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.
Today was the last day of our semester in Advanced Legal Research. On the whole, I think the course was a success, although I’ve a number of ideas for future iterations of the course. ALR had dropped off of the curriculum here, for a variety of reasons, and bringing it back was an important goal for my first year on the job. The student reception was certainly sufficient to make me think that the investment of time and energy (my own and that of my colleagues) was worthwhile.
It was a semester during which we saw the expansion of Google Scholar results to cover case law and had our first glimpse of WestlawNext. One theme I try to get across to the students is that we now work in a research environment (in fact we’ve been there for some time) in which you don’t have to work with tools that convey and communicate structure. You have to provide the structure, and be alert to which certain research resources (treatises, statutory codes used correctly) continue to tell you something about the context and organization of the law and the ways in which some community of practice has constructed a broader notion of legal structure. What will be the long-term effect on the law of legal research conducted (and therefore legal analysis informed) primarily within an organic “web” of resources that are not bounded by ordered, classified, finding tools (e.g. Digests)? I don’t know. But I do know that, in the transitional environment of the foreseeable future, the inherited cognitive structures of the law aren’t going to simply collapse — they’ve merely become easier to miss for the casual user of unstructured online search tools. And that law school legal research teachers (who could once primarily focus on the limited, mechanical, skills tailored to a closed universe of discrete tools) must instead now focus on training students to be conscious of and attentive to their own interactions with retrieved legal work-product.
It has, I think, become much harder (if it ever was easy) to separate research skills from some broader idea of knowledgeable information seeking.