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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.
7/14/2015 1:58:39 PM

Enjoying the new view

As promised in my blog post of May 15, 2015, “Up,Up and Away,” I’m writing to tell you how my new seating arrangement is working out.  For those of you who missed the earlier installment, I’ve moved from my office in the library to an office on an attorney floor.  The library is on the 2nd floor of our building; I’m now on the 8th floor.

I’ve been here about a month now, and I think it’s working out pretty well.  I’ve settled into my new office (knickknacks are on the shelves and pictures and diploma are on the walls) and people are no longer surprised to see me in the hallways.  I made a point of ingratiating myself by baking a batch of cookies for my new neighbors, and that seems to have gone over well.

I stop by the library when I first get to the office to take care of any check-in or shelving that needs to be done, and on Wednesdays, when my filer (the totally fabulous Ira Hayes) comes in to update my loose-leaf materials, I work on projects like weeding that require me to be in the library.  I just put a note on my office door, so that if someone needs something, they know where I am.

There have been a couple of occasions when I needed to pull books from the shelves, and it was inconvenient to have to travel down six floors to get them, but that’s not a huge issue.  I also talked to an attorney last week about a book that she wanted to use.  She wondered if we had a copy, and although I was able to assure that we did own one, (thank you, online catalog) I told her I had no more idea than she if it was on the shelf.  In the grand scheme of things, a minor irritation.

What I have noticed as a big change is the traffic in my general area.   There are no attorney offices on the 2nd floor, so I could go hours without seeing anyone (literally, this is not exaggeration for comic effect).   Now, it feels like I’m sitting in Grand Central Station: people walk by all the time, they hold meetings in the conference room next door to my office and they have conversations in the hallway.  I have daily interactions with people I used to see almost never, and I think that’s a good thing.  Those little exchanges can make people feel more comfortable coming to ask research questions (not that I want to imply I’m working with a group  of timid lawyers - perish the thought!), and I feel more a part of the office team.

Another big difference is the view out my window.  When my office was in the library, I looked out at this:


Yes, I was looking at a stone wall.  I’m not complaining, mind you.  I’ve spent too many years in interior offices or cubicles or big open areas with no privacy to offer up a word against any view, no matter how uninteresting.

Now, however, my view looks like this:

I can see if it’s raining out or not!

When I announced that I was moving to my library colleagues in the other Seyfarth offices, one of them wrote back to me, “Now you’ll be sitting with your fans.”  And that’s what’s most important: getting to know my attorneys better, so I can help them better.

©Susan Ryan, 2015, Librarian, Seyfarth Shaw, LLP, Washington, DC

Posted By Susan Ryan at 7/14/2015 1:58:39 PM  0 Comments
6/26/2015 4:00:35 PM

Librarian Wanted? : The History of and Coming Search for a New Librarian of Congress

Recent news of the announced retirement of the thirteenth Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, an 86 year-old former Russia scholar and Reagan appointee, who has served in the role since 1987, garnered an absolute flurry of media attention. Billington is a Princeton graduate, Rhodes Scholar, author of seven books, former professor at both Harvard and Princeton, and former Director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Despite this impressive academic pedigree, his time in the role has not been without controversy. Some of the media buzz can, no doubt, be attributed to recent controversies during Billington’s tenure surrounding the management of emerging technologies, modernization and staff/management relations. The announcement of his retirement raises the question of who will be the next notable personage to fill the role of head of one of the nation’s preeminent cultural institutions. For those of us who make librarianship our life’s work it also raises the question of whether the nation’s next Librarian-in-Chief will actually be a member of our profession, and if not, why? Other concerns have been raised regarding a need for racial and gender diversity in the role, including those contained in a recently circulated petition.

Why the Controversy?

Billington’s tenure has not been without achievements. It’s only fair to mention that in the wake of his announced retirement, Billington received gracious thanks and praise from Congressional leaders despite the fact that he has not always adhered to their wishes. Under his tenure the size of the library nearly doubled. Other accomplishments include: the launch of the American Memory Project which evolved into the National Digital Library; the creation of Thomas.gov; the creation of the National Book Festival; and, according to David Rubenstein, the head of the James Madison Council, who was quoted in the Washington Post, the emergence of the Library of Congress as the “library of the United States, of the nation” rather than a “cloistered,” elite, preserve of Congress and researchers. These are not insignificant accomplishments.

These achievements, however, seem overshadowed in light of the tone and stridence of the criticism of Billington’s time in the role. The Washington Post characterized staff reactions to Billington’s announced retirement as “almost gleeful” and reported specifics such as an employee-suggested conga line down Pennsylvania Avenue and the feeling that “someone opened a window.” One anonymously quoted staff member stated, “’There is a general sense of relief, hope and renewal, all rolled into one feeling…Like a great weight has been lifted from our shoulders.’”  Maureen Moore, a former library employee and current volunteer went on record to say, “’It’s a great day for the library. The man had 27 years to do good things, and he hasn’t…But the ecstasy is tempered by worry that Obama will appoint someone else who isn’t a librarian, someone who doesn’t have management experience or another megalomaniac.’”

In his article, “Librarian of Congress Retires Under Fire,” New York Times reporter Michael Shear notes that “a series of management and technology failures…were documented in more than a dozen reports by government watchdog agencies.” Additionally after a 2013 audit, the library’s inspector general revealed that literally “millions” of works going back to the 1980s continue to languish in inaccessible storage facilities and that most of the Library of Congress’ twenty-four million books are not available online.

Shear also reports that a government investigation delivered in 2015 found “’widespread weaknesses’” in management and leadership related to digital technology.  In its discussion of the Government Accountability Office report, Roll Call notes specifically that, “the library’s IT systems were at risk of infiltration because the library did not always test security, assess risks or carry out training. ‘Such deficiencies also contributed to weaknesses in technical security controls, putting the Library’s systems and information at risk of compromise.’”

History and Scope of the Role

The role of Librarian of Congress has always been a bit of an odd duck. Much like the Supreme Court it is a de facto job for life. In addition to running the Library of Congress, the Librarian of Congress has two other very interesting roles that confer almost god-like powers. The first is choosing the nation’s Poet Laureate. The second involves oversight of the Copyright Office which in responsible for managing registration of anything copyrighted in the United States.

This particular management role has a big, big perk. As noted in a recent Atlantic article by Robinson Meyer, “the awesome ability of the nation’s foremost Librarian” includes the power to “declare, triennially, what shall constitute a copyright violation in the United States of America and what shall not.” How?  The Digital Millenium Copyright Act grants allows the Librarian specifically, and not the Copyright Office generally, the power to “exempt certain types of copyright violations.” This is not a shabby superpower for a librarian to possess. Billington, for the most part, has deferred to the judgment of the Copyright Office. (There has been a push to move the Copyright office under the auspices of the Department of Commerce and away from the Library of Congress, although, Meyer notes that experts think this will die down now that Billington is due to vacate the role.) The Librarian’s exemptions play a role in the evolving doctrine of fair use and greatly impact the daily operations of libraries nationwide. One way that the new Librarian could impact libraries is by “communicating to libraries that they should take advantage of recent changes to fair use.”

A read through the biographies of former Librarians of Congress on the Library of Congress website guarantees amusement and reveals the significance of the role in the intellectual life of the nation. The first Librarian of Congress, John James Beckley, a Jefferson appointee, served from 1802-1807. The job was part-time, Beckley was Jefferson’s friend and political ally, and he held a second role as Clerk of the House of Representatives until his death in office in 1807. Beckley’s other professional endeavors included: clerk of the Virginia House of Delegates, where he was responsible for books and documents; scribe; and political writer. As Librarian, he was not responsible for any major decisions involving the Library, which were handled by the Joint Committee.

George Watterson, 1815-1829, was the first Librarian of Congress not to dually serve as Clerk of the House of Representatives and is therefore sometimes considered to be the first real Librarian of Congress. Watterson, a lawyer and man of letters, reputedly got his appointment by dedicating a flattering bit of poetry to Dolley Madison.  His accomplishments as Librarian include the publication of a catalog and the assumption of an advocacy role for the Library of Congress.

Subsequent Librarians of Congress came from varied professional backgrounds such as academia, printing, poetry, medicine, bookselling, journalism/writing, publishing and, yes, librarianship. Librarians of Congress who wore the title librarian (or something closely affiliated) prior to their appointment include: Herbert Putnam, a son of the publisher Putnam, who previously served as Librarian of the Minneapolis Athenaeum and the Minneapolis Public Library and the Superintendent of the Boston Public Library; Luther Evans, a lawyer, academic and ALA-approved candidate, who served as director of the Library of Congress’ Legislative Reference Service (LRS) under Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish and earlier served as the director of the WPA Historical Records Survey (HRS); and, Lawrence Quincy Mumford, a Columbia library school graduate who had a long and distinguished career at institutions such as the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress and the Cleveland Public Library and was then elected as the President of the ALA.

And the Winner Is…

Only time will tell whether or not the new Librarian of Congress will come from the ranks of the profession as well as whether or not he or she will continue to largely defer to the Copyright Office or blaze a new course related to copyright exemptions. I would humbly suggest that within the librarian universe, law librarians, especially dual degreed law librarians, who largely come from the legal world and may have experience in intellectual property law as well as librarianship, present a unique and appealing option for filling the role.







Mary Beth Chappell Lyles, Asst. Law Librarian for Reference at Hugh F. MacMillan Law Library, Emory University

Posted By Catherine Lemmer at 6/26/2015 4:00:35 PM  0 Comments
6/26/2015 3:18:49 PM

Part III: Rutgers Law Library Switches to Koha: the Open Source ILS

In my last blog post, I wrote about our decision to switch from Millennium to Koha and that we were live!  We are still very happy with our new ILS and with ByWater Solutions, who helped with the migration and who we are continuing to use for support.  We experienced our first Koha upgrade with Bywater Solutions at the end of April.  We are now on Koha 3.18.5!  It was a completely painless process.  First, I got an email about a month ahead of the upgrade from the Operations Manager at Bywater telling me what our upgrade date was.  I also got instructions to clean up some records that she noticed had some issues while doing diagnostics.  I am literally talking about 5 records that had duplicate usernames that needed to be fixed.  That’s it.  Then the upgrade took place on the designated date after hours at 10:00 pm.  If we wanted to do it at another date and time we just needed to call.  That was it.  The whole system was upgrade in a few hours and no one had any disruption.  It was a pleasure!

We do still have a remaining issue which is trying to get VuFind, an open source Discovery Layer fully functional to enhance searching capabilities for our patrons.  Here is the Beta version: https://catalog.law.rutgers.edu/vufind/  However, Koha is working just fine and we are relying on Koha for both our backend processes and for our OPAC.  Here is the OPAC: https://catalog.law.rutgers.edu/

The one downside to Koha is that we are not completely happy with the search engine (Zebra) results.  We are waiting both for the VuFind installation to work and for Elastic Search to replace Zebra (the search engine) in Koha so that we have better search results.  According to Bywater’s posted goals for Koha in 2015 is the implementation of “Elastic Search to improve Koha’s search algorithms and give libraries more options for searching based on their needs. Elastic will allow us to begin to deliver a discovery platform for integrating our libraries many resources into a one-spot indexer and harvester.”  This is very exciting news and we are looking forward to improved results for our patrons from both Elastic Search and VuFind.  Bywater’s goals for 2015 are here: http://bywatersolutions.com/2015/01/13/bywater-goals-2015-highlights/

Caroline Young


Caroline Young, Associate Director, Public Services, Rutgers Law Library, Rutgers Law School, Newark, NJ




Posted By Caroline Young at 6/26/2015 3:18:49 PM  0 Comments