Monday, December 21, 2009

The Year In Law Libraries

The panel had some good comments on the year's biggest developments. And predictions.... the predictions are available in the chat room transcript, which you can find by clicking here.

I'll post more information about the show later.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Reflections on Conversation with Anurag Acharya, Google Scholar

Reaction to Google Scholar Legal Opinions and Journals (SLOJ) has been largely defined by our experience with extant legal databases. All online legal research tools that we're familiar with at present are databases filled with documents that we search using boolean operators or simple, character-by-character, word-for-word text searching. The main differences between, say, Westlaw and the ordinary "find" command when you search your documents or use Spotlight on your computer, is that Westlaw indexes the documents in ways that we take for granted. Things like proximity connecters, segment searches, etc., are all part of the indexing process and gives us extraordinary power to use the computer to conduct detailed and very precise searches of its database. Other vendors that we're familiar with use similar processes.

Google, on the other hand, as a search engine, is unlike any other in our experience. There is really no full text searching going on. Google's search philosophy is very adequately discussed in James Surowiecki's, "The Wisdom of Crowds." Google does not really search cases or articles for the terms used in your query. Rather, it uses the terms in your query in a variety of ways. It will recognize which are names of parties, which are legal principles, or author's names, article titles, etc. It then uses it's vast network of data which links cases and articles together and returns results based upon frequency of linking and cross-referencing. This is a gross over-simplification, but it suffices to illustrate that the search results are not the objective kind of results that Westlaw, Lexis and others produce. Searching in Google is quite subjective by comparison. Not, of course, in the sense that it is anticipating or evaluating the meaning of the query and returning results accordingly, but in the sense that based on your query, the results returned are based on a document's popularity. The more times a document is cited, the more important the search engine assumes it is.

This approach to searching for law is completely different from other search engines and poses very distinct problems for legal researchers who are tempted to use it as a substitute for "Wexisberg". (Thanks to Greg Lambert for this new portmanteau of Westlaw, Lexis and Bloomberg.) When understood, Google will produce stunning results. The fact is, it does exactly what it says it does. Many criticisms of it as a legal research tool are based upon comparisons of it to Wexisberg, which is something like comparing apples and oranges.

This is not to say that Google SLOJ doesn't need to improve. There are many things that Google can do to make it more palpable to lawyers and legal academics. Clearly defining the content of the databases being searched for one thing. At this point, it all seems very mysterious.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Chat Room Transcript from 4 December 2009 BlogTalkRadio Show

I will be writing later about our conversation with Anurag Acharya, Chief Engineer of Google Scholar. Greg Lambert, Roger Skalbeck, Marcia Dority Baker and I had a wonderful 90-minute conversation with Mr. Acharya, and I think that I speak for us all when I say that the conversation was not only enlightening, but we were all very impressed with Mr. Acharya's charm, his sense of humor and the great delight he has in his work. Like I said, more on that later. For the time being, please feel free to peruse the transcript of the chat room. And, as always, remember that you can download the show on iTunes or from the show's website:

A couple of notes about the show, for anyone interested: we had a record of 301 live listeners and 105 people in the chat room! Over the weekend, there have already been nearly 140 downloads of the show. Thanks everyone who participated. We've a lot of exciting shows planned for 2010. We'll be taking the holidays off, but plan to return on January 15. At that time, we'll begin our new schedule of recording/airing twice a month on the first and third Fridays of the month.

Until then, please, everyone, please have a safe and happy holiday season. And for all the crew at The Law Librarian on BTR, we'd love to hear from you your ideas and thoughts about how we may improve.