Nov 24, 2009

Last night while grading student assignments for my legal research classes, I encountered an anomaly in the text of California Jurisprudence 3d. I'd asked students to locate a secondary source discussing California's criminal charge of Unlawful Sexual Intercourse with a Minor. (Yes, I used the Roman Polanski case for my fact pattern.) For those who chose to use Cal. Jur., the experience differed depending on whether they used Lexis or Westlaw.

First, the section numbers don't match. In Westlaw, the general discussion of Unlawful Sexual Intercourse (which falls hierarchically at Criminal Law: Crimes Against the Person -> X. Unlawful Sexual Intercourse -> A. In General) begins at 18 Cal. Jur. 3d Criminal Law: Crimes Against the Person § 595. In Lexis, however, this same discussion begins at § 487 (found in the same hierarchical location). In the Westlaw version, there is a link to something called a "Correlation Table" which shows a column of section numbers aligned with another column of section numbers. Sure enough, in this table § 487 in the left column correlates with § 595 in the right column. Unfortunately, the table offers no explanation as to what this correlation is. I finally tracked down the explanation in the print edition of Cal. Jur., which reads as follows:
This table shows where the subject matter in the various sections of the former edition of California Jurisprudence 3d is set forth in this revised volume. This table enables the user to translate references found in the prior edition and other legal publications into references to this edition.

Thus, it appears Lexis's version of Cal. Jur. still uses the section numbers found in the former edition and have not been updated to reflect the numbering scheme in the revised volumes.

This is not, however, the only problem. The second problem with using Cal. Jur. in Lexis and Westlaw is that the text itself doesn't match. Take, for example, the first paragraph of § 595/487. In both Lexis and Westlaw, the first two sentences are identical:

The Penal Code defines unlawful sexual intercourse as an act of sexual intercourse accomplished with a person who is not the spouse of the perpetrator if the person is a minor. The provision further defines a "minor" as a person under the age of 18 years, and an "adult" as a person who is at least 18 years of age.

Both versions place footnote 1 after the second sentence. In Westlaw, the paragraph concludes with this sentence:

Unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor is a general intent offense.

Footnote 2, citing a 2009 California Court of Appeals case, appears here in Westlaw. Lexis, on the other hand, includes neither the sentence about general intent nor the footnote containing a citation to a 2009 case. Instead, Lexis continues the first paragraph with:

This offense was formerly incorporated in the section of the Penal Code defining rape, during which time it was often referred to by the courts as statutory rape.

In Westlaw, this sentence is in the second, not first, paragraph. The discrepancies continue from there, with sentences arranged in a different order depending on which system you consult. Further, Westlaw's version of the section has 13 footnotes, while Lexis's only has 10.

I'm not sure what the problem is at this point. Lexis includes a copyright notice at the top of its § 487 that reads "Copyright © 2009 West Group," and its Source Information page for Cal. Jur. states the following:

COVERAGE: Current

FREQUENCY: Annually

UPDATE-SCHEDULE: Within 1 day of publication

All of this suggests that the Lexis version should be up to date. Did the updates simply slip through the cracks and not make it into the system? Or did West fail to submit its updated text to Lexis? Or is it something else?

I sent an email to Lexis Librarian Relations earlier today explaining the problem, so hopefully there will some sort of explanation or resolution soon.

Who says grading can't be fun?


Nov 13, 2009

Movies are a big part of my life. I devour them. I analyze them. I deconstruct them. But more than anything I enjoy them.

The end of any year is a joyous occasion for a film geek like me because that's when critics and fans alike start debating the year's best films. But a year ending in the number 9 is a super extravaganza of geekery because that means it's time to talk about an entire decade. In case you need a reminder, this is 2009, and a few Best Movies of the Decade lists have already rolled out, including ones from Paste magazine and The Times.

Ten years ago I compiled a Top Ten list of my own for the 1990s (see below), and I'm already planning one for the current decade ("The Oughts?"). The challenge is making sure I've seen enough of the decade's best films to give my list credibility. Unlike the film critics who usually write these lists, I've seen only a small percentage of what's been released in the last 10 years. While I'm certain Battlefield Earth and All About Steve shouldn't be on my list despite not having seen them, I can't be so glib about City of God and The Lives of Others. So I need to do some serious catching up before I'm comfortable publishing my selections.

That doesn't mean I haven't started compiling. From what I've seen this decade, here's my short list (in alphabetical order):

And here's my list of the films I haven't yet seen but which I feel I need to watch before creating a final top ten:

Odds are I'll dislike a few of the movie on this list, but I suspect a few will sneak into the top ten. I'm probably missing some movies here and there that would be strong contenders if they were on my radar. Suggestions, dear reader?


I'm still comfortable with a little more than half of my selections for the 1990s:
  1. Schindler's List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)
  2. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
  3. Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997)
  4. Life Is Beautiful (Roberto Benigni, 1997)
  5. The Truman Show (Peter Weir, 1998)
  6. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
  7. Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1994)
  8. Lone Star (John Sayles, 1996)
  9. The Player (Robert Altman, 1992)
  10. Three Kings (David O. Russell, 1999)

The biggest problem? A movie I now consider to be one of the 2 or 3 best films of the decade didn't even make my list back then: Heat (Michael Mann, 1995). David Fincher's Se7en (1995) or Fight Club (1999) should probably be somewhere in the mix, too. And Rushmore (Wes Anderson, 1998). I'd take Life Is Beautiful, Hoop Dreams, and Lone Star out to make room for them.


Nov 3, 2009

I make no secret of my love of web technology and services. I'm a full convert to electronic books for leisure reading, having read 17 consecutive books this year on my iPhone's Kindle app. Legal issues aside, I think the Google Books project is a big step forward. I haven't rented (or borrowed) a DVD in well over a year, preferring instead to rent from Amazon's Video on Demand service or stream movies from Netflix. I don't read print newspapers or watch television news, opting instead to get my news online via a selection of RSS feeds from various sources. I am not on a routing list for even one journal, yet I read several regularly online. I use Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, IM and SMS rather than email and phone calls to stay in contact with my friends and colleagues. I love "new media."

Professionally speaking, that means slightly more than diddly squat.

There is no shortage of librarians stating their preferences about online services. God knows I do it plenty. Some proselytize tools like Twitter as gospel. Others are evangelical about the enduring utility of print. But even if, for example, "I believe that print books are an outdated technology" (which I don't), that doesn't mean my library should cease collecting print materials. I am but one person. Furthermore, I'm not even really a patron of my library. I am an employee. As a professional, my job is to give the patrons of my library what they want and need for their purposes. I work at an academic law library, so by and large those patron wants and needs are scholarly or instructional in nature. Yes, many of those patrons would prefer that everything we have be available in electronic format. These patrons are merely one constituency. If we are able to meet that constituency's expectations, there are still other constituencies to consider. Service to one group of patrons should not be provided to the exclusion of all others.

Now, given my preference for digital library service, I may believe that the reasons behind my preference are universal strengths that all patrons would embrace if only they knew about them. Well, then it's my job to inform patrons about those strengths. And to do so in a neutral manner that doesn't attempt to bully anyone into "seeing the light." Some will see things my way. Some will not. But my job as a librarian isn't simply to please those patrons who agree with me and my preferences. If a significant portion (and that doesn't mean it has to be even close to a majority) of my library's patrons prefer something other than what I like, it's my job to give it to them as well as my budget allows.

This is not an anti-progress post. I believe that librarians should explore social media tools and ebooks aggressively to meet the needs of those patrons who prefer them. If a new web technology really is progress for patrons, and we do a good job illustrating that to them, it will stick. But these new services should be added in addition to the ones already in place. The existence of IM or SMS reference service does not necessarily mean there shouldn't be a librarian at a reference desk, too. These are individual considerations for individual libraries based upon the needs of each institution's patrons. The adoption of new technology should make things easier for patrons, not more difficult. If we, as librarians, simply rely on our own personal preferences in making decisions about services and materials that impact our patrons, we cease to be useful to the very people we're here to serve.

Even in the examples I provided at the beginning of this post, my preferences only go so far. My parents do not use Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, IM or SMS. So while I prefer all those things, when it comes to staying in touch with them, I use email and phone calls. And that's just fine. There is no reason the new and the old can't co-exist.


Sep 3, 2009

Being on the west coast, and a late riser to boot, I often wake to discover interesting debates about library issues well underway — or even winding down — among my law librarian colleagues on Twitter. Today's topic (initiated by @montserratlj) was a common source of discussion: collecting and maintaining print journals that are available electronically. This is a sticky issue for a number of reasons.

First, it's expensive to maintain journal titles in both print and electronic formats. As time passes, more students simply expect articles to be available online. This preference for electronic materials is often so strong that they give up a line of research when informed that it's only available in print. Conversely, many faculty still strongly prefer print materials, whether due to personal preference or because a title's electronic version sometimes doesn't include everything found in the print copy (e.g., photos, graphs, etc.). Making both groups happy means devoting institutional resources to redundant collections, which sacrifices a library's ability to collect a wider scope of materials — in any format.

Second, given that electronic access to law journals, even those edited by a law school's own students, is usually provided only by commercial vendors on a subscription basis, there is little guarantee of permanent electronic access to a title. With print, however, so long as the library takes care of its periodical collection, a title will be available in perpetuity, regardless of whether the publisher (or even the publishing law school) folds or the subscription is cancelled.

Library directors at 12 leading law schools raised these concerns when drafting the Durham Statement on Open Access to Legal Scholarship, "which calls for all law schools to stop publishing their journals in print format and to rely instead on electronic publication coupled with a commitment to keep the electronic versions available in stable, open, digital formats." As should probably be the case in such a call to action, the Durham Statement leaves open the question of what format is best suited for creating "stable" and "open" repositories, though given economic pressures and digital solutions that vary from school to school depending upon the preferences and expertise of an institution's IT staff, a lack of guidance on this issue could lead to delayed progress or incompatible systems.

In recent years, many law reviews have already begun posting PDFs of their articles online for free. This is hardly a universal movement, and such open availability can vary wildly even among publications produced at the same school. Access is often limited to browsing tables of contents, with no search functionality to be found. In most cases, these efforts are taken on by the journals themselves. While the initiative of such student staffers deserves our praise, there are certainly limits to what they can realistically accomplish. For example, given the transitory nature of law review staffs, there is little incentive to look beyond the digitization of the current volume, let alone establish a consistent system for subsequent years or plan a long term effort to digitize previous volumes. In addition, the easy solution is PDF-only, which is hardly a well-structured data format for any purpose other than sending a document to the nearest printer. Even when the time is taken to OCR these documents, or when the PDF itself is generated through a word processor (eliminating the need for OCR), one's ability to find anything is still nearly impossible without robust metadata. One needs to look no further than the latest Google Books kerfuffle to understand the importance of metadata for online research.

If metadata, structure, and permanence are vital to the success of the Durham Statement's desired action, librarians must do more than simply ask their institutions to create digital access systems for law reviews. What the Durham Statement asks schools to create are digital libraries. If librarians willingly cede the design, implementation and maintenance of these new libraries to IT staff and law students, it's a troubling statement about the future of our profession. Far too many commercial research vendors have bypassed librarian expertise in the creation of their online systems, and we end up with expensive databases that are difficult to use and fail to take into consideration how the content itself is utilized in research. By allowing this creative process to spread within our own walls, we are effectively putting our stamp of approval on it and relegating ourselves to increasing irrelevance in a digital world. In a world where "cutting out the middle man" is desireable enough to researchers that it becomes a marketing point, digital library design becomes a far more important aspect of our profession.

Many will be tempted to look to institutional repositories as the great hope for open electronic access to law reviews, but they're not. IRs serve a vital importance as preservers of a law school's scholarly and cultural output, and the IR efforts of institutions like Duke and Georgia should be models for every other law school in the country. IRs don't address reputational economies, nor should they. What defines an article's inclusion in an IR has nothing to do with who publishes it. It's about who wrote it. Thus, in an IR articles from Yale Law Journal should arguably have equal standing to working papers that never receive publication elsewhere.

However, in a world where electronic access to legal scholarship is limited to institutional repositories, where there is no measure for the prestige of an article, a tenure track faculty's worst nightmare is realized. A common criticism of electronic only publication is that it is inherently less prestigious than print. Non-tenured faculty are often advised to shun blogging for this very reason. But this argument only applies to electronic publications that lack a rigorous editorial process. If Harvard Law Review changes nothing other than its publication medium, keeping intact all its selection and editing processes, will the articles it publishes lose their prestige simply because they're electronic? That seems rather arbitrary.

(In a perfect world that makes me drool at the possibilities, each law review could simply be a UI layer that pulls its articles from the author's original institutional repository, but that's a tangent for another post. As is a discussion of why data standards are essential to both.)

When it comes to the Durham Statement, let's do more than sign it. Let's put our money where our mouths are. Assuming that permanent, open access to electronic law reviews is a desirable goal, librarians are the best professionals to make that happen.


Aug 25, 2009

Yesterday saw a lot of outrage from the law librarian community, thanks to a new (albeit short-lived) promotion from Thomson West that read in part:

Are you on a first name basis with the librarian? If so, chances are, you're spending too much time at the library.

(Click here to view the full ad)

Let me say up-front that I don't think this was a smart marketing strategy for West. Law librarians certainly play a role in throwing a sizeable chunk of change West's way, even if we aren't their biggest audience. Yet, while the ad isn't as disparaging on its face as some have complained (e.g., it doesn't really say anything negative about librarians), singling out a customer constituency in this way would be ill-advised for any company.

With that out of the way, let's look at this from a legal researcher's perspective. I tend to agree with the premise in West's ad that self-service research from one's own office is preferable to any situation that requires help from a librarian. Why do patrons talk to librarians? Because they can't find what they're looking for. As Terry Martin -- a law librarian -- said at a 1996 AALL "Town Meeting:"

Inevitably, there will be instances when people have got to ask a librarian for assistance. Now, I always think that this is a systems failure to some degree. We trained them improperly; we haven't designed a good catalog; and we haven't arranged materials well so that they can't help themselves.

Reprinted in Towards a Renaissance in Law Librarianship (Richard A. Danner, ed. 1997).

In a perfect (though certainly non-existent) world, if everyone involved in creating the system (law librarians, legal publishers, research database vendors) does his or her job right, a legal researcher would never need to ask a librarian for help.

That hardly means law librarians become irrelevant, but to remain a vital part of the system, we need to put as much effort in continuously re-designing and re-implementing that system as we do in helping lost researchers, because reducing those systems failures will save researchers time and frustration. Expressing outrage towards West for suggesting that self-service research is a good thing seems to indicate more concern on our part for the collective law librarian ego than for our patrons' needs.

You want to be angry at West for that ad? Be indignant at the suggestion that their online systems are comprehensive enough or designed intuitively enough to eliminate the need for librarian (or West's own customer support) assistance. Be outraged that they charge so much for their services that, no matter how well designed, our library budgets are the only thing that makes it possible for researchers to use them.

But never forget that if West, Lexis or some other legal database vendor ever fixed these problems, the need for our expertise, at least in its current form, would be reduced dramatically.

If West rethought its pricing structures and realized it could make a lot more money selling, to name one example, a Black's Law Dictionary iPhone app for $10 than it does for $50, a lot more patrons would buy their own research tools instead of relying on our deep pockets.

And if West put the energy and UI expertise responsible for its Black's Law Dictionary Digital software to work redesigning the Westlaw interface from the ground up (rather than simply dumping voluminous full text resources into its system with little regard for how they're used), there'd be a lot fewer questions at the reference desk about how to find something on Westlaw.

Are either of these things likely to happen anytime soon? History suggests they won't. But as I said yesterday on Twitter, I don't like relying on someone else's incompetence in order to stay relevant.

Truth is, West's questionable promotional piece advertised a world that, I believe, most researchers find appealing. Not because librarians are bad or unhelpful, but because research becomes far more efficient when someone finds what they're looking for without needing to ask for help at all. As Martin said, some system failure is inevitable. But that doesn't mean it can't be reduced. If an ad suggesting that such a reduction is positive scares librarians so much, my only question is, "Why?"


Aug 10, 2009

Taking my lead from

Click the above image to view a larger version of the word cloud at http://wordle.net/ (where I created the cloud).

To get a more accurate representation of camp chatter, I did filter out the hashtags mentioned above as well as many common English words (a, an, the, etc.).

Many thanks to LA Drupal crew for putting on a fantastic program, UC Irvine for hosting the event, and all the attendees who made the camp such a big success. Update: And many thanks to the sponsors, too! Without you this wouldn't have been a free event.


Jun 9, 2009

As everyone in Los Angeles knows by now, Chase Bank is now operating in Southern California. Every Washington Mutual branch in the City of Angels has been rebranded with Chase logos and decor, and radio ads that run night and day explain why Chase "decided" to enter the California banking market. (Oddly, none of the reasons listed includes "swallowing a failing bank in order to gain national market share.")

The arrival of Chase was welcome news to me and many other East Coast transplants who didn't want to go through the ordeal of switching banks.

Well, despite the rebranding and marketing efforts, it's not exactly a reality. Chase Banks in California aren't Chase Banks. They're WaMu Banks with Chase logos. Here's how things actually work for Chase customers in California:

  • Chase ATMs in LA don't accept Chase deposits
  • Chase tellers accept Chase deposits, but have to mail the deposit to a real Chase Bank for processing, meaning it takes up to 2 days for deposits to post
  • Chase employees aggressively solicit current Chase customers to switch from Chase accounts to "California Chase" ones. ("California Chase" = WaMu)

When a banker attempted to convince me to switch to one of these "California Chase" accounts this morning, I asked him when Chase would really switch over the LA branches. He said it would happen by the end of the year.

So much for the big arrival.


May 7, 2009

When Facebook rolled out its new home page in March, many users were in an uproar. The real-time, chronological information stream created data overload for site members, at least compared to the previous, more selective stream. Facebook has since tweaked things a bit to bring back familiar old features, though not always as users remember them. But through all this tinkering, the home page's central information stream remains unchanged. Though my inner-curmudgeon doesn't want to admit it, now that I've adapted, I'm becoming a fan of that stream (but only after I finally opted out of my friends' Hangman, Hatchlings, etc. updates).

Many speculated that Facebook was remodeling itself to imitate Twitter, the popular microblogging site Joel McHale comically referred to recently as "the digital Macarena." This speculation probably isn't too far off the mark, given that Twitter has long featured a home page with chronological information updates. So why would Facebook, a site with a user community that dwarfs Twitter's, want to emulate a web service that Nielsen reports has only a 40% user retention rate.

The answer to that might lay in another far less publicized change by Facebook: Pages.

I think two posts on other sites combine to tell the whole story. The first, from Mashable.com, is titled You Might Not Love the New Facebook, But Brands Should. It highlights two changes: 1) Facebook's fan pages now emphasize social interaction and information updates, and 2) those information updates now show up on fans' home pages. Until recently, I used Facebook's fan pages for little more than fun. Given how often my friends become fans of such pages as "Sleeping," "Not being on fire," and "Spencer Pratt," I suspect I'm not alone in my frivolous use of this feature. However, now that Pages have status updates that display on my home page, I'm a little more discriminating in my fandom.

The second relevant post, from TechCrunch.com, is titled Rest in Peace, RSS. In this post, Steve Gillmor suggests that Twitter and its ilk have become a better source for breaking news and information than the RSS feeds he subscribes to in Google Reader:

Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed - whatever they grew from, they morphed into a realtime CMS for the emerging media. Twitter, not RSS, became the early warning system for new content. Facebook, not RSS, became the social Rolodex for events, casual introductions to RSS’ lifeblood, the people behind the feeds. FriendFeed, not RSS, captured the commentsphere. RSS got locked out of its own party.

Ignoring for now Gillmor's simplistic view of RSS's use (e.g., RSS quietly feeds a lot of that real-time data INTO the Twitter stream he so loves), Gillmor correctly observes that, for many of us, our first exposure to the day's hot topics comes not from headlines on NY Times.com or CNN.com, but from people talking about those headlines on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media tools. Or from the New York Times' and CNN's Twitter accounts. Case in point, on Monday morning I arrived at work, fired up TweetDeck, and discovered that everyone I follow on Twitter was talking about a new Kindle from Amazon. I then went straight to sites like TechCrunch and Read/Write Web to get the full story. An hour later, when I finally got around to catching up on my RSS subscriptions in Googe Reader, all the posts on those sites about the Kindle news showed up, but by then they were already old news.

So where do Facebook Pages fit into this? Simple. If Amazon creates an official company page on Amazon, and I become a fan of Amazon, when it announces the new Kindle on its page, that announcement appears on *my* home page. Or if I am a fan of TechCrunch. Or if I am a fan of CNN. Or if my friends are fans of any of those Pages, they might start talking about the announcement in their status updates. No matter how the information travels, it will spread like swine flue once it's released into the Facebook ecosystem.

While Gillmor believes this real-time news stream already exists in Twitter, Facebook has a much larger -- and stable -- user base for companies (or "Brands," as Mashable calls them) to market their products/information/events. Once these "Brands" enter the Facebook economy, the site stands to make far more cash than it did when the site was simply about your cousin posting pictures of her Grand Canyon vacation. But make no mistake, those Grand Canyon pictures still matter to Facebook. That's what keeps you *using* the site, even as the data stream to which you're exposed expands well beyond your friends and family.


Apr 21, 2009

Working in an academic library, I routinely fill document requests for faculty. Sometimes a request is for a single article. Other times it's a list spanning several pages. The request list I'm working on now, for example, contains 25 articles. Fifteen years ago, this would've meant photocopying all 25 and hand delivering them to the faculty member. These days, with most articles available in PDF via electronic databases, the usual delivery method is email. With 25 articles to send, however, that can get tedious. Odds are good that my school's email system has a low enough file attachment size restriction that I'd have to split the documents into multiple emails. Even Gmail's higher size restrictions probably wouldn't suffice.

In recent months I've all but stopped sending email attachments to faculty. Instead I'm using a tool called Dropbox to store the documents. Then I just send an email containing each file's URL to the faculty member who requested the articles. When she clicks each link, she downloads the article directly from Dropbox.

So what is Dropbox? From Techcrunch:

The idea behind Dropbox... is that little to no effort should be put into keeping your desktop files synced with “the cloud”. So the three founders have built a... desktop client (available for both PCs and Macs) that acts like a regular folder on your machine. You can manage files within this folder just like elsewhere on your machine (add, edit, copy, and delete them) and changes will be automatically synced to Dropbox’s Amazon S3-backed storage, and very quickly at that.

So, in other words, when I save a file to the Dropbox folder on my office computer, it's automatically synced to the Dropbox folder on all my other computers, like my laptop or my home desktop. This isn't just a virtual folder, like with Apple's Mobile Me service. The file is actually transferred to my other computers, so I can access it even when I'm not online. That same file also becomes available on any other computer simply by logging into the Dropbox site with a web browser.

Each Dropbox account includes a "Public" folder, and that's where I place documents I need to deliver to faculty. Each file in this folder is assigned a unique public URL, and if I share the URL for a particular file with a faculty member, she can then download the file, even without her own Dropbox account.

Overcoming file attachment restrictions isn't the only benefit to this method of document delivery. In the past when I sent files by email, I still saved a copy to my computer for future reference (in case the faculty member accidentally deleted the email attachment and needed the article again). Since Dropbox's Public folder resides on my computer, I now simply use that folder as my faculty document archive and, thanks to auto-syncing, it's automatically available to me everywhere. Plus, anytime a faculty member needs to access an article again, she need only click on the link to it in the original email. Essentially, this folder becomes a shared folder of research between faculty and their librarian liaisons.

Dropbox offers a 2GB account free of charge, or you can upgrade to a 50GB account for $9.99/month or $99.99/year.


Mar 23, 2009

Today I was named a 2009 Shover & Maker by the Library Society of the World. It's a huge honor, despite the fact that all I had to do was declare myself a winner. You can, too.

All humor aside, this is actually a very cool thing LSW is doing, as it provides progressive librarians all over the country an opportunity to share what their working on with the rest of the profession. Library Journal's Movers & Shakers is a good start, but there's plenty more interesting work going on that what LJ can higlight in a single year.

Anyhoo, feel free to check out my winner's profile.


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