Future of Law Libraries: The Future is Now?

A group of us is gathered today at Harvard Law School for a conversation about the future of legal information, libraries, and the law itself.  It’s a fun and diverse group — about 150 strong — in Austin Hall’s north classroom.  The wiki for the conference has the schedule, the participants, and a lot of great suggested readings in a wide range of formats.  I’m intending to live-blog here, with the usual typos and caveats and imperfections, as much of the day as I can.

Robert Berring is the opening keynote speaker.  He started with references to John William Wallace, and an article on Wallace by Femi Cadmus (now of Yale, about to go to Cornell to be the law librarian there) that appeared in GreenBag.  Berring also recalls the work of the late Morris Cohen, who was the law librarian of both Yale and Harvard.  Forty years ago, Cohen called upon the profession to step back and to reflect on where we stand.  One of the books that Berring has recently read: Keith Richards’ autobiography.  Richards cared about the quality of the music.  And from there, to Confucius: the understanding at a deeper level of an entire way of life.  We need to work toward something that we’ve been working on all along, Berring said.  Librarians have always been, and are today, the great translators of legal information.  The big change of the recent decades: the culture of the book is not the culture that we live in today.  Books, now, have to justify their existence: they make sense and work for certain purposes, but now have to prove that they are the right format.  Librarians, too, will persist: we will justify our existence, too.  What we’ve been about: providing access to legitimate, stable information to the people who need it, as the translators.  Provocative closing thoughts: the legal education field is on the verge of enormous change, and librarians will need to be there to hold people’s hands as casebooks disappear, as the format of all these bits of information change, as the profession changes.

Carl Malamud and Joe Hodnicki lead the first session.  Carl cites Robert Byrd as his primary source for law and legal information.  As Byrd did, Carl re-tells the story of the Twelve Tables, a core element of the Constitution of ancient Rome.  The key part of the story: a demand for the codification of the law.  The beginning of written law, Malamud said, stemmed from this process, and represent the true formation of the republic.  The writing-down of the law and its safekeeping, Carl says, has become the job of the people.  Law libraries risk becoming a 7-11; instead, we should be the keepers of the Twelve Tables.  Our law libraries are not active in maintaining the corpus of American legal information, Malamud says.  Why have we not scanned the 25 million pages of Supreme Court briefs?  Why do we have $0.08 per page access to legal materials and state-level copyright over law?

Joe Hodnicki responds to Carl by describing a cultural divide between the legal documentation community and the law library community.  Print is just a technical accident that we’ve lived with for several hundred years, whereas text is not.  Text is enduring, Hodnicki tells us.  He points to the duopoly of Lexis and West, with their huge corpuses of text.  Print, today, is sold at a price that will price itself out of the marketplace, Hodnicki claims.  Fastcase is different, Joe says (looking directly at CEO Ed Walters).

Richard Danner starts up the Open Access session.  He provides us an update on our collective progress on implementing the Durham Statement.  He emphasizes that most scholars would publish in a law journal even if it were not in print.  (68%; whereas 32% said that print was still important to them)  Law journal editors expressed concern about the 32% that they would fear, in a competitive environment, they would lose.  Who will drive the movement toward electronic publishing for legal scholarship, Danner asks, given that student editors are in place only for a few years?  Even if they are committed to developing an open scholarly information environment, they often only get to that perspective late in their year or so in leadership.  Deans have not been strong leaders so far, even though in the long term they (and their schools) would benefit.  The law reviews of a few stop schools (Harvard and Yale, e.g.) could tip over to open access, and that might do it — but these top journals are today still making some money from print subscriptions.  Prof. Danner ends by pointing to cross-tabs that show that those who are younger are less likely to worry about publishing in print, which may be good news for open access for law scholarship in the future.

June Liebert responds to Dick Danner’s opening about open access with a peek where are are today.  It costs law schools $25,000 to $100,000 per article (cites to Prof. Richard Neumann).  She’s got an amazing set of five practical ideas for what we can do and can control as law librarians and law faculty: 1) new library publishing paradigm; 2) build institutional repositories; 3) focus on born digital documents first; 4) stop subsidizing journals in print — buy or print only where it makes economic sense; and, 5) faculty partner in the scholarship lifecycle.

Robert Darnton — eminent scholar and teacher of history and Harvard university professor and Librarian — kicks off the last pre-lunch session with a description of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).  Prof. Darnton tees up and debunks a series of myths about the DPLA: it’s *not* 1) utopia; 2) intended only to serve college professors; 3) cooked up at Harvard and elitist; 4) a threat to public libraries, not a complement; and 5) an anti-Google Books Search effort.  The DPLA is rather meant as a broad-based, open process and platform that will serve public libraries, academics, and individuals alike.

Siva Vaidhyanathan of Virginia responds to Bob by describing his idea for a Human Knowledge Project.  Side note: With my DPLA hat on, I am of a mind that the DPLA is one part of the Human Knowledge Project (HKP); if we were to stitch together, at the layer of open linked data, all the national and regional efforts like Europeana, we would have built just such a project.  The dream, Siva, says, is to provide universal, comprehensive access to knowledge.  Siva says that the Human Knowledge Project is a 50-year project, whereas the DPLA is a 10-year project.  To make the HKP happen, we need to coordinate and to compete; we need interoperability and open linked data; we need to emphasize search standards within and across these systems; we need to get serious about governance; we need global copyright reform.  The HKP ideals are high and broad and important and long-term — as well as achievable, Siva argues.  Very inspiring.

For the lunchtime keynote, Michelle Wu, Georgetown’s new law library director and professor, is making the case for Building a Collaborative Digital Collection, a Necessary Evolution in Libraries (forthcoming, Law Library Journal).  She says that Section 108 and a format-shifting argument make possible her proposal for shared print and scanned resources.  Librarians are adaptive, she says, and critical of existing products that are available.  If we can do it better, we need to get off the sidelines and drive information policy.  Librarians should be fighting for copyright reform, in particualar, Wu says.

After an un-conference break, we’ve re-convened to talk about hacking the casebook.  Our great colleague Jonathan Zittrain (JZ to those in the know) is in New Hampshire on vacation (his “first in ten years” as he reports), so I play a video presentation that he precorded.  Watch it here: available online here.  JZ’s talk, as you’ll see, is about the “hack the casebook” project to reconcieve and rebuild the law school teaching casebook from the ground up.  It’s built off of the H20 project and will be the torts casebook that JZ will teach from this fall.

John Mayer, Executive Director of CALI, responds, by talking about the eLangdell project.  John recalls a 2006 speech that he gave at Nova Southeastern Law School called “rip, mix, learn” on similar topics.  Law students spend about $1,000 per year on their books.  One of the tricks associated with this project is that faculty actually don’t agree on (at least) four things: definition of a casebook; definition of a chapter; copyright issues; and quality assurance.

Kathleen Price, professor emeritus of law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law and long-time leader of the law library field, leads the final session.  Professor Price urges the law librarian community to take pleasure in the service we provide and the partnership between librarians, faculty, and students of law.  The law library profession is in fact a young profession: it goes back not even a full century, Price argues, dating back to just pre-WWII.  This first group, Price says, were the Brahmins.  Post-WWII, a new group entered the profession: outsiders who were teachers, who created teaching materials and bibliographic materials, and those who made foreign, comparative, and international law at LC something we could work with.  The group that entered the profession in the mid-1970s was also a crew of “outsiders,” including women who were excluded from the important law firms of the day (“we already have our woman…”).  This group also became very successful teachers — the generation of Bob Berring, Kathie Price herself, and others fall in this group.  Rising tenure standards have caused the law librarians since this generation to turn to scholarship of novel sorts (blogs, tweets, creation of institutional repositories) as well as fundraising and business responsibilities that are increasingly significant.  Who will replace those who are now coming up to retirement?  Three possible models: 1) faculty (or firm) services types; 2) the new technology librarians; and 3) foreign comparative and international law library specialists.  We are in a moment of flux in the field, Price says, as more and more people are interested in East Asia and African law, especially, as well as Latin American and Eastern European law.  These positions, Price notes, are all public services librarians.  We have to look to whether we can give up certain kinds of cataloging, especially if we can move metadata to the cloud and do it only once. Price concludes by asking a series of very hard questions about the future of the AALL as the primary source of continuing education for our field; the kinds of skills needed for future hires; and the kinds of teaching that make sense for law librarians.

Sarah Glassmeyer, faculty services librarian and assistant professor of law at Valparaiso University School of Law, responds to Prof. Price.  We need to work with people who are “not like us” — she cites both Carl Malamud and, well, me (a non-librarian).  Meg Kribble also gets a nice shout-out as a future law library leader.  Tom Bruce (not a lawyer or a librarian) gets a shout-out as a good mentor.  Glassmeyer worries about the generations connecting as well as they might.  Please, she says, let’s share stories across the generations — through informal mentoring, the “boomer librarians” have a lot to pass on, and the Gen X librarians need to step up (and be supported in doing so) as well.

Ron Wheeler, professor and director of the Law Library at the University of San Francisco School of Law, is the last speaker of the day.  Wheeler feels like he has one foot in two different generations.  In thinking about the future, he thought about the skills and attributes he is looking for in his new recruits.  People skills is the first thing.  It means interacting with patrons, not sitting at the reference desk.  The second is teaching innovation: more inventive, clever, interesting, and passionate about things like legal research.  The third is teamwork: not just those who tolerate teamwork, but those who thrive on teamwork and collaboration.  A fourth: people not afraid to lead.  We need to try new services and projects, and we need people who can run with them — even if they fail.  Not just managers; do-ers, too.  And networkers: those who can work with those outside their immediate network.  He wants also, to see those who are focused on sustaining a profession, not mailing it in.  Personality types: able to embrace change, those with flexibility and adaptability, people bored with the status quo.  He is eager to see those who have a passion for doing things that are non-traditional library work.  We should teach in new programs as they develop, help to solve problems for law schools and universities as they seek to innovate at the institutional level.  Technology skills — the skills that June Liebert has — in a broad range of types.  And — second to last — it’s diversity, racial and gender and lots of other kinds of diversity.  Finally: he wants people who will show up every day and work really, really hard.

2 thoughts on “Future of Law Libraries: The Future is Now?

  1. Pingback: Looking Back to Think About the Future, Part Two | SarahGlassmeyer(dot)com

  2. Pingback: Unbundling, turf battles, and the decline of law as an information profession | Buffalo Wings and Toasted Ravioli

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s