Law libraries as innovation centers

Harvard Law Library director John Palfrey is quoted in this story from today’s Boston Globe:

Boston Globe, Monday, May 24, 2010

Home / News / Education  

Harvard’s paper cuts
School library works to maintain stature in the shift to digitalBy Tracy Jan

The thin, tattered book, an 1899 dissertation on Homer, written in French, is tucked into one of the more than 40 shelves devoted to the epic poet in the stacks of Widener Library. Collecting obscure works like this one has helped Harvard amass the world’s largest university library…”Libraries have to think of themselves as innovation centers, and not just repeat what we have done in the past, “said Harvard Law professor John Palfrey, who is a leading a project to shape the future of the school’s libraries.

. . .

Palfrey has added engineers, statisticians, and graphic designers to the law school library staff. His team is working on a Web application that browses a virtual bookshelf with works stacked against one another to re-create the experience of wandering through musty stacks and serendipitously stumbling upon titles.

The library is also planning to build a virtual reference desk, where students who rarely seek the help of librarians can solicit research advice without having to set foot in a library. Librarians would assist students through e-mail, instant messaging, text messaging, and Skype.

. . .

And Harvard Law School is in discussions with other law schools about having each school collect in specialized areas.

. . .

John Palfrey on libraries in the age of “Digital-Plus”

John Palfrey is a most gifted writer.  I admired his book (with Urs Gasser) Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives as much for its artful use of language and clear writing style as its fascinating content.   Read it and I’m sure you’ll see what I mean.

John just posted an equally well-written article to the Legal Scholarship Network, an article that should be of great interest to all librarians.  It is:  “Cornerstones of Law Libraries for an Era of Digital-Plus.”  Here’s the brief abstract:

Law librarians would be well served by sharing a vision for the future of legal information, one that is informed by the methods of multiple disciplines and that will promote democratic ideals.  This shared vision could guide us as we continue to lay the cornerstones for law libraries in a “digital-plus” era.

Law Journals and Open Access: A Call to Action

Here’s a little article I just wrote for Speaking of Computers, “an e-newsletter for the Stanford academic community.”  This has been covered here before, but I think it’s a message worth repeating, especially as we brace for budget cuts and some hard decisions.  And besides, now I have a really nice photo to share!

 Law Journals and Open Access: A Call to Action

In November, I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of the so-called Gang of 10 law library directors (directors from some of the nation’s top law schools) held at Duke Law School in Durham, North Carolina. One of the activities of this meeting was the drafting and signing of the “Durham Statement on Open Access to Legal Scholarship,” which calls for all law schools to stop publishing their law journals in print format and to rely instead upon electronic publication, coupled with a commitment to keep the electronic versions available in stable, open, digital formats.

Why Open Access?
Each of the nation’s 200+ law schools produce at least one student-edited law journal, containing scholarship and important policy pieces from law professors, judges, distinguished practitioners, and students. The bulk of legal scholarship is published in such law journals. Here at Stanford Law School we produce nine such journals. Right now the only way to access all of this significant content electronically is through expensive databases such as HeinOnline, LexisNexis and Westlaw.

It would be a better legal information world if researchers could reliably turn to the host law school for any law journal from that school and find all of its articles, available for free in open and stable electronic formats.

Open Access Leaders
It was especially fitting that this inspirational document was drafted and signed by us while at Duke. Duke is a leader in the open online repository movement, with the Duke Law Faculty Scholarship Repository created in 2005, and all Duke law journals made accessible online since 1997. The Duke Law Faculty Scholarship Repository is a full-text electronic archive of scholarly works written by the Duke Law faculty, as well as other scholarship produced at the law school. A scholarship repository and open access law journals go hand-in-hand.

The chief architect of the Durham Statement was John Palfrey, the new library director at Harvard Law School, who is also a leader and visionary in the open access movement. In May 2008, the Harvard Law School faculty unanimously voted to make each faculty member’s scholarly articles available online for free.

What’s Next?
The Durham Statement is our exercise in aspiration, with the hopes of getting more – eventually all – law schools on the open access bandwagon.

There are issues yet to be resolved. For one thing, especially during these difficult economic times, financial analysis is needed. Law schools receive royalties from the online databases that provide law journal access – some schools far more than others – so the cost-savings to the schools from ceasing print and to the schools’ libraries from no longer having to buy, bind and shelve issues needs to be carefully weighed against any potential loss of revenue income. And there are additionally important archival and standards issues to be debated and decided.

The Durham Statement seeks to move the analysis, debate, and discussion forward.

For More Information
Durham Statement on Open Access to Legal Scholarship

The Duke Law Faculty Scholarship Repository

Harvard Law School open access motion












The authors of the Durham Statement. Top row, left to right: Dick Danner (Duke),
Radu Popa (NYU), John Palfrey (Harvard), Claire Germain (Cornell),
Paul George (University of Pennsylvania), Jim McMasters (Northwestern),
Blair Kauffman (Yale). Bottow row: Paul Lomio (Stanford),
Judith Wright (University of Chicago), Terry Martin (University of Texas).

Bloomberg Old and New

We gave our Advanced Legal Research class a brief (about 40 minutes) introduction to Bloomberg Law law week.  As soon as we logged on to Bloomberg one student raised her hand and asked, “Why does it look the way it does?”  And as part of an in-class exercise we asked for their impressions of the database, and I have copied some of them below.

Meanwhile our colleague John Palfrey is twittering today about Bloomberg’s new interface. John is at the University of Pennsylvania law school for an academic law librarians conference and Bloomberg presented there, saying it will launch the new BLAW this summer … a “very slick” interface, according to John and “much more so than the big 2” [i.e., LexisNexis and Westlaw].

John tweets that BLAW will also have “a shared work and presentation environment — a ‘Workbench’ — that would allow collaboration within the BLAW world.”

We at Stanford get to see the new interface next month, and I can’t wait to see it.

And here are some of our students’ impressions of the old (present) Bloomberg:

I thought the comment about how “Retro” (or, to be more honest, how “ugly”) the Bloomberg Terminal interface was lead to an interesting discussion.  I’ve been resistant to learn Bloomberg largely because of how intimidating the interface is.  I think making searches intuitive is a major challenge for a lot of legal research (compare Westlaw/Lexis to, say, Google) and I’m glad people are finally starting to realize that, and improve the interface/search interpretation protocols.

Bloomberg’s interface isn’t lawyer-friendly, but its docket database is fantastic.  The ability to see, on a national map, all of the cases filed against a company on a particular issue and to see the law firms involved is great for lawyers involved in complex litigation.  Looking forward to the web-based interface.

. . . [Bloomberg] does seem to have a variety of information available — I even saw some Above the Law posts listed . . .

Bloomberg is particularly intriguing.  With the current interface I don’t think I could ever actually use it.  The colors and layout were not user-friendly, so I’m glad to hear it is changing.  I also don’t understand the added security measure of a special log-in key [the B Unit].  Nonetheless, the database itself seemed useful, especially for its streamlined news service and inclusion of case filings and court dockets.

Bloomberg, while seemingly requiring considerable background knowledge to operate efficiently, seems to contain a wealth of interesting information.  In particular, I was impressed by the Docket monitors, and how you could see when and where companies were sued, who represented them, etc.

I thought it was interesting that Bloomberg is only now trying to make its interface more legal-user-friendly.  I find it really difficult to look at at the present time. . . .

I didn’t realize how extensive Bloomberg’s court filings and docket database is.  I liked the feature of Bloomberg that allowed us to see a geographical breakdown of where companies are being sued and also a breakdown of what firms were representing them.

As a public interest student, I was shocked to be so impressed with the Bloomberg Law search capabilities.  In particular, the search by company that shows type of litigation both listed and charted, suits by state, and contact info. for parties with all docket info.  This would be very helpful in a public interest setting as well.

Bloomberg actually looks really useful.  I liked the way they organize the news by company and then by topic.  . . . if the case summaries explain the citator symbol (e.g., explaining why the case is no longer good), then Bloomberg would be awesome.

Frankly I was amazed by the sheer range of information available on Bloomberg.  The summaries of news, trends and general developments in litigation are transaction was particularly striking.

It’s interesting that Bloomberg allows you to do keyword searches of multiple dockets.  The colors and layout are rather distracting.

Harvard Law Library director again in the news

News from the Berkman Center at HLS:


Internet Safety Technical Task Force Releases Final Report on Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies

Findings To Be Presented Today at State of the Net Conference in Washington, D.C.

January 14, 2009, Cambridge, Mass., and Washington, D.C. – The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University today released the final report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, a group of 29 leading Internet businesses, non-profit organizations, academics, and technology companies that joined together for a year-long investigation of tools and technologies to create a safer environment on the Internet for youth.

The Task Force was created in February 2008 in accordance with the Joint Statement on Key Principles of Social Networking Safety announced in January 2008 by the Attorneys General Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking and MySpace.  The report was delivered to the 52 Attorneys General in December, 2008.

To read the final report, including the executive summary, as well as reaction statements from members of the Task Force, visit:,


John Palfrey, chair of the Task Force and faculty co-director of the Berkman Center, will discuss the findings of the final report today at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time at the Congressional Internet Caucus Fifth Annual State of the Net Conference in Washington, D.C. ( along with members of the Task Force.




Seth Young
Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Harvard University

Harvard Law Library’s John Palfrey Noted and Quoted

In these two stories:

Underage kids flock to social networks
‘They keep signing up and we keep chasing them,’ says Nexopia’s Chris Webster

September 15, 2008 at 11:27 PM EDT

According to a recent study, more than 750,000 kids between the ages of 8 and 12 have set up a profile on the big social-networking sites. Most simply enter a false birth date when they register; others get a friend or sibling to help them circumvent the age-restriction policies.

. . . Attorney-General Michael Mukasey has commissioned an Internet safety task force to find better ways to verify the age of users.

The task force is looking at implementing age-verification technology from Microsoft and IBM on several sites and even opening the process of enshrining age restrictions in law, said John Palfrey, . . .  who chairs the task force. But determining the age of users is a complex problem without clear answers, Mr. Palfrey said. “There’s no way to stop people from getting on to the site at the front end, when they sign up,” he said. “But I think there are ways we can improve the systems that work behind the scenes to find the underage kids and deter them from using sites where they shouldn’t be.”



Harvard professor sees answers to nagging Web-youth issues

John Palfrey, one of Harvard’s leading thinkers on the Internet, has recently finished a study on kids raised in the digital age. He now has a few tips to share about Web porn, online piracy, and Sen. John McCain’s lack of tech know-how–Palfrey, who wrote a book about the study called Born Digital, was fairly upbeat about the Web’s affects on young people. That’s not going to surprise too many people as Palfrey is a recognized Internet booster. But after completing 100 “in-depth interviews” with young people, ages 13 to 22, Palfrey sees some possible solutions to problems confronting Web-connected youth.


Source: Source:  Harvard Law School’s News@Law – September 17, 2008

New book by Harvard Law Library’s director – Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives

I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives, by Harvard’s John Palfrey and Urs Gasser.  It just arrived yesterday and it is fascinating and wonderfully readable, right from page 1.  I highly, highly recommend it (even though I’m only through the second chapter!). 

The second chapter, “Dossiers,” offers much food for thought.  And here’s a little taste:

The amount of information that goes into the digital files kept about a baby born today is extraordinary.  To see just how extraordinary, let’s look at the digital dossier of a hypothetical baby:  We’ll call him Andy.

Andy’s digital life begins well before he is born — before he even has a name.  The first entry in his digital file is a sonogram that his proud parents-to-be affix to the refrigerator, anticipating the happy event of his birth.  That same image is recreated in the hospital database, the first formal record of Andy’s life.  . . . In this case, with good reason, the obstetrician’s team will copy Andy’s image into a file for the pediatrician who will care for him after he’s born.  Start counting: That’s one digital file, copied in at least four places.

. . .

Even the digital information that we perceive to be out of reach from third parties may in fact be more accessible than we realize, now or in the future.  We can only hope that the Social Security Administration’s computer system, which processes and stores the application for Andy’s new Social Security number, is a digital Fort Knox.  But the biggest search engines — like Google and Baidu, China’s largest search engine — are constantly improving the ability of their Web crawlers to unearth more and more data from the dark recesses of the Internet.  These crawlers copy information, without asking permission, and dump it into a massive, structured global index.  At the same time, social networks and other services hosting personally identifiable information are eager to get the traffic from these search engines, so they are exposing more and more about people to the likes of Google and Baidu.  This combination of factors — the incentive for search engines to index all the world’s information and the incentive of online service providers to draw people to information on their sites — means that information about Andy that was once in a silo is now in a more open, public space. . . .

. . .

The problem with the rapid growth of digital dossiers is that the decisions about what to do about personal information are made by those who hold the information.  The person who contributes the information to a digital dossier may have a modicum of control up front, but he or she rarely exercises it.  The person to whom the information relates — sometimes the person who contributed it, sometimes not — often has no control whatsoever about what happens to the data.  The existence of these dossiers may not itself be problematic.  But these many, daily, individual acts result in a rich, deep dataset associated with an individual that can be aggregated and searched.  The process, start to finish, is only lightly regulated.


On the book jacket our Professor Lawrence Lessig writes “Digital technologies are changing our kids in ways we don’t yet understand.  This beautifully written book will set the framework for a field that will change that.  It is required reading for parents, educators, and anyone who cares about the future.”

I agree that it is beautifully written and that it should be required reading. 

Here’s the catalog record:

Author: Palfrey, John.
Title: Born digital : understanding the first generation of digital natives / John Palfrey and Urs Gasser.
Imprint: New York : Basic Books, c2008.
Physical Description: vii, 375 p. ; 25 cm.
Notes: Includes bibliographical references and index.
Contents: Identities — Dossiers — Privacy — Safety — Pirates  — Creators — Quality — Overload — Aggressors — Innovators — Learners — Activists — Synthesis.
          Subject (LC): Information society–Social aspects.
          Subject (LC): Information technology–Social aspects.
          Subject (LC): Technological innovations–Social aspects.
          Subject (LC): Internet and children.
          Subject (LC): Internet and teenagers.
          Subject (LC): Internet–Social aspects.
          Subject (LC): Technology–Social aspects.
          Subject (LC): Digital media–Social aspects.
          Added author: Gasser, Urs.
                  ISBN: 9780465005154

LAW CALL NUMBER                                              
   1)HM851 .P34 2008

Harvard’s law library director (again) in the news

From the Boston Globe:  “Stopping Google – With one company now the world’s chief gateway to information, some critics are hatching ways to fight its influence,” by By Drake Bennett (June 22, 2008).

Google may be widely admired for its technical wizardry and its quick, accurate search engine, but one of the company’s most impressive accomplishments has been its ability to grow as powerful as it is while still remaining, in the minds of most Americans, fundamentally likable. . . And even privacy protections, points out John Palfrey, executive director of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, can have their costs, making search engines themselves less efficient and making it harder to gather information about criminals and terrorists.


Source:  HLS’s News@Law — Week of June 23, 2008

Harvard Law Library Director in the News

John Palfrey, Executive Director of the Harvard Law School Berkman Center for Internet & Society and new library director at HLS, was featured in a terrific story in USA Today on Wednesday, “Pioneers steer the course of cyberspace.”  The article references John’s forthcoming book, Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives

The digital generation gap

Berkman Executive Director John Palfrey posits the digital revolution’s most enduring change is neither the new business models nor Google’s search algorithms: It’s the massive generation gap between those who were “born digital” and those who were not.

Palfrey’s forthcoming book, Born Digital, is an offspring of the center’s extensive work on “digital natives,” children who were born into and raised in the digital world.

“We’re talking about the future behavior of human beings on the Internet,” says Palfrey, who is head of the Harvard Law School Library. “Digital natives use technology to either be more productive or distracted. The challenge is making the most of (their skills).”

Open Access Legal Scholarship

Open access is in the news following Harvard Law School’s announcement “Harvard Law faculty votes for ‘open access’ to scholarly articles”

There has been coverage on the story by, “Harvard Law School to Distribute Research for Free

and the Harvard Crimson, “Law School Adopts Open Access for Scholarship – Proposal was written by Palfrey, cyberlaw expert and incoming library chief.”

Duke Law School has made its journals available on the web since 1997, and has hosted an open access repository of its faculty’s scholarship since December 2005.  The repository is accessible at: .  You can read about Duke’s long-time commitment to open access in this paper:

Danner, Richard A. (2007) Applying the Access Principle in Law: The Responsibilities of the Legal Scholar. International Journal of Legal Information, 35 pp. 355-395, .

Here at Stanford, and at many other schools I’m sure, we’re talking about it.