Tuesday, October 07, 2008

"Hook 'm Horns" About to Take on New Meaning: Ars Tech reports on UT's Attempt to hook students on eTextbooks

Publishers are a determined lot, I'll give them that. The whole concept of eTextbooks is stupid, that's why no one wants them. I mean, who in their right mind would pay $40 for a text book on, say, chemistry, that you can't resell or keep for later reference? Or that you can't print from - or that you can only print ten pages from? Or only open fifty times....? From the consumers POV it's stupid and costly (think of it as a highly restrictive lease with onerous DRM built in), but from the publishers POV it's a gold mine because it kills the market in used books. Look for kick-backs and incentives to encourage schools to require adoption of eTextbooks.... There will be lots of ridiculous arguments in support of eTextbooks, including the fact that they're "green." (Useless, but environmentally friendly....)

Friday, September 19, 2008

AALL "Blawg" Gets It Right - Mostly

While anyone can look back through writings of various technology naysayers and cautionary pundits of the past (including yours truly) and find warnings about how the rapid (and thoughtless, apparently) wholesale adoption of technology for publication of legal information, it's turning out to be much more complicated than that.

Simply taking snapshots of Agency websites won't capture the important information that we're loosing. In fact, it captures more useless stuff than valuable. After all, who needs to know how, say, the Immigration Office coded their homepage? The important stuff is what's at the other end of the links, the data. Knowing that a link to a report was present in an agency page isn't as important as the report itself. If that only exists as an html or other form of e-document and it's wiped out, who cares about the link?

As I've said a zillion times before, all important government information should be in e-format only as a secondary, back-up format. The primary format of everything that's important should be in print.

All e-formats, by their natures are ephemeral. Until that conundrum is solved, "preservation of electronic material" is an oxymoron.

Amazon to Become "Content Provider"

If you listen to no other podcast and are interested in what's happening in the world of hi-tech, it should be John C Dvorak's "Tech 5". Subtitled, "The most important five minutes of your day," Dvorak covers all the latest tech trends with economy and wit. Occasionally, he even makes brilliant observations:

The September episode carries mention of a story circulating that day in which it is announced that Amazon was soon to become a "content provider." Dvorak makes the observation that that's precisely what Amazon is! People go to the website, look for music, books, whatever, and then Amazon packs the stuff up and sends it to the customers. Isn't that providing content?

Sheesh. Good point.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

NY Times Article on Otlet's Web: What the WWW would be without computers....

This is a fascinating article about the WWW and it's role as an information retrieval tool, IF the entire infrastructure were analog. No computers would mean mountains of paper storage facilities and archives. Amazing.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

OLPC XO-2 - At Last, A All-round Functional PC?

This is a way cool new PC concept. The size of a large hardback book, but a quarter of the width; two touch-sensitive, haptic-enhanced screens that can function as a key board and a monitor, when opened like a book, like two screens, when laid out flat like two touch screen tablets. What more can you ask for? And for a target price of $75?! Sheesh.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Brewster Kahle: The Best Part of the e-Library is....

Brewster Kahle, self-described internet librarian and all-around technological gadfly, talked excitedly on TWiT this week about one of the Internet Archives great projects: a book mobile that is connected to the net and is fitted out with a high speed printer-binder so the book mobile can roll around the country side printing out books on demand.

Hmmm. Digital library meets the real world.

This Week In Tech

Love him or hate him, Brewster Kahle, found of the Internet Archive, is the guest on the fabulous podcast, TWIT, This Week In Tech. Leo Laporte, Denise Howell (This Week in Law), and John C Dvorak interview Brewster about his projects. It's a fascinating interview.

If you haven't heard of it before, the podcast is an amazing source of information about what's happening in the technology world, and it's very entertaining. The best thing about the podcast is that Laport and Dvorak are techno-celebrities in their own rights with access to all of the industries leaders. They've had Larry Lessig, Steve Wozniak, Dave Winer and many others on the show from time to time.

The show is recorded live on Sunday afternoons, you can actually watch via a live feed at http://twitlive.tv/, and the podcast, available direct from the twit site, iTunes, or any podcast aggregator, is usually up by midday on Mondays. Its a very worthwhile hour for any one interested in current events and developments in the world of tech.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Breaking Through to the Other Side

For years now, much of library conversations have been about books vs. online sources. I've always rejected the notion that we need to make choices between the two formats. There's no war going on, and I think that the "death of the book" pundits always understate the value of print, at the expense of some fundamental values that libraries possess, vis a vis collecting, sorting and storing information for researchers and scholars.

Well, it occurred to me this morning that the whole debate is nonsense. Fights over format are purely economic and commercial. What our job is, as librarians, is to understand and organize the bibliography of law - regardless of format. Whoopty-doo, some firm or developer is developing a really cool website or search engine. Does that mean that books are dead or dying? Who cares?! It merely means that we have yet another neat tool for research, and the law has found yet another neat place to dwell.

And so it goes.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

PARC Developing "Erasable" Printer Paper!

In a bizarre twist of I-don't-know-what, PC Magazine reports that PARC is working on developing reusable printer/copier paper. The idea is that most print jobs are for temporary purposes, such as printing emails, after which they are discarded. This paper, which is light-activated, fades after about a day and then can be re-used up to 100 times. Robert Scobel even has a Qik video of it: http://qik.com/video/66798

The implication for libraries? Heck, simply print out newspapers or articles on demand and have patrons return the paper to the desk.... Who knows?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

4DigitalBooks Makes Book Scanning Look Fun and Easy!

Gizmodo reported about a cool hands-free book scanner from Swiss company, 4DigitalBooks. The new machine, the DL 3000 will scan 3000 pages an hour with no human innovation to mess things up. Sweet. And it only costs $250,000, according to Giz.... So don't look for it in your local library any time soon. Read all about it on the company's website:


Thursday, April 03, 2008


I'm just starting to read a fascinating book, "Educating Lawyers," by Sullivan, Colby, Wenger, Bond and Shulman. It's a book about legal education (obviously) published in conjunction with The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. I'm going to be commenting on it from time time as I read through it looking for information on how legal research factors into the authors' view of legal education as a skill.

Two immediate reactions jump out: First, there is no entry in the index for legal research. But there are several for legal writing. Why is this? Are writing instructors more vocal than librarians, who clearly have the ultimate responsibility, not to mention the expertise, for training law students in the techniques and theories of legal research? If this is so, this clearly indicates that librarians have dropped an important ball. Or is it that research is much more intangible than writing skills which produces something tangible, such as a document, and is therefore overlooked? In this case, librarians have dropped the ball in approaching the topic of legal research as a substantive course of study. I think that it's the latter.

Research is a skill that depends on intimate knowledge of how legal information works (where it comes from and where it goes and how), much more than a study of how to use different tools of legal bibliography.

Second, there is a very curious and surprising sentence in the Introduction, on page 6, in the third line of that page, "Students taught from Langdell's case books were being introduced by their professors to legal research, much as a laboratory or seminar professor in the arts and sciences of those days would have led students to grasp the principles organizing the particular domain..... Through this new procedure, Langdell updated a central tradition of classical jurisprudence: American law was now to be analyzed by academic specialists and criticized in the light of general ideas and principles." This is a very insightful observation. But it presumes the existence and respect of secondary sources and a complex system of organizing case law. As students are introduced to legal principles through the study of cases, treatises and cross-referencing systems aid the student and lawyer to get to the materials needed to answer specific research questions.

But here is where the book gets interesting. The first full paragraph contains this gem: "In the first place, up-to-date legal scholarship was to turn the jumble of court decisions into synthetic overviews or treatises that could organize and explain various areas of the law. Then the school would train future lawyers the way scientists are trained, teaching them to do legal research amid actual cases in the library...." This is a very key observation. Just as Kent, Bacon and even the writers of the classic encyclopedias and the restatements saw their role as attempts to simplify and synthesize the rules of law that were buried amid a morass of ambiguous and sometimes contradictory case law, all treatises and secondary materials' primary importance is in their ability synthesis and clearly state what are the rules of law. (Royalties and ego stroking notwithstanding.)

This is a key element of what legal research instructors must get across to our students: we must educate them to understand that treatises aren't merely old-fashioned legacies of the past; they are valuable tools that help skilled researchers get to the heart of the matter.

In light of the rise of online services and their ability to bring researchers into direct access to primary materials, this is a very interesting observation indeed. If you cut out the middle man, ie, the treatise writer/scholar who produces secondary material, efficiency in researching will not only decline (to the online services great benefit, because researchers will spend more time online trying to make heads or tails out of case law), but it may lead to the sort of crisis in our legal system such as Kent warned about in his commentaries, volume one, page 441-442 (1826): "The evils resulting from an indigestible heap of laws, and legal authorities, are great and manifest. They destroy the certainty of the law, and promote litigation, delay and subtilty [sic]."

Online services' great virtue is that they bring researchers face to face with primary sources. Online services greatest curse is that it brings researchers face to face with primary sources, without mediation. This is a very dangerous thing, indeed.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Where Were the Lawyers When....?

People are up in arms about the big air tanker contract going to Airbus (a foreign company). Where were the protesters when foreign nationals took over the publication of US laws? Good grief, West, Lexis, CCH, Aspen, Matthew-Bender, RIA, Lawyer's Co-Op are all now owned by Canadian, British or Dutch companies. That's got to amount to nearly 90% of all commercial legal materials. And now they're squeezing us for every penny we own, and most of that revenue is flowing outside the US. Isn't that something to be protested?

There were protestations, to be sure. But compared to the uproar about the air tankers, narry a peep!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Time for New Classification System?

The character of legal information is changing in the fact that the breadth of what qualifies as legal information is changing. Just as librarians have struggled in the past with incorporating new formats into existing collections and classification schemes, we need now to be creative in figuring out how to capture, preserve and classify new mercurial formats such as podcasts, blogs and twitters.... The adjective "mercurial" only describes a fraction of the challenge....

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Truth is Sometimes Stranger than Fiction

I heard about this on TWiT a couple of weeks ago and I've been telling people about it since then. No one believes that it can be real. Well, it is: Google is investigating a service that serves up broadband wireless by attaching access points to balloons (yes, balloons) and then floating them into the atmosphere where the rise until they pop and then parachute back to earth where lucky finders can redeem them for 50-100 dollars a pop. Sound bizarre? Check out this video reported by Gizmodo....


What's an "Inforcrat"?

I just returned from a trip to Washington, DC. I was equipped with my iPod Touch and my MacBook Pro - hey I'm fully connected - and ready for anything. But you know what? I couldn't use either device for email of web-browsing anywhere in two airports (Omaha and National), the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Starbucks and Georgetown University School of Law! Why? I don't have subscriptions to the "pay as you go wi-fi" at the airports, hotel or Starbucks and I'm locked out of the Georgetown network because I'm a visitor. In the course of a stimulating visit in DC in which we discussed the future of law libraries, it occurred to me that if the future is becoming digital, then who will have access to digital information?

Well, the answer is becoming more and more, "The people who pay and the people who are somehow or other on the inside track." What are the ramifications for our democracy? More and more, it may turn out that the "haves" are becoming the "infocrats", if that's a word. How will libraries be able to maintain their roles as custodians of the culture if they can only provide access to information to those who have Kindles, iPhones, Blackberrys or the like? Isn't our challenge to maintain free unbridled access to public information in the face of the digital age?


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Do Publishers Read Newspapers?

It seems to me that law publishers - of all people - should be aware of the funding crisis in (public) academe. I'm not sure that any law libraries or law schools are getting funding increases, so how do they get off raising costs at all? We, here at the University of Nebraska haven't received a budget increase in eight years. But our vendors are all increasing prices five to ten percent! How do they expect us to afford the increases, much less purchase new products like MOML, MOML Trials, etc....

Ken Svengalis to Appear on first Episode of the "The Law Librarian"

I am going to experiment with a call-in internet radio show on Blog Talk Radio. Brian Striman will co-host with me on May 2 during which we will interview Ken and discuss the challenge of managing libraries in the face of shrinking public funding and out of hand inflation from information providers. The show will be one hour on Friday afternoon and will accept call-ins from listeners as well as chat and Twitter comments.

More information as it develops.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Internet and Legislative History

Legislative history is, essentially, whatever sources you can find that help reveal the intent of the legislative body in it's conduct, usually passing legislation. But the principle also applies to actions of the executive branch, and, therefore, includes hearings, speeches, correspondence, reports (commissioned or otherwise), and whatever else a resourceful researcher can uncover or discover.

Today, blogs, webpages and email will qualify as sources of legislative history. And there's a lot of it. I think that this turns the whole idea of understanding teaching of legal research on it's head: it's not about the sources or knowing what they are, it's understanding how information gets from one place to another. Where do legislative ideas come from? Where do they go? How do they get there?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Think Using Books is Easy?

Click this link:


and pity the poor early adopters.....

Friday, February 08, 2008

'Kneed' Extra Power to Keep You Mobile Device Up and Running?

Gizmodo reports on a device created by researchers at the University of Michigan that harvests the energy of the knee to power cell phones or other handheld devices. Great news for people who have chronically dead phones: They just need to be convinced to get up and walk around....

Thursday, January 03, 2008

"Digital Collections" – An Oxymoron?

It occurred to me recently that the term, "digital collection" may well be an oxymoron. When libraries 'purchase' a digital collection, it is usually a license, not a purchase at all. How can libraries collect licenses? When a publisher decides to drop a file or database from an online service, what is a library to do about it? We can insist on paying less for the service, but that's about it. Libraries are the repositories of civilization, but if the record of our civilization is all digital and we libraries try to collect it, we are left with nothing - ultimately. What do we own? A file folder filled with contracts.

An example of this recently rocked the law library world when suddenly, without warning, it appeared that Lexis dropped Tax Notes from their service. This has happened with other services. Contract issues between information providers and Lexis or Westlaw have affected the services available to Lexis and Westlaw subscribers. For example, if you don't subscribe to various BNA titles, either in print or electronically, you can't get access to them through Lexis or Westlaw. So, in this modern age, a library charged with collecting, preserving and making available to researchers valuable information (including historical information) can no longer guarantee that what it has 'collected' is still in its collection.

So what are we collecting? Information or information about information?