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Bloggers, scholars, librarians converge for "Future of Today's Legal Scholarship"

 

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A couple of Saturdays ago, while most of you were sleeping, relaxing, or mowing the lawn, I was at work.  Well, sort of: I attended a symposium at Georgetown Law Center called "The Future of Today's Legal Scholarship."  Despite the seemingly broad title, the bulk of the day centered on one particular resource that is emerging as an important way for people to exchange, discuss, and comment on aspects of the law: the legal blog.  The symposium was organized in honor of Bob Oakley, former Director of Georgetown's law library, who passed away in 2007. 

 

The keynote address was delivered by Bob Berring, a well known figure in the both the legal and library fields.  While Berring admitted that he had to teach himself to be blog literate, he expressed a broad understanding of the nature of legal scholarship and research and the extent to which the blogosphere is shaping these fields.  Berring argued that, while it is unlikely that the law review will be supplanted by a new form of legal resource anytime soon, legal blogs have their role in advancing legal thought.

Berring's comments set the tone for the day.  There were refreshingly few--if any--broad-brush criticisms of the blogosophere as a debased form of communication.  If anything, most of the speakers pointed out the distinct advantages of blogs when compared to other publishing platforms: namely, the immediate topicality of the posts, the casual tone, and the ability to receive feedback from readers.  These qualities were echoed by Chris Borgen, Associate Professor of Law at St. Johns and founder of the popular law blog Opinio Juris.  Borgen outlined what he believed blogs did well and what they did not do well.  In the latter category, Borgen argued that, by and large, you don't see a legal subject treated with the same depth in a blog post as you do in a journal article.  On the other hand, Borgen argued that a major exception to this characterization was the way many law blogs have handled current controversies over civil liberties, torture, and Guantanamo Bay.  In this scenario, these blogs were better than mainstream news articles, Borgen argued, because you had legal experts (lawyers, professors, etc.) writing the posts.  "They already knew what the Geneva Conventions were," Borgen said of these legal bloggers.

Underscoring the increasing importance of blogs in judicial contexts, Lee Peoples, Law Library Director at Oklahoma City University School of Law, presented recent research he had conducted on instances where blogs had been cited in judicial opinions.  Peoples' research suggests that blogs are increasingly taken more seriously as reliable locations for legal theory, but that they still have not been standardized enough to facilitate wholesale adoption.  Furthermore, Peoples raised a point that other panelists returned to during the day: if a blog or blog post is cited, how can we be sure that this resource will be preserved in perpetuity?

Tom Goldstein, founding of the very popular SCOTUSblog, claimed that bloggers have totally different priorities than librarians and preservationists: bloggers think about the information itself, not the long-term preservation of that information.  However, later in the day Ph.D. student Caroyln Hank presented findings in a study that gauged bloggers' perspectives on digital preservation that would suggest otherwise.  Hank found that most bloggers actually do think about the long-term access to their blogs, but that, by and large, responsibiltiy for preservation should lie with the individual blogger and not a library or archives.

Continuing on the preservation theme, the symposium organizers were wise to include representatives describing two different approaches to digital preservation.  Linda Freuh, a Project Manager from the Internet Archive, discussed that organization's approach: a centralized model, whereby the Internet Archive harvests blogs and stores them on their own servers.  Stanford's LOCKSS model, however, takes a different strategy, advocating a distributed approach to preservation, whereby multiple institutions preserve the same digital resource.  LOCKSS stands for "Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe."

The entire list of speakers can be found here.

Once the panel discussions ended, attendees broke up into working groups roughly divided along themes raised throughout the day--selection, preservation, research, and so forth--and brainstormed about ways of tackling these issues.  Lots of great ideas were bandied about, but there was a common thread among all of them: when selecting which blogs to preserve and decided how to preserve them, libraries are encouraged to form partnerships with peer institutions rather than "going it alone."

In the end, the "Future of Today's Legal Scholarship" symposium provided a lively forum for reflection about the rise of the law blogosphere, its impact on legal research, and the major challenges facing law libraries as they attempt to provide access to these and other digital resources in perpetuity.  I consider the day an unqualified success.  Bob Oakley would have been proud.