Disruptive Technologies & Library Automation

by Jamie Baker

In 2013, McKinsey released a report on the 12 disruptive technologies that have the greatest potential to drive substantial economic impact and disruption by 2025. Quite a few of the forecasted disruptive technologies will have a large impact on the way that people access information:

  • Automation of knowledge work: Intelligent software systems that can perform knowledge work tasks involving unstructured commands and subtle judgments
  • The Internet of Things: Networks of low-cost sensors and actuators for data collection, monitoring, decision making, and process optimization
  • Mobile Internet: Increasingly inexpensive and capable mobile computing devices and Internet connectivity
  • Cloud technology: Use of computer hardware and software resources delivered over a network or the Internet, often as a service

Recently, The Wall Street Journal asked, is your job creative enough to resist robot automation?

According to [a] report, Creativity versus Robots, written by Nesta … [j]obs that are highly susceptible to computerization … [include] … office administrators, call-center staff, librarians, cattle and crop farmers, loggers, miners, car salesmen and hotel staff.

In libraries, we already have automated materials handling where machines sorts books for reshelving. In law libraries, in particular, we will eventually take a giant leap forward with “Ross.” According to The Globe and Mail, a class project-turned-startup launched by University of Toronto students that uses IBM’s artificially intelligent Watson computer to do legal research now has backing from Dentons, the world’s largest law firm. Called Ross, the app uses Watson to scour millions of pages of case law and other legal documents in seconds and answer legal questions. Its developers liken it to a smarter version of iPhone’s Siri, but for lawyers, and say it could one day replace some of the grunt research work now done by low-level associates at the world’s top law firms. It is one of several attempts to apply what is called “cognitive computing” to the historically technology-averse legal profession.

And Ross is learning quickly. According to one of the developers,

What we are seeing is Ross grasping and understanding legal concepts and learning based on the questions and also getting user feedback. … Just like a human, it’s getting its experience in a law firm and being able to learn and get better.

While at AALL in Philadelphia, I had the pleasure of attending Kyla Moran’s presentation on IBM’s Watson. One thing that struck me was the difference between intelligence amplification or augmentation (IA) and artificial intelligence (AI). Ms. Moran likened it to Ironman’s JARVIS v. Terminator. Ms. Moran commented that Watson is augmented intelligence—it makes us smarter. And IBM is not trying to overtake humans with machines.

From Wikipedia:

Intelligence amplification (IA) (also referred to as cognitive augmentation and machine augmented intelligence) refers to the effective use of information technology in augmenting human intelligence.

IA is sometimes contrasted with AI (Artificial Intelligence), that is, the project of building a human-like intelligence in the form of an autonomous technological system such as a computer or robot. AI has encountered many fundamental obstacles, practical as well as theoretical, which for IA seem moot, as it needs technology merely as an extra support for an autonomous intelligence that has already proven to function.

Augmented intelligence will be our reality in the very near future. Computers will aid us in our capability to retrieve relevant results in the age of big data. This will eventually have major ramifications for legal research. As mentioned in the WSJ post, we will likely replace much of the grunt research like finding particular statutes or cases by citation. But it takes a certain cognitive creativity to form advanced legal arguments, and much of this creativity is what drives legal research. While there’s no telling where Ross might end up on that spectrum, we are still quite a ways off from that type of artificial intelligence (not to mention that there are many issues to be worked out with Ross storing and using proprietary information).

There is no denying that Ross will augment our work, but Ross will not replace the need for law librarians to teach law students how to research and bridge the gap while using Ross. We won’t be in a position anytime soon to be completely replaced by computers, and I would submit that legal research takes the type of creative cognitive reasoning that might make it impervious to total automation.

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When the Go-To is Gone (Yes, Another Atticus Post)

by Christine George

In the few years that I’ve been at my current job, I’ve built up a bit of a reputation. It’s all Chunk’s fault—Chunk from The Goonies, in case you’re wondering. He (well, the actor, Jeff Cohen) became a lawyer and a couple of years ago put together a list of the 5 Greatest Lawyers in Movie History. In that list, he had the audacity to rank Tom Hagen from The Godfather above Atticus Finch. I was incensed, so I did what any logical person would do. I created an Oscar-esque contest/display for the law library to give Atticus the opportunity to be voted Favorite Lawyer. Over the past few years, I have cultivated my reputation as an—in the words of one staff member at the law school—“Atticus enthusiast.” From recommended beach reading to the law library’s favorite fictional lawyers, Mr. Finch has been a constant presence. It was definitely a big deal when Go Set a Watchman was announced. I was not shy about letting people know my plans to give that book the whole Harry Potter treatment, which in my world consists of taking a vacation day, waiting outside a bookstore to get my hands on the book as soon as humanly possible, and then going home for a marathon reading session.

Harper Collins 2015

Needless to say, I’ve been in quite the funk since around 3pm, July 14. Sure there are other examples of good lawyers out there, but Atticus was something else. I still don’t have all that great a response to give when people ask what I thought about the book. I have plenty of thoughts, most of which center around, “Why, Harper? Whhhyyyyy?” Then there’s the other question that I don’t know how to answer. Would I recommend that people read it? Yes. No. I honestly don’t know. Perhaps when the dust eventually settles, Go Set a Watchman will find its own place. Or maybe we’ll treat it like The Godfather Part III—reluctantly acknowledging its existence, but most definitely changing the channel whenever it comes on.

This year, the incoming 1Ls will watch To Kill a Mockingbird as a part of their orientation. Go Set a Watchman will certainly be a looming shadow over the discussion, whether they’ve read it or not, given all the media coverage. Now instead of Atticus as the embodiment of the ethical lawyer, it’s complicated. Can we still celebrate a lawyer whose personal opinions we might not agree with? I will be curious to see if he keeps his title of Favorite Lawyer in the Millies this year. Maybe this will be the first time in three years that Tom Hagen takes it. Or maybe Vincent Gambini. I could be ok with Vinny taking the title.

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Physical Space as Public Service (on a budget)

by Beau Steenken

For a day every August, the law librarians at the University of Kentucky (UK) retreat to tinker with the law library’s strategic plan. We have the plan divided into five broad goals focusing on areas such as collection development, reference, and instruction. Goal #5 is to “Foster a Physical Environment that is Conducive to Scholarship & Legal Education.”

While we think of the primary services of the library to be providing information through processes such as reference, instruction, and circulation, we recognize that potential patrons are much more likely to make use of our services if our environment is both welcoming and aesthetically pleasing. Providing such an environment is difficult, as we are located in an old building and have limited funds at our disposal. To make matters worse, our vision sometimes clashes with the standards to which UK’s central administration adheres.

For instance, the University puts everyone on a 10-year paint cycle, and the powers that be prefer colors that wear well over time. (The administrators call the color of choice “ice cream.” We refer to it as “putty.”) Last paint cycle, we managed to talk the painters into providing an inoffensive blue accent color (“Walden Pond”) on some of our surfaces. It did wonders, and our patrons remarked on how much they enjoyed the change. It has chipped over time, and we recently tried to buy some paint of the same color to touch it up. Unfortunately, I used a library procurement card for the $10 can of paint, and it triggered an audit. We have been told in no uncertain terms that the building belongs to the university and that we are not allowed to paint the walls ourselves. I understand the point (that the administration trusts professional painters for painting and would prefer that professional librarians stick to reference), but it does not jive well with the D.I.Y. ethos present in most libraries.

Of course, we might not be as into D.I.Y. if we were adequately funded, and the sad truth is that we won’t be able to afford to have the university painters touch up our walls. Fortunately, we have found many creative ways to decorate on a budget with our D.I.Y. and scrounging skills, and our students and public patrons alike find working in the library to be reasonably pleasant. For instance, one of my colleagues “liberated” some art work from a relative’s basement. I recruited my mother, an amateur photographer, to take pictures of horse farms around Lexington that we were able to print and frame at a reasonable cost for a permanent display. However, I would like to highlight two of my colleagues’ actions which I find particularly clever.

Patty Alvayay, who handles our Government Documents, noticed that our Gov Docs collection contained a series of posters made out of World War Two maps issued by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. There were enough posters to hang one in every study cubicle on our top floor, so we purchased affordable poster frames and hung them one per cubicle.

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

Gov Docs – In the catalog; on the walls.

Meanwhile, Ryan Valentin, Head of Public Services, found an ingenious use for old, duplicate reporter volumes. Using a secret technique that involves a printer by-pass intake, binding glue, and just a bit of magic, he converted the unused volumes into one-of-a-kind Reference and Circulation signs.

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

Hand-crafted reference sign beneath soothing “Walden Pond” accent wall.

While we are limited financially, we do what we can to achieve Strategic Goal #5 and make our patrons feel comfortable. An awareness of the impact that physical space has on public service is a good first step. After that, where there’s a will, there’s a way (unless central administration stops you).

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Welcome back!

by Susan deMaine, Editor

Fall semester is just around the corner, and we here at the RIPS Law Librarian Blog are getting in gear. We have three (or four) regular contributors returning from last year: Continue reading

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AALL Hackathon a big success

by Jennifer Wondracek

The second annual AALL hackathon was held on July 18th in Philadelphia. RIPS-SIS co-sponsored this amazingly productive day with GD-SIS and CS-SIS.

What is a hackathon? It’s where you get someone who knows about information, like a law librarian, together with someone who knows about technology, like a hacker, to build new information resources. Since law librarians have a special relationship with law and Continue reading

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RIPS Continues Annual Meeting Penguin Adoption Tradition

In honor of Puron, RIPS became a zoo parent and adopted one of the Humboldt penguins at the Philadelphia Zoo. The Philadelphia Zoo is home to 20 Humboldt penguins. Continue reading

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RIPS Patron Services Committee Whitepaper Wins AALL Award

Great news! The RIPS Patron Services Committee’s Whitepaper Subcommittee, composed of Nicole P. Dyszlewski, Kristen Moore, and Genevieve Tung, have won the New Member Division of the AALL/LexisNexis Call for Papers award for their paper entitled, Managing Disruptive Patron Behavior in Law Libraries: A Grey Paper. Continue reading

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