2021 World Health Day Keynote, University of Chicago

World Health Day Keynote Address

Center for Global Health, University of Chicago

John Palfrey, April 7, 2021

Thank you, Dr. Olopade, for your kind introduction. Thanks to Dean Gorman-Smith and all of you at the University of Chicago Center for Global Health for inviting me to speak this morning in honor of World Health Day.


It is such a pleasure to serve alongside Dr. Olopade—a member of the MacArthur Foundation’s Board of Directors and therefore my boss. As you would no doubt imagine, she brings deep experience and a unique perspective to our work—which I know many of you get to experience on a daily basis at the University of Chicago. Dr. Olopade’s relationship with MacArthur goes back further: among the many honors she has received during her career, she was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2005 for her work to change the way doctors screen and treat African and African American women for breast cancer.

Dr. Olopade’s influence is felt locally here in Chicago, her current home, and all around the world, including in Nigeria where she was born, and where we at MacArthur Foundation have had an office for decades. On a personal level, she has been such a generous and kind guide to the City of Chicago as my family arrived here a few years ago from Boston. As we have often said at MacArthur Foundation, Dr. Olopade has the biggest heart of any of us on the Board. When she asked me to speak today, I jumped at the chance.

The Center for Global Health at the University of Chicago is leading the way in advancing the field. Your center is addressing health inequities and their root causes through an interdisciplinary lens, in partnership with communities in Chicago and abroad—both of which are especially critical in this moment. Thank you for hosting this day of conversation and commemoration and for all the work you do, every day, to advance global health.

I am excited to kick off World Health Day with you today. Despite all the harm that the COVID-19 virus has caused this past year-plus, I am excited about what this day can mean for us. Never has it been more important than it is this year, more than a year into a global pandemic and the end far from in sight. I am excited because we need to frame and address problems that touch each person in the world—and because the University of Chicago and places like yours make that thinking and doing, big and at scale, seem entirely possible, here in Chicago and all over the world.


Global Health Day has personal resonance for me. I grew up as the child of two parents who were and are devoted to public health. My mother and father are both pediatricians and medical educators in Boston. My parents often talked about the health disparities and the kinds of issues that the pandemic has laid bare. The topics you are studying and dissecting today were dinner table conversation for me and my sister Katy and brother Quentin. My parents have dedicated their lives to taking care of others and instilled in me and my siblings a sense of community consciousness and social justice. As it turns out, the three of us have all ended up in the non-profit and government sectors. At one moment recently, we were all CEOs of non-profit organizations.

One thing I’ll always think of when I think of my parents and their respective careers is that each morning, they got on a city bus and rode down Massachusetts Avenue from the community in which they lived to the hospitals and community health centers where they served. Every day, they gave their best in service of communities in Boston that have been and are underserved. They have at the same time had a clear sense of global interconnection. In my mom’s case, for instance, she started her career focused on neighborhood health in Boston and she is today focused on global health, with projects from Chile to China. I am proud and grateful for my parents’ fine example, and it informs the thinking that I bring to my work every day as president of MacArthur Foundation.


Each year, the World Health Organization designates a theme for World Health Day. It seems fitting that this year’s theme is “Building a Fairer, Healthier World.”

World Health Day is a moment for us to come together and recognize the opportunity for fundamental and systemic change. This inflection point has lessons for the future. We must realize the promise of the moment—to take this opportunity to recommit to racial and ethnic equity, diversity, and inclusion as we recover from a global pandemic that has impacted every corner of the world.

A year ago, none of us could have foreseen the extraordinary death toll we would experience from the COVID-19 pandemic. We must acknowledge the deaths of more than 550,000 people in the United States and the more than 2.7 million lives lost around the world due to COVID-19.

We must also acknowledge the disproportionate harm, felt as a matter of health, job loss, and much more, in historically marginalized communities in Chicago, the U.S., and globally.

Certainly, we have been experiencing dual crises—the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racism, which are very much intertwined. They have wreaked economic devastation and disastrous health impacts for African American, Latino, and Native American individuals. In communities of color, rates of COVID-19 exposure, illness, hospitalization and death are all higher. Native American, Black, and Latinx people twice as likely to die from COVID-19 infections.

Meanwhile, racial disparities in police killings have remained unchanged over the past five years, with 164 Black people suffering fatal police violence in the first eight months of 2020, alone. The American Public Health Association has declared police and law enforcement violence as a public health crisis. We have also seen a rise in xenophobia and violence directed against individuals of Asian descent across the nation, culminating in the senseless killings in Atlanta last month.

Police brutality and violence is not limited to the United States. In Nigeria, over the past few years, mass demonstrations have taken place through the #EndSARS movement to protest the corruption and abuse of power by the SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad), a branch of the Nigeria Police Force. MacArthur Fellow and writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has written extensively about this topic on how the police force has terrorized its own citizens.

While these are unprecedented times, the problems we are confronting are not new. Racism is a contagion that existed long before COVID-19.

White people, myself included, have an essential role to play in dismantling the structures and practices that uphold systemic racism. We have to deconstruct our thinking and our practices that have brought us to this point of reckoning, and we have to reconstruct new systems in their place—that goes for individuals and institutions. It is clear that we need new directions in philanthropy to respond to urgent needs and to help communities recover.

If money is medicine, as Edgar Villanueva has written in his book Decolonizing Wealth, how do we ensure that we are using and distributing it to heal the people we seek to serve?  For decades, situational privilege has reinforced grantmaking methods in philanthropy that do not center the leadership of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.

Again, these inequities play out not just in the United States but in fact around the world. The gap between wealthy nations and those with fewer economic resources presented a renewed crisis, as the availability of life-saving vaccines, medicines, and practices has been spread unevenly across the globe. Within countries where the MacArthur Foundation makes grants, including the United Staes, Nigeria and India, we have seen similar disparities play out along lines of gender, social class, and abilities.


As a non-profit institution and as a funder of other non-profits, we at MacArthur Foundation are committed to doing our part to help bring about an equitable, inclusive recovery, with the individuals most affected in the lead to determine priorities and what is best for communities seeking to recover. We have much to learn from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders—in all the places we operate—about how to organize and consolidate our collective resources to meet the moment and fund a movement.

MacArthur has had a long-standing commitment to Chicago, our home city, where we invest in people, places, and partnerships to advance racial equity and build a more inclusive Chicago. Over 40 years we have invested $1.4 billion in more than 1,600 local organizations and individuals—more than any other place in the world.

There are times when those of us with the power and resources are called on to do more. This past year, 2020, was such a year.

Last summer, MacArthur issued “social bonds” to make $125 million in additional grants and investments in people, organizations, and communities. Our goal is to put these funds to work in an intentional, transparent, and accountable fashion toward the reconstruction of new, more equitable systems and structures.

We are taking advantage of historically low interest rates to be able to give out more money in a time of great need. Our first $25 million in grants addressed anti-Black racism, supported Native Americans impacted by COVID-19, strengthened voter education and mobilization, and combatted voter suppression. We also awarded grants to organizations based in India, Mexico, and Nigeria to respond to increased gender-based violence, reduced access to healthcare, fewer safe spaces, and unequal workloads.

The remaining funds will be allocated in support of organizations that can advance an overarching goal of racial and ethnic justice. One area of focus is health equity and access, which includes issues ranging from the disparate views of the safety and efficacy of COVID vaccines by race to the mental health and wellness of Black, Indigenous, and other youth of color.

In Nigeria, where we have worked for over 30 years, we are using a gender equity and social inclusion lens with our grantmaking, which aims to reduce corruption by supporting Nigerian-led efforts to strengthen accountability, transparency, and participation.

That means we are looking at everything from:

-Supporting women-led and youth-led organizations with our grantmaking;

-Ensuring that our anti-corruption programming is informed by and reaches people from historically and contemporary marginalized groups such as young people, people with disabilities, women, and people in hard-to-reach communities. We have a particular focus on individuals who have intersecting identities, such as disabled women in hard-to-reach places;

-Offering Gender Equity and Social Inclusion training support to grantees; and

-Setting markers in how we evaluate our grantmaking to hold ourselves and grantees accountable to this priority.

The substance of our grantmaking and investing is as important as our mode of operating. Within the organization, we have embraced the Just Imperative, which is grounded in the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion as we strive to become an anti-racist organization.

Our aspiration is for each member of the MacArthur Foundation—all 180 Staff members around the globe—to feel a sense of belonging and a profound recognition that the Just Imperative is a part of all of our work. We continue to become more diverse as a Foundation and attempt to do the same with the organizations and people we support. We are also a learning organization, devoted to the work of evaluation and holding ourselves accountable for our progress as well as our failures.

This commitment we have made—this Just Imperative—calls upon us to look at everything we do. While some of the obvious steps have been to look at hiring and procurement practices, we are also looking across all our grantmaking, our impact investing, and our approach to investing the endowment itself.

Now is the time to fundamentally transform our systems, structures, and practices and reconstruct something better. Later today, we will announce the award recipient of 100&Change, our global competition for a single $100 million grant to solve a critical problem of our time. The six bold ideas will accelerate social change by ending homelessness, providing oxygen therapy to patients worldwide, restoring our oceans, democratizing life-saving medical knowledge and care, eliminating news deserts, and combating mosquito-borne disease.


What does this have to do with World Health Day? One of the many lessons of COVID-19 is our interconnectedness and our interdependence. We have missed this lesson in the past and we miss it again at our peril. The transmission of disease across geographic boundaries is just the most obvious dimension. The ravages of racism cross geographic boundaries, just as the slave trade joined Europe, Africa, and North and South America—and touched every corner of the world, as one example. Colonialism had and has today the same interconnected qualities. Information systems, trade, economic policy, security—each of these areas and more show us the deep and now permanent forms of interconnection. We cannot ignore these forms of interconnection; we cannot pull back from seeing our common humanity, acting locally, acting regionally, and both thinking and acting globally as we seek to define and solve the biggest problems.

As I close, let me harken back to Dr. Olopade and to my parents and to the approach they all take to their work. The public health leaders I most admire both act and think locally and act and think globally. They take care of people in their own communities and they never lose sight of our shared humanity, our deep interconnectedness with every other person on the planet.

The many learnings and types of reckonings of this past year give me hope for the future. To realize this future, we need to take stock now and understand what lessons we can learn from this once-in-a-lifetime moment—what we hope will be a once-in-a-lifetime moment, anyway. We must deepen our understanding of racial justice in an enduring way. The MacArthur Foundation is committed to realizing the promise of the moment—in solidarity with those whom we invest in and whom we partner with—towards a fairer and healthier world. I look forward to partnering with many of you, shoulder to shoulder with Dr. Olopade, in that work. Thank you.

2021 Klinsky Lecture, Harvard Law School

Klinsky Lecture: Technology in the Public Interest
Harvard Law School
April 2021
John Palfrey

Thank you, Dean Manning, for your kind introduction and for the opportunity to serve as the Klinsky Visiting Professor of Practice for Leadership and Progress in this auspicious year. It is such a treat to be back with all of you at Harvard Law School–and to have been able to teach again this year, fittingly enough, given our topic today, by Zoom. Thank you, Steven and Maureen Klinsky, for being with us today and for your exceptional generosity to our shared alma mater. I cherish this appointment and the chance to be the 2021 Klinsky Visiting Professor. Thank you to Catherine Cronin in the dean’s office, Steven Oliveira and the team in the development office, Urs Gasser and all those at the Berkman Klein Center who have helped to sponsor and put on this event today.

Thank you to Professor Martha Minow who will close us out today–and who had the vision, while she was herself the dean, to imagine this gift with the Klinskys and, I suspect, to shape both this professorship and the lecture series. Finally, thanks to all of you who have joined us and will participate today. In particular, thank you to Isabella Berkley, Madeleine Matsui, and Jess Valenzuela Ramirez, all members of the Harvard Law School Class of 2023–and students in the course I taught this Winter term, entitled Technology and the Public Interest. Isabella, Madeleine, and Jess will be the initial respondents after my remarks this afternoon. I am honored by their presence and willingness to serve this role.

We have learned many things, all of us, in this past year-plus of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of many lessons has to do with Zoom. We are all familiar with the “oh, sorry, you’re on mute” and the challenges of Zoom fatigue. We’ve also learned that no one wants to listen to anyone other than the very best lecturer talk for an hour straight on Zoom. I am far from one of the very best lecturers and I will spare you even a half hour straight. The gameplan is that I’ll give more of a sprint than a marathon type lecture, then turn it over to the students to respond, then open up to the questions and comments of the larger community. We’ll end with Professor Minow, who will likely pose a question to the students and perhaps one to me, and then close us out.


My story today is framed by three key dates, each separated by twenty years: 1981, 2001, and 2021.

Forty years ago, in 1981, Steven Klinsky graduated from the Harvard Law School. We are fortunate indeed that he did, or, we likely would not be gathered here today. Steven, I hope you enjoy your 40th reunion this year.

Twenty years ago–2001–was my class year at Harvard Law School. I will linger here not to center myself in the story but to ground us in the heady days of what we then called “the Internet boom.” Professor Charlie Nesson taught a class called “The Exploding Internet.” Jonathan Zittrain, fondly known as JZ, taught the early versions of his famous “Internet & Society:

The Technologies and Politics of Control.” I had the great good fortune to be one of the early students at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society alongside a dynamic, passionate, zany crew who had gathered around what Myles Berkman called “the watercooler” for a new era.

The spirit of the times in 2001 was electric and exciting. It was also dominated by a point of view that the Internet was a new thing, a new space–cyberspace–and something that deserved to be treated differently than everything else that had come before. For many, this point of view translated into a “hands off” regulatory environment for the Internet and everything associated with it. There was a name for it: “cyberlibertarianism.” It had some appealing features to be sure: a radical openness and a sense of possibility, the lure of a new kind of more participatory and global politics, and to be sure great riches for those able to harness it.

The United States Congress and those in the regulatory agencies and judiciary at the time more or less went along with this orthodoxy. In this country at least, regulation of the Internet was kept at a bare minimum. No new major, dedicated regulatory agencies or regimes cropped up, except at the margins and when absolutely necessary. The idea was that innovation in this new space was so promising that we should not risk stifling it–not just through excessive regulation, but really through any regulation at all. The emerging e-commerce powerhouses even managed to keep taxes on sales over the Internet at bay for a while.

The effect of this hands-off approach to regulation of the Internet did exactly what it was meant to do. Witness Amazon today. It resulted in an historic boom in businesses dedicated to the Internet, social media, data, hardware, software, hosting, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning … and on and on. At least off the bat, the vast majority of these companies were founded in the United States. While countries like China have given rise to worthy competitors in many fields, the United States remains the undisputed leader in virtually all aspects of the Internet, digital media, and computing early in this new millennium.

And it made a small number of people, mostly men, mostly highly educated, mostly White and Asian, fabulously wealthy–more so that at any point in history, perhaps with the exception of the 19th century’s Gilded Age.


Warning signs emerged quickly in the ensuing years. Not everyone was enamored of a totally “hands off” policy for the Internet, digital media, and data-heavy technology industries. Scholars from around the world pointed out the dangers and shortcomings of the United States policy regime. European states and the European Commission broke sharply with the United States, though created bridges through safe harbors to allow European citizens to use the US-based services. Authoritarian regimes, including Iran and North Korea, sought to create their own, balkanized version of the Internet. China erected its “great firewall” and an elaborate regulatory regime, long on state involvement and investment, short on protections for individual speech and privacy rights.

Scholars, too, questioned the wisdom of cyberlibertarianism. Harvard Law School and Berkman Center–now Berkman Klein–scholars, too numerous to mention all by name, deserve citation here, for sure, as do many who work elsewhere. JZ, for instance, wrote “The Future of the Internet–and How to Stop It” in 2008. Susan Crawford left a partnership at Wilmer Hale to join the legal academy, calling attention to the “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age.” Ruth Okediji, Terry Fisher, Lawrence Lessig, and many others pointed out the dangers of an intellectual property regime that favors only some at the expense of the public interest. Yochai Benkler and a team of researchers have exposed the role of political and media elites in spreading dis- and misinformation on social media platforms. Urs Gasser pointed us to the extraordinary array of scholarship and practice outside the United States, in the process creating a network of centers that spans more than 100 institutions and connects with and holds up the distinctive thinking of those on nearly every continent. I could go on but that would take too long–you get the idea.


And now to 2021. In early January, an intrepid group of about 70 Harvard Law School students met over Zoom for an intensive two weeks together to study these issues in the present day. You can probably imagine where this story is headed.

It was only a few days into the course that a mob stormed the United States Capitol, seeking to put a stop to the full and fair election that was to bring Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to the White House. Smack in the middle of our class, a group of largely White people took up arms against our country’s Congressional leadership in an effort to stop the certification of the election of the first African-American and Asian-American woman to one of the highest federal offices. While this insurrection mattered to everyone, it had special meaning in the context of our course.

We threw out the carefully planned syllabus for a few days to talk about what the insurrection meant to us–as people devoted to the study and practice of law and as human beings. These terrifying events, unfolding in front of us, held out the chance to talk about race, power, injustice, and social class among many other things. It was a time of high emotion, disproportionately felt by some members of our class and our society.

More specific to our course, these unsettling events in early January also afforded us the chance to talk in real-time about the decisions policy makers and company owners had to make. For starters: should Twitter take down the Tweets of the then-president that urged on these insurrectionists and ban him, while still in office, from further communications to his millions of followers on the platform? People who are in charge of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites had to decide whether to exercise their unprecedented power. Through this Harvard Law School class, we had the chance to debate this very choice–just as it was happening. We heard from a guest to the course, Peter Currie, who served until recently as the lead independent director of Twitter about the nature of this decision facing Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg and their colleagues.

We studied the lack of access to broadband while school had moved to Zoom–just as our students’ Harvard Law School experience had gone entirely online for this January term. We discussed what it meant for 1 in 5 students in Chicago not to have access to broadband and sufficient computing equipment to participate in school once it had gone all virtual early in the pandemic. We debated the merits of universal broadband access and other means of closing the gaps in access to our digital network in an era in which health information, access to justice, and access to an education hangs in the balance. We had a chance to debate these topics alongside Nicol Turner-Lee of the Brookings Institution, who has made the case for universal broadband access for decades, and with Sal Khan, who aspires to make a world-class education available for free to everyone, anywhere. As an aside, the Klinskys, too, are helping make a high-quality, low-cost college-level education possible using the Internet through one of their other philanthropic efforts.

We had the chance to debate the question with which I started–whether the Internet should be subject to greater regulation than it has been for over twenty years. In the midst of this “Great Deplatforming”–as in fact the social networks did ban the former president–we took up the big picture question of whether the United States-led cyberlibertarian regime is in fact the right one in 2021. We heard our guest Jameel Jaffer, Harvard Law School graduate and director of the Knight Institute, describe the complex interplay between the protections of the First Amendment and the rights of the private platforms to decide who can publish what online. And we heard from Spencer Overton, Harvard Law School graduate and director of the Joint Center, about what technology policy has to do with voting rights for people of color and others from marginalized communities.

Today, in 2021, each of these issues is on the table for consideration by the Biden-Harris Administration, the United States Congress, and the federal judiciary. The best way to regulate social media and the algorithms that increasingly assist humans in making essential decisions, the possible reform of the Communications Decency Act’s Section 230, the call for universal broadband access–each of these issues that we had a chance to debate are live considerations for legal and policy reform here in the United States and around the world.


I did not, during the class, say all that much about my own point of view on these matters. I take the position that students are best served by working out their own ideas to the greatest extent possible in the context of a course without being steered too hard by their teachers.

That said, if they cared to know my personal views–what law scholars might call my “normative priors”–my guess is that the students worked much of it out by following the breadcrumbs I left as I set up the syllabus, chose the readings, invited the guests, and moderated the conversations. I will conclude these remarks by lifting the curtain on these perspectives a bit.

My view is that the 2001-era absence of regulation does not make sense today, if ever it did. The cyberlibertarian approach favored people one would expect it to: individuals who already had power and capital, a group overwhelmingly White and male (and in this case, Asian), the venture capitalists and technologists, the big firm lawyers and the Wall Street bankers with a technological aptitude and bent. The system has been much less good for just about everyone else. We need a regulatory regime for technology that puts the public interest first, with equity and inclusion as a design principle, not an afterthought.

Of the current debates that we took up in the course, I believe that access to broadband should be treated just as we treat electricity or the telephone system. It is far past the time that we can think of this system as anything other than an essential utility. The problems of the last mile in rural areas or the yawning gaps in cities like Chicago, where I live, need to be solved in a hurry, after years of foot-dragging.

I agree with those who believe that the social media companies had every right–perhaps an obligation–to deplatform the former president and others who were spreading misinformation about a properly conducted election and much else besides. I do not think the First Amendment does or should stand in their way. I share the worries, though, about the power we are leaving in the hands of a very small group of billionaires, who happen to be all men and all White. And I worry a lot about the fate of our country’s journalism and media sector in an era dominated by gigantic and ever-more-powerful social media companies. That is a lecture for another day.

Perhaps most controversially, I agree it is time that we amend Section 230 of the
Communications Decency Act. This key provision of United States Internet law is considered sacrosanct by many in the technology field–and is the cornerstone of the cyberlibertarian philosophy. This provision, written into law in 1996 as part of a massive overhaul of the telecommunications regime, was meant to promote Good Samaritanship by those running the emerging Internet platforms. It has a funny dynamic to it: on the one hand, it ensures that the platform providers are not held liable for the bad acts of their users. On the other, it is meant to give them protection if they choose to act as Good Samaritans, to offer a helping hand.

It is true that this extremely wide and deep safe harbor has led to the growth of Internet companies, to robust competition, and to much innovation. It has also led to many bad acts and to many companies turning the other way when law enforcement or aggrieved parties come calling. In the name of preserving their safe harbor, many companies have done far too little to protect those who have been harmed.

It is time, I believe, that the law should be amended to extend meaningful protection to all, not just some. Urs Gasser and I made such an argument when we wrote Born Digital, a book which came out in 2008, in the interests of child protection. I agree too with the arguments put forward by Danielle Citron (a 2019 MacArthur fellow, incidentally) and Mary Anne Franks about individuals who are too often harmed by this absence of a regulatory regime–mostly women and people of color. I even might be persuaded to agree with a brilliant legal scholar, who happens to be here today, who recently suggested in a seminar I attended that Section 230 should not be amended but needed to be scrapped altogether, and for us to start again. We’ll see.

I believe it is time to create new digital institutions in the public interest. Ethan Zuckerman has called this digital public infrastructure. In EthanZ’s view, building explicitly from the work of Newton Minow from the 1960s to the present day, we should treat digital infrastructure as public goods, not purely as profit-maximizing enterprises. I agree. I think of the Digital Public Library of America–creating a public option when it comes to access to digital materials and eBooks–or Wikipedia as extant examples, with much more to be built and built out. Imagine a cloud computing system that is not held in private hands, a social network that truly protects personal information, digital media platforms that transform news and information the way NPR and PBS have transformed the landscape for radio and television, and so forth.

It is time for us to reimagine the knowledge and information needs in a democracy, before it is too late, and build the institutions to meet those needs. Across education, journalism, libraries–we should imagine and build new digital infrastructure for the public good. This is the progress and leadership I’d love to see in our field.

Most important, I believe it is time for a new, dynamic, more diverse, inspired group of young people to join the field of technology and the public interest. I have every confidence that these newcomers will help to build the new, digital institutions that will serve the many, not just the few. I am excited to see what they will do to design, build, regulate, and remake structures and a system that badly needs it–in the interest of a more just and inclusive economy and our very democracy. Thank you.


Now let’s turn to the best part of this “lecture,” a chance to hear from three students who, I hope, may be among those who decide to take up these issues in their professional lives one way or another. (No pressure!)

Each of these students made their mark in our star-crossed, impossibly timed course this January. For those not currently in the Harvard Law School community, this course was part of the January Experiential Term. Over Zoom, it is hard to make something truly “experiential,” so we improvised–as we’ve improvised in nearly every aspect of life this past year. We talked about matters of doctrine and policy as a throughline to the course, but it was really about what it means to become a lawyer–the kinds of things our students can go on to think about and do after law school. In addition to bringing in guests from inside and outside the legal profession, we required students to write a self-reflection on whether their application essay to HLS still made sense to them, required them to solve a technology policy problem in a team, and do all of this online.

To help us understand this story from the student perspective, I am pleased to introduce three exceptional people: Isabella Berkley, Madeleine Matsui, and Jess Valenzuela Ramirez. I’ve asked them to comment as they see fit on my lecture, on the substance of the course, and on their experience as Zoom-only 1Ls this year. I’ve invited them to be candid, to share whatever they feel is important to know, even if it may contradict what I’ve said or throw shade on the course or the experience they’ve had so far in law school. I’m eager to hear what they have to say, no matter what, about this intersection of technology in the public interest and the experience of learning the law entirely via the technology of Zoom.

Isabella, please start us off.

Danner: Taming Multiplicity in a Post-Print Era

Prof. Richard Danner of Duke Law School is giving a truly inspiring lecture today at Harvard about libraries and legal information.  He has grounded his talk in a lecture by Morris Cohen, a former Harvard Law School library director and professor (later, he had both jobs at Yale as well), about the “multiplicity” of legal sources at the end of the 19th century.  His talk is a fascinating tour of the intellectual history related to legal information and law librarianship, picking up on the words of thinkers from Joseph Story (a legal giant of the 19th century, credited with a key “founding” role for the Harvard Law School) to Robert Berring, Ethan Katsh, James Donovan, and Michael Carroll of the present day.

Danner makes a fresh argument.  In the 1980s, legal information became widely accessible in digital formats for students, faculty, and practitioners.  In the 1990s, the Internet made the same digital sources available broadly to the public.  There’s a new multiplicity of sources, Danner argues, many of which fall outside of the usual vetting and publishing process.  Berring began, as of 2000, to call for a new Blackstone, someone to reconceptualize the structure of legal information.  Danner recalls a report that calls for law librarians to work to provide legal information not just to our students and faculty and practitioners we directly serve, but more broadly, to the public.  Computer scientists and law librarians should work together to solve the problems of getting legal information to these joint.

One of the key jobs of those who think about legal information is to determine the core function (or the source of legitimacy) of law libraries.  The core function is service to a community, not so much collection development, Danner argues.  But at the same time, it’s important to think again, Danner argues, about the nature of the services that law libraries provide.  There’s no reason to be complacent about the role of librarians in the future.  Digital information is somewhat different than printed information, and the differences matter, Danner contends.  These differences can help to understand the job of the law librarian on behalf of the communities they serve.  Librarians provide significant value, but libraries are no longer gateways.

Digital scholarship is by nature collaborative, Danner argues (citing Stanley Katz).  Collaborative and interdisciplinary scholarship is growing in law as it is in other fields.  Law professors might begin to think of law librarians as collaborators, much as they collaborate with fellow law professors.  We are, Danner argues, a service profession, and faculty members think of librarians as service professionals — not so much as collaborators.  Interdisciplinary research might provide a way forward for librarians to function more like collaborators (listed as a co-author) than like service providers (thanked in a footnote).  Law librarians themselves have an area of study, just like Constitutional law or intellectual property are areas of study in the law, Danner argues.  So what is our discipline, Danner wonders?  Information science can provide the theoretical base for the practice of law librarianship, giving rise to a discipline of legal information sciences.

Librarians should not be passive disseminators of legal information.  We should be tool-builders, and to add value to the information that we protect and to which we provide access.  We need to be partners in new fields like empirical legal research.  We need deep, technical proficiency ourselves, and need to use it to build our own role in this new information environment, Danner argues.

And open access is a key part of the recreating of a legal information environment, Danner contends, especially for secondary sources of law.  The primary sources of law, too, are increasingly available through the free access to law movement — and, we hope, through Carl Malamud’s law.gov efforts; Tom Bruce’s LII at Cornell; and so forth.  A commitment to open access should be a responsibility of those of us involved in legal scholarship, Danner argues.  Open access repositories expose scholarship to broader audiences — worldwide audiences — and expanding the communities that we serve.  Through open access, we encourage a freer flow of information beyond the wealthy and privileged cloisters of academia in the US and other rich countries in important ways, and vice-versa.  Berring envisioned a complex information environment, in which users have more support to make their way through it; Danner’s view is that libraries can meet this need.  Librarians need to write more code, to collaborate with those in related fields, to make legal information –both primary and secondary sources — more broadly accessible and useful, to make connections between primary and secondary sources using social media and otherwise, and to do so with a global perspective.  (Bravo!)

Upcoming Lecture: Richard Danner on Open Access (4/29 at 12:30 p.m. at Harvard)

I’m just thrilled that Richard Danner has agreed to give a major lecture on the Harvard campus about open access on April 29, 2010.  As a rookie law library director, I’ve asked many people in the profession about the leaders in the field, and roads inevitably lead to Danner, among a small handful of others consistently mentioned (in my totally-non-scientific survey).  Danner is the Senior Associate Dean for Information Services and Archibald C. and Frances Fulk Rufty Research Professor Of Law at Duke Law School.  His talk will be entitled, “Taming Multiplicity in the Post-Print Era: Law Librarians, Legal Scholarship, and Access to the Law.”  It will take place on Thursday, April 29th, from 12:30-1:30pm, Lamont Forum Room, in Lamont Library on the Harvard College campus.  RSVP via this link; we expect a good crowd, so please do let us know you’ll be there.   The lecture is sponsored by the Harvard Law School Library, the Office for Scholarly Communication, and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, our partners in the open access movement on campus.  (Thanks especially to Michelle Pearse, Librarian for Open Access at HLS, for organizing this event.)

Professor Richard Danner has been at the forefront of the open access to legal scholarship movement for many years and has also recently written about the role of academic law librarians in supporting faculty scholarship.  For an article out in this month’s edition of the Journal of Law & Education (April 2010), on the role of the academic law librarian, click here.  See also the Durham Statement, drafted during a meeting in Prof. Danner’s conference room at Duke and now proudly posted on the Berkman Center’s web site; or listen to Prof. Richard Leiter‘s podcast about it, featuring Prof. Danner.