AALL or AfLI: What’s in a Name?

While I have left law library employment, I was a lawyer librarian and a member of AALL for over 15 years. I’ve been slow to the debate over changing the organization’s name. I still have mixed feelings. But also have perspective as someone who has departed to, at least, the far fringes of the profession.

The American Association of Law Libraries is considering changing its name to the Association for Legal Information. The change has been recommended by the Executive Board and will be voted on by the membership. In 2009, the Special Libraries Association rejected a similar change in name (to the Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals). My prediction is that the AALL membership will also reject the change. My own feelings are mixed.

I no longer work in a law library. I left a senior role in an academic library for complicated reasons. This was most immediately related to local issues and local dysfunction in a particular organization. But I also had become rather disillusioned with the state of librarianship, or at least of law academic librarianship into which I had personal visibility. Legal professions and academic institutions have, to date, both been very slow to change. But rather than the progressive forces within our parent institutions that, I think, most librarians imagine themselves to be, I had increasingly come to see the library as part of the problem — needlessly conservative about extremely costly collection practices, determined to wait for various outside white knight’s to fix scholarly and legal communications crises in the response to which we would rightly sit squarely in the center, and with almost nothing but defensiveness to offer in response to the current dilemma of legal education in finding a way to better provide responsible, cost-effective, and sustainable service to our student customers.

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On Stumbling Through the Coding Interview

I just had my first experience with an algorithm-focused white-board coding interview. It was… interesting. I reflect on my responses and reactions, and have some thoughts on the nature of technical interviewing and candidate assessment

So, I had my first white board session as part of an interview yesterday. I don’t have any real read on “how I did” in terms of what the interviewers were expecting, but I wasn’t at all happy with my performance. I think I did a reasonable job of talking/reasoning my way through the approach I took, of assessing the performance and trade-offs of approaches I considered, and of rejecting a few unreasonable trains of thought. But I overlooked some really fundamental, basic, and (in retrospect) obvious approaches that came to me in flashes later in the day — one on the car trip home, another as I was settling down to bed.

Without giving out all the details (it was a basic enough problem, and no one asked me not to share it, but still…) the problem involved a quantity of both existing and of new data, all of the same type. It was data that was comparable, and had hash and equals methods amenable to the operations involved in sorting, matching, etc.

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Software Boot Camp: Where I’ve Been

I recently completed the software “boot camp” at The Software Guild in Akron, Ohio. While I both enjoyed the experience and feel that I learned a very great deal, such programs are indeed demanding and not for everyone.

Ever since I hinted at an upcoming “deep dive,” in a post back in August, I’ve been quiet on this site. Where I have been is at The Software Guild, in Akron, Ohio. The Guild is one of the new breed of software-development ‘coding boot camps’ that provide intensive exposure, over a relatively short period of time, to coding and related development skills. I entered the September Java cohort, which meant that I spent time in July and August on “pre-work” and participated in “boot camp” proper from September through December. As a career change, this represents the pursuit of long-time interests on my part. Even in my administrative and managerial library roles, I’ve particularly valued my contributions as the “accidental” or “incidental” technologist and developer. Time spent on wireframes, code, and software design decisions was always among my favorite working time.

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Bootstrap and semantic CSS/HTML?

Bootstrap’s row and column paradigm sounds a bit “table like” to me… but avoids many pitfalls of HTML table mis-use for web design.

While preparing for an upcoming project that will give me a much (much!) deeper dive in to back-end and full-stack development, I’ve been reviewing/rehashing a lot of my front-end web skills: HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, AngularJS, etc. In the course of delving in to the well-established Bootstrap framework for websites and web applications I immediately bumped into the paradigm of rows and columns, and the use of divs with “row” and “column” classes, and had a moment of deja vu.

Didn’t we finally get rid of the scourge of tables, and their (mis-)use to format websites? I mean, I was still seeing HTML tables extensively used in law school and university websites within the past couple of years… That was one bad habit that took a really long time for a lot of folks to break. Is marking up, into rows and columns, generic (non-semantic) divs, using (positional, non-semantic) CSS classes some kind of sneaky zombie return of the dread tables?

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Uelma and Unintended Consequences

Uelma should be enacted by the states. But while its concept of verifiable authenticity is useful, compliance with that prong of the law should not lead to excessive reliance on PDF files to share legal resources in only very limited, maximally “print-like,” and insufficiently machine-readable and bulk-processable formats. Open legal resources should also allow commercial, non-profit, community, and library entities to consume relatively “raw” government resources and add the value that makes them efficient and effective tools for an informed public.

Uelma is the Uniform Electronic Legal Materials Act. Promulgated by the Uniform Law Commission, UELMA covers online state legal materials that are deemed “official” (while requiring that covered legal publications produced only electronically be considered official) and requires that they be produced in a way that is capable of being authenticated, that is preserved, and that is made permanently available to the public.

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Why is so much law in PDF files?

In January, I came across Margaret Hagan’s “short manifesto,” Law’s PDF Problem, on the blog of her Open Law Lab project. She argues that too many public-facing legal resources — her examples include several explanatory and instructional charts or tools for the lay public — are locked away within PDF files, often as small parts of much longer PDFs. She argues that the lack of responsiveness of PDF files to different device sizes and screen formats, along with other obstacles to easy end-user interaction with small parts of larger PDFs, are a usability obstacle to general public access to law. As it happens, I’ve also been thinking a lot about legal publishing and the PDF, from a somewhat different angle.
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This Moment in Net Neutrality

March 2, 2015

While the future of how (and, ultimately, by whom) broadband Internet connectivity will ultimately be regulated remains to be determined, the current moment in Net Neutrality is an interesting one for what the media interest and wave of public comment to the FCC tell us. The seemingly overwhelming endorsement by the interested public of at least some version of neutrality, and the willingness (nay, demand) to see the federal government take on a role in ensuring neutrality makes for what seems likely to be an important constitutional moment in defining the future of Internet regulation and governance, regardless of how the regulatory (or, eventually, legislative) details are hashed out.

The American public has demonstrated that it doesn’t regard broadband Internet at all as an entertainment service — as something at least metaphorically akin to the cable television programming that some of its high-bandwidth users compete with — but as something more “utility-like.” A standard fixture, like hot-and-cold water or electricity, that we expect to be served without more than a health-and-safety level regard for what particular “appliances” (literal or metaphorical) we will plug in to it. While it is certainly the case that the Internet is also not the same as the traditional telephone network, and there may well be continuing challenges with how to “fit” the various component networks of the Internet into the (1930s vintage) Communications Act and (1990s vintage) Telecommunications Act regulatory model (or to replace that model), we’ve ended up with a clear picture of broadband Internet as an essential and at least relatively mature technology that is a vital component of modern life. And we’ve seen a clear sense that internet services must continue to interconnect fully and freely and with sufficient “neutrality” that equivalent access to “the same” broader Internet is available regardless of what natural-monopoly carrier serves a particular home or business.

We’ve certainly seen what seems to me to be a really powerful endorsement by the general Internet-attuned public that we regard the network (including the last-mile networks piped to our houses) as the infrastructure for the services we care about, not as the service, and that the public actually does “get” the values behind hoary old Internet end-to-end principles.

Law Library Autonomy: Are Law Libraries Really Different?

Academic law libraries in the United States are almost all administratively independent from their central university library systems. They are part of the law schools that they serve, rather than reporting through a wider university-level library system. This autonomy is somewhat unusual. Individual academic departments (almost?) never have libraries that operate with any level of structural autonomy. Even at the school or college level independent libraries are far less common than they are in law. Other professional schools, such as business or medical schools, are less likely to have autonomous libraries. Only around half of medical school libraries, for example, are independent of their university library systems. Among law libraries only about eight schools (around 4% of all law schools) have libraries that are administratively part of university library systems. And even in several of these cases, there is still a very great deal of day-to-day practical “autonomy” in the way that the law schools and their libraries operate.
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The Web vs. Apps, Librarians, and Information Freedom

Beyond choosing “app” or “web” mobile strategies for short-term tactical reasons, libraries have a critical stake in preserving the vitality of an open, standards-based, web. While developer-oriented platform debates between the application web and app-store frameworks can seem far removed from our stake in an open Internet, they deserve more attention from the library community and its allies.

I wrote the other day about the fairly narrow question of whether libraries should develop native apps for mobile platforms like tablets and smartphones, or rely on the web for delivery of their content and services. At least for most libraries, I came down on the side of the web. While acknowledging that needs might differ for some libraries with both very loyal (or very captive) users and a need for very tight integration with already-“appified” vended-content platforms, most libraries should devote their resources to websites while making those sites as mobile-friendly as possible. For most libraries—and certainly those I know best—it is hard to see an “app” strategy as an effective tactical use of resources.

Web Remains More Open

But my real concern goes deeper. There is a vital ongoing discussion about the ecosystem of the device-agnostic web versus the various app ecosystems. But libraries and librarians have mostly not been active enough as part of that debate. And libraries (and, for academic librarians, the scholarly institutions they serve) are parties with a real interest in a thriving, open, Web. As a profession far too often still mired in residual “print vs. online” debates, it is important that we don’t allow significant parts of the web ecosystem to decay just as we are, finally, coming to terms with our role in that ecosystem.
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