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The AALL Spectrum® blog is published by the American Association of Law Libraries. Submissions from AALL members and other members of the legal community are highly encouraged. Opinions and editorial views expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of AALL. AALL does not assume any responsibility for statements advanced by contributors. Previously, the AALL Spectrum Blog was located at aallspectrum.wordpress.com.

The AALL Spectrum blog is no longer published. Previous posts are archived on this page.
7/19/2015 3:53:00 AM

When Legal Research is Like Amazon Prime Day

Editorial Note: This blog post is authored by: Scott Frey, Reference Librarian, Western State College of Law (sfrey@wsulaw.edu). 

July 15, 2015.  Amazon Prime Day.  Amazon promised more deals than Black Friday, if you had paid the yearly Prime subscription (or had the 30 day free trial).  They teased a bunch of deals, to give people a sense of how good and wide-ranging the savings would be. 

The big day arrived, and…  indeed, there were many deals.  Some deals were great, as advertised.  The best (a 32-inch TV for $75!) were 100% claimed within minutes.   Maybe you were one of the lucky ones.  Or maybe you eventually got the deal off a waitlist.

Meanwhile, many other deals were … not as great, at least for most people.  The giant shoehorn.  The "beard growther."  The 55-gallon drum of lubricant.  You had to wade through the claimed and unwanted deals to find a deal you wanted.  Or you gave up in frustration.

What do Amazon Prime Day and legal research have in common?

Let's start with the entrance fee.  Only Prime members could participate in Amazon's festivities.  Likewise, only subscribers have access to services such as Lexis Advance and WestlawNext.   There may be exceptions – e.g., a free trial, a patron access terminal – but for the most part, it's pay to play.  Nonsubscribers have alternatives – in the case of legal research, free services such as Google Scholar, FDsys, or a non-subscription law library.

The marketing of Prime Day was like the marketing of legal research systems and library discovery tools.  With Prime Day, you'll get better deals than ever!  With this new, improved research system, you'll get more useful results than ever!  The marketing might be hype, reality, or – most likely – a bit of both.

So you get to Prime Day or start doing legal research.  You might claim a good deal; you might get relevant legal material.  Or you might not.  The 100% claimed deals on Prime Day are like checked-out print materials or e-books, or resources you can't access because they're not in your subscription plan or otherwise available.  (Going on the Prime Day waitlist is perhaps like doing extra research – sometimes persistence pays off.)

Moreover, to get to the good deal or the useful result, you might have to wade through all the stuff you didn't want.  On Prime Day, most items – Kindle Fire tablets, giant shoehorns, and any random items in between – were in a long list that you had to scroll or click through.  You could filter by category; but you could not search.

If the first few results at least were good and available, then I imagine most users would be satisfied.  With Prime Day, whether you wanted a particular camera, home improvement items, or deals in general, you got the same initial results, which were often either uninteresting or unavailable.

While the homepage of many library catalogs and legal research systems is likewise the same for everyone, at least you can browse or search to get (hopefully) relevant results.  This is like the normal experience on Amazon's site.   (Moreover, like Amazon, some legal research systems have homepages that reflect your history or preferences on the site.)

The search algorithm on Amazon is good, as are the options for filtering and sorting the results.  Sites like Amazon and Google – with precision in top results and recall for those who want more – are what sites like WestlawNext and Lexis Advance are trying to emulate.  Contrast those results with the list of items selected for Prime Day or the results on an inferior search engine – most of little or no value to you.  (Does anyone remember Cuil?)  Filtering or sorting a mediocre pile of results might help, but probably not enough.

The marketing of Prime Day was especially successful because of prior satisfaction with Amazon.  But goodwill and high expectations can quickly turn into disappointment if promises aren't delivered. 

Of course, some people liked Prime Day and got deals.  The experience of Prime Day, like of libraries and databases, wasn't uniform.  (Personally, I didn't mind the unwanted results much, because I'm used to and have a high tolerance for them.  But many people, understandably, want the wheat and don't have time or patience for the chaff.)  No legal research system will satisfy everyone all the time.  Some people will prefer one system or another; or learn to like the one they have; or switch to another service if and when they can.

Does a legal research system or a law library need to provide everything under the sun, like Amazon and Google do?  I think that's a question libraries are struggling with now, especially as to physical collections in a time of shrinking budgets, space, and staff.  Morever, most law libraries and law offices can't subscribe to every law database.  And if they do subscribe to several databases, most users can't use all those resources (even on one database) optimally.  So law libraries do more stringent collection development, even though there are more legal resources than ever, and provide training and assistance in research to the extent we can.

On Prime Day, some sites – e.g., Kinja Deals – had pages or Twitter feeds that highlighted good deals (and advised when they were no longer available).  Reference librarians can likewise guide researchers to useful resources and ways of getting useful results.

So, a cheery thought to end on: libraries can make a difference by providing the best possible resources and guidance in how to use them.  Knowing how to find good results – like good deals on Prime Day – can change a frustrating experience into a satisfying one.  (Now if I only could find that $75 TV on Amazon right now….)

By: Scott Frey, Reference Librarian, Western State College of Law (sfrey@wsulaw.edu)

Posted By Catherine Lemmer at 7/19/2015 3:53:00 AM  0 Comments
7/15/2015 4:50:12 PM

The July Issue of Spectrum is Now Available on AALLNET

The July issue of Spectrum is now available on AALLNET. You should receive your print copy in the mail soon. Please share any feedback you may have in the comments section below!

Posted By Ashley St. John at 7/15/2015 4:50:12 PM  0 Comments
TOPICS: spectrum
7/15/2015 1:28:59 PM

It’s Not A Scratch, It’s Scratches: How To Respond To Racial Microaggressions In The Library

Straight Talk About Race

In the wake of my series of articles on why and how to talk about race in the library, which admittedly is also applicable to everywhere else, I’ve been asked how to talk to staff about specific issues related to racist statements, or racial microaggressions. The short answer is, I don’t know. I can’t give you a recipe to follow. What I can do is two things. First, I can shed some light on why diversity training and anti-racism/sexism training are not silver bullets and in fact can sometimes cause more problems than they fix. Second, I can share with you something that helps me to be empowered while operating within systems rife with structural racism.

The Problem is Systemic

A close friend of mine has a horse. She saw a wound on the horse’s front leg where the hoof meets the leg. She thought it was a scratch. She cleaned the wound every day for a week and some days the wound got better, but some days it got worse. Finally she called the vet and she found out that what she thought was a cut was actually a condition called scratches. It was both a bacterial and a fungal infection that was so severe that it needed to be treated with oral antibiotics.

Similarly, the racial tensions that some of us notice at work and the specific acts that we perceive as problematic are like the wound that my friend thought was a scratch. If we treat it with an anti-racism training seminar or a diversity awareness training, this is akin to treating a severe case of scratches with a topical antibiotic. The racial problems at work may appear to get better for a moment, but the underlying problem is still there.

This is because the problems that occur at work that we attribute to racism and sexism cannot be remedied by first making people wrong, trying to get them to identify as racist and sexist (a tactic that I see a lot in news articles) and then trying to get people to stop doing specific, known, identifiable racist and sexist acts. The problem is not individual racists and sexists, it is structural racism and sexism which cannot be changed by pointing out individual “wrong” behaviors one by one, and having people stop doing those individual behaviors, it has to occur at the level of society and it has to be a society-wide transformation.  This will take time because the institutions that developed to invisibly support White privilege in this country grew out of a long history of exploiting people of color and dismantling this invisible system is a task that the generations to come will need to take on and work towards.

But all is not lost, because what I want to share with you today is that for the purpose of personal empowerment in your present moment, you yourself can transform the entire society. Here’s how you do it. Close your eyes. Imagine the whole world. Now imagine that the whole world is not racist or sexist. There, you have done it. The next time you see something that you think is evidence that the world is racist and sexist, resist the thought and instead interpret the evidence in a different way. Interpret it in a way that does not make others wrong. Find a way to take responsibility for what happened because in taking responsibility, you empower yourself. Yes, it is a delusion, but so is love (and possibly God) and many other things that we believe in for the purpose of making our lives better.

Separating out the story from what actually happened and taking responsibility for your actions and reactions and acting as if there is no such thing as racism is how you take your medicine, your oral antibiotics, to cure the societal -isms.

It's About Personal Power Not Truth

I know that sounds crazy so let me give you an example and a tool. Here is a specific thing that happened to me. Those of you who have been following my posts will know that someone came into my office and changed the word “Juriglobe” that I wrote on my whiteboard to the word “Jigabo” [sic] (yeah this individual wasn’t a great speller either, if you are going to insult me, at least get the spelling right).

When I moved to Nashville, I had reservations. I had an opinion about the South. My opinion was that the South is a racist place. All it took was for one person to change 7 letters on my whiteboard for me to give myself permission to act in accordance with my belief that Nashville is a racist place.

What if these same events had taken place in San Francisco or New York, or Los Angeles? My opinion about those places is that they are progressive, liberal and people there are open minded. I might have dismissed that as the act of one sad and confused person. I might have erased my board and then forgotten about it by the end of that week. Instead, by giving that incident meaning, through language, I ruined my first year and a half at the job of my dreams. The meaning I gave that incident is that Nashville is a racist place. I told myself a whole story about what happened, that some racist jerk came into my office and did this terrible thing. I looked for evidence that my story was true and then I got everyone who would listen to me to buy into the story that I was the victim of a racial microaggression (sometimes I called it a hate crime).

For months, I gave myself permission to fly into a rage every time my suspicion that Nashville was a racist place was confirmed by evidence and I saw evidence everywhere. I saw it in rude service at restaurants, I saw it in people repeating stories that they had heard on Fox news. I saw it in the Black men around me who cut the grass, drive the book delivery van and clean the toilets. I saw it in the lack of Black librarians. Everywhere I looked I could find evidence to support my belief that Nashville is a racist place.

My self-righteous rage allowed me to abdicate responsibility for making my life work. If I was late, it was because I could not focus because I was traumatized by the racist incident in my office. If I was rude or withdrawn, it was because I was rightfully irritated by a racist comment made by someone. I gained weight, I was anxious and depressed and my stress induced spastic colon came back. I created my own Hell.

Create Your World With Your Word

Today, I make an effort every day to create my experience of Nashville in a different way. I use my language to describe Nashville not as a racist or an un-racist place, but just as a place. When I catch myself trying to use my encounters with Nashville residents as evidence that Nashville is racist, I stop and look more closely at what actually happened. For instance, a waitress approached me. I thought she was going to ask me if I would like a glass of water and a menu. Instead she asked me “What are you?” This is a question that is commonly perceived as a racial microaggression. I could get all of my friends to validate me and my angry reaction to that question by placing myself in the role of the victim of a racial microaggression and for a long time that was the story that I told.

That is a story that disempowers me and reinforces all of my friend’s beliefs that Nashville is a racist place. It also makes the concept of racism more real. Like there is an object out in the world called racism that is a real thing. It makes me right and the waitress wrong. It makes my White friends feel bad for being part of a group that benefits from structural racism. It makes my Black friends feel self-righteous anger towards this waitress and the clueless White racists who she represents in my story. It drives the societal story about racism and about us and them that divides people along racial lines. All because a woman could not tell what race I am and asked me a question to which she certainly was not entitled to an answer.

Why Diversity Training Does Not Work

The problem with anti-racism training is that instead of eliminating racism as a lens through which people view the world, it makes racism more real. It reinforces the concepts of White people as perpetrators of and beneficiaries of racism and People of Color as victims. This is not to say that people’s biases do not cause them to commit terrible acts because there is no getting around this truth. All I am saying is that anti-racism training on the order of being given a laundry list of offensive things not to say and do is counterproductive if what you are doing is trying to end racism and create a safe space at work where clear communication can happen and people can feel connected and supported.

What we need is personal transformation so that we can see the blind spots that cause us to act in ways that perpetuate racism in the workplace. It is not enough to want to be not racist or even to be committed to not being racist (don’t believe me, I want to and I am committed to losing 20 pounds and yet I am still wearing the same size jeans that I have been wearing for the last 2 years). It is also not enough to want to be immune to racism. We cannot conquer racism from inside of the paradigm of racism. We can only conquer it when we are willing to give up racism as a construct and to give up self-righteous anger in reaction to racism (or in reaction to people “playing the race card”).

A Call To Action

So I invite you the library management team, the next time you have a racist incident at work that you need to clear up to coach your employees to stick to the facts of the situation instead of turning it into a racist incident through the stories that they tell about it.

If you identify as White and you are supervising an employee who is a person of color (POC), I invite you to accept their evaluation of the state of racism in your institution, because you simply do not have the tools to make this evaluation yourself by dint of being in a group that is not capable of experiencing it first-hand. But after validating the experience of your POC staff member, you can also empower them by sharing with them that there is nothing you can do about the state of racism, but by focusing on the facts of what happened, perhaps you can help to resolve the specific incident.

I invite you to encourage both sides to take responsibility for their actions and reactions in order to empower them to heal and transform themselves. I invite you not to allow yourself to make either party wrong and not to empathize with one party over the other, not to get sucked into one person’s story just because it aligns with your personal beliefs about the world. A little tough love now will save them so much pain later and will give them an opportunity for a permanent transformation. If you don’t feel up to the task of coaching your staff in this way, find someone who is and put the library staff involved in the misunderstanding in their capable hands.          

We aren’t surgeons or civil engineers, when we have problems at work, no one dies, what we have are stressful situations, and opportunities for enlightenment and transformation. So let’s take those opportunities and grow together as a profession.

Please consider taking this anonymous survey on race issues in the law librarian profession. I will use the responses to write more specific blog posts on race issues in our libraries. I'll be hosting a Coffee Talk on Talking About Race at the AALL Annual Meeting next week.

Monday, July 20th, 2015 7:45am - 8:30am
PCC-Grand Hall
Please feel free to stop by and share with me in person.

Posted By Catherine Deane at 7/15/2015 1:28:59 PM  0 Comments