Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Web and the New Activism

Long, long ago, I was trained as a Reginald Heber Smith Community Law Fellow (a Reggie). The Reggie program was special fellowship in the Legal Services Corporation to both encourage minorities and women to enter legal services, and encourage community activism. The idea was to train Reggies to effect wider change than could be accomplished one client at a time. So, I was lectured on building networks and promoting activism among The People. I was surprised to find that there are principles and methods to building social movements.

This all came back to me when I read an article in today’s Boston Globe, by Carolyn Y. Johnson, “Change the World One Click at a Time.” Read the article in full by clicking the title to this post. Johnson profiles several interesting organizations that are fusing the social network capability of the Internet with charity and activism:

Pop!Tech, an annual conference in Camden, Maine, which this fall launched a "Social Innovation Accelerator" program to help leverage new tools for global problems. "It's user-generated charity."
...., a Cambridge start-up that provides tools and tips to help people measure and reduce their carbon footprints. "Those types of connections can be used for social good as well as just general entertainment."

MakeMeSustainable fuses some of the basic principles of social networking with environmentalism, letting users set up online profiles that calculate their carbon footprint and track their performance over time as they install more efficient appliances, turn down the thermostat, or cut down on car trips.

The website counters the feeling that small actions people take are meaningless by showing the collective impact of a user's network. ..., another Cambridge start-up launched this year by the cofounder of the car-sharing company Zipcar, also tries to draw on social connections to create environmental change, with an online ride board that encourages friends and acquaintances to split the environmental and monetary costs of driving., which launched this summer, is part social network, part who's who of doing good. ... The website highlights "Change Agents," individuals who work on causes that range from corporate responsibility to world hunger, and allows people to post calls to action, which could include something as simple as donating an old cellphone for election monitoring in Africa, to a few hours of language translation or website design.
Greg McHale founded cMarket, a company that helps nonprofits conduct online auctions, in 2002 and is now working on good2gether, a social Web service set to launch in Boston in March that aims to will help young people channel their impulses to volunteer by making it easier to connect with nonprofits and causes that inspire them.
... allows people to create and join virtual organizations around causes, then donate money to nonprofits or take other actions. The "Stop Global Warming" category, for instance, includes over 3,000 members who have donated money to nonprofits and also taken more than 1,500 actions, including things like getting online bank statements, throwing "An Inconvenient Truth" party, and replacing light bulbs., founded in 2005, connects lenders with entrepreneurs in developing countries. Lenders are able to feel a personal connection with a project and can get progress updates from the borrowers, instead of feeling that they are giving money to a nameless institution.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Changing Perspective

I sent my kids off to visit family this Christmas. They had one connection to make. Yesterday, we delivered them to the airport in Providence (easier to reach, ironically, than Logan, in Boston). We had a voice mail from my son when we got back home, telling us that the flight was being canceled, and we needed to run back down and pick them up. But by the time we called back on Joe’s cell phone, he told us that the flight was back on, just delayed.

So, I was very happy to hear that their connection, in Detroit, was delayed, as well. They would be able to reach relatives and have a nice visit, after all. Well, when the kids reached Detroit, the plane was delayed, and delayed some more. There was fog. There was a snowstorm creeping across the midwest. There were planes without crews, and crews without planes. Finally, the second leg of the flight was canceled, about 2 hours after it should have taken off.

I had terrible visions of the kids spending the night sleeping in the airport – the sad photos you see in newpapers too often this time of year! I also had terrible visions that they would spend the rest of the holiday break in the Detroit airport.

The airline, Northwest, was absolutely champion. They gave stranded passengers vouchers for hotels, arranged shuttles to take them there, and even gave them vouchers for meals. The next morning (today), Northwest was able to put my kids on a flight back to Providence – they could not get them to Kentucky before it was time for them to come home, any way. And, though my son’s suitcase made it all the way to Kentucky, the Northwest folks are going to deliver it tomorrow.

I told my kids that I should have taken them back when the first flight was delayed. My insightful daughter said she would have been really angry and disappointed if I had done that. I said, how do you feel now? Alexa said, Grateful.

So, giving up the trip to Kentucky looks so much better after being faced with a holiday in the Detroit airport. And I am grateful, too – to have my kids back safe and sound!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Business Consulting for Lawyers

Click on the title to this post to read an excellent article by Sasha Pfeiffer in today’s Boston Globe about a free consulting service for lawyers in Massachusetts. When a lawyer goes to hang out his or her shingle, there is a whole dimension of business management and organization that might be missing. Pfeiffer tells her readers that most cases of malpractice stem, not from evil intent, but from lack of organization, inadvertence, and ignorance.

...[T]he consulting service is offered by Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, a Boston counseling agency that typically aids legal professionals battling substance abuse, addictions, and depression.

Launched in July, the program - its unwieldy name is the Law Office Management Assistance Program, or LOMAP - is intended to reduce the number of drug and alcohol problems, psychiatric struggles, disciplinary actions, and malpractice claims that result from poor business practices among attorneys.

"It's a preventative measure," said Gina Walcott-Torres, executive director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. "A lot of lawyers who mismanage their practices don't know how to run a business properly, and we're trying to give them the tools to do it correctly from the start."

The program's director, Rodney S. Dowell, coaches lawyers to do self-audits of their business practices, identify weak spots, and improve them. That may involve using different client-management software, backing up electronic files more systematically, keeping better time sheets, or adopting more diligent billing methods. ...

The service, which guarantees anonymity, is available to attorneys of any kind, and the increasingly entrepreneurial character of the practice of law means even big-firm lawyers often need help learning to think and act like business people. But it is geared toward small-firm and solo practitioners, who comprise a sizable portion of the state's population of attorneys, and especially young lawyers starting up their practices and older lawyers winding down theirs.
I find that a number of other state bar associations offer similar programs. Often, the programs are under the auspices of Lawyers Helping Lawyers, because being overwhelmed in the office can lead to depression and substance abuse.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas from OOTJ

To all our readers, Merry Christmas! I wish for you all peace and joy, fun times with family and friends. And whether you celebrate Christmas or not, have a wonderful break.

Today in Massachusetts, we have the remnants of two snow storms, while the temperature is up to 40 degrees. Snow on the trees, outlining each branch and twig, snow blown up the trunks. And the fir trees, with snow piled on each tier, looking like great white hands. When there is this much snow, it’s lighter all the time. When the sun shines, it’s nearly too bright to look at. When it’s a gray day, it’s much less dark, And at night, the street lights and city lights reflect back and forth between clouds and snow, til the night is nearly as bright as day, but kind of orange-tinted.

Wherever you are, and whatever your weather, I hope you have a lovely holiday time!

Friday, December 21, 2007

What does it mean to read?

I just read a thought-provoking “Point of View” essay by Matthew Kirschenbaum in the Dec.7, 2007 Chronicle Review insert of the Chronicle of Higher Education, titled “How Reading is Being Reimagined,” at page B20. Prof. Kirschenbaum tees off from the new National Endowment for the Arts study “To Read or Not to Read” (see links here and here at OOTJ). He notes that the study finds younger readers reading less and reading less well. Then, Kirschenbaum comments that the study is curiously ahistorical, treating any kind of “voluntary” reading as equivalent.

First, “voluntary” reading is sometimes difficult to clearly distinguish from required reading for school or work. I often read things that I’d be hard-pressed to neatly fit into one or the other category. I read many things for work that I’d also read for pleasure. I often gather information or ideas from leisure reading that colors my work life.

Secondly, society has often laid a different interpretation and value on different kinds of reading. My mother has only recently shaken off the precepts of her childhood that forbade reading novels or any fiction as being frivolous and unworthy. Somehow, it’s easy for many of us to fall into the trap of thinking that reading history or science or politics somehow is more serious or important than reading fiction. I think many people still feel that reading romances, fantasy or science fiction is not serious or important.

And thirdly, people of a certain age in the academy are bewailing the tendency of younger students to read “shallowly.” We value reading with pauses to think about the text, to think deeply and analytically about the text. There seems to be a tendency in the digital generation to bring multi-tasking to reading. They skim, skip and flit among multiple texts. Kirschenbaum reminds the reader that this comparison reading was a normal style not so long ago. He notes the many images of medieval scholars with books spread all over the table. And Thomas Jefferson actually designed a lazy susan device to spin multiple books in and out of the reader’s view. In the periods when scholarship centered on the ability of the scholar to recognize errors and correct them in a handful of classic texts, when hand-copying introduced mistakes or amendations, reading often was about comparing, reading across, not deeply. There is more than one way to read like a scholar!

There is, of course, the time-honored method of skimming a book. The method is explained in Pierre Bayard’s book How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (handily digested for folks too busy to read it at the NY Times here).

The digitization of literacy changes many things. Kirschenbaum comments on how reading and writing are becoming commingled in surprising ways. For instance, I was just looking at the Nature Alert, a form of table of contents/alert publication. Once upon a time, it was just a list of abstracts to alert the reader of full-length articles in the journal Nature. Now, besides the abstracts with links, one can access videos where authors discuss their research. Once, they had a sound file of a musician experimentally playing a very ancient bone flute. They have podcasts which expand the brief notes, covering a variety of the headlines each week with different stories. The articles include hyperlinks to references, encouraging the inquiring reader to follow multiple paths of related thought. And readers can post comments, and react to the comments of others.

Nature Alert has become a blog, a current awareness journal, links to complete science studies and literature, and multi-media extravaganza, all at once. In the essay, Kirschenbaum cites Zotero, CommentPress, Book Glutton and Alph, as examples of ways that readers are being drawn into chatting, writing and annotating in a Web 2.0 social network. As we slowly learn the ways in which digitization can enhance our reading experience, I think the definition of reading is going to blur more and more. As Kirschenbaum writes,

What are the new metrics of screen literacy? ... based on anecdotal evidence, I suspect that compute users are capable of projecting the same aura of deep concentration and immersion as the stereotypical bookworm. Walk into your favorite coffee shop and watch the people in front of their screens. Rather than the bug-eyed, frenzied jittering, you are more likely to see calm, meditative engagement – and hear the occasional click of fingers on keyboards as the readers write.
The decoration is clip art from

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Focus on Legal Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education has two articles in today's issue discussing reforms in legal education. The first article discusses the meetings that have been held recently whose focus was making changes in the way the law is taught. A meeting was held at the University of South Carolina School of Law in November, and this month deans from ten law schools that are "revamping their programs" met at Stanford Law School. The problems that have been identified will be familiar to anyone who is involved in legal education: "Law-school graduates don't have the practical skills to be effective lawyers. The second and third years of law school are repetitious. Law schools don't do enough to recognize and reward good teaching and the examination of ethics. Faculty members aren't encouraged to set educational goals for students and assess whether they've achieved them." Is it possible that legal education can be changed to respond to the above criticisms?

At least one knowledgeable individual, Professor Judith Welch Wegner, former AALS president and co-author of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching report that called for reforms in legal education, believes that "there are so many forces at work today that there really could be a breakthrough." Many participants at the two meetings agreed with Dean Edward L. Rubin, dean of Vanderbilt University Law School, who wants to look at "way that legal education can advance more logically from the first through the third years." He and others "argued that today's legal-education system does not reflect the modern practice of law...Law schools have succeeded in teaching students to think like lawyers: '1870s lawyers.'"

The second article is a portrait of Touro Law Center where students are learning about the "keys to real-life lawyering" and where some of the recommendations of the Carnegie report are being put into practice. Touro is fortunate enough to be on a new campus that includes a federal courthouse and a state courthouse. Students can walk over to the courthouses if they want to watch a trial. First-year, first-semester students spend a day in the state courthouse in small groups; second semester, they spend a day in the federal courthouse. "Final exams for some upper-level students consist of mock trials played out in front of real judges at the state courthouse." It sounds like a wonderful immersion in the real-life practice of law. Unfortunately, not every law school enjoys Touro's promixity to courthouses.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Must be exam time -- Here's a fun site and it's not even Friday!

Click on to visit a full service word humor website. They have your spoonerisms (named for Reverend Spooner, an Oxford don who mixed up his words, once chiding a student who "hissed my mystery lectures and tasted the whole worm!" Badpuns also offers puns (duh!), Tom Swift jokes, and lots of other word-based fun.

If you really need to blow off more steam, visit Merriam Webster Dictionary Online, where they offer word games and a daily crossword. There are a whole lot of sites that offer word games, but on the Merriam Webster site, you (probably) don't have to worry about picking up spyware, viruses, malware and so on.

And, of course, word lovers who need even more work avoidance options will want to visit Mondegreens Ripped My Flesh, the site of the San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Jon Carroll. He posts a number of witty columns he has written on these little gems. Mondgreens are mis-heard phrases, often in music. The name comes from the first woman to write about them, who coined the word. Sylvia Wright had mis-heard the Scottish folk song, "They hae slain the Earl of Murray and laid him on the green," as They hae slain the Earl of Murray and Lady Mondegreen." So Ms. Wright named the phenomenon after the tragically slain Lady Mondegreen.

The holiday decoration is from Westvan florists' website, where they will be delighted to sell you a bouquet or centerpiece.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Doing more online

Click here for a link to web "guide to public records, databases and useful information." It's focused on Massachusetts and Boston area in particular, but includes some links for U. S. Supreme Court, a U.S. DOJ sex offender registration list that is nation-wide, and a few other items of wider interest. Lots of helpful links, from garbage pick-up to library links to locating info on courts, prisoners and government.

And here is a story about the new website in Massachusetts allowing folks called for jury duty to register online, change their date or location of service, or seek disqualification. A number of other states have something similar, but this article states that the Massachusetts site is more full service than anybody else's yet. Click on the link to visit, administered by the state courts.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Digital Footprints Report from Pew

Click on the title to this post to connect to read and download the new report released yesterday at 4 PM by the Pew Interent & American Life Project. The report shows the progress our culture is making into the digital world. The subtitle of the report is "Online Identity Management and Search in the Age of Transparency."

One of the key findings (and sort of duh, but worth articulating), is that the nature of identity is changing in the Web 2.0 environment. People's name, address, phone used to be the basic public info about anybody -- look in the phone book or the organization directory and find these. More recently, e-mail address was added (or sometimes, took the place of a phone number). The Pew study also notes that such public information often persists longer than people might think.

Now, with Web 2.0 spaces like MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube, the kinds of information available is changing. Most people who use these social networking services are aware of the access they are giving, and most think about controlling what access is there. But some folks are getting unpleasant surprises, like students who recently found impacts on their hiring caused by either their own postings to such services or postings by others. There are also datamining companies selling information on individuals, from phone numbers to credit ratings, these companies often have more information than we would like.

As the Pew study states,

...general questions about privacy do not capture the vast array of data points that make up “personal information” in the age of social media. Name, address, and phone number are just the basics. Social networking and photo sites make it easy to find someone’s image online, even if it was meant to be kept private. ...

Public comments on blogs, discussion groups, and listservs are also archived and searchable. People’s screen names can become like a secondary identification, often overshadowing a person’s offline notoriety or exposing a CEO’s predilection for defending his own company through unattributed postings. John Battelle has referred to this “clickstream exhaust” we leave behind as our “digital footprints,” the term that inspired the title and appears throughout this report.

Beyond the footprints visible to the casual searcher, even more information is kept in corporate databases. The five most popular search engines routinely archive a user’s search terms, their computer’s address, and the unique identifier for their Web browser for 13-18 months.
We are just beginning to understand what information is available about us, and how easily it is to find. In the past, it was a time-consuming and difficult task to pull together all the information about each of us that resides in official records. The Internet, databases and increasingly powerful, easy-to-use search engines are changing that.

I have to say it gives me pause sometimes to consider what I have written on this blog, and how permanent it turns out to be. I don't think I regret anything I've said, but I guess I'll find out. I suppose that's what the Pew report is all about.

The image decorating this posting is a poster you can buy at, actually a beach on the north shore of Oahu, where the surfing ought to pretty big right now.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cass Sunstein on the Internet and Democracy

Cass R. Sunstein has a provocative essay in the Dec. 14, 2007 issue of the Chronicle Review, insert of the Chronicle of Higher Education. I can't link to it for you, but if you have a password, you can read it at, or see it in print. You can find, however, similar essays -- he's been working on these ideas for a while -- at some other sites on the internet: Boston Review, 2001, titled, "The Daily We: Is the Internet really a blessing for democracy?" Sunstein updates his thinking in his book, 2.0 2.0 from Princeton University Press (2007) (this book replies to critics of his earlier

All 3 essays and books take off from the ease the Internet allows users to filter information and news to conform to their own opinions, to avoid hearing or reading material that might cause them to rethink these opinions. There are sorting tools like the algorithm that informs you that "readers who looked at this title, also looked at X, and ultimately bought Y." Using things like this, choosy Internet browsers can easily sort the news, links and social networks so they see only what pleases them and meet folks who believe just as they do.

Sunstein sees this sorting of people into enclaves of the like-minded as poison to the ideals of democracy. As a librarian, I was inculcated with the liberal (in the old fashioned sense) ideal that there is a market place of ideas, where good ideas and bad ones battle it out, and the good ones prevail. This little trope underlies the librarian dogma that censorship is WRONG. The problem was, I had a radical library school professor, Michael Harris, who also gave us readings that challenged this world view (wow, does that sound like a microcosm of Sunstein's worries about the Internet? How post-modern and ironic!). What Sunstein sees as a new problem created by the rise of the Internet was already in place in the print world. Most people only read things that accorded with their world view. And if they were required to read things that challenged their world view, they often misinterpreted it to support their own views.

Geez, I feel like a misanthrope!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Digital Archives: Trigger? Happy!

Cindy Hepfer (Head, Electronic Periodicals Management Dept., Central Technical Services, University at Buffalo) reports a success story in world of digital journal access:

In 2006, the University Libraries joined Portico, a service launched in 2002 by JSTOR as its "Electronic-Archiving Initiative." Portico's mission is to preserve scholarly literature published in electronic form and ensure that the materials remain accessible to future scholars, researchers, and students.

Initially funded by JSTOR, the Library of Congress, and the Andrew Mellon Foundation, Portico now has 395 library members which use the service as one component of their digital preservation strategy. Portico archives the content of nearly 50 scholarly publishers including Annual Reviews, Cambridge University Press, Duke University Press, Elsevier, IEEE, John Wiley, Nature, Oxford University Press, Sage, Springer and Taylor and Francis -- to date the archive has "ingested" more than 3,034,345 articles.

Access to content in Portico was originally designed to be made available only under certain conditions called "trigger events." Trigger events include: a publisher stopping operations, a publisher ceasing to publish a title, a publisher no longer offering back issues, or catastrophic and sustained failure of a publisher's delivery platform. If these conditions were to occur, Portico would then "light up" its archive for campus-wide access to member libraries. Now, however, several participating publishers have indicated that they will also allow Portico to enable secure post-cancellation access to member libraries....

The journal that was triggered is one that the UB Libraries had not subscribed to: Graft: Organ and Cell Transplantation. Graft was published by SAGE Publications from January 2001 to March 2003. The journal will be removed from the Sage website at the end of 2007. Because Sage Publications, which is a leading international publisher of electronic media, journals and books, had ensured that Graft would be preserved in the Portico archive and because the journal will not be offered by any other commercial online source, Portico is "lighting up" the volumes currently found on the Sage website in the Portico archive and will provide access to literature that otherwise would be lost to the scholarly community. Through this first trigger event, Portico demonstrates how publishers, archives, and libraries can cooperatively provide a permanent archive of scholarly literature published in electronic form and avoid a permanent gap in the scholarly record.
A few publishers of legal and law-related materials participate in Portico: Berkeley Electronic Press, Cambridge University Press, Duke University Press, Haworth Press, Oxford University Press, Taylor & Francis Group, University of California Press, University of Chicago Press. The alert reader will, however, note the absence of some of the leading law publishers.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A New Scarlet Letter?

Today's New York Times features an article about a new initiative being spearheaded by Andrew P. Thomas, the Phoenix, Arizona county attorney.
"[T]he bleary-eyed, disheveled and generally miserable visages of convicted drunken drivers...are available to the entire world via a Web site." The site,, includes photographs of drunk drivers convicted of misdemeanors and felonies. Mr. Thomas has also put up five billboards around Phoenix (and more are to come) with photographs of convicted felons, "whose crimes, which almost always involve someone's death," are accompanied by the banner headline: "Drive drunk, see your mug shot here."

The article reports that "other states have used shame tactics like forcing convicted drunken drivers to use special license plates or pick up roadside litter wearing a placard announcing their crimes." Interestingly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) is not cheering Mr. Thomas's initiative. M.A.D.D. is in favor of the Web site's informational aspects and concern for the victims of drunk driving. However, "M.A.D.D. would not want to be involved in calling out offenders. We are interested in research- and science-based activities proven to stop drunk driving." M.A.D.D. cites activities such as "putting devices on the cars of prior offenders that they are forced to breathe into in order to start their vehicles."

Certainly no one is in favor of drunk driving. However, Phoenix's approach seems like a particularly punitive way to approach the problem. As one defense attorney in Phoenix points out, most of the drunk drivers have no prior criminal history. In addition, other criminals, such as sex offenders, are not being targeted in the same way.

A Library and Developers

Here is a charming article by Lucette Lagnado, a Wall Street Journal reporter. For Ms. Lagnado, whose family had emigrated from Cairo, French was her first language. Ms. Lagnado wrote the well-reviewed book, The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, which describes her family's flight from Cairo to Paris to New York after the fall of King Farouk and Nasser's rise to power.

In this essay, she writes fondly about the Donnell branch of the New York Public Library, one of whose neighbors is the Museum of Modern Art. Ms. Lagnado's family was poor, and had little money to buy books. The Donnell library provided a haven for Ms. Lagnado and her mother, who visited the library every Saturday and browsed through the French-language children's books and then the adult foreign-language collection, "one of the finest in the city, with shelves and shelves of French novels."

The reason for Ms. Lagnado's tribute to Donnell is the impending sale of the library's building to developers. The neighborhood has gotten too "tony" for the library to stay there in its current incarnation. So the new Donnell, "in a considerably smaller form...will be lodged on the ground floor and a couple of subterranean levels, with a modern luxury hotel sitting above. But the 'poor, shabby' building...will be no more." It will be sorely missed, especially by those who still rely on our public libraries to help them make the transition to American life.

Holiday recipe: Bourbon Balls!

One of the strangely wonderful perks of living in Lexington, KY, was that you were exposed to, and encouraged to make, all kinds of recipes featuring bourbon whiskey. Even church ladies would proudly present bourbon balls at holiday parties. Then, there was the egg nog – more than a dozen eggs, separated, a quart of heavy cream and a fifth of bourbon, plus enough sugar to keep you dancing for quite a while.

Here is the bourbon ball recipe given me by my mother. This year, I made it with dark rum, and it was goood, that way, too.

Kentucky Bourbon Balls

2 cups Vanilla Wafer crumbs (you can throw a boxful in a food processor, or do it the way we did at home: put 10 or so wafers in a plastic zip lock bag and crush with a rolling pin. Either way, you want nice, fine crumbs)
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbs unsweetened cocoa
3 Tbs corn syrup (I used the very dark this year & it was really good. I also ended up adding about another tablespoon to keep the balls forming at the end of the bowl)
1 cup finely chopped pecans
2 jiggers bourbon or dark rum
(1 jigger = 3 Tbs, or 1.5 oz, so you need 6 Tbs or 3 oz.)

Mix the ingredients together, mashing the crumbs into the syrup as evenly as you can. Shape into small balls. Dip the balls into

Vanilla extract
(Or imitation vanilla works well, too! You run through it!)

And then, roll each ball into

Powdered sugar

Set the finished balls on waxed paper in a container you can cover tightly til serving time. If this doesn't do its part to expand your librarian image into that of a good-time partyer, I can't help you.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Cross-Discipline Research

In Jim Mille’s podcast on library staff recruiting, he mentions how law libraries are not hiring outside of our narrow specialty. His comment came back to me when I read an article “Assessing Health Literacy in Clinical Practice”(available through; free registration). The article writes how poor literacy affects patients’ compliance with treatment; I could not help but think of my recent post on poor literacy of library users and the supporting comments of fellow bloggers. Our problems are not unique.

Evidently, the US Dept of Education assesses the literacy of the population (NCES 2006-483). We should be looking at that report and evaluating how its conclusions could affect court administration and library services, but I am not aware of anyone using it. I cannot think of a better way to demonstrate our willingness to participate in public debate.

Print vs. Electronic Textbooks

Click on the title to this post to read an article from the business section of today’s Boston Globe, written by Bruce Mohl about the emerging market for digital college textbooks. By offering the e-book year-long license for about half the cost of print, publishers of college textbooks are carving a market. At least one competitor in the new market, CafeScribe, offers ownership rather than a license. Besides costing less, the article points out the e-book weighs a great deal less than the print version – two reasons students are moving to the e-books. Part of the article discusses the uneasiness of campus bookstores with this new, direct selling market.

CourseSmart LLC, a new company backed by the nation's biggest textbook publishers, is betting that many tech-savvy students looking to save some money will select the e-textbook.

The Belmont, Calif., company is still in beta, refining its digital-book format and its business model. It offers about 2,000 e-textbooks now and hopes to have far more by next fall. But already CourseSmart is attracting considerable attention, particularly from college bookstores, which earn most of their revenue selling new and used textbooks and fear the publishers will sell directly to students and elbow them aside.

The National Association of College Bookstores issued a statement to its members last month saying it had directed its general counsel to review the antitrust implications of CourseSmart and the potential for the publishers to exercise "unreasonable control over the release and pricing of digital assets to the higher education marketplace."

Frank Lyman, executive vice president for marketing and business development at CourseSmart, said bookstores will continue to play a vital role in the textbook market, but he acknowledged the relationship between publishers and bookstores is changing.

Publishers are "not looking to cut out the bookstores, but certainly there's some shaking out of their relationship that's going to happen as we migrate to digital," he said.
The article interviews students about their experiences. While many said it was an adjustment using an e-book to study, they usually said they would buy another, given the convenience of simply downloading the text, cost savings, the lighter weight and a perceived environmental savings. The writer mentions the ability to make marginal notes in the e-books, but none of the students listed that as an advantage. The digital books are also attractive to publishers:
CourseSmart is attractive to its member publishers because it allows them to sell books without the costs of producing and distributing them. It also allows the publishers to save money on faculty review copies of textbooks. Instead of mailing hundreds of thousands of textbooks to professors across the country, the publishers can now make the textbooks available for electronic review on CourseSmart.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Wow! Exams, Holidays! Take a deep breath....

In law libraries across the country, students are stressing and sometimes expressing -- right at the library staff, who seem like a safe target to take out one's frustration with a law prof or situation. We try to be supportive, offering candy, earplugs, and sympathy. But it kind of takes it out of you to get yelled at, especially when it's for policies or situations beyond your control.

So, for all those library staff who are getting beat on, ...
For all those students who are nearing the end of their rope, ...
and for all those folks who are having to juggle extra duties to get ready for holidays, parties, family visits, ...

Take a deep breath, and let it out slowly

Here are some sites with mindful meditation techniques. Mindful meditation seems to be rooted in a number of different traditions. I find it discussed at Buddhist sites, Christian sites, and health support, stress-relief sites. It can be sitting quietly with the mind as empty, yet present, as possible. It can also take the very portable form of concentrating fully on any task, from eating a single raisin, to brushing your teeth, to walking.

Women's Heart Foundation, Living with Mindfulness: This is a completely non-sectarian site, aimed at helping women relieve stress and promote their health. But it's certainly helpful to any gender. Very accessible suggestions, and very practical.

Shambhala Sun "How to do Mindful Meditation": A Buddhist author, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, explains the methods.

4MindfulnessMeditation: Another non-sectarian site. Beware, they pop up an offer of a free book when you go, but you can close the window and read this very helpful page. I include it in spite of the annoying pop-up, because they have a very nice explanation of the way to bring your wandering mind back to the meditative practice -- with "friendliness," and gently.

Beliefnet, "Moment of Calm", a general spirituality and health site, offering a guided 10 minute meditaton, with a gentle voice leading you, and a cycle of images that offer Buddhist temples, and gentle landscapes.

And last, because I love the show, Eric in the Evening, at WGBH FM public radio station in Boston, a nightly jazz show that is webcast once a week, at Scroll down and look for Eric in the Evening, though their other jazz show is also good, and shorter, and they have lots of other good music. Eric just starts his show with a lovely piece, and goes on to lots of mostly cool jazz.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Slate articles on Guantanamo

Slate magazine has an article by Georgetown law Professor and Gitmo lawyer Neal Katyal, On the Ground at Guantanamo, about the trial of his client Salim Hamdan at Gitmo following the Supreme Court decision in that prisoner's case. A passionately written critique of the military tribunals.

That article is paired with another by Dahlia Lithwik, titled It was the Best of Habeas, It was the Worst of Habeas about the new cases being argued in the Supreme Court on the Gitmo prisoners' rights.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Something Special for Chanukah

Tonight marks the beginning of Chanukah, the eight-day Jewish festival that marks the triumph of light over darkness. Chanukah tends to be overshadowed by Christmas, and it is in fact a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar. However, it is a joyous holiday, one that is particularly enjoyed by children because they receive presents (in some families, one every night) and eat such treats as potato latkes, doughnuts, and chocolate Chanukah gelt.

This morning, one of my colleagues, Professor Ralph Stein, shared with the faculty this account of the first night of Chanukah at the Nuremberg trials in 1945. It was written by Professor John Barrett of St. John's University School of Law, who is a leading scholar on the life of Justice Robert H. Jackson, Supreme Court Justice and chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials.

Justice Jackson delivered his opening statement on November 21, 1945, and "described what the evidence would show." In the early days of the trial, the United States presented a great deal of evidence, Nazi documents that had been seized, translated, and organized by the Allies. As Professor Barrett states, "the evidence was summarized in trial briefs that Jackson's senior assistants read before the [International Military Tribunal], the defendants and...the world press corps." On the eighth day of the trial, November 29, 1945, the prosecution announced that it would present motion picture evidence, a documentary film on the concentration camps. General Dwight D. Eisenhower had ordered the film to be made so that the judges would understand what the words "concentration camp" meant and also so that they would understand the full extent of the horrors that the Nazi regime had perpetrated. The filming was directed by Lt. Col. George C. Stevens, one of the great Hollywood directors. One hour of the film was shown at the trial. It showed conditions in the camps, including graphic shots of the survivors surrounded by corpses. Observers watched the defendants to see what effect the film would have on them, and even Hermann Goering "looked subdued, his face sagging."

Professor Barrett points out the coincidence that "in 1945, November 29th on the Gregorian calendar was also, on the Jewish calendar, the 25th day of Kislev, the third month. It thus marked the first night of Chanukah, a holiday celebrating Jewish survival. In the Nuremberg trial process, most participants were non-Jews. Many probably did not reflect on the coincidence, and frankly on the stark juxtaposition, of the showing of the concentration camp film evidence concluding as the sun set and Chanukah thus began."

I am grateful to Professor Stein for sharing this article with me, and hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I did.

More on blogs

The article I mentioned earlier today at National Law Journal includes a quote likening bloggers today to pamphleteers or leafletters of the Revolution era. Thus, the story of the anonymous blogger criticizing his township in New Jersey caught my attention. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF, at reports that they are defending the blogger whose identity has been subpoenaed from his ISP. The township is using the subpoena to intimidate the blogger, and is trampling on the blogger's first amendment free speech rights, according to the EFF's motion to quash.

What if the British governors had been able to subpoena the identity of the pamphleteers who published inflammatory tracts rallying colonials to the Revolution? Hmm. We have certainly seen examples of blogs coming back to bite the bloggers. Is this anonymity essential to free speech on the Internet? How does this intersect with the international nature of the Web? Gonna be an interesting decade!

Terrific new article on LLRX about Deep Web Searching

Follow the link in the title to this post to for a wonderful article with lots of links by Marcus Zillman. He surveys and organizes for our convenience the various tools designed to locate PDFs, documents, PowerPoints and other documents that aren't searched by ordinary search engines. These often are information rich, but are difficult to locate -- the so-called Deep Web or Invisible Web. Very helpful, and brings my lists up to date! (Thanks to Sabrina Pafici and her Be Spacific blog for alerting me to this article. I highly recommend subscribing to Be Spacific! See it in the Blogroll list on this page)

Blogs the basis for motion to change venue

Click on the title to this post to read an article in the National Law Journal (at The article by Peter Page is about a motion in a racially charged murder case in Tennessee (US v. Boyd). The defense attorney has argued that blogs have so exaggerated and distorted the facts of the case that he wants it moved to another part of the state. May be the first time blogs have been cited as the reason for a change of venue, polluting the minds of local jurors.

Tip of the hat to my colleague Andy Beckerman-Rodau for alerting me to this article. You can read more about the issues at the paper site here, in an article by Jamie Satterfield.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Licensing as it ought to be! Kudos to BNA

I just read through our BNA license for their online service. I realize that many other libraries have gone with this long before mine. But I want to sing their praises for a license that ought to be a model for online subscriptions. They address all my concerns about paying the same amount (or more!) for online subscriptions as print, and getting less. In most recent license agreements, you cannot lend, you cannot make back-up or archival copies, and if you drop the subscription, you have a wisp of air – not an out-of-date, but still useable print volume on the shelf. These are all reasons I’ve been really disappointed in licenses for online materials – up til now!

The license is for one year – not tying us to a multi-year license is an important difference. We are also not obliged to maintain the print subscriptions that we are now duplicating online. That means I can still maneuver if my budget gets slashed, raided or just much tighter than I expect. I don’t expect that to happen this year, but I am much more willing to sign a license that does not bind me either continue a subscription for multiple years, or to maintain a list of print based on a snapshot in time. If my prof who uses X leaves or retires, I can drop it, and replace it with whatever the new prof needs. I have to say, the generosity and fairness of the BNA license certainly buys a deal of customer loyalty from me. If I had to choose this year between dropping a BNA title and somebody else’s, I’d avoid dropping BNA if I could!

The license and pricing are clear. I see how much I am paying and things are neatly itemized. This is another pet peeve of mine with some other vendors’ licenses. And the bill is once a year, and did I say the license is only for one year? Boy, I like that! I also love that they allow me to cancel existing subscriptions within 60 days of the agreement. That gives me time to see how faculty like the online, and if they are willing to move from print to online. I really think they have thought about how users interact with this, and how libraries work. (Has somebody out there worked with BNA? They have really listened to librarians!)

The platform access allows my users to get their BNA materials through a variety of points. They can use BNA’s own platform, Westlaw or Lexis. Users include all full time, part time and visiting faculty, plus library staff and current students, AND walk-ins to the library.

What really thrills me, is their copyright exceptions! We can digitally copy and have an archival/back-up copy. We can use a portion of the material to create digital course packs, and electronic reserve. We may cache to speed and simplify use locally. We can do scholarly sharing and ILL with the same limits we have on print materials. This is the kind of license I have been waiting for! This license for electronic material really meets the level or rights I have always had in print materials. I think it’s fair – protecting BNA’s interests while giving the library the same level of ownership in the materials that we have had in print. Thank you, BNA!

Sign the ABA Petition to Pakistans' Musharraf

Follow the link in the title to this post to read, and sign on to the ABA's message to Pervez Musharraf, calling on him to restore the rule of law in Pakistan. In part, the message reads:

The American Bar Association calls on President Pervez Musharraf to:

Restore the Constitution of Pakistan;
Reinstate Pakistan's Supreme Court justices; and,
Free those lawyers and civil leaders who have been wrongly jailed.

The courageous men and women of Pakistan, led by their legal community, remind citizens of all nations that justice and the rule of law are both precious and fragile.

The suspension of Pakistan's institutions of justice is a threat to the rule of law in all nations. We, the lawyers of America, stand with you.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Reading skills

The Institute for the Future of the Book has an interesting set of discussions on the NEA announcement of declining reading skills. I have mixed feelings about such reports--they have an elistist feel (that free time should be spent reading alone instead of night clubbing with friends), but working in urban centers, I have to admit that I get many young people who do not know 1) what an encyclopedia is, 2) what a periodical index is, 3) what a table of contents is, 4) what an index is, and 5) what a title page is.

New Podcast: The Shadow and James Show

On a completely unrelated note, I wanted to announce my new podcast, The Shadow and James Show. This is a "couplecast" featuring me and Kristina Lively, and we talk once a week about whatever strikes our fancy: food, movies, music, travel, life in Buffalo. I hope you'll stop by, and enjoy!


My Merriam-Webster defines it as "1: marginal notes (as in a book) 2: nonessential items." To my delight, I ran across a scholarly study of marginalia, Used Books: Marking readers in renaissance England, William H. Sherman (U. of Penn Press, Dec., 2007). The catalog comments:

...indispensable, offering and demanding a complete revision of standard notions of reading in favor of a much more capacious concept of the 'use' of books before the modern era... (Stephen Orgel, Stanford University)

In a recent sale catalog, one bookseller apologized for the condition of sixteenth-century volume as 'rather soiled by use.' When the book was displayed the next year, the exhibition catalog described it as 'well and piously used [with] marginal notations in an Elizabethan hand [that] bring to life an early and earnest owner:' and the book's buyer, for his part, considered it to be 'enlivened by the marginal notes and comments.' For this collector, as for an increasing number of cultural historians and historians of the books, a marked-up copy was more interesting than one in pristine condition.
This attitude views the notes, doodles and jokes written in books by past readers as a sort of archeological trove illustrating both the life of the book and the life of the readers. I had known that scholars in older times often wrote in the margins arguing with the author of the book. I don't think I had run across anybody so delighting in excavating these marks.

They illustrate the catalog with "manucules," the drawings of hands with a pointing finger that we have all seen used to draw attention to a point or place. They also have a rather forlorn and disrespected label from a library that originally stated, "Marking of books is Forbidden." It has been variously changed to "Making of books...," "Making funny jokes is forbidden," and "making funny jokes in books is not forbidden -- as is irony."

Poking around on the web, I find earlier books on marginalia, Marginalia: Readers writing in books, by H.J. Jackson; and Romantic Readers: The evidence of marginalia, by the same author. In my catalog, besides the first Jackson book, I find, Marginalia by H. P. Lovecraft, collected by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, and several poetry books with that title. So, I guess people have been studying it right along for a while. I just loved the Penn catalog's presentation of the book.

I have often enjoyed graffiti that runs along, replying and building on earlier defacements. And I will confess to following those silly page directions one finds in K-12 math books for some reason (go to p. 11, then on page 11, another direction leading finally to some really profound thought like math is sooo boring). But I don't like to find marks in library books, or even used textbooks because they are usually so asinine. But the idea of excavating even asinine comments for meaning is fascinating. Wikipedia notes, in its article on marginalia that there is a specialized term for scholarly notes in the margins, "scholia." They note that marginal notes can add value to a book,if done by somebody either celebrity or scholarly, or detract from the value if done by somebody who fits in neither category. And they supply a link to the wonderful pages by the library at Cambridge University where they catalog and demonstrate various damage to books, titled "Marginalia and other crimes."

Friday, November 30, 2007

OOTJ Listed in ABA Journal Blawg Directory

I still hate the term "blawg," but it's cool that we're now listed in the ABA Journal's directory.

Legal Strategies for Protecting Human Rights in North Korea

From the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea:

A new report by the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), entitled Legal Strategies for Protecting Human Rights in North Korea and co-authored by Skadden, Arps, Slade Meagher & Flom LLP, was released November 28 in Washington, DC.

The report will serve as a handbook for groups seeking to use the international legal system to advance human rights in North Korea. After making the case against the Pyongyang regime, the report outlines the strategies available, including the International Criminal Court, the UN Security Council and the Alien Tort Claims Act, as well as various international covenants and conventions.

More information on the report can be found at The report can be accessed at

What if U.S. News Ranked Churches Like They Do Law Schools?

It might look like this:

In thanking those who took the time to write, I would remind all in the community of believers that our rankings are intended as a public service to aid spiritual consumers in making one of life’s highest-impact personal choices. We claim no infallibility in our rankings. We strive to provide accurate, user-friendly data to allow seekers of quality worship to do their homework and grasp truth with full confidence that they are comparing apples to apples. Yes, we visibly spread the word about the handiness of our shopper’s tool, but we can’t be held responsible if certain churches choose, for example, to display, as a recruiting come-on, their U.S. News ranking on a banner atop their steeple....

As proof of our good faith,(nice) we have always been willing to consider critiques of our research metrics and make warranted adjustments in our process for arriving at the rankings. That is why we have urged restraint upon those outspoken theologians who in recent months have been encouraging church ministers to boycott our informational surveys: A boycott will only make it more difficult for our researchers to compile a full portrait of America’s religious marketplace and present all good-faith competitors on a level laying field.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Where are we going? (And what will we do when we get there?)

Information- centric professions are moving through a time of huge change right now. I include both the legal and the library profession in that statement. So, law librarians like me are getting it from both sides of our professional pedigree. So, where are we going? When will we get there (as the kids in the back seat always want to know)? And what will we do when we get there?

Folks with plausible, authoritative-sounding answers to these questions get big bucks as consulting futurists and pundits. I don’t have either kind of answer. But I have thoughtful guesses, which might actually be more useful.

1. We are in a transition phase from one information storage and retrieval system to a host of others. Basically, we are moving from near total print domination to a combination of print and digital in lots of different storage systems.

1.1 Most librarians are working hard at balancing their collections. Every library needs a different mix depending on what the host institution does. Most firms are very far along on the switch to digital, driven by the calculations of cost per square foot to house a library, and the speed, multi-user licenses, and distance access offered by the excellent products available digitally. But even firms are probably keeping some print – the Thomson Town Meeting at AALL last summer (link) showed that librarians at big-city firms across the country were noting a need for continued access to print for certain types of materials. Law school libraries have two added pressures to maintain more materials in print or both. Law schools are teaching institutions, and many still teach students to use print – another point made at the Thomson Town meeting – students do better research when they understand print as well as digital. The other pressure applies to schools that have part of their mission to provide access to research materials for either the bench and bar or for the public. In both cases, it is difficult to arrange licenses that will cover all parties, and thus, some libraries maintain print for folks not covered by licenses.

1.2. There will be a mix of print and digital in most libraries for a long time to come. There are certain types of materials that are not being converted into digital or that are old and will probably not be converted for quite a while, if ever. Legal research often needs historical information. Unlike most medical or science research these days, legal researchers often need to see a case, a treatise, or a statute or article from decades or even centuries ago. Most older cases and increasing numbers of superseded statutes are online, but treatises and university press monographs are not being back-digitized in any numbers yet, or as they are published, even.

2. I think digital will not completely supersede the need for some materials in print.

2.1. Some things go better in print. Things that work really well digitally are relatively concise items that stand alone, not as part of an ordered series. So, people tend to prefer print or do better with print for codes, where the organization and context actually carry meaning beyond the actual text of a single statute you might find. Westlaw and Lexis are doing good things to restore some of that meaning, but I think people still do statutory research better in print. People also prefer the look and feel of print for some reading. Long documents are just hard to read online – though that may be a generational thing that will change. Or when we get digital paper so we read without backlighting or glare, it might change. But for now, I think most people prefer books, long articles, chapters, in print.

2.2. In the past, very few new technologies completely superseded an earlier technology. They mostly continue together, with the older technology losing dominance, but still being used. For instance, print did not completely supersede handwriting. Writing did not completely supersede orality and memorization. But an example of near total superseding is how books have nearly completely replaced scrolls. Scrolls were once the absolutely ubiquitous way to store written texts of any length. But when what we now call books appeared, within a fairly short time, scrolls came to be used only for ceremonial purposes. Books were just a much better, more convenient way to store and retrieve text. You no longer had to unroll and roll through lots of text to find the passage you wanted. You flipped pages or marked them with a bookmark, and could easily and quickly get to the relevant part, whether it was near the beginning, in the middle or at the end of the text. Easier to store on shelves as well, and probably sturdier (though I don’t really have any experience to compare). So, until some digital material proves that much superior to print, I don’t think we will see digital replace all print.
So, I have this colleague who keeps asking me when will I get rid of all the books in my library. I frankly don’t know if he thinks I am stupid, incompetent or a raging territorial bitch. I have thought of asking about that, but in the interests of harmony, haven’t, yet. I think I’ll point him to this blog next time he asks.

And next time I get some spare time, I will write some more about where I think we are going and what we’ll do when we get there.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Great resource for financial how-to

Click on the title to this post to read an in-depth article at Black Enterprise Magazine about preparing to buy a house. They offer excellent advice and links to helpful resources. This magazine and website has lots of articles on all kinds of financial advice and how-to. Try searching the site for info on paying for college, for example, or repairing credit. I ran across the magazine while waiting in a hospital waiting room. Their home page is

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Open Document Format (ODF) news

Click on the title above to read an article from Computerworld about various nations adopting ODF or using plug-ins to save Microsoft documents in Open Document Format that can be read and manipulated in non-Microsoft software packages.

... South Africa becomes the first country in Africa to adopt ODF as a government standard for exchanging documents between government agencies and the general public,.... In Korea, the government's Agency for Technology and Standards approvedODF as a national standard several months ago. Marcich admitted that the Korean decision does not force agencies to use the ODF document format, but he said it "should carry weight" with officials deciding what format or formats to support. ... 13 nations have announced laws or rules that favor the useODF -- the native file format in the free, open-source OpenOffice productivity software -- over Microsoft's Office formats, such as Office Open XML.

Those nations include Russia, Malaysia, Japan, France, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Germany and Norway.

There has been no similar move in the US, though in a speech at Google last week Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama called for data to be stored in "universally accessible formats." ... France is making the strongest move to ODF and its native office suite, OpenOffice. Nearly half a million government employees are being switched to OpenOffice.

But few other governments are matching France's zeal for dumping Microsoft Office. In Belgium, for instance, the government is using plug-ins to enable Microsoft Office to read and save files in ODF ,....
This last is the same solution we are following in Massachusetts. In the meantime, Microsoft is waiting for a February decision by the ISO whether to certify Microsoft's version, Open XML as a standard equivalent to ODF. Such a decision might slow governments and companies from moving to ODF to ensure that they are not tied to Microsoft in all purchasing. Open Document format allows users to retrieve and work on documents regardless of the software used to create them. As Microsoft has more and more market share, governments and policy makers have shied away from being forced into allegiance to MS Word and other Microsoft products. The ISO (International Standards Organization) approvedODF as a standard in May, 2006. In May, 2005, the OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) approved ODF as a standard. And the European Union's IDA (Interchange of Data between Administrations) Management Committee encouraged the OASIS to pass Open Document Format to the ISO for approval.

Affiliated groups of interest are the Open Document Format Alliance, Open Document |XML Online Community. Readers also might want to see the ISO standard.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Parallel citations: Going, going, gone?

Interesting entry on the Volokh blog questioning the value of parallel citations in an electronic world. A number of the comments are especially provocative.
It certainly seems that such traditional Bluebook conventions are a thing of the past. I hope every court soon modifies its rules to do away with this practice.

Academic Law Librarians Organization

The invitation sent to the library directors' listserv from the Texas academic law library directors (posted to this blog last week) is less an indictment of AALL than a recognition that we have no group to speak on behalf of academic law librarians at a time when our future is in doubt and our relevance is being questioned. AALL membership, by definition and (more recently) by choice, includes representatives from all types of legal collections and others who are merely interested in law libraries. Consequently, that organization is in no position to address the many issues that face academic law librarians. Their financial relationship with legal vendors is merely one example of the various factors that make AALL a less-than-ideal group to speak on behalf of academics.
At the same time, the AALS group formed by legal research and writing instructors has demonstrated how effective that type of an organization can be in representing the interests of its constituents and lobbying on their behalf. Even more recently, the law school deans have formed an effective, informal group to push their agenda, including questioning the long-term future of tenure.
A similar group that represents our concerns could address such issues as law librarian status in the academy (not limited to directors), the need for new comparative data in an electronic environment, and library vendor consolidation and pricing. These are all issues on which we need to speak out forcefully and effectively, if we are really serious about defending academic law librarianship from recent attacks.
If we are successful in forming such a group, this will be a positive step for our profession, and one that is essential if we are to remain a relevant force in legal education. I hope that our colleagues agree and join the Texas law library directors in this exciting proposal!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Proust and the Squid - Maryanne Wolf

Well I finally finished reading Proust and the Squid, by Maryanne Wolf. Dr. Wolf is a professor of child development at Tufts University and the director of the Center for Reading and Language Research. The book is about the magic (and in the case of dyslexia, tragic) process of learning to read, and what this tells us about the changes happening as the so called digital natives develop new skills for a new medium.

Dr. Wolf spends a lot of time describing what happens in the brain as we learn to read. She notes that while our brains are genetically programmed to learn language, it is not hard-wired for reading of any kind. She traces the long history of the development of writing (and thus, reading). It took about 2,000 years to develop from little scratch marks for accounting into complete writing systems. In the course of that time, our ancestors slowly reassigned portions of their brains to be dedicated for reading purposes. And all of that development is repeated each time a child learns to read and write, learning the basics of that 2,000 year achievement in about 2,000 days.

Using MRIs to create images of the brain’s activity reading researchers have pinpointed the portions of the brain used when a beginner learns to recognize letters, then to know the associated sounds, to string them together and finally to become a fluent and an expert reader. Interestingly, the parts of the brain used can vary depending on whether the language is an alphabet-based, phonetic writing system like English, Spanish or Hebrew, or a character-based writing system like Chinese or Japanese kanji. This leads to a situation where a bilingual man, fluent in both Chinese and English, could suffer a stroke, and lose the ability to read Chinese, but still be able to read in English!

Dr. Wolf talks about the issues of dyslexia, and notes that different problems or combinations of problems arise in different language speakers’ reading difficulties. She writes with a real sympathy and compassion of the very real trauma that occurs when a child does not learn to read on schedule. She has very important things to say about how to tailor teaching and societal expectations to catch dyslexic students before they learn to believe that they are stupid. If you are looking for a retirement project or have a loved one with reading problems, I highly recommend reading her chapters on dyslexia. For instance, the vocabulary of a child consistently read to from toddler age on, is vastly larger and more sophisticated than that of a five-year old who has not been read to. The read-to child is much more reading-ready than the other, and that head start shows at every step of learning to read, marking those children not read to for very nearly certain disaster.

But the reason I picked up the book is her discussion of how our understanding of what happens in a reading brain should inform our considerations of how to teach digital natives to make the most of new technology while not losing the benefits of thousands of years of reading.

Socrates' objections to writing

Dr. Wolf goes back to look at Socrates’ objections to writing. He worried that reliance on writing would erode memory (it has!), but also, and maybe more importantly, that reading would mislead students to think that they had knowledge, when they only had data. In the dialog titled Phaedrus, Socrates tells the story of the ancient Egyptian god Theuth, inventor of letters, and what the god and king Ammon (Thamus in Greek) said to Theuth about his invention:

...this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

...writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them the speakers always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and if they are maltreated or abused they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves.

Socrates leads his friend Phaedrus to see the “ word of knowledge which has a soul and of which the written word is properly no more than an image...” Socrates asks, if a farmer would not sow his good seeds in the summer heat and expect to reap in eight days, but knows he must sow in proper time and good soil, and wait eight months to reap, then would not a teacher of truth know as much about proper planting and care of the words he teaches by?

Then he will not seriously incline to”write” his thoughts “in water” with pen and ink, sowing words which can neither speak for themselves not teach the truth adequately to others? ... No, that is not likely–in the garden of letters he will sow and plant, but only for the sake of recreation and amusement; he will write them down as memorials to be treasured against the forgetfulness of old age, by himself, aor by any other old man who is treading the same path.

Dialogues of Plato, Phaedrus, pp. 275-277 (trans. Benjamin Jowett, Oxford University Press).

Pulling Wolf and Socrates together

Maryanne Wolf, in Proust and the Squid, acknowledges Socrates’ concerns about how writing may lead a reader to think they understand something complex when they have missed the “living word of know knowledge which has a soul and of which the written word is properly no more than an image...” She feels, though, that the development of reading beyond the difficult stage where one moves the lips, into true fluency and expert reading, gives the reader a special gift of “hidden time” in which to reflect on what they read, to query the author, and decide for themselves the truth of assertions. She shows how the study of actual brain function discovered a difference in the part of the brain used for reading in early steps from the parts of brain functioning in an expert reader. The links between synapses have become automatic, and the linkages between the “repurposed” parts of the brain used for reading become much different as the reader moves beyond sounding out the words read. With drawings and data, the book shows how expert readers have faster links and use less of the brain’s real estate. The expert reader thus has microseconds more in which to dialog with the text, question it, and decide for herself how characters feel, and
whether they agree with an author.

When all is said and done, of course, Socrates’ worries were not so much about literacy as about what might happen to knowledge if the young had unguided, uncritical access to information. For Socrates, the search for real knowledge did not revolve around information. Rather, it was about finding the essence and purpose of life. Such a search required a lifelong commitment to developing the deepest critical and analytical skills, and to internalizing personal knowledge through the prodigious use of memory, and long effort. Only these conditions assured Socrates that a student was capable of moving from exploring knowledge in dialogue with a teacher to a path of principles that lead to action, virtue and ultimately to a “friendship with his god.” ...

Socrates’ concerns might have been partly addressed through a more nuanced understanding of how inextricably related knowledge and literacy are, and how important they are to the development of the young. Ironically, today’s hypertext and online text provide a dimension of virtual dialogue to reading in computer-based presentations. ... Such reading requires new cognitive skills that neither Socrates nor modern educators totally understand. We are only at the beginning of analyzing the cognitive implications of using, for instance, the browser “back” button, URL syntax, “cookies,” and “pedagogical tabs” for enhancing comprehension and memory.

... From the Garden of Eden to the universal access provided by the internet, questions of who should know what, when, and how remain unresolved. At a time when over a billion people have access to the most extensive expansion of information ever compiled, we need to turn our analytical skills to questions about a society’s responsibility for the transmission of knowledge. Ultimately, the questions Socrates raised for Athenian youth apply equally to our own. Will unguided information lead to an illusion of knowledge, and thus curtail the more difficult, time-consuming, critical thought processes that lead to knowledge itself? Will the split-second immediacy of information gained from a search engine and sheer volume of what is available derail the slower, more deliberative processes that deepen our understanding of complex concepts, of another’s inner thought processes, and of our own consciousness?

... This book’s questions are not quixotic efforts to prevent the spread of technology– whose indisputable worth transforms all our lives. ... the technological analogue both of Socrates’ concerns and of the issues discussed below about what the reading brain contributes to the intellectual formation of the species and the child. The question that emerges, therefore, is this: what would be lost to us if we replaced the skills honed by the reading brain with those now being formed in our new generation of “digital natives,” who sit and read transfixed before a screen? The evolution of writing provided the cognitive platform for the emergence of tremendously important skills that make up the first chapters of our intellectual history: documentation, codification, classification, organization,interiorization of language, consciousness of self and others, and consciousness of consciousness itself. It is not that reading directly caused all these skills to flourish, but the secret gift of time to think that lies at the core of the reading brain’s design was an unprecedented impetus for their growth. Examining the development of these skills through the “natural history of reading” shows in slow motion how far our species has come in the 6,000 years since literacy emerged, as well as what it stands to lose.

Wolf, Proust and the Squid pp. 220 - 221

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

New Developments about Vendor Relations

Posted on behalf of Gail Daly, from her e-mail to the LawLibDir listserve:

Discussions on this listserv over the past few weeks have revealed a significant degree of concern and frustration over the absence of any organized group -- along the lines of the vocal and visible Legal Writing and Clinical faculty groups within AALS -- to represent our viewpoints and lobby for our interests. The nine Texas academic law library directors met on Thursday, November 15th, 2007, and after serious debate and discussion unanimously agreed that the creation of such a group is critical to the future of our profession. Consequently, we have established the Texas Chapter of the American Academic Law Librarians Society (AALLS) to offer a forum for the discussion of common interests and to address our concerns within the academy. We invite all interested colleagues to join us in founding this association and to attend our formative meeting at the Fordham Law School's Leo T. Kissam Memorial Library during the AALS Annual Meeting in January (date, time, and room to be announced shortly).

There are a number of precedents for this type of association and some models for its organization, some more formal than others. The Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) is an example of one model. SALT is, as you know, an independent organization that takes positions (often controversial) on behalf of its members. A more informal model would be the group of "runaway" law school deans that issued certain position papers with respect to tenure of clinical faculty and librarians. Our objective is to create an organization that has some clout and recognition, and we welcome your input. Affiliation with AALS would obviously bring certain advantages; whether or not it is in our group's best interests to do so may depend upon the rules and restrictions that AALS imposes. We are currently investigating AALS by-laws and other policies to determine our options.

We hope that all of you will join us in this exciting opportunity to create a vibrant and effective organization to speak to the challenges that face academic law libraries, and we look forward to seeing you in New York.

David G. Cowan, South Texas College of Law The Fred Parks Law Library
Gail M. Daly, Southern Methodist University Underwood Law Library
Robert H. Hu, St. Mary's University Sarita Kenedy East Law Library
Roy M. Mersky, University of Texas Jamail Center for Legal Research
Susan T. Phillips, Texas Wesleyan University Dee J. Kelly Law Library
Brandon D. Quarles, Baylor Law Library
Spencer L. Simons, University of Houston O'Quinn Law Library
DeCarlous Spearman, Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law Library
Arturo Torres, Texas Tech University School of Law Library

Besides this new organization that may be formed at AALS in January, members of AALL received today a post from Ann Fessenden, AALL president about the results of the recent Board meeting. I very much appreciate her and the board's response to recent questions and comments, and reproduce a portion of her e-mailed announcement here (I presume that most OOTJ readers are also AALL members, and thus have seen or will see Ann's comments in full. The response of AALL board to members' questions is very open and makes me feel much better about the organization. What started this whole conversation was actually comments about AALL apparently censoring member notes to CRIV and presentations. Ann's response (snippets below) are very heartening.

will still be attending the meeting at AALS, though. Partly, because I think that AALL may, in fact, be too broad in its representation, and that the academics have some issues that might be best raised in a smaller forum. I will try to keep OOTJ readers informed as things develop. I am very proud of Gail for taking what seems to be a historic step with the other directors from Texas. Good for you all! Here is a snippet of Ann Fessenden's e-mail to AALL members:
At our meeting this month, the members of your Executive Board held a wide-ranging discussion about vendor relations. We agreed on the importance of communicating more directly with you about issues relating to vendors and also decided that a small group of board members would be tasked with developing some concrete new approaches within a short time period. This letter is the first step in our new communications effort. We have also developed a new Vendor Relations page on AALLNET, where vendor relations news and resources will be posted.

It is true that AALL receives many financial contributions from our vendors, not just sponsorship of some Annual Meeting events, but also support for professional development opportunities such as scholarships, grants, continuing education programs, and publications. Many vendors’ library relations staff members are active, involved members of AALL, who serve on and chair committees, present programs, and otherwise contribute their professional abilities to the AALL community. AALL leaders and staff value these contributions, but we do NOT make decisions on the basis of concern for loss of revenue provided by vendors or out of fear of any other adverse reactions from them. (snip)

The dollar levels of vendor sponsorship are announced each year at the Annual Meeting and are also available on our AALLNET Sponsor Recognition page. Also, each year potential donors are sent a brochure that outlines sponsorship opportunities for the Annual Meeting and describes how AALL acknowledges the vendors’ contributions. The 2007 brochure is currently available on AALLNET, and a similar one is under development for the 2008 meeting in Portland. In addition, information about all of our income and expenses is provided each year in the "From the Treasurer" column in the May issue of AALL Spectrum, and in the treasurer’s report that is distributed at the Annual Business Meeting.

However, in order to make sure vendor sponsorship information is clear and readily available, we have developed a new table showing vendor contributions for the last year to both the Annual Meeting and to other Association programs, such as scholarships, grants, awards, and publications. This information is now available in the Funding from Vendors section of our AALLNET Vendor Relations page.

How AALL Currently Assists Members in Dealing with Vendors
Did you know that the Committee on Relations with Information Vendors (CRIV) can help you resolve disputes and learn negotiation skills? A wide range of tools are available on its Web site. Also, at this month’s meeting, the Executive Board approved new guidelines to strengthen and reinvigorate CRIV’s vendor site visits program. And if you’re not familiar with the AALL Guide to Fair Business Practices for Legal Publishers, or Principles for Licensing Electronic Resources, be sure to take a look. These are tools that we can all use in our dealings with vendors and encourage the vendors to use as well.

Next Steps
As I mentioned, a board working group is reviewing a wide range of issues relating to vendor relations and will recommend additional specific steps. Among the topics they will consider are possible changes in our Strategic Directions to address vendor relations, the gathering of information for the Price Index, possible strengthening of the Guide to Fair Business Practices, clarification of our sponsorship policies, the necessity of limiting programs or publications due to antitrust concerns, strategies to encourage and promote greater competition and enhanced customer service in the legal information industry, and ways to improve communications with vendors and with the membership. I have asked this group to report back to the board with concrete suggestions by the end of the year.

We Need Your Input
As these efforts move forward, we need to hear from you! If you would like to comment on AALL’s vendor relations policies, or have questions that are not answered by the FAQs, please send your comments to the full board, or feel free to directly contact me, Executive Director Kate Hagan, or any member of the Executive Board to express your views.

I thank you for your interest in and commitment to AALL, and I look forward to joining with you in dialogue and action to strengthen and support AALL and its members.

[Ann Fessenden signature block]

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ever wonder who mans those 24/7 IT desks?

The Chronicle of Higher Education, in its November 9, 2007 issue reports on "Late -Night Stress on the IT Help Desk," with Dan Carnevale. In Somerset, Kentucky (in the eastern, rural part of the state)

Presidium Learning, Inc., a company in this rural Kentucky town that handles technology help desks for about 450 institutions. (snip)

Presidium's contracts with clients range from less than $15,000 per year to just over $1-million, depending on the size of the institution or university system and the services sold, such as what hours call takers will be available and what software the call takers will support.

In the Somerset call center, rows of cubicles are lined up in a large room, each with a computer and telephone headset.

At the beginning of the semester, when things are busiest, Presidium will receive between 3,500 and 4,000 calls per day, with the majority coming in between 7 a.m. and midnight. Things run more slowly at night during most months. Just a handful of people are on duty, down from just over 100 during the day. However, the students and instructors who call are generally relieved that anyone is there at all.

"There is this sort of awe when people call at four in the morning," says Russ Manes, the quality-assurance manager. "They think, wow, I got a live voice."

The company tries to keep the process as seamless as possible. Call takers will admit they are contractors if a student asks, but they are also trained to say "we" and "our server" when talking about the college's technology system. The help-desk phone is automatically forwarded to Kentucky, so callers usually do not even realize that they are talking to someone far from the campus. The company also handles help-desk requests by e-mail and instant messages.
As a former Kentuckian, I am happy that this business has been set up in a depressed part of the United States. It's the kind of thing that might otherwise be sent to India, perhaps. The article is interesting, with the kind of anecdotes librarians are used to -- hysteria over crashed computers, as well as lost souls seeking a sympathetic ear.

The article goes on to report how some smaller universities and colleges are using trained students to staff IT help desks that are open for fewer hours. There was a short while at my university when a centralized help desk was offered to "triage" questions that otherwise go to help centers in each school. That's been dropped as far as I know. There was a great deal of resistance in my school to being sent off to what was seen as an anonymous desk before being allowed to reach their known and trusted IT department. I imagine it makes a difference if the local IT assistance has a good relationship and reputation with their clientelle.

To me, this looks a lot like the issue faced by libraries when a central university library wants to centralize certain services, such as acquisitions and cataloging. If it's been working well, the library ought to be able to call on their customer base for support to resist out-sourcing services. Money folks often get a glazed, hypnotized look when somebody sells them an idea with the magic words, "cost savings through economies of scale." That sounds really good until you run up against the inevitable erosion of service quality. When it's centralized, it's nobody's service group, it's nobody's library. And it's nobody's special patron, either.