A Festivus for the Legal Information Industry

Why don’t law librarians, legal IT folk and legal publishers all just get along? Do we need a Festivus airing of grievances?

This is the suggestion from Sarah Glassmeyer, Faculty Services and Outreach Librarian at the Valparaiso University School of Law in Valparaiso, Indiana, in her controversial guest blog post The Loris in the Library at the prominent VoxPopuLII blog at the Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School.

She says:

I wish I could say, “Librarians . . . computer scientists . . . legal publishers . . . let’s all hold hands now and sing kum-bay-yah!” However, while I am hopeful that cultural differences between these groups can be diminished and a feeling of amity develops between them, I am realistic.

So instead I say, “Get in the goddamn wagon or get out of the goddamn way.” I imagine at times the ride will be about as comfortable and collegial as a bunch of children crammed in a station wagon for a family vacation road trip. There is no ultimate “Mother” authority to keep us all in line with the threat of turning around, however. For these collaborative efforts to be successful, no constituency or person gets to be “in charge” all the time. It doesn’t matter how many millions of dollars in grant money one has, or how many thousands of members in one’s organization; everyone’s expertise needs to be used and respected. It won’t be easy and it won’t feel natural, but we all must make a conscious effort to work together.

She goes on to make a recommendation for change:

More multi-disciplinary organizations, conferences, and publishing platforms (like Vox PopuLII) need to be created so that we can learn from each other. Until such time that these exist, more trips into the other camp need to be made – attend their conferences, publish in their discipline’s journals: anything that will start to put human faces on the monolithic titles such as “librarian” or “publisher” so that we can get past the distrust and the disputes and move on to the more important work.

I know in the past years the publisher/vendor liaison committees from the various law librarian associations across Canada have been working on building positive relationships with legal publishers. My thinking has always been, if it weren’t for the legal publishers, we wouldn’t have much of a job. We would either not exist, or we would have to hunt and gather it ourselves (thereby becoming aggregators or publishers ourselves). We work together to delivery timely, relevant information to lawyers, judges, professors, law students and clerks in this country. And both librarians and publishers need to similarly work in a positive way with (as Sarah calls them) computer scientists. A lot of the work in both fields depends heavily on technology, so again working towards solutions in partnership is the ideal.

Even though we may speak different languages, we need to work together, building bridges of understanding. Canada is a much smaller industry, so animosity between us at times feels a lot more personal. But this also means it should be a lot easier to bridge the divide and build some mutual respect.

This is just one idea addressed by Sarah Glassmeyer in her blog post. Lest you think it is a post of criticisms about publishing and IT, the bulk of her blog post actually explains why the library field is slow to change: like the slow-moving loris, we have evolved to move cautiously to ensure information (books) are properly stored so they are retained for the future. But, she says: “No longer are libraries the sole gatekeepers and preservers of information” so therefore it behooves us to speed up and become more agile if we are to remain relevant. And that is why she quotes William Faulkner saying: “Get in the goddamn wagon or get out of the goddamn way.”

Ah, but I am taking her out of context. Please, go read the full post The Loris in the Library.

Image credit: FestivusWeb.com (follow them on Twitter @festivusweb)

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