge’s name to the Return articles authored by field search box eliminates all those extraneous and irrelevant results that you would have had to sift through.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Role of a 21st Century Librarian

The Atlantic recently posted an article on the evolving role of the 21st Century librarian.

There’s a stereotypical image of a librarian in popular culture: someone older, in thick-rimmed glasses and overly modest clothing, guarding the silence in a room full of books with all-powerful shushes.

But as the internet has largely replaced brick-and-mortar libraries as the go-to resource for information gathering, librarians’ purview is no longer confined to just books. Libraries have had to evolve from providing the internet as a service, to being responsible for interacting with it, to indexing and archiving a rapidly increasing amount of information. Though the occupation is only expected to grow by 2 percent from 2014 to 2024, many librarians have forgone bookkeeping and cataloging for specializing in multimedia and taking on research- and technology-oriented projects such as digitizing archives.

The author of the article interviewed Theresa Quill, a research librarian at Indiana University, Bloomington, who specializes in the relationship between geography and cultural behavior, and digital mapping. Theresa provides an overview of what it's like to be a 21st Century academic librarian who has a strong professional identity while fulfilling both the traditional and evolving roles of a librarian -- and also performs her own research!

The interview is enlightening for many reasons. I particularly appreciate the part about the new "library school" curriculum. While getting a master's degree in library & information science (or library science or information science or any number of iterations), Theresa mentions that the curriculum is intended to give you an introduction to librarianship as a profession, because we do have a pretty strong professional identity and a lot of people say it's a calling to be a librarian. [Theresa] took classes on website development, library management, strategic intelligence, and how information itself is a commodity. [She] took a class on international information issues, which dealt with the flow of information across different cultures and library culture in different parts of the world. Now, tons of people take classes on programming languages and it's becoming much more tech-focused.

This article is a great read for anyone interested in the library profession. It's the closest article I've seen to capturing the true essence of what it means to be a modern librarian.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Reading Books is Tied to a Longer Life

The NYTimes Well Blog reports that reading books is tied to a longer life.

Researchers used data on 3,635 people over 50 participating in a larger health study who had answered questions about reading.

The scientists divided the sample into three groups: those who read no books, those who read books up to three and a half hours a week, and those who read books more than three and a half hours.

The study, in Social Science & Medicine, found that book readers tended to be female, college-educated and in higher income groups. So researchers controlled for those factors as well as age, race, self-reported health, depression, employment and marital status.

Compared with those who did not read books, those who read for up to three and a half hours a week were 17 percent less likely to die over 12 years of follow-up, and those who read more than that were 23 percent less likely to die. Book readers lived an average of almost two years longer than those who did not read at all.

They found a similar association among those who read newspapers and periodicals, but it was weaker.

“People who report as little as a half-hour a day of book reading had a significant survival advantage over those who did not read,” said the senior author, Becca R. Levy, a professor of epidemiology at Yale. “And the survival advantage remained after adjusting for wealth, education, cognitive ability and many other variables.”

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Copyright Office To Revise Section 108 & The Library Exception?

Librarians were surprised to hear at the ALA Annual conference that the U.S. Copyright Office planned to hold closed meetings to discuss revision of Section 108, the “library exception.” The process was announced in the Federal Register on June 2. Interested parties were asked to schedule a meeting with the Copyright Office, located in Washington, DC. (Soon after the announcement the Copyright Office said that phone conversations could also be scheduled). There will be no public record of who attends the meetings or what is discussed.

Although, the Copyright Office has been upfront about the changes. They believe that Section 108 needs to be updated to better reflect the digital environment. Indeed, they have said that Section 108 needs to be re-written altogether. They have already drafted Section 108 legislation that librarians haven’t seen.

According to The Internet Archive Blog, the Library Copyright Alliance (which represents the American Library Association and the Association of Research Libraries) has said it does not want changes, the Society of American Archivists has said it does not want changes. The Internet Archive does not want changes, DPLA does not want changes. 

This recent move, which has its genesis in an outdated set of proposals from 2008, is just another in series of out of touch ideas coming from the Copyright Office. We’ve seen them propose “notice and staydown” filtering of the Internet and disastrous “extended collective licensing” for digitization projects. Now the Copyright Office wants to completely overhaul Section 108 of the Copyright Act, the “library exceptions,” in ways that could break the Wayback Machine and repeal fair use for libraries.

After discussing this issue with a well-respected colleague, I have decided that we should not rest on a few court wins in favor of fair use for libraries to hold the day. Section 108 should be rewritten to truly reflect the digital revolution with a keen eye on a library's role in that revolution. The main issue is with the lack of transparency and very little librarian input.

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 support@ssrn.com, 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