Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Gaming the Article Title



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 friends teasing me for the boring headline, I posted the exact same article, with the exact same abstract, but with a new, click-baity title: "Inventor Sued for Infringing His Own Patent. You Won't Believe What Happened Next." I did this in part as a joke, and in part as an unscientific test to see how susceptible law professors were to clickbait.

The answer is, quite susceptible indeed. In less than two hours on a Friday night the number of views for this "new" article surpassed the old one. In 26 hours, by late Saturday, more people had downloaded the new article than the old one, even though before downloading you are exposed to the same old boring abstract. And by the end of the weekend, the article had been viewed nearly six times as often as the original and downloaded three times as often as the original.

The article will soon appear in the Houston Law Review under its old, boring title. But it sure looks like titles matter.

Authors would do well to keep this in mind when naming an article. This, coupled with a long, jargon-filled abstract, may just be the key to article impact success.

Monday, December 5, 2016

How the Librarians Saved History: Harvesting Government Information

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, and returned in 2012.

The ritual has taken on greater urgency this year, Mr. Phillips said, out of concern that certain pages may be more vulnerable than usual because they contain scientific data for which Mr. Trump and some of his allies have expressed hostility or contempt.

And this small group can use all of the help it can get. People can contribute to the effort by proposing a web page for preservation by the archives. Proposed pages should be on federal websites, since many states also use .gov in their addresses. A simple tool for nominating a page is at digital2.library.unt.edu/nomination/eth2016/.


As the article author notes, for the 10 people working on laptops at the academy, hunting for important federal records, another title might serve: How the Librarians Saved History.

Friday, December 2, 2016

AI as Premature Law Librarian Disruptor

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 2100 and beyond.

Even when a computer program starts to do pragmatic-level natural language processing, it will still take time for it to master and emulate what the human brain can do on the pragmatic front. The more low-level tasks of lawyers and law librarians will go quickly (think finding a case by citation or party name).

But the high level, context driven, creative tasks will take much more time for computers to master. We may inevitably need fewer lawyers and law librarians over time, but AI will mostly work to augment our human brains. Personally, I would love them help.

What we all must be cognizant of is the notion of "premature disruption" – losing valuable players (lawyers and librarians) before the technology is truly ready to replace them. ROSS, for example, is really good at PR, but stakeholders must be careful to avoid premature disruption. ROSS is a great tool that will augment lawyers and librarians, but it will not replace us. And it won't replace us for the foreseeable future.

It's important that we all arm ourselves with this information so that the various stakeholders understand AI's current capabilities. I will spend December & January finalizing a full-length piece on this topic. More to come...

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Legal Research Clinic Bridges Gap to Help Community

Cornell Law School has started a Legal Research Clinic where 2Ls & 3Ls help local residents, nonprofit organizations, and entrepreneurs with specific questions that do not require full legal representation. The students also assist public-interest lawyers who need legal research assistance, which is a wonderful way to provide greater access to justice.

The director of the Legal Research Clinic, Amy Emerson, noted that she was often trying to construct artificial issues for students to research. At the same time, people from the community were coming to the library with legal questions, but librarians are not supposed to give legal advice.

As Emerson noted, the Legal Research Clinic was a way to bridge the gap. The Clinic meets the community's needs while giving the students very practical experience.

The broad range of topics is what makes this legal clinic unique, said Emerson. Most clinics focus on a defined area of law, forcing them to turn away requests outside of their specialty. In this clinic, students and their instructors (students cannot give legal advice, so the instructors, who are attorneys, are always present) research and offer answers in many areas of law to specific questions, large or small.

Great work Amy Emerson & Cornell! There is no better way to teach legal research than with real clients asking a wide variety of questions.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

ABA Journal Names The Ginger (Law) Librarian to Blawg 100

Editors of the ABA Journal announced today they have named The Ginger (Law) Librarian to the Blawg 100  -- one of the 100 best blogs for a legal audience.

“For 10 years, the Blawg 100 has helped shine a light on the stunning breadth of legal topics and voices to found in the legal blogosphere,” Acting Editor-Publisher Molly McDonough said. “Journal editors have selected yet another stellar list of blogs. We hope you’ll find legal information sources in this list that are completely new to you and bookmark them for regular reading.”

Other law librarian honorees include, Dewey B Strategic, Jean P. O'Grady; In Custodia Legis, Law Library Congress; and beSpacific, Sabrina Pacifici.

Thanks to the ABA and Molly McDonough for this wonderful honor.

About the ABA Journal:
The ABA Journal is the flagship magazine of the American Bar Association, and it is read by half of the nation’s 1.1 million lawyers every month. It covers the trends, people and finances of the legal profession from Wall Street to Main Street to Pennsylvania Avenue. ABAJournal.com features breaking legal news updated as it happens by staff reporters throughout every business day, a directory of more than 4,000 lawyer blogs, and the full contents of the magazine.

About the ABA:
With nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Information Literacy Now: Most Students Can't Spot Fake News

The Wall Street Journal is reporting on a new study out of Stanford that shows that preteens and teens are clueless about evaluating the accuracy and trustworthiness of "news."

Some 82% of middle schoolers couldn’t distinguish between an ad labeled “sponsored content” and a real news story on a website, according to a Stanford University study of 7,804 students from middle school through college. 

The study, set for release Tuesday, is the biggest so far on how teens evaluate information they find online. Many students judged the credibility of newsy tweets based on how much detail they contained or whether a large photo was attached, rather than on the source.

More than two out of three middle-schoolers couldn’t see any valid reason to mistrust a post written by a bank executive arguing that young adults need more financial-planning help. And nearly four in 10 high-school students believed, based on the headline, that a photo of deformed daisies on a photo-sharing site provided strong evidence of toxic conditions near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, even though no source or location was given for the photo.

As mentioned in a previous post, librarians are at the forefront of the war on fake news. Our main mission is to teach information literacy. Or maybe the correct terminology is that librarians should be on the forefront of the war on fake news. Fewer schools now have librarians, who traditionally taught research skills. And media literacy has slipped to the margins in many classrooms, to make room for increased instruction in basic reading and math skills.

Many think that the value of librarians is decreasing now that "everything is online." However, the fake news phenomena is a perfect example of why, in this day and age, librarians are more important than ever.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Librarians at Forefront on War Against Fake News

The Verge recently interviewed a librarian about the abundance of fake news. It's a real problem, and concern has escalated since the presidential election.

The central focus of the concern is Facebook, which has grown beyond a social platform and is now a key information distributor from which 44 percent of Americans get their news. Google and Facebook both recently announced that they would block fake news sources from using their ad networks. All of this is compounded by the reality that a lot of people don’t know fake news when they see it, sensationalized reports are more likely to go viral on social media than sane ones, and distrust of traditional (and genuinely more reliable) media sources is rising.

As Verge points out, librarians are well positioned to tackle the fake news problem. Librarians... we’ve always talked about information literacy. Information literacy is just trying to get people to be savvy consumers of information, and getting them to be able to really interrogate the information that is available to them, to see what is quality, to evaluate sources, et cetera. 

And many librarians see this as a problem of information overload. We’re just inundated with so much information it becomes just more difficult to parse out where the quality information is. And these fake news sites are increasingly savvy. We used to talk to students about “How does the website look? Does it look like you could have done it on your laptop or does it look like there’s a corporation behind it?” We used to and still do look at the url: “Is it a .net, is it a .org?” But these new sites are so savvy, the interfaces can be really slick, and they can look a lot like what we consider to be reputable sources. There’s is also now a lot of manipulation of the domains. I saw something not too long ago that had “.edu.co.” We say that if it has an “edu” it’s a reputable site but there’s that added manipulation with the “.co.” It becomes trickier to identify these deceitful sites right away unless you’re really paying attention and doing due diligence. 

The main takeaway to reduce fake news sources is to actually take the time to evaluate a source before you decide to forward it as truth. If you see something on Facebook or Twitter, a lot of people get caught up with just forwarding information without actually reading the article or examining the site. When you see a very salacious headline or something that’s challenging, sometimes the inclination is to forward it without checking. You have to ask: does this appear in multiple places or did you only see it on Facebook? This misinformation is perpetuated because people aren’t taking the time to evaluate sources before they accept it as truth and / or pass it on to others. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Library as Heart of Institution not "Vanity Projects"

In an Instagram video, former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren proclaimed that she is “scandalized” by the cost of education and how college students are saddled with “gigantic student loans.” Law schools are certainly at the forefront of this criticism as nearly 85% of law students graduate with over $100,000 in student debt.

Van Susteren went on to post similar comments on Twitter, exclaiming, “Colleges should stop building vanity projects like huge libraries and billing students -- full libraries are on our smartphones!”

As noted on InsideHigherEd, those comments ... are destructively misleading to the general public as well as higher education administrators and legislative decision makers about the significant contributions academic libraries make to teaching and learning.

Academic librarians play a vital part in the education ecosystem, putting information into context for students by distinguishing information from knowledge and offering direct assistance to constituents in a personal way that cannot be replicated by an electronic device. In addition, students who receive information-literacy instruction as part of their courses achieve higher grades and demonstrate increased research fluency than students who do not receive such instruction. Further, a library’s research and study areas offer a destination for those who can’t afford quiet space as well as fostering social and academic community among students. 

Far from being tangential to the learning process on our college campuses, libraries -- the physical buildings themselves -- are as essential to the classroom as an artery is to the heart. Or as I have previously posted, maybe it's the other way around with the classroom being an artery to the heart of the institution, i.e, the library.

Academic libraries provide, in part:

  • (for the haves and the have-nots) spaces or commons -- primarily “high-tech ready” in nature -- that offer general and subject-specific equipment, software and web-delivered content for individual access and study. They also offer collaborative spaces for students to work together with each other in small groups and with classroom faculty to study and create content.
  • spaces for STEM and STEAM discovery or maker space environments for students anywhere in the program or the curriculum -- especially those who don’t have access to departmental labs, where spaces are often reserved for students majoring in those specific areas.
  • open labs and flexible, individual computer spaces with equipment and software unique to special research or subject area populations, such as geographic information systems or statistical software packages to process data used in the study of social and natural sciences. They also serve special needs students, faculty members and staff.

Academic libraries provide not only access to content within their buildings but also equipment and technology that students can check out and use in their educational pursuits. (This takes space for not only storage but also delivery of resources.)

Additionally, academic library professionals, often faculty members themselves, are experts in areas of research, and they work in partnership with classroom instructors in the design and delivery of curricula. They also:
  • partner with classroom faculty members in the design and delivery of courses requiring critical thinking and information literacy as well as subject-targeted assignments;
  • are champions for and leaders in open educational resources that provide vetted, free content for students who can’t afford textbooks, a large part of the price tag of college;
  • build digital as well as print collections to reflect classroom faculty research, recommended research by other experts and subject content required by external regional and national accreditation bodies -- such as digital and print content for the health sciences and business-management curricula; and,
  • acquire, curate, design and deliver online content and competency lessons (online tutorials, streamed office hours with library experts) for students to access on their smartphones.
While facilities are a huge issue for keeping costs under control, it is shortsighted to take aim at the library. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

RIPS Law Librarian Blog - The Skills Needed for Summer Associate Research

Lexis released a new report outlining the time that summer associates spend on legal research. The report also highlights where additional research instruction is needed.

Check out the full announcement over at the RIPS Law Librarian Blog.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Librarianship as Profession

I was completely inspired by reading a post on the RIPS Law Librarian Blog by my friend and colleague, Paul Gatz.

The post, in essence, is a reminder that librarianship is its own profession. We need this reminder because we are often relegated to a "supplementary or secondary character" within our institutions. And, to be sure, law librarians do provide the service that is often thought of as supplementary or secondary. As noted: We pride ourselves on the high level and quality of service that we provide to our patrons – performing research, developing collections, and even crafting mission statements based on the needs of our primary institutions, whether law school, firm, or court

But we are more than that. Service is no doubt a necessary function of any library, but that recognition need not commit us to the idea that the library is a secondary or supplementary institution or that service occupies the whole of our professional identity as librarians. 

Indeed, at first glance, the library’s function is to provide information services of a high quality. But, with a sudden shift in perspective, we may see that the work we do in providing that service itself creates the library, an information system the value of which transcends any particular service.

What a wonderful, well-stated reminder that law librarianship is a profession with an identity far beyond the supplementary or secondary nature that it is often characterized as. Especially on the days when others think that this career is a default for people who didn't do well at something else. The reality is that many of us chose this profession because we saw value and believed in it.

This leads me to a post on InsideHigherEd where the author argues that librarians are falling short of their profession's needs. The author notes that when researching libraries, there's not enough information from the profession itself. To round out his literature review on libraries, the author had to "tap deeply into non-library and information studies literature." The author erroneously determines that LIS educators and researchers must not recognize the value in "library as place" ideals because they do not write about it. He notes that people outside of the profession and "already overworked library practitioners" have taken the initiative to research and write about the profession, and asks "where is the LIS research community?"

This may be the wrong question to ask, however. My first inclination, based on my knowledge of academia and the number of tenure-track positions nationwide (and where LIS faculty fall in funding), is that would-be LIS researchers can't meaningfully exist. How many faculty members in LIS programs across the country are tenure track with the full support to research and write in-depth studies on "longitudinal studies evaluating library activities...?"

It's important work that must be done, but it's nearly impossible to perform meaningful research while not being supported to do so. The right question to ask would be "where are the LIS programs that support a meaningful LIS research community?"

Librarianship is an important profession that has a lot to say. However ,because we are often treated as supplementary or secondary within our institutions, we don't have a lot of time or support to say it.