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August 4, 2010
Gearing Up for WestlawNext Instruction in the Legal Academy
I agree with Tom Boone when he writes
I don't share the opinion of many that [WestlawNext] "dumbs down" legal research. To the contrary, I've found that it adds considerable power to most of the research I've done using the new system ... But as superior as it is to its predecessor, it still has legitimate problems. The issues associated with secondary sources in WLN need to be highlighted. Even if Thomson Reuters opts to not fix these problems, we as researchers need to be aware of them. And as instructors — both in the classroom and at the reference desk — we need to be prepared to educate others about them, too.
And that is exactly what Tom has done in The trouble with secondary sources in WestlawNext. Do check it out and the link he provides to an earlier post on the topic. Now that WLN has gone live permanently in the legal academy, law librarians and legal writing profs are grappling with how to provide instruction on WLN that goes beyond on-site vendor rep instruction to comprehensively address the best ways and means to use the service, including addressing the shortcomings of "the much-hyped interface," to quote Tom.
Do law librarians have to repeat ad infinitum that secondary content most certainly informs the less experienced practitioner (and informs utterly inexperienced law school students) who is more likely to be assigned legal research projects in the real world? For the less experience researcher, the first rule of case law research is don't try to discover the common law on your own because your research will never end. Turn to the secondary literature for a systematic analysis as a starting point for further legal research. Hence the criticisms, well-stated by Tom Boone and others. Hopefully, in the context of WLN, they will be fixed, not ignored.
It might be all fine and well that experienced practitioners who over the years have acquired some expertise in their practice area(s) through years of hard work only need to turn to primary sources for online research. However even experienced practitioners who are faced with addressing unfamiliar ground such as when statutory or regulatory changes substantially change the landscape of their specialty need to turn to the secondary literature for guidance. Luckily there is still BNA and CCH for that but neither BNA nor CCH should be viewed as being solely for "power users" in the legal academy or beyond. Besides, who knows what the future may hold. It may include WEXIS licensing that blocks primary source materials, leaving them the purveyors of only secondary source resources someday.
Sharing Law Librarian-Produced WLN Instructional Literature. Haven't asked Tom but know he has the programming chops to craft one of those social media thingees so law librarians can share WLN instructional aids. CALI is damn good for this but since not everyone has access to CALI resources, WLN aids produced by academic law librarians would be beneficial to all law librarians, academic, private and public sectors.
Sorry Tom, just a thought, and, certainly not a rush. As of June 30, 2010, TR reports that "[w]e are well ahead of the company's initial expectations" for WLN adoption, but only "approximately 5,700 customers" had signed on the dotted line.
Of course, there are other WLN interface matters, like not yet supporting printing to the dedicated Westlaw printers in law schools as noted by Mark Giangrande's LLB post which according to David Walker's LLB post won't be available until next year.
Meeting with Vendors in an Open AALL Meeting About the Economics of Interface. In his post Tom mentions that how online vendors treat (mistreat or just plain ignore the importance of) secondary source material was addressed at Julie Jones's AALL Denver panel discussion, "The Economics of Interface: Vendors Respond."
Following presentations by Thomson Reuters' Mike Dahn, LexisNexis' Molly Miller and Fastcase's Ed Walters, Larry Abraham of Fordham Law stepped up to the audience microphone and told the vendor representatives that their interfaces discourage users from using secondary sources, instead emphasizing primary law materials. Following Laurence's comments, a few other audience members (myself included) complained to the panel about how vendors treat secondary sources both within their systems and in training provided to subscribers.
Some vendors point to user studies to justify designing their SEs to give primary sources more importance than secondary sources (or to just provide primary sources). However,one has to wonder how much of this is the result of years of WEXIS--provided instruction that largely goes unchecked in law school because advanced legal research courses are not required? Are these user studies the mark of a self-fulfilling prophecy? Should anyone rely on a vendor-supplied or vendor-financed user study? If the study doesn't produce results the vendor doesn't wants us to hear, would it see the light of day?
Julie's panel was one of the very, very, very few sessions I wanted to attend in Denver and not just she is a former LLB contributing editor. But it got bumped off my schedule at the last minute. Tom and fellow travelers in the blogosphere filled me some later that day in the Exhibit Hall. Jason Wilson, for one, was reviewing the tweets posted during the session. Perhaps I need to revise my opinion about Twitter at least in the context of AALL open meetings. It was very interesting. Perhaps Tweets should be displayed live on a big screen behind the podium while panel discussions are taking place; talk about instant feedback!
Vendor Colloquium in Feb. 2011. Julie's Denver session illustrates something else. A vendor colloquium can be conducted in a opening meeting with vendors to discuss matters of importance in the library-vendor relationship but in a more general way in an open meeting at AALL Philadelphia 2010: Transparency and Accountability in the 21st Century without turning into a slug fest. Attendees can tweet!
Vendor-library meetings have been conducted at the chapter level so why not go national. But apparently our association leaders remain scared off by the prospect of members being in the same room as vendors since they continue to remain hell bent on holding their Colloquium of Law Librarians and Legal Publishers in February 2011. Even if that meeting is open to interested members, the audience will be substantially less because of the expense of an additional trip, instead of it being scheduled for Philadelphia. Some vendors seem to being ignoring the current economy; apparently so is AALL.
In what I believe is AALL President Joyce Manna Janto's first "From the Desk of" message, she reiterates the official line, writing:
one of my goals for the coming year is to have an honest and open dialogue between law librarians and information vendors about the changing nature of the environment in which we all work. I think the colloquium will be the perfect venue for us to conduct this necessary conversation.
Ah, no it won't if all interested members can't afford to attend two AALL meetings in one year. I know several of the librarian-members of the Vendor Colloquium Committee well enough to know that they are neither AALL nor vendor sock puppets but that's not good enough. Also note the Committee's charge is "common soon" and that this February 2010 meeting apparently is still going to cost the membership $27K while that cost can be reduced to $0K if held in Philadelphia.
Making the Composition of the Vendor Colloquium Committee Representative. Is a BigLaw firm librarian going to be appointed by our association's leadership to the Vendor Colloquium Committee? Don't know about you but in the food chain that is revenue sources for TR Legal, Lexis, CCH and BNA, if someone with substantial experience and qualifications from BigLaw is not appointed, this committee fails to represent an entire market segment of really big spenders and the issues they have. Another big spender missing on the Committee is federal agencies. While relatively small in membership compared to academic and private sector law libraries, their payments to and issues with our vendors are substantial. In other words, the current composition of the Committee doesn't come close to being representative of our institutional membership. [JH]