Friday, August 23, 2013

Three Clicks Too Many Or Student-Researcher Impatience?

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education revisited the notion that our student researchers are not very patient today. If the students find an online database too laborious, they will skip it.

The particular librarian who wrote the article had the following exchange with one of his faculty members:
 “Brian, I want you to know that it’s getting harder for me to get students to use the library— especially the databases— anything beyond three clicks is just too many.”

As Brian put it, "[i]f our super users (history faculty) are frustrated with database interfaces – what does that mean? Many of us spend a lot of time promoting library resources to students, but if faculty stop encouraging (or requiring) usage—what then?"

This goes back to my post about print books and convenience. It appears that researchers no longer want to take the time to look in books or spend time really delving into online databases for research. If they can find information through Google or Wikipedia, then they are done. This makes for very narrow scholarship where everyone is citing to the two or three articles that happen to be uploaded to an open access source available through Google.

As one commenter put it: "I have seen students go way beyond three clicks to access online information when it concerns shopping and downloading media. Students may not want to learn to use online research databases, but that doesn't mean that the databases themselves are too hard to use. Students I meet with at the reference desk often tell me that don't like using online databases because they have to open individual articles and read them to find the information they're looking for."

It seems that society is breeding these fast-paced, instant gratification research habits that will hurt the academe in the long run. Really thorough research still requires an online catalog and books. We are not at a point where everything is digital (and still have a long way to go to get there), and we are going to lose out on a lot of recorded knowledge and wonderful resources unless we decide to take the time and dig in.

With that I am headed to Isle Royale National Park for one week of hiking. I'll see you on the flip side.



Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Metaliteracy MOOC

For those interested in all-things MOOC, there is a new MOOC specific to metaliteracy.

The class appears to run from August 26 - December 18.

From the website:
In collaboration with Empire State College and the University at Albany, this is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that examines metaliteracy as a comprehensive approach to information literacy in the social media age.  Metaliteracy provides a metacognitive perspective that empowers learners to produce and share information in participatory social media environments. It also introduces an overarching framework for related literacy types, such as visual literacy, digital literacy, and media literacy, in connection to an expanded metaliteracy structure. As a metaliteracy cMOOC this learning experience will be collaboratively produced and delivered by scholars from around the world with expertise in emerging literacies. These terms will be discussed within a metaliteracy viewpoint that unifies complementary approaches to literacy with a self-empowering metacognitive perspective.  Learners will engage in an open online environment using some of the online resources that have inspired metaliteracy, including blogs, video conferencing, twitter, online discussions, and collaborative online communities.

What is Metaliteracy?

Metaliteracy promotes critical thinking and collaboration in a digital age, providing a comprehensive framework to effectively participate in social media and online communities. It is a unified construct that supports the acquisition, production, and sharing of knowledge in collaborative online communities. Metaliteracy challenges traditional skills-based approaches to information literacy by recognizing related literacy types and incorporating emerging technologies. Standard definitions of information literacy are insufficient for the revolutionary social technologies currently prevalent online (Mackey & Jacobson, Reframing Information as a Metaliteracy, 2011, 62-62)

This concept is important for legal scholars today. Legal scholars still rely on an what some believe is an outmoded way of communicating ideas and adding to the field with the traditional law review article. "But when it comes to discussion of timely controversies, slash-and-thrust debates, and other forms of writing that people actually go out of their way to read, there's no doubt where talented legal academics are headed: to blogs and other shorter-form online publications."

Metaliteracy is an important way to push information out to the public. Legal scholars should be familiar with emerging technologies because these technologies allow legal scholars to reach a wider audience. One of the main criticisms of the traditional law review article is that no one reads them.

Even though I blog, use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, these technologies are always changing and new ones are emerging. If you want to reach a wider audience and promote your work or find all relevant information, it's imperative to stay on top of these technologies and understand how to use them (hashtags, handles). This MOOC is right on time.

The Atlantic -- Abolish the Law Reviews!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

ABA Continues To Contemplate Legal Ed. Reform

The Law Librarian Blog brought a recent National Law Journal article to my attention that summarizes the changes in accreditation rules supported by the ABA's Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar. Chairman Kent Syverud described the changes in accreditation rules as the most "momentous" reforms the section has pursued in recent history. Some of those changes would eliminate rules deemed too onerous, while others are intended to encourage schools to innovate.

"The most controversial change is the elimination of the tenure requirement for doctrinal faculty.  There are others.  The Council voted to eliminate the 30 to 1 student faculty ratio.  Students can earn up to 15 credit hours via distance learning.  The previous cap was 12.  Full-time J.D. Students will be able to work more than 20 a week, eliminating the rule setting that limit."

As noted, these changes are a step in the right direction to greater autonomy for law schools. "Greater flexibility means schools can experiment more in how they organize and charge for their programs."

I am on the fence about tenure because there are faculty who express unpopular ideas but still add to legal scholarship through their views. Without tenure, there is not the same safeguard and academic freedom to do so. I also am not necessarily a huge fan of the elimination of the 30 to 1 student faculty ratio? Does this mean that law schools would only need four professors to teach the curriculum? With huge classes? Yikes.

I anticipated the move toward more distance learning credits, and thank goodness they are finally discussing the elimination of working no more than 20 hours per week. I worked 40+ hours per week to cover my living expenses because I hated the thought of taking out loans for rent and food. I think that most law students could still successfully fulfill their legal education requirements even while working. I wonder if more schools will open part-time or weekend sections to attract the more nontraditional working student? 

All in all, it's really great to see the ABA taking steps and discussing reform. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Law Schools Still Reacting To Drop In Enrollment

So far we've heard about Seton Hall, Vermont, Florida Coastal, and McGeorge reducing staff size. Now it's Thomas Jefferson's turn.

From Above the Law: 
"The law school in question is none other than the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, and it is kicking off the new academic year with 12 fewer employees, thanks to a series of layoffs and budget cuts to the tune of a [4.4] million dollars. Thomas Guernsey, who took over [from Rudy Hasl] as dean of the school on July 1, said Thursday that some adjunct faculty and other staff members were laid off. Fourteen classes that had low enrollment or were highly specialized were eliminated, he said. Lori Wulfemeyer, head of communications at the school, said the layoffs leave about 65 full-time employees at the school."

Things got interesting when the new enrollment numbers shed light on exactly what TJSL was working with. From Law Librarian Blog: At this point, "there are 385,358 Fall 2013 applications submitted by 59,426 applicants. Applicants are down 12.3% and applications are down 17.9% from 2012. Last year at this time, we had 100% of the preliminary final applicant (and application) count."

"It seems that TJSL optimistically expected to meet its regular enrollment goal of 350 new students, but only 250 have signed up thus far. 'There are a number of law schools across the country having to adjust their budgets because of fewer applications coming in, and it finally hit us,' Wulfemeyer said in the school’s defense."

The added challenge for TJSL is that the school is paying for an eight-story, 305,000-square-foot building it opened in downtown San Diego in 2011. The project put the school $133 million in debt. Guernsey said the recent cutbacks will help the school continue to pay down the debt on schedule.

Thomas Guernsey took the reigns at a difficult time. He just became dean on July 1, and he has obviously had to make unpopular and challenging decisions. I wish them the best of luck. And I am glad to report that their law librarian is safe.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Gitmo Prison Library

The prison library at Guantanamo Bay detention camp is strange. When I think about libraries, I think about the highest sense of freedom. Librarians are generally against censorship, and libraries provide information free and clear of use prohibitions.

Not so at Gitmo. "The prison library is housed in a prefabricated building behind chain-link fencing and razor wire inside Camp Delta, an older, largely disused wing of the complex. [I]ts patrons may not browse the stacks. Instead, the chief librarian, a civilian who asks to be identified as “Milton” for security reasons, or an aide fills plastic bins with about 50 books and takes them to each cellblock once a week. If they obey prison rules, the 166 detainees may peer at the spines through the slots in their doors and check out two titles at a time, or make specific requests.The library has about 18,000 books — roughly 9,000 titles — the bulk of which are in Arabic, along with a smaller selection of periodicals, DVDs and video games."

"Books are screened out if they include too much profanity, anti-American or extremist themes, or too much sex and violence." Although 'Milton' did note that “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” made it through the filter (so did 1984). But some John Grisham novels did not.

After recent news that some John Grisham novels were banned, Grisham shared the story of one of his fans detained at Gitmo.

Some of the prisoners have been detained for over a decade with no end in sight. At least they get this library amenity if they follow prison rules. So I guess this doesn't apply if they don't eat. And I'm not sure that the idealistic nature of a library (see beginning of post) matters in this case. Even if there was access to information about laws for the prisoners, many of them have never been charged with a crime. That makes it difficult to fight the nature of your detention. The sensory deprivation might come in handy while reading "The Odyssey," however.

If you would like to see more of the collection, after a visit to the Gitmo library, several reporters posted photos on http://gitmobooks.tumblr.com.

Friday, August 16, 2013

An Analysis Of Attorney Legal Research

The Law Librarian Blog posted about an interesting paper that all law librarians should read. It reflects on how new attorneys are performing legal research.

Steve Lastres, Director of Library & Knowledge Management at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, analyzed the results of a recent survey conducted by The Research Intelligence Group called 'New Attorney Research Methods Survey.' Survey respondents "included 190 young attorneys equally represented by large and small law firms across a variety of practice areas. Nearly forty percent of the respondents were 28 or younger, in practice for five or less years, and a quarter of the respondents were recent law school graduates from the class of 2011 or 2012."

Key findings from the survey:
  • Newer attorneys spend more than 30% of their time doing legal research
  • Approximately 50% of associates think legal research should be a larger part of the law school curriculum
  • Over 80% of associates use an extensive range of content from traditional primary law and secondary materials to News, Court Transcripts, Verdicts, Dockets, Public Records and more.
  • Legal Classification systems are rarely used (only 12% begin with a legal classification system)
  • Attorneys use free online research resources but spend most of their time, over 8 hours per week using paid-for online research services.
Key recommendations from the author on what law schools and employers can do to update and enhance legal research instruction:
  • Adjusting time allocated to hard copy vs. online research
  • Reducing emphasis on legal classification systems
  • Mastering use of treatises and other highly used sources such as legal news, regulatory materials and public records.
All good stuff. We need to know how our constituents are performing research, so we can instruct properly. But I am still concerned about the heavy use of online content. As I've mentioned a few times, of the 2 million unique volumes contained in America’s law libraries, only about 15 percent are available in digital form -- this includes the material on propriety databases.

I fear that we are in a pre- and post-Internet research age where our research and scholarship will become increasingly narrow because of the over reliance on electronic sources. During our instruction, should we put heavy emphasis on this fact, or should we understand that it probably won't make a difference?

I think a lot about the role of librarians today, and I think it comes down to getting our patrons the relevant information in a way that they prefer to access it (generally electronically). Even with my reservations over the Google Books Project and having the world's knowledge digitized under one entity, I do think that the transformative nature of the ability to search within the text of a book is revolutionary. And it helps to meet our new found goal. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Bar Is Over -- Now What?

It's that time of year when this question pops up a lot. What should a law school graduate who recently took the bar do during the purgatory between taking the bar and getting the results?

FindLaw ran a post yesterday discussing this topic, and I agree with their suggestions:

1. Update Your Resume
2. Update LinkedIn
3. Get Fit
4. Start Networking

All great ideas. You want to have your resume in order to give it out at a moment's notice. LinkedIn is essential in this day and age. It's not only your electronic resume, but it also works for networking purposes. And you can add additional content through a blog (like I do).

Getting fit is a no-brainer. It's time to shed that weight you put on during those sedentary law school years. Not only will it help you land a job, but you'll feel better and be more centered while waiting for your bar results.

Networking is vital because getting a job is a lot about who you know. This is often the one thing that differentiates you from the rest of the pack.

The one thing that I think is missing from the list is taking care of your student loans. Nearly 85% of law school graduates have $100,000 in student debt, so make sure to take the necessary steps to create a manageable repayment plan. You don't want creditors harassing you, and if your loans get out of hand, it could reflect poorly on your character and fitness.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Lawyers Are Working Longer - You Don't Say?

From the ABA Journal, "[t]he median age of lawyers has jumped from 39 in 1980 to 49 in 2005, suggesting that the bad job market for new lawyers may be attributable to demographic factors rather than permanent changes in the job market, a law professor says."

From Witnesseth: Law, Deals & Data, Pepperdine University law professor Robert Anderson attributes the oversupply of lawyers to many lawyers waiting longer to retire because of 401(k) accounts decimated by the financial crisis and the bulge of Baby Boomers still working their way through the system.

But we've seen that all of money lost since 2008 has been regained, so more older lawyers may have the wherewithal to retire, freeing up more jobs for law grads.

“Of course, there are those who argue that there have been permanent, structural changes to the legal market that will reduce the number of legal jobs,” Anderson writes, “and there is no denying that law school tuition remains daunting. But the demographic factors suggest the real culprit in the law school graduates' jobs dilemma of today may be the law school graduates of four decades ago.”

But, as one of my friend's noted, "failing to account for its membership living and working longer is another big oversight by the ABA in regulating the profession's size."

We are seeing this in the library field, as well. While in library school, we were constantly told that the majority of librarians were near retirement age, and they would free up jobs for us just in time for graduation. But that didn't pan out. Nearly everyone stayed on the job in the years following the financial collapse. Since the recovery, though, we have seen movement in the field. More librarians are starting to retire, but many full-time positions are being replaced with two part-time positions that don't offer benefits.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Students Paying Twice For The Same Content

There was a post on InsideHigherEd the other day about duplicative spending on library holdings.

Professors often assign articles for additional reading or inclusion in coursepacks, and many "[c]ollege students ... spend hundreds of thousands of dollars extra per year on buying rights for digital versions of readings to which they have free access [through their library]."

Stanford University, for one, wanted to see exactly how much duplicative spending was occurring. They "found that more than $100,000 was being spent, mostly by students, on course materials that could be found in the 1,200 databases the university spends millions of dollars to make available. Stanford analyzed its own records from July 2010 to June 2011. About 60 percent of the course materials the university sought to license from the Copyright Clearance Center for student coursepacks was already among Stanford’s library holdings."

The question is, why is this happening? "This is because faculty and students are often unaware of what is already available. 'The hurdles to knowing what we have are high,' said Catherine Tierney, Stanford’s associate university librarian for technical services, 'so that the T.A.s or the department admins or the faculty person herself doesn’t even know what we have.'"

The solution to rein in duplicative spending lies in a more effective way of checking library holdings against copyright clearance requests for coursepacks, etc.... Thus, Stanford created the Stanford Intellectual Property Exchange (SIPX). "It allows faculty to compile digital reading lists. It can check to see what readings are freely available, which would prevent the sort of inadvertent double-spending that Stanford found. It will also automate the purchase of individual texts from a variety of publishers that do require new licenses to use in class."

A few of the commenters offered the ways that their libraries prevent this problem. "At Central Michigan University (CMU), all requests for e-reserves go through the library's Course Reserves and Copyright Services office. Every item to be placed on reserve is automatically checked against the library's holdings to see if we own it before external rights are sought and fees paid. This checking is built into the reserves processing workflow, effectively preventing double payment like this."

I can attest to the effectiveness of CMU's system. When I was an undergraduate student there, the Course Reserves system was highly utilized by professors, and it ran seamlessly. And now, as a librarian, I understand the pains that they went through to make sure I, as a student, wasn't double spending.

Thank goodness that this issue is getting press. With the unprecedented price of tuition, every institution should be doing all that it can to make sure that students are not unnecessarily wasting money. This also shows that libraries need to offer better instruction and outreach on what the library owns. Our faculty need to be more aware of what the institution already has access to before requiring students to purchase a second copy.

Monday, August 12, 2013

NPR's Public Library Series

NPR is running a special series called "Keys To The Whole World: American Public Libraries."

Here is a rundown of the series so far:

How Andrew Carnegie Turned His Fortune Into A Library Legacy
Andrew Carnegie was once the richest man in the world. Coming as a dirt poor kid from Scotland to the U.S., by the 1880s he'd built an empire in steel — and then gave it all away: $60 million to fund a system of 1,689 public libraries across the country.

Libraries' Leading Roles: On Stage, On Screen And In Song
NPR's Bob Mondello visits some notable libraries in popular culture: Jorge Luis Borges' Library of Babel; Lucien's Library in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman; and the stacks in Buffy, Hogwarts, Doctor Who and Fahrenheit 451.

For Disaster Preparedness: Pack A Library Card?
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, libraries in New York helped storm victims find documents, fill out forms, connect to the Internet and plan how to rebuild. There's a growing awareness of the important role libraries can play in disaster relief.

At Libraries Across America, It's Game On
In the 1800s, British libraries used gaming rooms to lure patrons away from pubs. Now, across the country, libraries are using video games to attract millennials — and the goal isn't always educational.

And on the air: E-Books Strain Relations Beween Libraries, Publishing Houses

It's wonderful to see our treasured National Public Radio take note of our treasured public library system.

Friday, August 9, 2013

ABA Task Force's White Paper Causes A Stir

The ABA Task Force On The Future Of Legal Education released a white paper on August 1, 2013, calling for substantial change in legal education. 

Brian Leiter, a Law Prof out of the University of Chicago wrote a two part blog series on the paper highlighting many of the pertinent parts. 

From Part I:
Sections VII and VIII contain the key recommendations of the Task Force.  Section VII is billed as "themes addressed to all parties," of which there are eight key ones (excluding the final recommendation that the Task Force's work be "institutionalized" within the ABA).  Three strike me as excellent and overdue, namely:

"There should be greater heterogeneity in law schools" (p. 23-24).  That's certainly a theme I've mentioned in the past.  There's heterogeneity not just in colleges and universities (of which there are many more), but also even in medical schools (a fact captured even by U.S. News, which ranks "research" schools separately from "teaching" schools [though the latter also do research]).
"There should be greater heterogeneity in programs that deliver law-related education" (p. 25).  This is part of a general and sensible theme in the WP, namely, that there need to be systems of certification for certain kinds of legal professionals "who are qualified to provide limited law-related services without the oversight of a lawyer" (p. 25).
"The regulation and licensing of law-related services should support mobility and diversity of legal services" (p. 28).  Again, there's no point in heterogeneity of law schools and law-related programs, if there isn't a change in regulation and licensing of those providing different kinds of legal services.

This corresponds with the call for a multi-tiered system of legal education and practice. Under this system, a prospective law student could choose one of many tracks he or she would like to pursue and also choose a law school curriculum that best supports the chosen track.

Part II of Leiter's series discusses the cost/benefit analysis of law school and market forces that drive it. It's worth a look. 
Paul Horwitz at PrawfsBlawg discusses how this white paper is too little, too late: 

"A few things are clear from the content, and lack of content, in the ABA working paper. The “lost generation,” the kids who came out of law school over the past few years and found themselves saddled with huge debt and no jobs, are screwed. There is nothing in there for them.

The task force adopts the facile position that it’s counterproductive to moralize or blame, which will no doubt be applauded by those who deserve blame, including the ABA. Except the failure to do so avoids the hard task of understanding responsibility, cause and effect and bearing the consequences of the past.

There are parties at fault, and without calling them out for their fault, they get to enjoy the benefits of their selfishness and greed without consequence, as if it never happened. It happened. There is pain to be endured, and it should be meted out according to fault. That won’t happen. And with no price to be paid, there is no reason to suspect the same parties won’t try to spin this to their advantage again.

One of the most obvious, and critical failings, that the ABA has cranked out more lawyers than society can support, is ignored through some glib “public benefit” language, but while the concept sounds lovely and more than a little Utopian, it fails to deal with the issue of how they’re supposed to eat. It’s a glaring hole.

On the other hand, there are some good ideas in there for future law students, lawyers and the public. The paper suggests that law school doesn’t exist as a home for lawprofs to write esoteric articles, but to teach students how to become lawyers, though it doesn’t come out and clearly state that this has to change.

Is it enough? Is it better than nothing? Will it save the law schools and the legal profession from imploding, from being crushed under its own self-serving weight?  Is it a start?  Is it too little, too late?

Frankly, it’s more than I would have expected from the ABA, but then I’m neither a fan of the association nor a believer that it was capable of cleaning up this mess. So it’s better than I anticipated. But while it treats some of the symptoms, it’s not enough to cure the disease..."
Horowitz has some good points, but as another recent paper points out, there is still an economic value of a law degree. In most cases, those who went to law school will still be in a better position. The authors found that median additional lifetime earnings for those with a law degree were $610,000. That means half of law school graduates made more and half less than this amount over their lifetime. So even at the 25th percentile, lifetime additional earnings were $350,000.

This coupled with Income Based Repayment and/or Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and it's an even better deal. 

Although many recent graduates are feeling despair, it is common for new attorneys to feel this way. With just a few exceptions, the longer lawyers have been out of law school, the more satisfied they are overall with their careers.

One thing is certain. It is time for the legal academe to take note -- things must change. The white paper warns law schools to make these changes and not fall into the trap of thinking that this is a transient period where things will soon return to 'normal.' Nearly everyone agrees that this is our new reality, and I applaud the ABA for finally starting to lead the way. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Don't Just Find A Source -- Learn About Something

When students are assigned research papers (really at any level of education), there is undue attention paid to sources. The professor might tell the student, "I want you to find twenty sources. And within those twenty sources, five must be print, five must be journal articles, and the remaining ten are of your choice. Oh and don't cite Wikipedia."

The theory behind this is that the students will learn valuable lessons about finding sources such as how to use a library or vetting for reliability. So what's the problem? Recent studies "tell us that students can find sources; the trouble is they don’t read them, or they read only enough to find a useful quote, or they choose sources that are not particularly insightful ones, or their paper becomes merely a description of the sources they’ve found with little analysis or original thought. A more sophisticated mistake is to seek out only sources that support a previously-held belief."

A preprint of an article proposes a solution: "stop talking about 'finding sources.' Frame the work as learning about something. When sources are viewed as containers, it potentially diverts attention away from the content of the sources themselves. Likewise, a discourse of 'learning about' directs attention to the content of sources. If internalized, both of these conceptions might serve as psychological tools that mediate how students view and engage in the research process."

This process is more ambiguous than simply finding sources. The student will have to use research strategy to learn about the issue, then continuously revise their research to fill in holes. 

"First 'I want to find out about X,' which requires wide but shallow exploration. Then 'The question I have about X is . . .' which requires a more focused search. And finally 'I think . . . about X, and here’s why,' which means organizing ideas, coming to conclusions, and drawing on the evidence available (which may require further searching if a hole appears)."

It wasn't until I read this article that I realized I was inadvertently using the more ambiguous, 'learn something' method of research in my Scholarly Writing class. I don't require any set number of specific resources, but we do discuss reliability and how the use of various resources can make a paper stronger. For example, I expect my students to do novel analysis of primary legal authority instead of merely relying on secondary sources. But the use of secondary sources is appropriate to substantiate an argument, especially for a law student who is not seen as an expert in the field. 

Most of the law students are comfortable with this practice, and it generally eliminates the misuse of resources just to meet a quota -- like pulling a quote out of context. In the higher education writing and library worlds, we must be cognizant of this issue so that our students are fully equipped to find and analyze a source. It's not enough to find a book, pull a quote, and call it good. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Resources From The Conference Of Law Library Educators

The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) recently held its annual meeting & conference in Seattle. Although I could not attend this year, there have been numerous emails discussing the events of the meeting. While perusing these emails, I found many valuable resources at the Conference of Law Library Educators' website.

Here, you will find updated information about:

I, for one, will take advantage of the course syllabi to compare teaching methods. I will also look at professional development books and articles. Looking at the competencies for law librarianship and the competencies for information professionals is enlightening. The competencies for information professionals are not as specific. The competencies for information professionals may be the wave of the future, especially considering that some former library science programs are now information science programs that lean more toward information professionals. 

This website is a wonderful aggregator of law librarianship material. It's a hidden gem that more people should be aware of. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

In Praise Of The Print Book

It seems that since the beginning of the print book, society has been predicting the end of the print book. Portending the end of the print book got louder with the advent of the computer, and it's only gotten louder with the ebook.

In fact, just the other day, I helped an older attorney find books, search in a database, print, and copy. When we were finished with all of those transactions, he asked, "what are you going to do when all of these books go away?" I replied with, "actually, only about 15% of the two million volumes available in print in law libraries are currently available in digital form. We have a long way to go before the books go away completely."

But it seems to be common public perception that we don't need books anymore. To which I ask, why does it have to be all or nothing? I am all for technological advances, but it doesn't mean that print has to go away.

There was an interesting essay on the InsideHigherEd blog about how MOOCs and books are alike. Here are a few snippets:
  • Books are mobile, ubiquitous and comprehensive. A student devoting the requisite time and attention to a book will acquire as complete an understanding of the course material as from a MOOC.
  • Students can, and have, mastered college courses studying alone from books, and the same will be true for MOOCs. More likely will be the use of MOOCs as supplementary and support material for a conventional course -- again, just like books.

I like MOOCs, and I like books. I do not understand why one must replace the other. I like to read from ebooks, and I like to read from print books. Again, I do not understand why one must replace the other. 

Print books still work, and they will always work. They aren't dependent on the grid, and they have proven longevity. We will not need new hardware or software to read print books. In my opinion, print books are still the most reliable form of information, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. So here's to the print book. May print continue a long and healthy life.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Work Hero Trap

I read this post on Lifehacker recently, and it struck a chord. The gist is that you shouldn't try to be a work hero -- the person who works harder than those around you -- to meet deadlines or just stay afloat. If you do, you will create unrealistic expectations, and you'll make other people look bad.

How is it that an academic law librarian might fall in the trap of work heroism? This is a field where there are generally few strict deadlines. And many law librarians live comfortably within those parameters. The perceived low stress environment is the reason that some people enter the field in the first place.

But I find myself taking work home quite often. I might answer reference emails at home or write a book review or create a library recruitment document (a few of my more recent projects). Or I might have to prepare for a class that I couldn't get to during the normal working hours because I sat on reference or was otherwise interrupted throughout the day by various side projects.

So I ask myself, am I awful at prioritizing? Maybe. However,when I was a student reference assistant at my library, there were seven full-time librarians. Now there are four. And this is not unique. Most libraries are doing more with less.

In order to meet the same service demands with fewer librarians, it may mean taking work home. But, in reality, it probably has more to do with my own crazy work ethic (and I need to revise). I always tend to feel a sense of urgency. If I get a reference question via email, I will interrupt my other projects to answer the question because, in my opinion, it is most useful to the patron if the question is answered in a timely manner. I also like to answer the question and move on. If I leave it on my to-do list, it weighs me down. This perceived sense of urgency can create a lot of undue stress.

I also rarely know when to say no. Even if I am too busy, I am still a 'yes (wo)man.' But there is definitely something to staying refreshed and maintaining the status quo -- work while at work and enjoy life while at home. Work heroism is an easy trap to fall into, but do yourself (and others) a favor and break free.

Friday, August 2, 2013

A History Of The Billable Hour

It's been said that law firms and lawyers should change the way that they charge clients -- moving away from the billable hour to a flat rate or other system.

From a NYTimes article, here is an interesting history of the billable hour:
"The notion of charging by units of time was popularized in the 1950s, when the American Bar Association was becoming alarmed that the income of lawyers was falling precipitously behind that of doctors (and, worse, dentists). The A.B.A. published an influential pamphlet, “The 1958 Lawyer and His 1938 Dollar,” which suggested that the industry should eschew fixed-rate fees and replicate the profitable efficiencies of mass-production manufacturing. Factories sold widgets, the idea went, and so lawyers should sell their services in simple, easy-to-manage units. The A.B.A. suggested a unit of time — the hour — which would allow a well-run firm to oversee its staff’s productivity as mechanically as a conveyor belt managed its throughput. This led to generations of junior associates working through the night in hopes of making partner and abusing the next crop. It was adopted by countless other service professionals, including accountants."

While the article focuses on accountants, it offers insight into the issues surrounding the billable hour for attorneys, as well. After the 2008 collapse, the legal market suffered a huge hit, and that's when law firms really started to rethink the notion of charging by the hour. "Clients have complained for years that the practice of billing for each hour worked can encourage law firms to prolong a client’s problem rather than solve it. But the rough economic climate is making clients more demanding, leading many law firms to rethink their business model."

So what's the alternative? "Instead of paying for hours worked, more clients are paying Cravath flat fees for handling transactions and success fees for positive outcomes, as well as payments for meeting other benchmarks."

One Manhattan law firms utilizes a model where they charge clients some kind of monthly retainer, which gets credited against an eventual recovery.

But most firms still haven't moved away from the billable hour, and law firms are running out of hours that they can bill in a year to turn a profit. “Firms are approaching the limit of how hard they can ask lawyers to work. Without alternative billing schemes, lawyers will not be able to maintain the rapid escalation in incomes that big firms have seen.”

As one commenter noted, "[t]he difficulty is, we don’t really know what it costs us to do something." It's risky to provide an alternative measure of compensation because if an attorney estimates too low, then they risk losing money.

NYTimes -- Economy Pinches the Billable Hour

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Abandoned Wal-Mart Turned Into Nation's Largest One Floor Library

This is a feel good story -- the story of an abandoned big box store turned into the nation's largest one-floor library.

"There are thousands of abandoned big box stores sitting empty all over America, including hundreds of former Walmart stores. With each store taking up enough space for 2.5 football fields, Walmart’s use of more than 698 million square feet of land in the U.S. is one of its biggest environmental impacts. But at least one of those buildings has been transformed into something arguably much more useful: the nation’s largest library."

A few pictures the award-winning design:



What a wonderful addition to the community, and a great way to recycle a blight.