Category Archives: Librarianship

Bankruptcy, A Research Guide

This article is a revision and reformatting of a research guide that first appeared here on the website of the Judge Ben C. Green Law Library.


Federal bankruptcy law governs the disposition of property from the estate of a distressed borrower who either voluntarily seeks liquidation or reorganization of debts under the terms of the Bankruptcy Code or whose creditors seek to involuntarily impose such liquidation or reorganization. Bankruptcy procedures balance the need to offer debtors a “fresh start” as economic participants, the desire to save some businesses that may be of more value as “going concerns,” and the need to allocate recovery fairly between the various creditors of a person or firm that is unable to pay all of its debts according to the original terms.

Bankruptcy itself is federal law, and Congress has the power to create uniform federal bankruptcy laws under Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution. The current Bankruptcy Code was enacted in 1978 and last extensively revised in 2005, is codified as amended as Title 11 of the United States Code.

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Does WestlawNext Really Change Everything?

Ron Wheeler, of the University of San Francisco, used this title for his recent journal article, available via SSRN, and timely reading either for those having recently completed CORE classes or anticipating summer positions (with employers who may or may not have chosen to move ahead with the (costly) new platform).

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Libraries, lending, and the “durability” of ebooks…

This post first appeared in March 2011 on Just in Case, the (then) blog of the Judge Ben C. Green Law Library. Just in Case blog content was subsequently migrated to the integrated law library website.
“Lending” libraries are fundamentally ill-equipped to cope with digital materials, including “ebooks.” These must be freely copy-able, “tethered” within networks, or protected by strong DRM. None of the options is compatible with the traditional business model of lending libraries.

The New York Times reports on HarperCollins’ efforts to limit the number of “loans” of eBooks it provides to libraries. Cory Doctorow has a critical op-ed in the website of the Guardian.

We’ve mentioned before that eBooks pose some major and unresolved business-model challenges for libraries. Because a digital file, unlike a bound book on paper, can “natively” be copied with near perfection and nearly zero cost, both publishers and libraries are in a quandary. A lending model makes a sort of natural sense for printed books — they can, after all, only be in one place at a time. And if a library needs more copies to serve its user base it will simply buy additional copies. American copyright law has also evolved to explicitly make room, through limitations on the “distribution right,” for library (and personal) lending and re-sale. (Lending rights are handled differently in European countries, but that’s another story…)
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Are electronic casebooks in our future?

In addition to the usual low level of “back to school” press attention to the cost of college and graduate school textbooks, this year textbook pricing and textbook business models have gotten additional attention for two reasons.

First, a federal act passed in 2008, the Higher Education Opportunity Act, included provisions requiring educational institutions to better describe the costs of textbooks and instructional materials, and to require the “unbundling” of textbooks from supplements and study guides. Read the rest on

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DMCA Rule-making by Librarian of Congress – Jailbreaking iPhones is legal

You may not realize that the Library of Congress is a federal regulatory agency, but the Library’s Copyright Office—which historically registered copyrights and still maintains the registry for those works that actually are deposited and registered—makes implementing regulations under the Copyright Act. Today, it did so.

In one of the LOC’s regulatory tasks, the Librarian of Congress has the power (every three years) under 1998’s Digital Millenium Copyright Act to exempt specific actions from the DMCA’s ban on circumventing the technological protections put in place to prevent duplication of copyright works. This regulatory mechanism was created as one of the checks to monitor functioning of the DMCA’s controversial ban on circumvention. Technical protections of which circumvention is barred include various “locks” built into the “container” for a digital file to prevent unimpeded copying of that file, such as the CSS system that governs the ways DVDs can be played back, or the rights management systems that allow some music files (and any downstream copies of them) to be played only on certain registered hardware. Read more on

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Paradigms upon paradigms

Libraries (or at least the law libraries I know best) have only slowly and gradually come to see ourselves as in the business of providing gateways to online resources as much as we are describers, catalogers, and archivers of printed resources. And, even once we saw ourselves in that role, actually putting the transition into work in our institutional operations has been very, very, slow. While online resources licensed and “subscribed” for remote access across our campuses (silently) account for the large bulk of our served communities’ use of our libraries, most libraries still devote most of their resources on the ground — budgets, staff time, space — on print. And I daresay many, if not most, law students and faculty still regard the library as “mostly” a provider of printed books and journals.

But we’re rapidly approaching another shift that effects the library’s very role as an aggregator of information consumption. While it has long seemed possible for vendors of online information to seek to reach directly to the end consumer, rather than to library intermediaries, there were obstacles.

Libraries have always existed to pool the resources of a community to better leverage the purchase of information access. The basic logic of our role has been that if each member of the community served by the library had to individually purchase, say, every book they were to read (including every book or journal volume necessary to complete a scholarly research project) not only would the costs be prohibitive but, since many of us would use the same materials as one or more of our peers, there would be a lot of waste and duplication. Meanwhile, publishers of conventional information containers have always lacked any reasonable way to “rent” access to what they publish.

Characteristics of the technology of printed books, including high reproduction costs, as well as cultural and legal traditions that include the “first sale” restriction on distribution rights, have always meant that a book sold once can and will be shared. Publishers have never particularly liked first-sale, and never particularly liked libraries, but (at least for the specialized press) never had many other options. This combination of consumer constraints and producer constraints has always meant that, absent combination on the consumption end through libraries, a wide range of books could not be sold. Libraries, in effect, have been the solution to a market failure.

So, there is a floor price below which books (by which I mean not specifically monographs, but printed containers for information) can’t be economically sold and a ceiling on the value to any individual scholar (or legal practitioner!) in having a copy of any individual book needed for consultation, reference, or citation. Books being costly to copy, that floor has always tended to (far) exceed that value-per-use ceiling and even to exceed the combined value of all of the anticipated uses of (most) individual users. The obvious solution is to pool users to share books — perhaps through some kind of pay-per-use mechanism. But the cost to copy books and their fixation in a specific location has meant that publishers couldn’t normally be the one to parcel our uses (as through some kind of rental model). So… so we have libraries.

But our naturally monopoly on content aggregation and point-of-need redistribution is coming to an end. What services do we provide to continue to add value?

This entry was posted in Legal Publication, Librarianship and tagged on by .

PACER:RECAP — Plug-in to assist with court dockets and filings

Wednesday is usually our day for profiling a subscription resource. Today, instead, we’ll tread the line between “freesearch” and a subscription profile, and address both a fee-based resource and a tool designed to leverage much of its content into the realm of the free.

PACER is the system used by the federal courts to allow access to case and docket information. While run by the courts themselves, PACER is not free (and in fact has a rather cumbersome paywall mechanism). RECAP is a project of Princeton researchers, and aims to augment PACER in ways that should make the use of federal dockets and filings cheaper for the researcher while also putting pressure upon a business model for PACER that the RECAPpers view as excessively closed and proprietary and arguably in violation of the E-Government Act.
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Is Starbucks a Library?

One of the challenges we in the library business face in serving our institutions is the new competition from other sectors that – often only incidentally – actually provide library-like services to much of the information-seeking public. Google is perhaps the obvious (and most self-conscious) example. As director John Palfrey noted to the Harvard Law Bulletin’s reporter, regarding the restructuring of Harvard’s law library, “outside” businesses have begun to take on library-like roles for for-profit, rather than scholarly, reasons. Often these library-like roles are mere spin-offs or support offerings for the other businesses. For instance, in the big picture, academic research is only a pretty small part of why most people use Google’s search engine, but when you are using a tool for all the other built-in, day-to-day, information seeking in your life you are going to be pretty likely to turn to it first for your more targeted academic research too.

But, on a (perhaps) lighter note there’s a brand new intruder into the library space. Starbucks has just made Internet access, via its in-store Wi-Fi, free. But there’s more. As a sweetener in the offering, some paid online content will be made available for free to Starbucks-connected Web users – most notably, this will include “pay wall” content from the Wall Street Journal. Hmmmm…. Isn’t collective pooling and mediation of the costs of acquiring and finding information a pretty fundamental definition of what libraries do? Granted, Starbucks will cover the costs in a very different way than any traditional library – either via advertising or through selling coffee and food to those drawn by the free online content. But much bigger intrusions into the traditional market space of libraries — e.g. novel delivery structures for ebooks — will also be funded in very different ways (and, the danger, accountable to very different masters).

(For what it is worth,the WSJ is obviously offering Starbucks something different than they offer us — paywall content on the WSJ web sites is presently only available through an individual subscription with login/password authentication. Proxied group access through, e.g., campus libraries has only been available through intermediaries that aggregate the Journal’s articles.)

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eBook sales from Google coming soon?

Google announced yesterday, at a Publisher’s Weekly forum on “The Book on Google: Is the Future of Publishing in the Cloud,” that it expects to launch its platform to sell books online in “June or July of this year.”

The product, Google Editions, has been much-discussed for some time, but I believe this is the first solid announcement of a time frame for launch. According to Jessica Vascellaro and Jeffrey Trachtenberg of the Wall Street Journal:

Google says users will be able to buy digital copies of books they discover through its book-search service. It will also allow book retailers—even independent shops—to sell Google Editions on their own sites, taking the bulk of the revenue. Google is still deciding whether it will follow the model where publishers set the retail price or where Google sets retail prices.

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