22 October 2012


Originally published in the ALLUNY Newsletter 37.1, March 2012.

Spring is here, when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of …baseball? And more importantly, to preparing for the season’s fantasy team draft.  Now, a sports fan knows that nothing is as interesting as his fantasy team, and nothing is so boring as someone else’s team, so let me assure you, this isn’t about my team—not really. I’m writing about resource selection and strategy, which as the New York Times best-seller and Oscar-nominated Moneyball showed, is the real business of baseball, just as it is for libraries.

A bit of background, first. In fantasy baseball, players build teams by selecting rosters of actual Major League players, whose statistical records in several categories are compiled and ranked.  The top-ranked team, based on these stats at the season’s end, wins.  A great player, like Albert Pujols, can contribute mightily to several categories, while one like Coco Crisp may only contribute to one.  So, obviously, Pujols is worth a lot more—and while we all want to choose Pujos, only one can have him.  Strategy is required to make up that value in other ways.

One other note: some leagues start fresh each year, with all players available to everyone in the draft.  Mine has been together more than ten years, though, and decided long ago that for the sake of continuity, each team would be able to ‘keep’ a number of players from one year to the next.  The guy who got Pujols wouldn’t have to give him up, and would have a big advantage each year.

But how does this relate to the library?  Each season, I need to re-evaluate my roster. I need to decide who I want to keep, and who I want to draft, to build the best collection of talent, for my strategy, that I can afford.  Isn’t that just like collection development?

So how would we build a resource team now, if preparing to draft materials?   Perhaps we start by ‘keeping’ those that provide the most value: big hitters like Lexis, Westlaw or Bloomberg are all-around players like Pujols: very hard to replace, and you’ll probably only get one—then examine what else you need to provide a competitive roster within the remaining budget.  If I support a strong energy practice, maybe I should draft an energy-law newsletter this year instead of renewing the bankruptcy report that has been unused for years—that one isn’t helping my team win now.  Will it be better to subscribe to a business-development resource, or will a particular treatise in IP allow my attorney to win more cases and thus bring in new business via enhanced reputation?

And, like baseball, these competitive decisions will change through the season.  That expensive real-estate treatise we had to have for a particular matter? The case is over—canceling the updates is like dropping an injured player so he can be replaced with one who contributes now.  Constant review, coupled with a strategy for maximizing resource value, is the key to building both a successful fantasy team and a useful library.

16 October 2012

Exclusive Resources

Orignially published in the ALLUNY Newsletter 36.2, July 2011

A list-serv reader asks

“I am wondering what other Westlaw only firms are planning to do for New York Law Journal access after May 1st? …. It feels like we are being forced to sign a contract with LexisNexis.”

The question arises as the NYLJ moves from being an exclusive Westlaw resource to an exclusive contract with Lexis, and is problematic because the NYLJ website archives will only provide access to their recently-reported decisions—forcing even direct subscribers to find alternative access for backfile material.

This is, of course, exactly the problem that Lexis-only libraries faced until May, and an increasingly common one in this era of “fiscal responsibility”, when we lose access to familiar resources simply because we can no longer afford them.  But this is also precisely what we have been trained to do—our job, as librarians, is to choose what resources to provide and determine how to work around what we can’t provide.

In some cases, this means finding an alternative, comparable resource.  My attorneys will often ask for a particular article from a subscription service, and in spite of our library magic, we won’t always be able to retrieve the cited item.  In these cases, we try to find something else on the subject—for news or analytical material, there is almost always something else on the subject, and this straightforward substitution, like Pepsi for Coke, is generally acceptable.

NYLJ decisions, though, allow no substitution--they are like Vernor's Ginger Ale.  They aren’t published elsewhere, and they are primary law.  They are necessary for the work we do.  But they aren’t so essential as to justify an entirely new, otherwise redundant database contract, either.  In situations like this, when an item is essential but rarely needed, it is good to have friends.  Especially when those friends also have libraries, as each of us do.

We all have some degree of access to local public, court, and university libraries, and each of these libraries has a public service mission.  Even private firm libraries are usually willing to share unique resources; just last week I received a scan of pages from a California-specific treatise held locally by only one downstate firm.  We all understand the challenges and constraints of the current resource landscape and we are all here to help.  Please, feel free to ask.

09 October 2012

Social Media

Originally published in the ALLUNY Newsletter 36.3, December 2011

Facebook.  Google+.  LinkedIn.  Martindale-Hubble Connected.  Blogger, Flickr, Twitter.

Arrgh, enough already.  This is as bad as choosing a new telephone, but at least a phone lets us make meaningful contact with someone.  A social network, though?  While they make it easy to  make ‘connections’, meaning is entirely dependent upon us as users.

By now, all of us are probably using at least one of the above-listed websites, and many will have accounts on several.  These sites provide platforms for establishing links between their members, with the goal of facilitating sharing and communication among them, and they are extremely popular: Facebook has over six hundred million users and Twitter, over one hundred million.  But what do we, as information professionals, get from these services?

The primary, most obvious, value is that each service acts as a combination personal electronic Rolodex and phone book.  Making a LinkedIn connection with a colleague or client provides an easy way to keep track of and stay in touch with acquaintances, even if one of the parties moves or changes jobs.

This leads to the second major use for us: research.  Not only does having our contacts handy make it easy to reach out to the college friend who is now practicing in another jurisdiction about a judge there, it also lets us look for information about the judge himself.  Or a prospective client, or opposing council.  With so many networks available, it seems that everyone is on one.  Yet this also leads to the first problem with social networking: information overload.

With so many people on so many sites, each sharing what she feels appropriate for that site’s collection of connections, social network research can be very time consuming.  Worse, the sites are designed to be ‘sticky’, so we spend more time on them than planned, just reading about what friends had for lunch.  And this is the second problem: too much information.  Over-sharing is a real problem, because honestly, no one cares what someone else had for lunch.

And a final warning: these sites rely on our over-sharing.  They are really nothing but advertising platforms; they sell our information to advertisers, who in turn use it to target ads at us.  Not only is our information online, available to anyone looking for it—it is actively being used against us by the very services asking us to share, to separate us from our money.  This may be an exchange worth making—each of us needs to make that decision, in consultation with each site’s privacy policy—but it is something we cannot forget.

That caveat aside, feel free to make connections with your author on LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Flickr, Blogger, LibraryThing, or Martindale-Hubble Connected.  I promise never to post an update about my lunch.

03 October 2012


Originally published in the ALLUNY Newsletter 36.1, March 2011

Most of us became librarians because we love books—love reading them, buying them, discussing them—collecting them and, eventually, realizing we have too many of them.  Acquisitions are the most exciting part of librarianship, after all, and there is always something missing from a collection, but at some point we just run out of shelf space.

We encountered this problem while I was at the University of Michigan’s Undergraduate Library (the UgLi, an appropriate abbreviation if you’ve seen the building).  When built, the UgLi was intended to be a model collection for any undergraduate institution, consisting of the 100,000 most important titles.  This wasn’t an arbitrary number, but one based on the average holdings of a typical liberal arts college and meant to ensure that, no matter an institution’s size, it would provide an appropriate collection for a solid education; if a UMich student needed more, he could walk next door to peruse the five-million plus volumes in the Graduate Library.  Yet after fifty years, during which acquisition librarians tried to maintain currency and relevancy of their collections, the UgLi was now stuffed to over-flowing, with closer to 300,000 volumes in the catalog.

My assignment was developing criteria for our student shelvers to apply in an initial pass through the collection.  Books culled at this stage would get several additional screenings; only those rejected at every step would ultimately be discarded.  For the students, we wanted easy, binary choices.  We had originally selected all of these titles, so quality was no concern—but currency and usage were: we wanted only the most current, and most requested, material.  To achieve this, I built a decision tree, with any ‘yes’ answer meaning a book stayed on the shelf.

The questions: Is the book less than ten years old?  If no, open the book.  Has it been checked out in the past two years?  If no, has it been on course reserves in the past five years?  If no, place it on the culling cart for additional screening.  These three questions address the currency and perceived value of each item, bringing those which are questionable to light.

Next, subject librarians examined the culled items to insure that nothing of seminal importance, the absence of which could compromise a collection’s credibility, was up for withdrawal.  After that, students checked remaining titles against the University catalogue; any unique titles, with no other holdings, were immediately transferred to the Graduate Library.  Books still marked for weeding were then corralled in a holding pen, where selectors from other University libraries had the option of claiming them for transfer.  Only if rejected at every step of the process would a book finally make it to the University book sale, then finally the recycle bins behind the loading dock where, after dark, some sad student might go digging for treasure.

A law library—even an academic one—is of course very different from the UgLi.  For starters, most of our clients wear more than pajamas when they visit.  But the lessons are transferable: when weeding, objectives must be clear; non-arbitrary criteria must be developed to support them; all potentially-affected clientele must be considered.  The UgLi was only interested in the monograph collection; we have additional considerations, as well.  How do print materials relate to, or duplicate, digital collections?  Are we comfortable leasing information via databases, or do we need an archival print copy?  What can we afford, and what do we do about print material no longer kept current?  Each answer is part of the decision and each decision deserves consideration, because mistakes can’t be un-shredded.