Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Virtual Reality Coming to Libraries - For Real?

I refer you to an interesting article in the June 2006 (23:6) issue of Information Today, "Gaming: The Next Hot Technology for Libraries?" The article made me think of a news item I once wrote of in "Law Library Hi-Tech," in AALL Newsletter (23:3, p 597, 1991). I've reproduced the article, to the left. (Obviously.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Lord Thomson, of the West Group/Gale Group Empire, Dies at 82

A fascinating article about the chief architect of the transformation of legal publishing in our time. Read it and weep. Do you think that all the West folks at AALL this year will be wearing black; black arm bands, or something?

Monday, June 12, 2006

What's Old is New....?

Andrew Sullivan makes an intersting point about new technology and newspapers: what was once ephemeral is becoming more discoverable and "permanent." While I don't share his confidence that the new technology will provide a permanent place for old materials, a point that he almost raises is that columnists have always had a certain luxury of anonymity of time. After all, unless someone decides to compile the columns, or the columnist decides to write a book, or become notorius through some means, no one ever goes back and reads opinions of columnists!

The new technology provides more and more access to "newsy" stuff. Writers must now pay more attention to what they write - the future may actually hold them accountable....

An interesting column, and well worth reading. Here's an excerpt:

"Here’s one simple example of what I mean. A decade or so ago I remember calling up the sub-editors of this paper in the dead of night worrying about an error I thought I might have made in a column. The breezy cockney voice on the other end of the phone reassured me: “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that. It’s fish and chips now, mate.”"

(Little) Big Brother IS Watching Us?

The following will be published in an upcoming "Database Report" column in Legal Information Alert:

Welcome to 2006. The NSA is collecting our phone records to protect us from terrorists and now it seems that Lexis (for one) is monitoring our research habits in order to protect them from inappropriate usage.
A few days ago I received a phone message from a person in Lexis's "Contract Compliance" office. Apparently, one of our faculty's passwords was flagged for "unusual" activity. I asked the faculty member about his usage of Lexis and he blinked at me a few times and said that he'd been doing nothing out of the ordinary and hadn't given his password to anyone. He said that he regularly reads the New York Times on Lexis (don't ask me why) and that he regularly scans certainly portions of the US Code online, too.
When I returned the called to the "compliance office," I was told that somehow this professor's account had been flagged as having "unusual activity." I told him what the faculty member had said, to which the Lexis officer replied, "OK, that seems to be consistent with why that password flagged." Apparently, simply reading the NYT on Lexis everyday is enough to flag the password as having "unusual" or suspicious activity. He noted that my report was consistent with the report he had received about the activity on the account. He said, though, that his report only went back about three months.
When we finally agreed that the unusual activity was not really unusual in this case, he said that he'd note it somehow so that it wouldn't get flagged again. What I can deduce from this and one subsequent conversation with the Lexis employee is that the office is new and that they are using an algorithm that searches through account activity looking for usage that doesn't fit "normal" patterns.
So far, Lexis hasn't been willing to talk to me about the office. The person who originally contacted me didn't feel comfortable telling me too much about who they are or what they do. However, I did discover that the office he was calling from was Accurint, a subsidiary of Lexis that sells personal information to collection agencies and lawyers and business information to businesses.
What does this mean? Probably nothing. And I suppose that I shouldn't really be surprised, either. After all, this is their business and they have a right to monitor customers usage looking to prevent abuse or misuse.
I just thought you'd like to know.....

The End of the World as We Know it

The following will soon be published in an upcoming "Database Report" column in Legal Information Alert:

I recently was asked if I had any concerns to bring to the attention of a certain large midwestern publisher. I responded, with characteristic reserve and diplomacy:

"Yeah: Everything is getting too expensive. We're considering canceling Westlaw to save money. Over the last six years, their prices for standard print materials has inflated something like 30%. That's absurd. Especially for publicly funded schools in this present economy. Most of us haven't had budget increases of more than 5% in years. They should be excoriated to not read shifting purchasing patterns of academic libraries as an indication of our preferences: ie, canceling digests, state codes, etc. It is purely a matter of economics brought on BY WEST ITSELF! If they see our cancellation patterns as indicating that libraries are moving away from print for any reason other than cost, they are deceiving themselves and will come to regret it. Someone will come along and market cheaper versions of all this stuff. West has virtually no good will left in law libraries any more. They need to hear this stuff.

Give 'em hell!"

My concerns were diplomatically conveyed to the publisher and I received a reply to the effect that while they acknowledge that the market is changing, they want to attempt to milk all the revenue they can out of the print market before it dries up! This response is surprisingly frank and honest. And it should scare the living daylights out of us all.
I truly believe that the "big two" publishers believe that the print market is "drying up." What I'm not sure of is whether they are aware that they are the cause of it drying up. They have multiple reasons for thinking this. For one, they think that online research being the future is a fait accompli. This is reflective, of course, of the naive belief that the future will look like Star Trek or the world of the Jetson's. This is patently false. If I am correct, then the market will prove me so and the publishers will continue to grow their catalogs and profits in the print market whether they like it or not. At best, they will be relieved and embarrassed.
But there is a sinister aspect to this scenario. The costs associated with maintaining their online databases is every bit as expensive as maintaining a print publishing house, so as they enter the future they are running two gigantic businesses side by side. Clearly, they would like to only run one, but maintain the same profits. New contract schemes like LMA's, WestPack's and who knows what else will be coming down the pipe in the next few years, will be directed at causing us to cut back on print resources - for economic reasons, not practical ones - in hopes that they can justify canceling their print catalogs.
My prediction is that soon, we may be in a situation where the publishers will unilaterally close their print publishing divisions and announce that they are going entirely online. Watch for the cost's of CALR to go through the roof.
My proof for these predictions? I have heard of no library that has cancelled a title simply because the print version was not useful anymore (exceptions might be Shepard's, indexes to legal periodicals and, someday, perhaps, digests); The reasons for every cancellation is lack of money and lack of space. I know of no one who would argue that books are bad or not useful. They are simply expensive and take up space.
And there aren't any libraries on the Enterprise or the Skypad Apartments.....

Sunday, June 11, 2006

I'm Ba-a-a-ck!

I'm not sure how many of you missed me, but I've figured out a way around some spamming problems associated with managing this blog, and am now ready to keep it up again.

Watch here; I'll be in touch soon.