Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Physical Toll Of Research

It's safe to say that research exercises the mind. When you research, you are in a constant state of learning, assessing, evaluating, and contextualizing information

But I had never really considered the physical toll that research can take on the body, so I was amused earlier this summer when I read a Chronicle of Higher Education post about that very thing. "When we think of academe as 'the life of the mind,' we’re obscuring one basic fact: Conducting research can take a real physical toll on a scholar’s body. No, scholarship isn’t a dangerous factory job. But hours spent hunched over in library carrels, staring at computer screens, and pecking away at keyboards can cause any number of problems—eye strain, headaches, back and neck pain, repetitive strain injuries, and the like."

Along with the normal ailments associated with office work, "there’s a piece of equipment that’s as unhealthy as it is inescapable: the microfilm machine. Even in our world of digitization, microfilm remains relevant. Librarians, journalists, lawyers, genealogists, and historians still spend plenty of time digging up obscure and underpublicized sources like local newspapers, old maps, government documents, and city directories. That stuff tends to be preserved on microfilm only."

How is a microfilm machine unhealthy? The author referred to it as 'microfilm malaise.' "The rolling of the pages across the screen, the whir of the spindle, the dark all around: It makes me dizzy, heats my body like a raging furnace, rocks my stomach, and induces a gagging that nearly costs me my lunch every time I use a microfilm machine." In other words, there is some sort of motion sickness happening. 

The author went on a quest to find out the reason for this 'sickness.' As a doctor said, "[v]ision is one of the inputs that we use to stabilize the entire body. So if there’s text moving under your eyes in ways that you don’t fully control, then you have to try to compensate. That can make you sick."

For any microfilm malaise sufferers out there, here are some tricks to avoid sickness: 
  • Take inexpensive, over-the-counter medications like Dramamine
  • If you don’t want to take meds take breaks every 20 minutes
  • Bring a snack
And if all else fails, remember that digitization projects increasingly mean that microfilm will become less and less relevant.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Medical-Legal Partnerships For Holistic Treatment

Poverty can take a toll on health in ways that medical professionals, alone, cannot solve. The NYTimes reported on situations when poverty makes you sick, and a lawyer might be the cure.

"Being poor can make you sick. Where you work, the air you breathe, the state of your housing, what you eat, your levels of stress and your vulnerability to crime, injury and discrimination all affect your health. These social determinants of health lie outside the reach of doctors and nurses."

Because these social determinants of health lie outside of the reach of doctors and nurses, medical-legal partnerships have emerged. "Clinics that have medical-legal partnerships approach health differently than others. When doctors have no options for helping patients with the social determinants of health, they tend not to ask about them. With a medical-legal partnership, they do. At Cincinnati Children’s, [for example] each patient’s family is asked: Do you have housing problems? Problems getting your benefits? Are you depressed? Are you unsafe in your relationship? Would you like to speak to a lawyer or social worker about any of these things?" And there are attorneys and paralegals on site in the primary care center five days a week to assist with these issues.

How can lawyers help cure sickness? The article gives the following example:
"By early summer 2010, the temperature had already reached 100 degrees in Cincinnati. At Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, doctors were urging the families of children with asthma to use air-conditioning. One mother handed a piece of paper to her doctor: The child’s room did have a window unit, and she was using it. But then the landlord responded — he apparently didn’t want to pay the electric bills. Use that air-conditioner, the letter said, and you will be evicted.

A concerned doctor might have tried to call the landlord to fight the notice. Or, she might have handed the letter over to a social worker. But Cincinnati Children’s had something better — it had lawyers. In 2008, the hospital and the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati set up a medical-legal partnership, the Cincinnati Child Health-Law Partnership or Child HeLP.

Child HeLP sued on behalf of one severely disabled boy with a tracheotomy whose health depended on air-conditioning. The repairs were done in a few weeks."

The good news is that medical-legal partnerships are on the rise. "There were few medical-legal partnerships until about five or 10 years ago, but now 231 health care institutions have them, according to the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership."

Monday, July 21, 2014

Amazon Offers Unlimited EBook Subscription

The NYTimes reported that Amazon "introduced a digital subscription service that allows subscribers unlimited access to a library of e-books and audiobooks for $10 a month."

"The service, Kindle Unlimited, offers a Netflix-style, all-you-can-read approach to more than 600,000 e-books. So far, however, none of the five biggest publishers appear to be making their books available through the service. HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster, for example, are not participating, representatives from the three companies confirmed. Penguin Random House and Macmillan declined to comment, but a search on Amazon suggests that they are not making their books available."

This all sounds wonderful, right? And then here it comes - the call to close libraries. "More titles, easier access and quite possibly a saving of public funds. Why wouldn’t we simply junk the physical libraries and purchase an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription for the entire country?"

To that end, I think that the Magpie Librarian responds best. As Magpie points out, public libraries offer far greater services than just access to books. These services include but are not limited to:

  • Adult & child programming
  • A safe environment (for latchkey kids and the homeless)
  • Offer job finding services
  • Lending the very technology that you need to access ebooks (i.e., Kindles)
"I mean, if this unlimited Kindle subscription can not only lend us books, but provide safe places for our kids, educate us, help close the digital divide, provide specialized research assistance, help us in natural disasters, find us jobs, help the homeless population AND lend us free Kindles, then, well damn. I, for one, welcome our Amazon overlords." Thank you, Magpie!

Friday, July 18, 2014

I Got 99 Problems But My JD Ain't One

Thomson Reuters Legal Solution's blog recently posted tips on how to survive in this legal market.

According to the blog, "[t]he question isn’t so much whether [conditions for new grads] will improve as much as it is when they will improve. Lawyers will always be needed, but currently, the supply of new lawyers has completely overtaken the demand.  But law school enrollment is at its lowest levels in 40 years, so the market is currently in the process of correcting itself. Nevertheless, since it may take a long time for the legal job market to recover – but your bills aren’t going to wait – you may need to figure out how to keep your head above water in the meantime."

The blog goes on to offer tips for the tough legal market:
  • Don’t let your legal education collect dust
  • Be tenacious
  • Network
All great advice. And the notion of not letting your legal education collect dust is very important. To that end, Findlaw's blog posted 99 Things to Do With Your JD, Besides Practice Law. 

"Whenever you experience the moment when you realized that using your law degree to practice law is an option but not the only option, you may have started wondering ... so, what else can I do with my JD?"

The list of things to do with your JD includes "everything from job titles, to big concepts, to names of famous JDs, and a bit more." But it may get you thinking outside of the box and on the right path to a fulfilling alternative career.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Michigan Board Of Law Examiners Decides To Scale Essays

On July 9, 2014, the Michigan Board of Law Examiners (MBLE) announced that it has decided to scale essays again. This response is likely due to the backlash over the changed scoring method that took place in February 2012, which lowered the first-time passage rate by nearly 30%.

From the MBLE's website:
Beginning with the upcoming administration of the bar exam on July 29th, an improved scoring system for the essay portion of the exam will be implemented that more accurately measures competence by:

  • ensuring that essay test scores across administrations reflect the same skill level; and, 
  • continuing to reflect differences in the difficulty between the multiple choice and essay portions of the exam. 

The new method establishes a common scale that to the extent possible accounts for differences in difficulty 
across [bar exam] administrations, while making sure the applicant scores accurately reflect their competence on both the multi-state and Michigan portions of the exam.

It's great to hear that the MBLE took the public criticism to heart and reevaluated the scoring system. Good luck to all Michigan takers this July!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Decline In Enrollment & The Impact On Law Librarians

Much has been written about the decline in enrollment, and law schools are seeing their smallest incoming classes since the 1970s. We also have a reputable investor service, Moody's, telling us that this downturn is not cyclical but rather a fundamental change in legal education.

We have seen faculty and staff cuts at some schools, and I suspect that will continue. And I can't help but wonder what this means for law librarians. The conferences that I have attended over the last five years usually have at least some programming dealing with alternative careers and the need for law librarians to promote their worth. Something doesn't sit right about all of this - especially in the new legal economy.

According to the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools 2013-2014, a law library and law librarians are essential functions of a law school.

CHAPTER 6 of the Standards covers Library and Information Resources.

(a) A law school shall maintain a law library that is an active and responsive force in the educational life of the law school. A law library’s effective support of the school’s teaching, scholarship, research and service programs requires a direct, continuing and informed relationship with the faculty, students and administration of the law school.
(b) A law library shall have sufficient financial resources to support the law school’s teaching, scholarship, research, and service programs. These resources shall be supplied on a consistent basis.
(c) A law school shall keep its library abreast of contemporary technology and adopt it when appropriate.
Interpretation 601-1 
Cooperative agreements may be considered when determining whether faculty and students have efficient and effective access to the resources necessary to meet the law school’s educational needs. Standard 601 is not satisfied solely by arranging for students and faculty to have access to other law libraries within the region, or by providing electronic access. 

This is an important standard that has come under attack as being too expensive to maintain. And some have called for the end of print, but as you can see in the interpretation of Standard 601-1, the Standard is not satisfied solely by providing electronic access. It does appear from practice, however, that the interpretation of Standard 601 has changed to allow for more electronic access with some accredited-school libraries moving in that direction.

Standard 604 deals with the law library personnel, including law librarians.

Standard 604. PERSONNEL 
The law library shall have a competent staff, sufficient in number to provide appropriate library and informational resource services.
Interpretation 604-1 
Factors relevant to the number of librarians and informational resource staff needed to meet this Standard include the following: the number of faculty and students, research programs of faculty and students, a dual division program in the school, graduate programs of the school, size and growth rate of the collection, range of services offered by the staff, formal teaching assignments of staff members, and responsibilities for providing informational resource services. 

As you can see from the interpretation of Standard 604, the relevant factors include the number of faculty and students. This means that if there are fewer students and fewer faculty, it is likely that some law librarians may be displaced. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Essential Legal Research Skills In A Law Firm Setting

The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) Annual Conference wraps up today. I couldn't make the Conference this year, but the content looked great.

The Legal Solutions Blog posted about one program, in particular, that brought together academic law librarians and law firm librarians for a better understanding of what law students need to know to succeed in a law firm setting.

The "session brought together academic law librarians and law firm librarians in order to find common ground and improve the training that students received both prior to graduation and after they entered the legal workforce."

As noted, "[l]egal research is often combined with legal writing into a legal skills course. Those law students who have taken an advanced legal research class are easily identified by firm librarians when they are hired.  In general, new associates spend almost half of their time conducting legal research; it should be a newly hired attorney’s most important skill.  At the very least the new attorney should be familiar with the various treatises that act as the “bibles” in the associated practice areas.  All too often, however, they do not."

In terms of evaluating and contextualizing research, "[s]ome law school librarians realized that few law students have actually had the experience of beginning their research with a case file rather than a professor’s hypothetical. To help them efficiently pull out the relevant facts and issues and issues to effectively start their legal research, they began bringing example case files into the classroom to act as a starting point for legal research."

These are just a few examples of how law librarians are adjusting and trying to fill the knowledge in action gap so that law graduates are able to "hit the ground running" in terms of legal research.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Michigan Innovative Users Group - 7/25

If there are any Michigan librarians out there who are from Innovative libraries and are interested in learning more about the Innovative system, please make sure to attend the Michigan Innovative Users Group conference at Lansing Community College on Friday, July 25.

The day starts at 8:30am. There will be information about an Innovative update, and the speakers will address the following Innovative issues:
  • the future of library technology
  • de-selection
  • catalog data
  • MeLCat and RDA
  • Electronic Resources Management
  • Sierra and 
  • creating lists and statistics
To register for the event, go to the registration page at eventbrite

Friday, July 11, 2014

Library Catalogs & Discovery Layers

Librarians are adept at searching for material in traditional catalogs because we understand how the catalog searches metadata. The catalog searches for the classic fields like title and author. But there is a push to make library catalogs more like Google.

We are dealing with the "Google generation" after all, and if our patrons can't find the information that they are looking for in library catalogs by searching a few keywords, then the fear is that they won't use the library catalogs (thus library resources) and will always resort to Google and the very convenient (and maybe less reputable) resources.

The trend now is to use software that allows for discovery layers in catalogs. "Discovery layers are a relatively new software component for libraries that provide a search interface for users to find information held in the library’s catalog and beyond. Typically, a discovery layer is based on an enterprise search platform that can interact with a metadata index and will normally include additional features that allow your library to customize the search results. The primary function of a discovery layer is a user interface that allows patrons to navigate and find information. This generally sits atop harvested metadata such as catalog records, index/abstract records, and other information from local and/ or remote databases."

"The discovery layer interface will generally provide a unified view across resources such as local archival management systems, institutional repositories or the catalog component of a library management system. Some will even crawl local websites. Harvested data is indexed and presented to the end user in a single set of results. One key factor for a discovery layer is that it indexes data that lies outside the library’s immediate catalog - e.g. web based content stored remotely, metadata for copyrighted works not in the library catalog, or content stored in other libraries. The discovery layer can therefore cover a far greater scope than a simple search of the library catalog."

Barbara Fister discussed the flattening of knowledge as libraries try to keep up with Google. "Trying to emulate the convenience and simplicity of Google and Amazon, libraries are (once again) putting too high a value on volume of information and too little on curation. We have told vendors that we want as much full text as possible in the databases we subscribe to, which has made it harder, not easier, for undergraduates to use a database like Academic Search Premier and find articles they can understand that have been published in journals whose titles their teachers will recognize."

Further, she states, "[w]hen we ported the contents of card catalogs into databases, we kept the same data structures. We could search by authors, titles, and subjects, and included bits of description and local location information. The same thing happened in the shift from indexes and abstracts to database retrieval. [But] the current vogue for discovery layers – licensed software maintained with a great deal of local labor by librarians that allows library users to search both the catalog and licensed databases all at once – is at least in part an attempt to flatten the library’s collection of knowledge just as Google does."

"Unlike Google, we have to pay a lot and put a lot of staff hours into it to make it customized for a local collection."

Making library catalogs more like Google seems like a good thing (and I think there is a lot of potential), but our students need to be taught information literacy, too. We cannot market our catalog as being like Google without also discussing how the information is retrieved and that the students may need to go beyond the first few results from the search.

It's an uphill battle to engage students with this information. Their main concern is a good grade that is "earned" through the least amount of effort. Librarians and educators need to focus on filling the "knowledge in action" gap to ensure that our students know how to evaluate and contextualize their research.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Art Of The Abstract

Yesterday I discussed using SSRN to upload and disseminate scholarship. As I mentioned, the abstract and keywords are of utmost importance for discoverability. SSRN only allows search engines to index the abstracts and keywords - not the full-text of the PDF article. So it is imperative that the abstract is well written to allow for maximum discoverability.

Beyond SSRN, abstracts are important to catch a potential reader's attention and motivate the reader to continue reading your article.

Eugene Volokh, a professor at UCLA School of Law and author of Academic Legal Writing, devotes a section of his book to writing abstracts. From the draft section of the book: 

"The abstract is an advertisement for your article. True, you don’t want money from your “customers” (the audience) — you want their time and attention. But their attention is scarce, and lots of authors are competing for it. You want readers to “buy” your article in one of two ways:
  • by reading the article (or at least the Introduction) right away, or
  • by remembering it (even if just vaguely) for the future, so that when the underlying issues becomes important to them, they can find and read the article then."
"You need to quickly show them this value. You need to clearly and tersely tell the reader (1) what problem the article is trying to solve, and (2) what valuable original observations the article offers. Naturally, the abstract can’t go into much detail. But it has to at least give the reader a general idea of what the article contributes."

Volokh offers sample abstracts and discusses the pros and cons of each. Keeping these concepts in mind, it is also important to try to use pertinent keywords in your abstract to aid in discoverability. 

For more information on writing abstracts, see Colorado State University's guide to writing abstracts