The Eggplant That Ate the Spokane County Law Library


You’d better watch out for the eggplant that ate Chicago,
For he may eat your city soon.
You’d better watch out for the eggplant that ate Chicago,
If he’s still hungry, the whole country’s doomed.


The 3 Geeks and a Law Blog pointed me to a story in the Spokane, Washington newspaper Spokesman-Review.  I won’t rehash what he 3 Geeks blog item “Spokane County Law Library Needs Bailout for Westlaw Bills” opines, but the Spokesman-Review story by reporter John Craig, “Spokane County law library falls behind on bills,”  is disturbing to me on several levels.

The story quotes the librarian as saying that her Westlaw fees “are three times as much as the company was charging Pierce County . . . for the ‘exact same’ service.”  I do not know the details, but I can see how a reader might be led to believe that this poor county law library is being gouged by a huge monopolistic corporation. 

What is also disturbing to me is the report that the library is averaging $ 12,000 a month for Westlaw service, while its annual budget is only $ 220,000.  The library’s total labor costs are reported to be $ 78,236, which means that the county is paying Westlaw roughly twice what it’s paying its staff.   At the Stanford Law Library the total we spend for our staff is roughly twice what we spend for all materials (online and print), and that seems right to me — it’s the staff that is our most valuable resource.

The third disturbing element to the story is the suggestion that perhaps the county law library is a “relic” and should be shuttered for more “cost effective approaches” such as having public libraries (and not specialized law libraries) serve the legal information needs of the public.  To me this is short-sighted on so many levels that I could go on and on for pages about why this is a bad direction.

If this story does not help build a case for, I don’t know what would.

Many states have discontinued publishing official state reports and rely upon West instead.  Appendix D of Fundamentals of Legal Research, 9th Edition, by Steven M. Barkan, Roy M. Mersky and Donald J. Dunn, includes a table “States That Have Discontinued Publishing Official State Reports” (excerpted below) showing what states have adopted West’s National Reporter System as the official publisher.

Washington is not one of these states.   It appears that Washington is one of the more progressive states in providing decisional law to the public for free.  The Washington State Court website contains free opinions from the last 90 days, and then links to ; the LegalWA site links directly to the Municipal Research Services Center of Washington, a nonprofit dedicated to providing free legal resources for Washington where case law from 1854 forward can be found.

There is definitely a place for expensive LexisNexis and Westlaw bills — in the high stakes world of Biglaw litigation (with clients to bill back) for certain, but in a county public law library?  There has got to be a better way.

Here’s an excerpt from that table I mentioned above:


Except for Louisiana, all states have discontinued their official reports have adopted West’s National Reporter System, or an offprint of the National Reporter System, as official.  Alaska has used the Pacific Reporter as its official reporter since it became a state.

[Copied below are the states listed in this table, next to the “Year of Last Case”]

Alabama                            1976

Ala. App.                           1976

Colorado                           1980

Colo. App.                        1980

Delaware                           1966

Florida                               1948

Indiana                              1981

Ind. App.                          1979

Iowa                                   1968

Kentucky                         1951

Louisiana                        1972

Maine                               1965

Minnesota                      1977

Mississippi                    1966

Missouri                        1956

Mo. App.                       1952

North Dakota              1953

Oklahoma                    1953

Okla. Crim.                  1953

Rhode Island             1980

South Dakota             1976

Tennessee                   1971

Tenn. App.                  1972

Tenn. Crim. App.      1970

Texas                            1962

Tex. Crim. App.       1963

Utah 2d                        1974

Wyoming                    1959

My need for a “focus assistant.”

Can technology offer us “continuous augmented awareness?”

An earlier post here, commenting upon an article a year ago in The Atlantic, asked, “Is Google making us stoopid?”  Now an article in the July / August 2009 issue of the same magazine asks, “Is Google actually making us smarter?”

The article, “Get Smart,” by Jamais Cascio, discusses how Twitter can help us move from a world of “continuous partial attention” to one of “continuous augmented awareness.”  I’m a fan of Twitter but I find it hard to quickly sift through tweets about pancakes to the ones that provide truly valuable and timely information (not that pancakes aren’t important, but I use Twitter mainly for work).  Here’s what Mr. Cascio writes:

But imagine if social tools like Twitter had a way to learn what kinds of messages you pay attention to, and which ones you discard. Over time, the messages that you don’t really care about might start to fade in the display, while the ones that you do want to see could get brighter. Such attention filters–or focus assistants–are likely to become important parts of how we handle our daily lives. We’ll move from a world of “continuous partial attention” to one we might call “continuous augmented awareness.”

The article suggests that:

The trouble isn’t that we have too much information at our fingertips, but that our tools for managing it are still in their infancy.

Complexity, Information Overload and Online Deliberation

“Complexity, Information Overload and Online Deliberation”

A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society, 2009

OREN PEREZ, Bar-Ilan University – Faculty of Law

This article explores the influence of information overload on online democratic processes. The study of this problematic is motivated by the increasing importance of the doctrine of transparency, by the central role of the paradigm of informed citizenship in contemporary political thought, and by the empirical observation that the modern citizen is exposed to increasing amounts of political data. To explore this question, the article develops a rigorous understanding of the concept of information overload in the democratic context. The article argues, drawing on empirical studies which highlight the adverse psychological impacts of cognitive overload, that this problematic can undermine the capacity of the Internet to reinvigorate democratic praxis. It considers two different responses to this threat. The first questions the seriousness of this threat by re-conceptualizing democracy as a ‘low-information’ practice. This ‘shallow’ understanding of democracy emphasizes the role of heuristics and political intermediaries in modern democratic life. While acknowledging the important role of heuristics and political intermediaries, the article questions the capacity of this narrative to provide a coherent account of legitimate democratic governance. The article proceeds to consider an alternative, technological-oriented response to the problem of information overload. This approach highlights the capacity of new technological innovations to resolve the information overload problematic by reducing the cognitive burden associated with web-based political action. The article uses a concrete case study – the advanced online participatory framework offered by TransLink, the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority – to highlight how the information overload problem is manifested in an actual political context. The article concludes by exploring the blind-spots of these different technological innovations. It considers in this context the role of a new class of political players-techno-political intermediaries – and discusses their potential influence on the democratic process. This discussion points to certain deficiencies in the current doctrine of transparency (and the paradigm of the ‘informed citizen’ underlying it), which is insensitive both to the cognitive limitations of the average citizen and to the increasingly important (but hidden) role of techno-political intermediaries in the political process as it draws increasingly on online tools.

Source:  LSN Law & Positive Political Theory Vol. 4 No. 27,  12/11/2008

Law Libraries’ Tech Tools – e.g., Ozmosys

Today’s Daily Journal at p. 4 has an article by Gina Lynch and Jane Metz, “Law Libraries’ Tech Tools Give Firms a Handle on Vast Information Universe” (password may be needed).

Talk to any information professional today, and they will tell you that their biggest challenge is taming the information glut and sifting through the hundreds of technologies now available to slice and dice this data.

The article discusses current awareness services and how “LexisNexis in partnership with Ozmosys. . . created TotalAlert – a software product that consolidates multiple sources of electronic information into one daily e-mail.”

With this tool

the library team can create practice-, industry- and client-specific searches in commercial databases such as Lexis, CourtLink and Westlaw. These searches can be captured by Ozmosys. In addition, Ozmosys provides a long list of free Web alerts and can capture premium electronic subscriptions held by the firm. Librarians use the Ozmosys software to consolidate these various resources into practice-specific topics and create e-mail distribution groups.


The article also addresses:

Creating an Interactive Intranet: Applets and Custom Views

Turbocharging the Library Portal: More Than Just a Catalog

Facing New Frontiers

Learning one CALR system only

In addition to our LexisNexis versus Westlaw survey, written about here and here, Erika and I have a little article in the Members’ Briefing section of the July issue of AALL Spectrum, an article inspired by one of our students who made the conscious decision to only learn one computer-assisted legal research system while in law school, perhaps smartly budgeting her time.  The article, “The $ 50,000 (or so) Question:  Lexis and Westlaw, Lexis or Westlaw, Lexis but not Westlaw, or Westlaw but not Lexis,” can be found here (please see p. 3).

Unloading Information Overload

L. Gordon Crovitz’s Information Age column in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Unloading Information Overload,” cites the Atlantic Monthly article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, cites a new book, “Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age” by Maggie Jackson, and quotes the dean at the University of Chicago Law School thusly:

The University of Chicago Law School blocks Internet access from classrooms; the dean said, “One student will visit a gossip site or shop for shoes, and within 20 minutes an entire row is shoe shopping.”