RIPS Support for the Second Annual AALL Hackathon

AALL Hackathon 2014

2014 First Annual AALL Hackathon in Action

The RIPS Executive Board recently voted to lend financial support to the second annual AALL Hackathon: Connecting Legal Information. The full-day event will be held as a pre-conference workshop on Saturday, July 18, at the 2015 Annual Meeting and Conference in Philadelphia. At the event, programmers will collaborate with AALL members to transform government datasets into new resources that will increase the data’s accessibility and discoverability.

A hackathon is a collaboration of those with knowledge of needs and data (in this case, librarians) with computer programmers and others involved in software development in order to build a new information resource. The goal is to create usable software. A lengthy explanatory FAQ may be found on the AALL Annual Meeting and Conference website. Michelle Sun’s “Survival Guide to Your First Hackathon” is a quick read with tips for hackathon novices. See RIPS Law Librarian Blog post, AALL Hackathon – July 2014, for information on the projects that were developed at last year’s AALL Hackathon.

Similar to the other preconference workshops, a separate advance registration is required. There is a $25 registration fee for AALL Members. Full details about the event are found on the registration page. Tech professionals can attend for free by registering at the Eventbrite.

Other AALL SIS sponsors include the Computing SIS and Government Documents SIS.

Image credit: Elmer Masters


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Name the Grant Contest

The Technical Services SIS and the Online Bibliographic Services SIS jointly offer a grant to do research. The research can be as simple as evaluating an app.

But…a recent survey says that many people are confused by the name of the OBS/TS Joint Research Grant. (Hint, it’s not about researching joints!)

TS and OBS would  like you to rename the Grant!

We’re holding a contest to find a creative, catchy name that will also accurately represent the purpose of the Grant (See below for Grant Guidelines).

  • All AALL members are eligible to enter
  • Multiple entries are allowed
  • Entries will be accepted from February 16th through March 16th
  • Winner will be determined by vote
  • The winner will receive a $50 Amazon Gift Card
  • All entrants will be entered into a raffle for a free membership to OBS-SIS or TS-SIS

Go to the Name that Grant Contest to enter*.

*You will need to register with the contest website in order to enter the contest or vote

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Law Libraries Innovating Under Pressure

With the decline in law school enrollment, law libraries are facing increased pressure to cancel print and repurpose space. Rick Bales, Dean of Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law, posted a picture on the Law Deans Blog showing anecdotal evidence of a law library’s mass cancellation of print. Dean Bales noted that “[l]ibraries are going digital, and budget pressures make it difficult to justify maintaining print publications. Most law firm and county libraries have long since cancelled their print subscriptions, driving up the publication costs for the few remaining (mostly law school) buyers.” Rick Bales, Law Library Sign of the Times, Law Deans on Legal Education Blog (Feb. 16, 2015).

It’s true that libraries can discard a lot of print material that is now duplicated on the various electronic databases. For example, law libraries are in “The Shed West Era” where we can reasonably rely on WestlawNext rather than the costly print material. There are pitfalls associated with relying on proprietary databases, but this is the direction in which many are moving.

Dean Bales goes on to say, “Shelves at many law libraries already are tagged with a note indicating that the shelved material is no longer kept up-to-date. Rows of discontinued publications already look antiquated; it’s only a matter of time (and a reversal in the decline in law school admissions) before libraries are pressured to discard the paper and repurpose the space.” Id. Assuming this is true, the pressure on libraries must be tempered with the understanding that a substantial amount of material is still only available in print. We want law schools to be a place of academic rigor and exploration, which requires having access to this material.

While the pressure on academic law libraries will be challenging, it may be just what libraries need to innovate and cement the value of the law library in our public’s perception. In an article titled,  Are libraries sustainable in a world of free, networked, digital information?Lluís Anglada, the Director of the Department of Libraries, Information and Documentation of the Consortium of University Services of Catalonia discusses library sustainability and public perception.  Anglada notes:

Libraries are sustained by people through institutions and society in general because they believe, feel, intuit or think that libraries are important to them, because they have a positive perception of them…. We believe that society (still) needs the functions performed by libraries (and librarians), but does this make them immediately sustainable? The answer is no. And it will remain so unless we can soon establish a new stereotype of ‘library’ in people’s minds, one that is not based on the physicality of the buildings or books, but focuses on the role of support and assistance in the difficult process of using information and transforming it into knowledge. The creation of perceptions of a library and librarian that are associated with assistance regarding information is a contribution that has not yet been made.

Lluís AngladaAre libraries sustainable in a world of free, networked, digital information?, 23(6) El profesional de la información 603 (November-December 2014).

Like all libraries, law libraries must work to change perception. Part of this change in perception that must take place is for the law librarian to showcase their evolution. This evolution will require, in part, the ability to share electronic resources more effectively. Libraries currently do a great job of sharing print, but we need to go a step further and try to configure a system for electronic resource sharing. Law libraries may also need to seriously consider providing new services to stay relevant.

There’s no doubt that librarians will innovate in the face of challenge, but it’s also important for administrators to understand that there should not be a total focus on monetary return on investment to determine if law libraries are still needed. The library is  a huge expenditure for a law school, and it’s a tempting place to tighten the purse strings without looking at the intrinsic value of the law library and law librarians.

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Beyond the Law: Assessing Other Research Needs for Tomorrow’s Lawyers

questionEarlier this week, I moderated a panel for our Career Services Office on careers in law and technology.  One of the questions I asked the two speakers was, “What skills do tomorrow’s lawyers need as they head into careers in the legal industry?”  It being a talk on the convergence of law and technology, I had expected answers related to technology skills; that’s not what I got at all.

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Overcoming Writer’s Inertia

I’ve had an idea percolating for a while about an article I would like to write. By “a while,” I mean over a year. Despite the desire to publish, I just haven’t gotten down to the actual (and very necessary) writing part. I have no exceedingly compelling reasons to justify this delay, and I am determined to make 2015 the year I overcome my inertia and go from idea to written article (I had planned for last year to be THE YEAR, but alas…). With this Continue reading

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The Legal Academy’s “Disease of More” and the Consequences for Law Libraries

In a book about his championship Lakers teams, noted basketball guru (and University of Kentucky alum) Pat Riley explained the difficulty in winning back-to-back titles by referencing something he termed the “Disease of More.” Sports writers have been using the term ever since, but the idea applies equally well to fields other than sports. At its core, it is the idea that success leads to failure: collective success leads individuals to want “more” on an individual level and to therefore sacrifice less in the pursuit of collective success. In terms of Pat Riley’s basketball team, “more” meant more playing time and more salary. In terms of the legal academy from the mid-eighties up until recent times, “more” meant more faculty lines and more tuition. The increases in tuition in turn led to the current “crisis in legal education” caused by a precipitous drop in law school applications as heavy debt loads have begun to render legal practice less profitable.

Obviously, the legal education crisis has a profound impact on academic law libraries, which for the most part derive their budgets directly from their law schools. In the long term, however, the crisis’s negative consequences will also be felt by law libraries outside academia as well. Because of the high cost of law school, the legal profession threatens to become more class-based, with only students from upper-middle class backgrounds able to afford the requisite education. Already, people with fewer means struggle to afford legal representation to such an extent that it has caused states to look at alternatives to fully-licensed attorneys, as well as spawned an Access to Justice Movement (see for example CALI’s latest initiative). As anyone who provides reference services to the public can attest, a lack of affordable representation often forces people to attempt to represent themselves. This strains already poorly-funded public libraries. Furthermore, a class-based profession would necessarily be a smaller profession, and so the number or sizes of private law libraries may also be reduced. Thus, it is not just academic librarians that need to be concerned about the crisis.

Luckily for law libraries, the legal academy finally seems aware of its disease and is beginning to take steps to ameliorate the crisis. It has even been pointed out how academic libraries can help with (and possibly benefit from) the fix. That said, treating symptoms does not remove the underlying cause of the disease: the rising costs. The only true cure is to reduce the cost of law school, but this cure carries negative impacts for libraries, as it is emotionally easier for the dean to cut the law library’s material budget as opposed to someone’s job. Add to this the fact that legal vendors periodically also suffer from the “disease of more” and so raise prices, and it is easy to see a point in the near future where libraries are forced to make tough decisions about subscriptions. Typically law firms (the ones who can afford it, anyway) subscribe to either Westlaw or Lexis. Will academic law libraries be able to justify continuing to pay costs for both? How does the recent LLJ article about evidence that the majority of practicing lawyers use neither regularly affect our decisions? These are tough questions without certain answers. What is certain, however, is that combating the “disease of more” will require sacrifices from individual institutions (whether law schools, libraries, or both) in order to advance collective success.

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The Art of Delegating

We are all busy.  We all need to work on getting away a bit more.  But what do we do to help with a heavy work load and to even out our work life balance?  It may be a concept many try to avoid, but we need to embrace and master the art of delegating. Continue reading

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