Last summer I wrote an article that was scheduled to be published in the Law Library Journal. The article, like Gaul, was divided into three parts. Each of the three was edgy. The first was a reflection on the end of scholarly bibliography as a mainstream intellectual activity. The second was an overheated rebuttal of a piece on the nature of Law Librarianship that the eminent Professor G. Edward White had written in the Green Bag a few years back. The third part consisted of me pontificating on the future of academic law librarianship in the United States. In that last section I pointed to Professor John Palfrey of the Harvard Law School as a possible model for the leadership.
In late summer I posted a draft of the article on SSRN. In its SSRN incarnation the article attracted some attention and earned me a few disputatious e-mails from readers. The Law Library Journal editors cleaned the work up, made some useful suggestions and told me that the piece would appear in February of 2012. In November, Professor Janet Sinder, the editor of LLJ sent me the final version with one last question. The very next day I learned that John Palfrey had resigned his position as Law Librarian at the Harvard Law School, indeed he had resigned his tenured faculty position, in order to become the Head of Phillips Andover Academy. Thus I was contemplating the final draft of an article that encouraged my readers to look to the Head of a very exclusive prep school to lead academic librarianship into the future.
This distressing fact combined with reports concerning the reorganization of the Harvard Library System, with the once proudly independent Harvard Law Library being merged into a central system, produced yet another blow. The Harvard Magazine article was upbeat about this development, a sentiment that I do not share. Ergo neither the Law Library Director at Harvard or the Law Library itself were very good models for the future.
What did I learn from this experience?
- Digital publication of an article, with its immediate availability, is the true path. Almost everyone who was interested in what I had to say read my ideas last fall, luckily for me this came at a time when there was a chance that they were still relevant. The delays inherent in publishing a paper journal expose one to very strange outcomes. This article as published in three dimensions reflects the reality as it existed seven months past.
- A good editor still does make one sound more intelligent. Professor Sinder and her staff improved my prose, poked at my thinking and, in general, made the article much better. The dilemma presented by this point and the one that precedes it does not escape my notice.
- The Harvard Law Library is losing its independence and its faculty leadership. This is a serious blow to academic law librarianship in the United States. If the Harvard Law Library can be folded into a central library system, what law library cannot? The battle for autonomy in law libraries has been fought for decades in the ABA Standards, as has the importance of faculty status for law librarians. It is lamentable but true that faculty status has taken hits in recent years. Now the concept of the autonomy of law libraries is in peril. American law school deans have long chafed at library expenditures. Will they defend them from usurpation?
The dawning of a new year should fill one with hope. Perhaps hope will arrive in a taxi in the next few weeks. I hope it does so before next February when my outdated thoughts appear on paper.
May 2012 be good to all of us.