Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Bye bye books

My computer literacy moves forward in fits and starts. I'm above average for my age group in some things. On the other hand, it was only yesterday that I first used the resource "Hein Online," a web-based archive with PDF images of something close to every page of every law review ever published.

Previously, I'd either used LEXIS or Westlaw, the two longstanding online legal databases. These are not always the best way to retrieve scholarly legal articles. Their html reformatting is not nearly as readable or visually pleasing as the original published formatting, and they don't reproduce charts and tables. Also, of course, I'd go to the actual books, though it has been some time since I got my butt out of my office and into the library stacks.

When I did that yesterday, I learned that my institution has gotten rid of almost all back issues of legal periodicals predating 1990. (Not actually thrown away, thank goodness, but moved into offsite storage.) Hein Online made the books obsolete, in the library's view. I guess shelf space is too valuable to keep dusty ol' books around.

It's true that I can browse on line and then download and print stuff I "need" to have on paper -- I just don't read with as much comprehension on the computer, and I like to mark up the texts. The latter point meant that I needed to get photocopies of the old law reviews, and now I can just print out downloads much more conveniently (and at the cost of no more trees than photocopies).

But I have great nostalgia for my scholarly immersion experiences of sitting at a carrell deep in the library stacks surrounded by piles of old law reviews. That will never happen again -- not as long as I want to look at pre-1990 stuff, anyhow.

I wonder whether other libraries are actually getting rid of books -- throwing them away. That would be short-sighted. What if in the near future, our society undertakes major energy conservation measures, including placing restrictions on computing time?

I take consolation in thinking that, if the lights go out in a big way, then old legal scholarship won't be very important anyhow.

I just today had a discussion with another intern about what the hell I'd do if I ended up in a firm without unlimited Lexis access. The answer: cry. Alot. We had about 2 classes on printed research methods in Legal Research and Writing, and that was both semesters. I couldn't look up a case in print to save my life, let alone do actual research without a computer.

Both Other Intern and I agreed that for non-business reading, there's nothing that beats actual paper. Printed sources of law though, including "hornbooks," are annoying at best. What I really need is even less paper and much, much more screen space.
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