February 5, 2010
Digital-Only: The Shed West Era Has Been Officially Institutionalized in the Legal Academy
Following the lead established by large law firm libraries a decade ago, the Shed West Era has been institutionalized by law school libraries (and public libraries). It's now "official." After substantial print cancellations that would have made John West shed crocodile tears, Harvard's Law School Library has published its revised collection development policy. Here's just a sample of the digital-only primary and secondary source decisions HLS Library has made:
Federal –Collect and retain one copy of United States Reports. For lower federal courts, do not collect reporters in print if there is stable access online in pdf. Collect advance sheets only for the Supreme Court Reporter, Federal Reporter and Federal Supplement with limited retention.
State [reporters] – Not collected. Rely on Lexis, Westlaw, Internet and interlibrary loan for access.
Briefs –Not collected. Rely on Lexis, Westlaw, Internet and interlibrary loan for access.
Digests – Collect and retain only the Decennial Digest/General Digest and the Massachusetts Digest.
Print Citators – Collect and retain only Shepards Acts and Cases by Popular Name and Shepards Massachusetts Citations.
Legal Encyclopedia - Do not collect in print – rely on Lexis and Westlaw.
Treatises - Except for Massachusetts treatises, do not collect and retain in print except to maintain access to superseded content, the treatise is difficult to use online, or patron use demands it.
Practice Manuals (e.g. handbooks, desk references etc.) – Collect in print for Massachusetts - rely on Lexis and Westlaw for other states.
Harvard is not breaking new ground here. Many other academic law libraries have been doing the same but, when Harvard does it, folks take notice. Some historian will later call this collection development policy a turning point. It's not because Harvard is at the forefront of the digital-only option; it is because those academic law libraries which haven't already taken the option for whatever reason now will.
While referencing "Lexis and Westlaw," relying on the "Internet" will eventually mean relying on the success of LAW.GOV for electronic primary legal materials. Relying on PDFs will be replaced with a standard mark-up language (e.g., XML) format that's independent of the physical manifestation of the now long outdated printed page once a format neutral citation protocol has been accepted as a way to eliminate dependency on commercial publishers for primary legal resources in the LAW.GOV era of wholesale distribution of official legal documentation. In other words, John West's insincere display of emotions will have consequences to WEXIS very expensive legal search services' bottom lines; not in academic law libraries because these online services are almost given away for free but in the private and public sectors where future law school grads will be employed.
Digital-Only Suckiness of Secondary Sources Recognized. Harvard's policy for loose-leaf secondary sources is "purchased only when necessary for secondary source coverage." For monographs, the policy is "preferred format is print." Plus, the above do not collect in print unless "the treatise is difficult to use online." All smart but obvious decisions since digital editions of secondary legal sources available by West and LexisNexis are user unfriendly, including what's offered by WestlawNext which, according to Jason Wilson's review, "sucks almost completely and totally when it comes to secondary source material. Period, end of story." See also Tom Boone's critique of WestlawNext's secondary sources. This, by the way, is the major disappointment in WestlawNext --there is nothing Next in WestlawNext's functionality for secondary legal materials.Yet the long-term future lies in providing a premium-worth-paying search experience for the editorial content provided in secondary sources by NextWestlawNext and, probably, Newer "New Lexis."
I also believe Harvard is avoiding the digital-only option for such materials because of the DRM-driven eBooks market dynamics, their current dependancy on less than long term single purpose eReaders, and the nasty disabilities noncompliance issues. Kudos, if Harvard is. If not, there is still usability and licensing issues plus it's just too damn early to be institutionalizing an eBook collection development policy for legal materials until something like BookServer is in place. Even Harvard can't call the shots here.
Let's Give Credit Where Credit is Due. Hello, ABA Accreditation Standards Committee and site inspectors. Are you going to take away Harvard's accreditation? Format neutrality has become a reality in academic law library collections and this means digital-only has been established as a de facto standard. It's not due to John Palfrey or the Harvard Law School Library; neither are innovators here nor do they claim to be. It's due to Gordon Russell, Associate Dean, Professor of Law and Director of the Law Library at the Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law. Once dismissed as a Don Quixotesque figure for repeatedly and stubbornly making "this will never happen" recommendations in the face of very strong opposition from the "I want my volume count" crowd in the academic law library community, Gordon's insights into and campaign for the future of access to legal information in the legal academy have been officially accepted. Gordon's reform proposals eventually would have been institutionalized but current academic law library economics was the "push" that brought about this fundamental change now.
When Harvard's Law School Library can't afford to pay for maintaining the status quo in primary and secondary print materials, the duopolists better take notice. In fact they have. That's why the folks in the land of 10,000 invoices are trying to squeeze every last penny out of print continuation budgets. But the final act in this play still has to be performed. Time for WEXIS to redesign how secondary sources are delivered online before new players enter the game and current vendors like BNA and Wolters Kluwer cut deeper into this market segment. And they will. "Lexis or Westlaw?" is no longer a blasphemous question and that includes their current online secondary legal resources.
And that means what exactly, John? Changes coming to the BlueBook protocol, the backstory to Dorie's question? Staffing up for ILLs? Your comment leaves something to be desired in specificity.
Collection development policy changes from an academic law library that sets, like it or not, national norms has nation-wide consequences that requires answers in specificity. Like it or not, it comes with the position you hold.
Posted by: Joe Hodnicki | Feb 8, 2010 2:28:33 PM
Yes, we've worked extensively with the Harvard Law Review editors, and the editors of our other student journals, as we've established this new policy to ensure that we can meet their needs.
Posted by: John Palfrey | Feb 8, 2010 12:41:28 PM
Has anyone told the editors of the Harvard Law Review about the change to their library's collection development policy(especially as the next edition of the Bluebook is prepared)? Or are they just going to rely on ILL for the required cite to the print version of state statutes, etc. - if there are any libraries left that can fill those ILL requests?
Posted by: Dorie Bertram | Feb 8, 2010 10:10:51 AM
Joe: I appreciate the kind comments but I would like to give credit where credit is due. The pioneer of the digital library, Barty Wolfe who created a mixed format library at St. Thomas University as their founding librarian.
I am grateful to his vision.
Posted by: Gordon Russell | Feb 5, 2010 11:13:53 AM