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!)

Allison Hoover Barlett, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

For Christmas, my good friend and mentor John DeVillars gave me a copy of “The Man Who Loved Books Too Much” by Allison Hoover Bartlett.  (There were several messages embedded in the giving of this gift, I’m clear on that much.)  I’ve been eager to read it, but it was fairly far down on the stack of books on my bedside table until last night.  It was worth the wait: a lot of fun and readable in a few nights, if you’re willing to stay up late.  It’s apparently non-fiction, but it reads almost like a mystery novel — about Bibliomania.

Bartlett tells the story of John Charles Gilkey, who steals a great many rare books, and the rare book dealer (Ken Sanders) who helps to track him down and warn his fellow dealers of Gilkey’s misdeeds.  Bartlett clearly spent an enormous amount of time reading about book collectors, dealers, and thieves and talked to a good many of them, too.  She tells the story of Gilkey, Sanders et al. in a manner that’s at once serious and reflective, and with a welcome sense of humor throughout.  Bartlett gets deeply into the topic herself through the research and writing process, which comes through clearly in the text in an appealing, human way.  She refers in the notes on p. 263 to a state of “research rapture,” which resonated for me.  For anyone who loves books and bookstores (or libraries, for that matter, which make a cameo appearance near the end, especially), it’s an interesting, fun (and quick) read.

For those for whom the book is not enough on this topic: I also enjoyed the Library Thing interview with the author.

Reader Privacy Event at UNC-Chapel Hill

Anne Klinefelter, the beloved law library director at UNC-Chapel Hill (you should hear her dean introduce her; really!), is hosting a Data Privacy Day event on reader privacy.  She makes the case in her opening panel remarks that, if we wish to translate library practices with respect to privacy into a digital world, we need to figure out how to translate not just law but also ethics.  Anne argues that the law needs updating to keep up with new research practices of today’s library users, especially as we shift from a world (primarily) of checking out books to a world (primarily) of accessing databases.  Her analysis of the 48 state laws with respect to user data privacy shows that the statutes vary in substance, in coverage, and in enforcement.  Anne’s closing point is a great one: if we’re in the business of translating these rules of library protection of user data, we need to bring the ethical code and norms along as well.

Jane Horvath (Google) and Andrew McDiarmid (CDT) take up the Google Books Search Settlement and its privacy implications.  Jane emphasized the protections for user privacy built into book search.  She also emphasized ECPA and the need to update it to protect reader privacy.  Google, she says, is “calling for ECPA reform.  It really is necessary now.”

Andrew described, diplomatically and clearly, the privacy concerns that CDT has with respect to the Google Books Search Settlement (which CDT thinks should be approved; EFF, the Samuelson Clinic, and the ACLU of Northern California have similar concerns, but oppose approval of the settlement).  The critiques that Andrew described are not limited to Google’s activities, he noted; Amazon and others need to address the same issues.  Andrew worries about the potential development of (too?) rich user profiles that may be the target of information requests for law enforcement and civil litigants.  Rather than regulate Google as a library, Andrew argues, we should focus on the kinds of safeguards that CDT would like to see apply.  The best recent restatement of Fair Information Practices is by the DHS, says Andrew.  Eight principles should apply: Transparency, individual participation (including the right to correct it), purpose specification, minimization, use limitation,  data quality and integrity, security, accountability and auditing.  CDT would like to see Google commit to specific protections in alignment with these eight principles.

Harvard Library Report

Over the past nine months or so, a group of us have worked on a Harvard-wide Task Force to consider our library systems.  The report is being issued today by Harvard’s Provost, Steven E. Hyman, who chaired our Task Force.  Over the next year-plus, we will be working to implement changes in five key areas of the Harvard University library system.

Harvard is fortunate to have one of the great library systems in the world as a crown jewel.  The library system plays a central role in the intellectual life of our community, both as physical spaces and as resources of teaching and scholarship.  The 1200 or so library staff at Harvard, as I’ve come to learn, are simply extraordinary in terms of breadth and depth of talent.   But we can do more with what we have, and we can better position ourselves for the future — a future that will be “digital-plus” — than we are today.

As Provost Hyman wrote about the report:

“The report of the Task Force on University Libraries is a very thoughtful document about an extraordinary system. But it is also a stark rendering of a structure in need of reform. Our collections are superlative, and our knowledgeable library staff are central to the success of the University’s mission. The way the system operates, however, is placing terrible strain on the libraries and the people who work within them.

“Over time, a lack of coordination has led to a fragmented collection of collections that is not optimally positioned to respond to the 21st century information needs of faculty and students. The libraries’ organizational chart is truly labyrinthine in its complexity, and in practice this complexity impedes effective collective decision-making.

“Widely varying information technology systems present barriers to communication among libraries and stymie collaboration with institutions beyond our campus gates. Our funding mechanisms have created incentives to collect or subscribe in ways that diminish the vitality of the overall collection.

“Libraries the world over are undergoing a challenging transition into the digital age, and Harvard’s libraries are no exception. The Task Force report points us toward a future in which our libraries must be able to work together far more effectively than is the case today as well as to collaborate with other great libraries to maximize access to the materials needed by our scholars.”

I am excited to work with members of the Harvard library community and many others — inside and outside the community — to build on the promise of this report and the Harvard library system.

New Harvard Law School Library Organizational Design

Over the past year, I’ve worked with my colleagues at the Harvard Law School Library, our Library Committee of faculty members, and many others to develop a new organizational design for the HLSL.  It goes into effect today.  The description of our new organizational form is posted to the Library’s blog, Et Seq. The future of libraries may seem on its face to be unclear in a digital world.  But I am confident that it is bright; that librarians have never been needed more than they are today; and that the best thing that we can do to move into this future is to work collaboratively to chart it ourselves.

Hiring Empiricists at HLS Library

One of the new efforts underway at the Harvard Law School Library is providing support for the growing number of faculty who perform empirical research.  It’s something that a few other libraries have begun to do, and we think it’s a great idea.  After a successful pilot this past year (where we were swamped with business), we are hiring for two positions for this coming year: one, an empiricist to support faculty and student research and two, an empirical teaching fellow to support the teaching of statistics and related methods.  This field is growing and changing in exciting ways, and we’re looking for a few great people to join us in this endeavor.