Saturday, February 21, 2009

Goodbye to (print) law reviews?

J0404435 Are law reviews in print among the next victims of the nation's worsening economy? Are they still relevant in light of the ever-increasing use of electronic databases for legal research? Will creating an open-access standard bring legal scholarship out of the academy's dusty shelves and into the mainstream of public awareness?

These questions, and others, have led a number of law library directors recently (Feb. 11, 2009) to issue the "Durham Statement on Open Access to Legal Scholarship," set out below:

Objective: The undersigned believe that it will benefit legal education and improve the dissemination of legal scholarly information if law schools commit to making the legal scholarship they publish available in stable, open, digital formats in place of print. To accomplish this end, law schools should commit to making agreed-upon stable, open, digital formats, rather than print, the preferable formats for legal scholarship. If stable, open, digital formats are available, law schools should stop publishing law journals in print and law libraries should stop acquiring print law journals. We believe that, in addition to their other benefits, these changes are particularly timely in light of the financial challenges currently facing many law schools.

Rationale: Researchers –- whether students, faculty, or practitioners -– now access legal information of all sorts through digital formats much more frequently than in printed formats.  Print copies of law journals and other forms of legal scholarship are slower to arrive than the online digital versions and lack the flexibility needed by 21st century scholars.  Yet, most law libraries perceive a continuing need also to acquire legal scholarship in print formats for citation and archiving. (Some libraries are canceling print editions if commercial digital versions are available; others continue to acquire print copies but throw them away after a period of time.) 

It is increasingly uneconomical to keep two systems afloat simultaneously.  The presumption of need for redundant printed journals adds costs to library budgets, takes up physical space in libraries pressed for space, and has a deleterious effect on the environment; if articles are uniformly available in stable digital formats, they can still be printed on demand.  Some libraries may still choose to subscribe to certain journals in multiple formats if they are available. In general, however, we believe that, if law schools are willing to commit to stable and open digital storage for the journals they publish, there are no longer good reasons for individual libraries to rely on paper copies as the archival format.  Agreed-upon stable, open, digital formats will ensure that legal scholarship will be preserved in the long-term.

In a time of extreme pressures on law school budgets, moving to all electronic publication of law journals will also eliminate the substantial costs borne by law schools for printing and mailing print editions of their school’s journals, and the costs borne by their libraries to purchase, process and preserve print versions.

Additionally, and potentially most importantly, a move toward digital files as the preferred format for legal scholarship will increase access to legal information and knowledge not only to those inside the legal academy and in practice, but to scholars in other disciplines and to international audiences, many of whom do not now have access either to print journals or to commercial databases. 

Call to Action: We therefore urge every U.S. law school to commit to ending print publication of its journals and to making definitive versions of journals and other scholarship produced at the school immediately available upon publication in stable, open, digital formats, rather than in print.

We also urge every law school to commit to keeping a repository of the scholarship published at the school in a stable, open, digital format. Some law schools may choose to use a shared regional online repository or to offer their own repositories as places for other law schools to archive the scholarship published at their school. 

Repositories should rely upon open standards for the archiving of works, as well as on redundant formats, such as PDF copies.  We also urge law schools and law libraries to agree to and use a standard set of metadata to catalog each article to ensure easy online public indexing of legal scholarship. 

As a measure of redundancy, we also urge faculty members to reserve  their copyrights to ensure that they too can make their own scholarship available in stable, open, digital formats.  All law journals should rely upon the AALS model publishing agreement as a default and should respect author requests to retain copyrights in their scholarship.

Signatories include Richard A. Danner & Wayne Miller, Duke Law School; Taylor Fitchett, University of Virginia; Margaret A. Fry & Pablo Molina, Georgetown University Law Center; Paul M. George, University of Pennsylvania School of Law; Claire M. Germain, Cornell Law School; S. Blair Kauffman, Yale Law School; J. Paul Lomio, Stanford Law School; Harry S. (Terry) Martin III & Michael Harvey, University of Texas Law School; Kent McKeever, Columbia Law School; Jim McMasters & Lois Remeikis, Northwestern University School of Law; John G. Palfrey, Harvard Law School; Radu Popa, New York University Law School; Judith M. Wright, University of Chicago Law School; Patricia I. Donnelly, UC Berkeley School of Law; Glen-Peter Ahlers, Barry University School of Law; Kenneth J. Hirsh, University of Cincinnati Law School; and Robert J. Nissenbaum, Fordham University School of Law.

To learn more about the background of the Durham Statement, or to add your own endorsement, go here.

(cmb, with a nod to Fred Rodell)

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