Friday, January 29, 2016

"Lesser" In Law Schools: Post-Promotion Clarity

The Chronicle's Vitae blog has an interesting post on post-promotion clarity. The author describes the process of being a part of the law school pecking order.

From her article:
I thought about the 80-hour weeks I’d spent at a job I did not love — or even like. But I also remembered how much I used to like it. I used to be the very best at it. But gradually my days had become filled with managing the nonsense of thoughtless, even mean, tenured faculty who saw me, my position, and my “lesser” status as a way to get their bidding done. Some viewed me a handy target for their anger, someone to stomp on just to make themselves feel better.

I thought about how the work I did was, at best, 50 percent thankless. I thought about how even though I was ostensibly being “promoted” to “associate professor,” there was the important word “clinical” in front of that title — representing not only my lack of tenure but also my untenurable status. My 50 bosses were never going to let me in their club. I was tainted by my work as a writing teacher. 

I thought about a discussion on the law professor blog The Faculty Lounge on the “very important pecking order in the law school environment.” One commenter accurately noted: "Status seems to be a major preoccupation of law profs, with an obsessive and seemingly endless focus on ranking themselves and others.” The commenter nailed it with a satire of the titles bestowed in law schools, titles similar to mine: “Ever more precise labels are devised to distinguish the ‘lessers’ from the tenured faculty — e.g., 'Visiting Acting Asst. Clinical Adjunct Instructor from Practice Who Is Definitely Not One of Us Despite the Same Credentials But Expected to Do Everything We Do and Just As Well With Fewer Resources, Less Compensation and Zero Respect From Us.’” The discussion on the blog was about, in particular, legal writing professors, the very kind of professor that I was.

I understand what Rockquemore is talking about in her article — especially the part about how, after promotion, you might feel "a shift in how others see you, how you see yourself.” I realized that, after my “promotion,” my 50 bosses saw me in exactly the same way. But I saw myself differently. It took getting promoted, after 11 years in academia, to show me that the goals I’d thought were important weren’t so important — to me — after all. I had a reckoning to face, one I’d been able to ignore by focusing on earning that promotion. With the promotion out of the way, all that was left was the reckoning.

And the reckoning brought clarity.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Glassmeyer's Census of State Legal Information

Our profession's resident awesome law librarian Sarah Glassmeyer is currently a fellow at Harvard's Library Innovation Lab, and she just released an important census of state legal information

Why perform this census, you might ask? For a variety of reasons, as Glassmeyer points out:
First of all, the United States is facing an access to justice crisis in its legal system.  A 2005 study by the Legal Services Corporation showed that 80% of the civil legal needs – legal needs in which there is no constitutionally guaranteed right to an attorney –  in the United States are going unmet.  The United States ranks 66th out of 98 countries in a ranking of access and affordability of civil legal services.  Individuals are relying on self-help resources, either provided by a library or the web.

Secondly, due to the relative ease of web-based publishing, states are increasingly making the Internet the primary place of publication for their legal information materials.  In response to this, the Uniform Law Commission drafted the Uniform Electronic Legal Materials Act (UELMA).  This act requires states to ensure that their official legal publications on the web are authentic and preserved.  In the past two years, 12 states have adopted UELMA, albeit somewhat unevenly.  Of the 12, only 5 states include court appellate decisions in the requirements for their version of UELMA.   As more states are considering UELMA, it was thought that it would be useful to take a “state of states” snapshot to see where things stand in a pre-UELMA world.

The overall findings show that no state has barrier-free access to information. In fact, the findings indicate that there exists at least 14 barriers to accessing legal information.  These barriers exist for both the individual user of a resource for personal research as well as a institutional user that would seek to republish or transform the information.  

Additionally, analysis of the legal information provided by states shows that it is impossible to do any but the most basic of legal research for free using state provided legal information sources. And the universal lack of a citator for case law renders these collections, as a practical matter, useless and would be considered malpractice for a legal practitioner to rely upon.

Ultimately, Glassmeyer ranked states for openness of legal information. Check out how your state ranks

And like any professional researcher, Glassmeyer offers recommendations for improvement and also provides access to her raw data for further reflection. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Syllabus Explorer: A Searchable Syllabus Database

The NYTimes highlighted a nifty new tool for searching over a million college syllabuses called Syllabus Explorer.

Over the past two years, the Open Syllabus Project (based at the American Assembly at Columbia) have collected more than a million syllabuses from university websites. [They] have also begun to extract some of their key components — their metadata — starting with their dates, their schools, their fields of study and the texts that they assign.

Open Syllabus Projects hopes that their tool will enable people to learn new things about teaching, publishing and intellectual history.

At present, the Syllabus Explorer is mostly a tool for counting how often texts are assigned over the past decade. There is something for everyone here. The traditional Western canon dominates the top 100, with Plato’s “Republic” at No. 2, “The Communist Manifesto” at No. 3, and “Frankenstein” at No. 5, followed by Aristotle’s “Ethics,” Hobbes’s “Leviathan,” Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” “Oedipus” and “Hamlet.”

You might find yourself asking why this information is important. According to Open Syllabus Projects, [s]uch data has many uses. For academics, for example, it offers a window onto something they generally know very little about: how widely their work is read.

It also allows us to introduce a new publication metric based on the frequency with which works are taught, which we call the “teaching score.” The score is derived from the ranking order of the text, not the raw number of citations, such that a book or article that is used in four or five classes gets a score of 1, while “The Republic,” which is assigned 3,500 times, gets a score of 100.

There is a caveat:
The Syllabus Explorer results reflect the collection of syllabuses that [Open Syllabus Project] have gathered so far, which is large enough to give interesting results but far from complete. It is a work in progress on many levels, and one that depends on a culture of open bibliographic data-sharing in the academy.

Because of a complex mix of privacy and copyright issues concerning syllabuses, the Open Syllabus Project publishes only metadata, not the underlying documents or any personally identifying material (even though these documents can be viewed on university websites). But we think that it is important for schools to move toward a more open approach to curriculums. As universities face growing pressure to justify their teaching and research missions, we doubt that curricular obscurity is helpful.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Studies Show We Should Practice Deep Reading On Paper

As we start to learn more about how we digest bring and digital material, we are finding that our brains process digital reading very differently.

PRI reported that neuroscience, in fact, has revealed that humans use different parts of the brain when reading from a piece of paper or from a screen. So the more you read on screens, the more your mind shifts towards "non-linear" reading — a practice that involves things like skimming a screen or having your eyes dart around a web page. 

They call it a "bi-literate" brain. The problem is that many of us have adapted to reading online just too well. And if you don’t use the deep reading part of your brain, you lose the deep reading part of your brain.

To keep the deep reading part of the brain alive and kicking, researchers recommend setting aside some time each day to deep read on paper.

Educators need to keep this in mind as we choose the required texts for our courses. We know that our students are getting enough screen time outside of the classroom, so we should help create the habit of deep reading in our students to last them a lifetime.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Libraries Purge Patron Records For Privacy

The Guardian recently reported on a new best practice in libraries to purge user data in the name of privacy.

As use of the law to acquire patron records since the Patriot Act has increased, librarians have become some of the US’s foremost experimenters in data security. Now they’re doing something even the most security-conscious private firm would never dream of (but have often been encouraged to do by security experts): purging sensitive information in order to protect their users.

For example, the Graduate Center at the City University of New York did something very few private companies would ever do to protect its users’ privacy: it quietly began to purge its interlibrary loan records. “This policy change is motivated by the idea that libraries should not keep more information about their users’ requests than necessary,” wrote Beth Posner, head of library resource sharing at the school.

As mentioned in the article, the information may sound harmless. But Polly Thistlethwaite, chief librarian at the Graduate Center, said that guilt by association with controversial books has a long history and that librarians have a duty to protect readers of “heretical texts."

And with the Patriot Act, it’s become more common to try to force librarians to turn over user information and compel their silence simultaneously. Multiple librarians have pushed back against “national security letters” that would do just that in the name of public safety – a dangerous order to resist, since those letters include a gag order. But in 2005, when the FBI served a national security letter to Connecticut’s Library Connection demanding reading records and hard drives, the librarians resisted with such force that the government capitulated.

And, when it comes to federal authority, few librarians have qualms about “having an adversarial relationship." “They’ve antagonized us so much. Ashcroft called us ‘hysterical,’ and it’s a profession mostly of women, so, you know. That didn’t go over very well.”

After the anonymous records are used for things like collection development, it seems like a step forward in best practices to purge these types of records. "They" can't ask for what we don't have.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Student Evals Measure Gender Bias Better Than Teaching

Generally, faculty like to use scores on student evaluations of teaching (SET) as a strong factor in hiring decisions because it is an "objective" measure while so much of tenure and promotion rests in the gray area. Did she publish enough? Maybe. Did she do enough service? Maybe. Were her teaching evals good? Yes or no.

More recently, SET has come under fire. InsideHigherEd highlights a new paper that argues that SET are not only unreliable in evaluating teaching effectiveness but SET actually gauge students' gender bias and grade expectations better than they measure teaching. 

There’s mounting evidence suggesting that student evaluations of teaching are unreliable. But are these evaluations, commonly referred to as SET, so bad that they’re actually better at gauging students’ gender bias and grade expectations than they are at measuring teaching effectiveness? A new paper argues that’s the case, and that evaluations are biased against female instructors in particular in so many ways that adjusting them for that bias is impossible.

Moreover, the paper says, gender biases about instructors -- which vary by discipline, student gender and other factors -- affect how students rate even supposedly objective practices, such as how quickly assignments are graded. And these biases can be large enough to cause more effective instructors to get lower teaching ratings than instructors who prove less effective by other measures, according to the study based on analyses of data sets from one French and one U.S. institution.

Institutions would do well to heed the warning posed by these studies of gender bias and SET, especially in hiring decisions. 
Stark (a co-author of the study) said he expected class action lawsuits against universities that rely on these evaluations for employment decisions will start this year, and that there’s evidence to support such cases.

“Our analysis would support an argument that the use of SET has adverse impact on female instructors, at least in the two settings we examined,” he said. “Replication of this kind of experiment and analysis elsewhere would strengthen the argument. Eventually, lawsuits will lead universities to do the right thing, if only to mitigate financial risks.”

Monday, January 11, 2016

Deconstructing Research & Writing For Effective Learning

By the time students enter law school, they have learned a lot over the years about research and writing. This means it can take some convincing to tell them that what they've learned is "wrong."

See this list of 11 grammar rules that make no sense.

An InsideHigherEd article resonated when the author spoke of the reasons he cannot prepare students to write their ______ papers.

So, some thoughts on why I cannot effectively prepare students to write their (history, philosophy, sociology, economics, political science, whatever) papers.

One of the biggest reasons students have a hard time writing analysis and argument is because they often don’t have sufficient subject and domain expertise about what is being argued. They can describe what someone else says, but don’t yet have the knowledge to build upon that information. I see this time and again in the analytical research papers I assign as students struggle to insert their ideas into debates they’re not yet prepared to join. If your (history, philosophy, sociology, economics, political science, whatever) course is the first time they’ve encountered your field, they will struggle.

If I am successful, students exit my course armed with a flexible and adaptable writing process rooted in an analysis of the rhetorical situation (audience, purpose, genre), but when they encounter a new genre they often regress, often in every dimension, even down to the sentence level.

When faculty in other disciplines complain that students “can’t even write a decent sentence,” (likely true when looking at the actual assignments), the problem is not that students don’t know grammar and syntax, but because they are struggling badly with making meaning, and because they have no idea what they’re trying to say, why they’re trying to say it, or to whom, flailing commences.

I have seen this as students struggle through their first legal research and writing course. Traditionally, LRW takes place during a law student's 1L year, so the student often does not have the subject-matter expertise to argue a point with confidence. We try to teach them research and the mechanics of writing a memo or brief is a single semester, which is a difficult task.

While LRW is generally not a doctrinal class where the students are learning substantive law, it inevitably becomes one as you have to explain, for example, fair use in copyright for the students to be able to effectively research and analyze the law in an organized, well-written fashion. On top of that, we are also expected to make them Bluebook experts!

The author did have a helpful suggestion for student buy-in:
Help students understand the genre they are writing in. They should know not only the genre’s conventions, but the source/rationale behind those conventions. For example, rather than commanding students use a particular citation style, help them see that a citation style is rooted in a specific audience need, that we cite sources so other scholars can come in afterward and check and respond to the work.

Because we are their first exposure to writing in the legal genre, we spend a lot of time deconstructing learning to rebuild a competent legal writer. One thing we should all remember is that writing well is a life-long learning endeavor. The more proficient law students become in the law, the better they will be able to use the mechanics of research and writing that we teach them early in their legal careers.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Elephind: An Online Newspaper Aggregator

There's a new online newspaper aggregator in town. It's called Elephind.

From the website:
The goal of Elephind.com is to make it possible to search all the world’s online historic newspapers from one place. 

With Elephind.com it is now possible for family historians, genealogists, and researchers to search historic digitized newspaper archives from around the globe. Elephind.com is much like Google, Bing, or other search engines but is focused on only historical, digitized newspapers. It enables you to search, for free, across many newspaper sites simultaneously, rather than having to visit each site separately. By clicking on the Elephind.com search result that interests you you'll go directly to the newspaper site which hosts that story.

Many of the smaller newspaper sites are not well known and may be difficult to find with the usual search engines but are searchable from Elephind.com.

Elephind also provides useful information for maximizing searches, including search tips. And you can browse the newspaper archive by title.

This is a great service that needed to be filled. As mentioned, this is a work in progress.

We're continuing to add more newspapers to Elephind.com, so if at first you can't find what you're looking for, please check back later. Or you can add your name to our mailing list, and we'll email you when a new collection is added.

Here at Veridian we've been involved with lots of newspaper digitization projects for customers like Cornell, Princeton, the National Libraries of New Zealand and Singapore, and many others. If you have any comments or suggestions about this site, or if you know of other free online newspaper collections which you'd like to see added to Elephind.com, please contact us.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Can Robots Be Lawyers? Not So Fast.

The NYTimes Bits Blog highlighted an interesting new study on automation and lawyering.

As the article noted, the fate of lawyers has been seen as a harbinger of a broader wave of worker displacement. The rapid commercialization of a new generation of artificial intelligence-derived technologies has led to concerns that technological disruption will extend from white- and blue-collar occupations of largely routine work that can be automated, into highly-paid professions like legal workers and doctors.

This has mostly been anecdotal speculation (really since the 1950's, but who's counting?). Until now, that is, when we finally have some reputable research to work from. In November, for example, a study prepared by McKinsey & Company suggested that adding technology to the workplace is more likely to transform, rather than eliminate, jobs. This echoed a growing consensus that it is important to distinguish “task” automation from “job” automation. The McKinsey study found that less than 5 percent of jobs can be completely automated based on existing technologies within the next three to five years.

Even more striking is a similar study by James Bessen, a Boston University School of Law researcher, who found a positive relationship between the degree of computerization in a particular job category and employment growth.

What we're actually seeing is that automation will, no doubt, change our work, but it won't eliminate it. In fact, David Autor, an M.I.T. labor economist, predicted that in the future, while A.I. technologies would continue to replace routinized jobs, they would also increase the number of workers whose jobs require problem-solving, flexibility and creativity.

And we have even more concrete evidence in a new study, “Can Robots Be Lawyers?”, a draft of which was posted last week on the Social Science Research Network by Dana Remus, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, and Frank S. Levy, an M.I.T. labor economist. In the study, they explored which aspects of a lawyer’s job could be automated.

The research suggested that, for now, even the most advanced A.I. technology would at best make only modest inroads into the legal profession. The researchers noted that many of the tasks that lawyers perform fall well within what [has been] defined as human behavior that cannot be easily codified. “When a task is less structured, as many tasks are,” the researchers wrote, “it will often be impossible to anticipate all possible contingencies.”

In an analysis of actual legal work practices from billing invoice data, the researchers estimated that about 13 percent of all legal work might ultimately fall prey to automation.

When it comes to law librarians, like lawyers, our tasks are extremely unstructured. There are many contingencies to legal research and connections must be made that require the type of creative analysis that cannot be codified.

There is hope for the future! At least within the next 3-5 years, anyway.

Monday, January 4, 2016

New Book: A People's History of the American Public Library

You've gotta love a good "people's history." In my formative undergrad years, I remember working at a local bookstore and being exposed to Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.

It. Blew. My. Young. Mind.

And now a law librarian colleague (Thanks, Randy!) has brought a new "people's history" to my attention. It's called Part of Our Lives: A People's History of the American Public Library.




Despite dire predictions in the late twentieth century that public libraries would not survive the turn of the millennium, their numbers have only increased. Two of three Americans frequent a public library at least once a year, and nearly that many are registered borrowers. Although library authorities have argued that the public library functions primarily as a civic institution necessary for maintaining democracy, generations of library patrons tell a different story. 

In Part of Our Lives, Wayne A. Wiegand delves into the heart of why Americans love their libraries. The book traces the history of the public library, featuring records and testimonies from as early as 1850. Rather than analyzing the words of library founders and managers, Wiegand listens to the voices of everyday patrons who cherished libraries. Drawing on newspaper articles, memoirs, and biographies, Part of Our Lives paints a clear and engaging picture of Americans who value libraries not only as civic institutions, but also as public places that promote and maintain community.

From the editorial reviews:

"This is a must-have book for all public, library-school, and college libraries and one that should be read by all librarians." -- starred review, Booklist

"Readers interested in public libraries, but also American economic, political and social history will find this book fascinating." --Billings Gazette

This is definitely going on the current reading list. Along with this book, I am also currently reading Divergent Paths, We Should All Be Feminists, and Between the World and Me. Challenging and insightful stuff.