RSS feed notwithstanding, it has been a while since I have spent some time on one of my all-time favourite legal research sites, The Virtual Chase, written by the amazing Genie Tyburski at Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll LLP. I must visit more often. An interesting article by Genie from a couple of weeks ago poses the question "Can We Throw Away the Books Yet?". As she explains in the article, the query flows from the premise suggested by a colleague that "…print as a medium was losing ground. And assuming his suppositions were true, he expressed concern that those who continue to conduct research primarily through the books would soon become inefficient, costly and possibly, negligent researchers." She reviews the numbers and her thoughts and conclusions are interesting. Whereas the growth of availability of electronic information clearly outpaces that of print, publication and purchase of print information remains significant. However, she notes, not surprisingly, that print researchers may be a dying breed. Her recommendations:
- Evaluate the use of the print collection. The availability of multiple publishing formats means there is redundancy. If primary materials, in particular, still occupy physical space, weigh the cost of maintaining them against the cost of educating those who use them about alternate research methods.
- Partner skilled researchers with new lawyers. Because of the amount of information available today, the number of access choices, and the limited subject knowledge of a new lawyer, it likely will take several years to develop adequate legal research skills. Regular opportunity to observe and practice research is essential.
- Within reason, allow for experimentation. New information channels develop at a much faster pace today. Consider channels that have come to light in just the past 10 years – chat (AOL, 1997), streaming multimedia (RealPlayer, 1997), peer-to-peer file sharing, blogs, RSS and podcasts. Through experimentation, you will discover new, and sometimes better, ways of delivering information. (For example, by using instant messaging – or IM-like software – you can deliver real-time reference service and on-demand information to lawyers or clients beyond your immediate physical location.)