Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Durham Statement

The "Durham Statement" has become a meme. And I can't imagine why. I understand the desire of law faculties to want their scholarship widely disseminated - even freely disseminated - but I can't understand why some have determined that this means that law reviews and law journals should cease being printed altogether.

Law journals and law reviews have long histories in legal academe. The quality of scholarship isn't what it once was, nor is the scholarship as important, but it's still the primary place for law professors and scholars to share their ideas and hash out new understandings of the law and our legal system. I think that the quality and importance has suffered partly because of the proliferation of law journals. Many schools have multiple journals with special interests and this has diluted the importance of scholarship. It's rare today for an article to be rejected altogether for publication. This has lead to a situation in which finding legal scholarship has become somewhat like finding cases: there are just too damn many of them to be of much use.

In the end, ceasing to publish in print the-already-too-many-journals is only going to dilute their importance further for two reasons: First, an online-only journal, no matter how you dress it up, will remain an online-only journal with all the cachet of a blog; and, Second, a trend toward online-only journals will most certainly facilitate the creation of new journals, diluting scholarship further.

The bottom line is this: Part of the value of articles published in these journals is that they are a record of a scholar's ideas and thoughts about a legal issue. The ideas may be inspirational, challenging, enlightening, wrong, controversial, revolutionary, evolutionary, or all of the above and more. But, part of the process of scholarship is committing them to "paper", or some medium in which the author can be held accountable and called to defend them. It doesn't necessarily have to be paper. But it must be in a format that is permanent. To date, nothing in any computer format can even begin to approach anything resembling the permanence of a printed book. Until then, an article published in electronic format only will only ever have the status of a blog or a wiki, neither of which, with all due respect, do not yet command the same respect of the printed word.


KenHirsh said...

Nicely said, Rich. On the other hand, do law professors and judges read the articles in the printed volume? Usually, no, they get it on Lexis or Westlaw orfrom SSRN. They print it to read it, but they don't get the original printed volume from the publisher or even their library. Most of the printed volumes go to the other law school libraries. So, since beside library subscriptions, and I suspect those will decrease in coming years for all but the primary journals at the tier one schools, why not print an archival copy or two from Lulu and stop spending the money on printing and mailing unread copies to the other law libraries.
Ken Hirsh

Richard Leiter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard Leiter said...

I'm not familiar with Lulu, but if it can stand as a copy of record, I suppose it could substitute for a printed copy. (I have to admit that the name gives me pause....and there's just too many opportunities to crack jokes at the service's expense: "That article was a lulul...." etc.) But there's something else about the preparation and publication of a print journal that's valuable and, in my opinion, must exist in any kind of "new" format, for it to be taken seriously; and that has to do with the nature of the editing/typesetting process. The steps of preparing a manuscript for publication, as painful and slow as they are, result in a careful and thoughtful vetting process that benefits the writer as well as the reader. Whatever may come "after," it must have these characteristics, or else it risks becoming just another ephemeral web page on the Internet. Perhaps a journal's presence in a library - even if rarely used there - will serve as it's official record.

Meg Kribble said...

Do any journals still do physical typesetting? I agree that there's value to the review process but in my (admittedly limited and recent) experience, it's all done back and forth via Word. Since the process is already digital, it seems like a waste of resources to insist that the artifact must be printed out hundreds of times to give it validity. A few times for preservation, though, absolutely.

(FWIW, I'm thisclose to telling AALL to stop sending me LLJ in print, since I've discovered I read the articles in a more timely fashion now that they're in my RSS reader.)

Anyway, not more than a couple dozen people beyond the charter signatories have signed on to the statement, so it's a bit soon to call it a meme. :)

PS: It was great to meet you live at CALI!

Richard Leiter said...

Meg, you may be right. It may have come to that, or could come to that. But, I wonder, will they? If given the choice, I'd rather collect the print. Maybe it's personal preference, but I think I'd prefer to be the library that 'had' the material, rather than the one that didn't.... I'm typing this reply on my iPhone, and I'm starting to get nervous.

It was a pleasure meeting you, too.

Caroline said...

I am fascinated by this Blog and have been following it for several weeks now – great discussions.
I have a couple of comments on this recent post:

- Accountability is absolutely achievable with electronic journal publishing (just ask the American Chemical Society of American Institute of Physics). Digital Object Identifiers are unique tags which are assigned to online articles and mean they are recognised as unique objects online and are identified with the original author. They also facilitate cross-linking, updating and electronic archiving....and much more.
- All journals are typeset whether they appear in print, print and electronic or e-Only. Typesetting is essentially the tagging of the data to make sure it appears on the web in the way it ought to. It becomes no less straight forward even if the content is printed in e-format only.

I am really interested in why legal scholars do not seem to demand increased peer-review in publications, and why it is widely accepted that “if its submitted it will be published”? The highest quality journals would surely be those that pro-actively encourage dialogue and refinement of ideas through blind-peer-review prior to publication, and in some cases reject submissions that are not original ideas or well thought through? This is surely something that would increase the quality of scholarship (the post implies it has deteriorated), and is entirely unrelated to the media chosen for publication, be it parchment, paper or electronic! There also seems to be very little emphasis on citation and referencing in legal journals – I do not understand why, did I miss something?

Last but not least – if you like to read journals in print then that is great – it is down to publishing houses to find a way to deliver both print and e-formats in a convenient and customer focused way. There is no getting around the fact that data/information mining online is an extremely effective and useful way of finding information quickly, but once found, if you want to read it in print then it is down to publishing houses to see how that can be offered.

Kindest regards.

Tracy L. Thompson-Przylucki said...

Hi Rich,
We started some of this discussion on your blogtalkradio show a few weeks ago. I think this is an issue fraught with misconceptions. First, those who oppose an open access, electronic law journal model often assume that there will be no peer (or in the case of law journals, student) review process. The existing review process need not change in a move to e-only (or at least e-first) publication. The status of a publication need not be diminished by the move to e-first. Another assumption is that no income can be generated from an open access model. That is also not the case. There are a number of business models for open access content that can provide a revenue stream. The question you raise about permanence is important. It really highlights a primary dichotomy our profession struggles with in the electronic era; access versus preservation. I think we have the perfect opportunity to bridge this gap by completely revamping the current publication paradigm to an electronic-first model with print-on-demand capabilities. This would maximize dissemination and still fulfill the need of those who want the printnversion, whether for preservation or simply reader preference. A fee would apply for the print-on-demand option. A sea change like this could occur fairly quickly with the right players involved. If you take a look at the print-on-demand facility that Ingram Digital has (called Lightning Source, I think) you could see how this could be accomplished. I've been thinking about this for a while now and it's just going to take some bold leadership to make the change.