I think maybe it can, and in the very near future.
I took the latest issue of The New Yorker to the gym this morning — as long as there are cardio machines (and doctors’ waiting rooms) there will be a market for print magazines — and read Malcolm Gladwell’s book review essay “Priced to Sell. Is free the future?” about Chris Anderson’s new book Free: The Future of a Radical Price.
The digital age, Anderson argues, is exerting an inexorable downward pressure on the prices of all things “made of ideas.” Anderson does not consider this a passing trend. Rather, he seems to think of it as an iron law: “In the digital realm you can try to keep Free at bay with laws and locks, but eventually the force of economic gravity will win.”
Is this true for law libraries? Earlier Sergio wrote about Morrison & Foerster’s wonderful “Privacy Library”of statutes, regulations, links to government institutions, and IGO & NGO reports. This includes all 50 states and many foreign countries. And it’s completely Free.
Gladwell writes that Anderson’s “advice is pithy, his tone uncompromising, and his subject matter perfectly timed for a moment when old-line content providers are desperate for answers.” And desperate for ways to continue a certain size revenue stream, I might add, particularly for companies paying for corporate acquisitions, which includes most of the big name legal publishers.
The biggest legal publisher is the West Publishing Company. West Publishing’s old-line products have been gathering dust here at the law library for years. Digests and reporters? The only touching they get is from feather dusters. Causes of Action? No cause to keep that one. Our patrons are making due just fine without these products, and making greater and greater use Free resources (and with so many lawyers laid-off or fearing layoff, interest and awareness of Free is greater than ever).
And it’s not just West. Take United States Law Week for Supreme Court coverage, for example. A fine product. But in my opinion the very best tool for following the United States Supreme Court is Tom Goldstein’s amazing and 100% Free Scotusblog. Rachel Maddow called it a “national treasure.” And I agree. Law Week is always a step or two behind.
For treatises there’s a wealth of material online for Free at the Federal Judicial Center. There’s a massive quantity of law review commentary available Free at the Legal Scholarship Network. More schools will follow Duke’s and Harvard’s lead and adopt policies called for in The Durham Statement, making law review commentary even more widely and Freely available. Useful blogs are abundant. The electronic casebook (and certainly statutory supplements), and free-book, movement is gathering steam (here at Stanford we see fewer classes using assigned casebooks and more classes built around online course materials).
For other secondary sources, you could try a site like the Free Library which offers millions of free full text articles and periodicals dating from mid 1980s. Or, you could visit Encyclopedia.com and get facts and figures from over 120 published/credible sources. How much? For Free…..
As for primary legal material, the list of Free is growing by leaps and bounds and the search abilities getting stronger and stronger.
Georgetown has put together a terrific list of Free sources:http://www.ll.georgetown.edu/guides/freelowcost.cfm
and U.C.L.A. has too:http://libguides.law.ucla.edu/onlinelegalresearch
Tim Stanley, from Justia, has produced this really good PowerPoint presentation on Free that he shows to our advanced legal research class. (note: slow-loading file):
And, we’ve recently created our own brief guide to free and low cost legal research, posted here.
As Gladwell writes, “. . . ‘Free’ is esentially an extended elaboration that ‘information wants to be free.” Perhaps this is most so for law, with a tremendous and continuous Free output stream from judges, legislators, regulators, law professors and practitioners.
It’s up to us law librarians to make it stick — to make it work, and show our students how to find and effectively use Free. It is up to us to show support for liberating information that should be Free. We need to be willing to make a few mistakes, and maybe get a little less vendor swag, but definitley accept that prec(y)dent might be changing.
To paraphrase the words of John Soule as popularized by Horace Greeley, it’s time to “Go Free, young librarian (and not West, or even mid-West).”