Notes from the Technology Trenches – May, 1998

Elizabeth H. Klampert is the Director of Library Services for the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Ms. Klampert was formerly a litigator for five years, specializing in professional liability litigation. Before attending law school, she was a corporate librarian for twelve years, holding management positions in libraries in a number of large organizations, including Rainier National Bank in Seattle, Deloitte & Touche, and Merrill Lynch, both in New York. She received both her BA in English and MLS from the University of Washington in Seattle. She received her JD at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.

(Archived June 15, 1998)

This column is a grab bag of items, beginning with musings about Luddites, segueing into the issue of Web site reliability and concluding with speculation about access to various publishers’ offerings on the Web. Taking the Luddite issue first. I’m preparing for my debate about the electronic library with Tom Fleming at the SLA Conference in Indianapolis in June. As part of my preparation, I’ve been researching the Luddite movement that took place in England in the early 1800s. For those of you who might be curious as to why I’m doing this, Barbara Silbersack, when she asked me to do this after hearing me wax indignant about something or other, very cheerfully told me that I could represent the Luddite point of view. Since I really do not consider myself a Luddite, I was a bit taken aback but then decided to look at this a bit further.

As many of you undoubtedly know, the Luddites were workers who were threatened by the innovations of the Industrial Revolution and proceeded to smash as much of the new machinery as possible. Over the past few years, a neo-Luddite movement has arisen here and elsewhere that is questioning the new technology that appears to be threatening modern day workers. Not that it is getting anywhere really, but its adherents are certainly vocal.

This neo-Luddite movement is, I think, really a reality check. After all, many of the folks involved in it were once quite gung-ho about the Internet and all aspects of new technology. Well, the technology, as we all know, does not always do what we want it to do and, in fact, will crash at the most inopportune moments. Anyone see Bill Gates trying to launch Windows 98?

Anyway, for those of you who want to know more about Luddites (and want to prepare for SLA), check out Kirkpatrick Sale’s recent book, Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution (Addison-Wesley, 1995), now in paperback. For an interesting take on this book, check out the article, Return of the Luddites, by Jon Katz in the 3.06 issue of Wired.

Which leads us to the issue of those who have just recently discovered technology, particularly the Internet, and declare that everything is on the Net. Well, of course, while we certainly acknowledge how useful a tool the Internet has become, we know that this statement is not true. However, even if it were true, there are several issues that immediately rise to the fore, among them reliability.

The next time someone waxes lyrical about the Internet and what it offers, give them the URLs for these two sites (courtesy of a law librarian in one of our local law schools): Oklahoma Wine, and Mankato, Minnesota. Both of these sites are bogus, but quite instructive. For the Oklahoma Wine site, be sure to read the copyright info. For the Mankato site, click and read the entire disclaimer. If nothing else, you may find yourself laughing out loud.

The issue of reliability is an important one and especially so for lawyers. Relying on a site that is not well known or has a dubious provenance will not gain the lawyer who uses that site much respect from a judge before whom he or she is appearing. Legal malpractice, anyone?

On a related issue (this column is just full of issues, yes?); many of us are wrestling with the issue of how we will provide information to our clients (I mean here, our attorneys — I refuse to use the term “users”), i.e., CD-ROM, hard copy, the Internet, online services, etc. More and more publishers are turning to the Web to provide information and many are charging a per-use charge. Most law firms do allow access via the firm’s network to the Internet, so this should not pose a problem, right? Well, some publishers do not yet provide a client/matter interface for Internet access to their publications, so how will the attorney or researcher be able to charge back the cost?

And just how many passwords do you want to have to keep track of anyway? Stories abound about the number of little yellow post-its on individual PCs, many of which contain passwords to that person’s various files. Security purists really don’t like these little post-its — a minor issue of breach of security. Personally, I don’t have enough memory in my brain to accommodate more than one or two passwords, so I use these same one or two passwords for everything, except for Lexis and Westlaw which don’t allow anyone (yet) to choose his or her own password. Such audacity! However, I don’t produce any little post-its, so I guess I’m not a security risk. Except for all those cookies.

Next month, I’ll report on the happenings at SLA. For anyone who attended National Online (I can’t go to everything!), please send me your impressions and I’ll try to incorporate your comments into the next column, as well.

Posted in: Notes from the Technology Trenches