Notes from the Technology Trenches – June, 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 July 15, 1998)

As noted in my last column, this column will focus on the 89th Annual Special Libraries Association Conference, held this year in Indianapolis, Indiana. This year’s theme was “Leadership, Performance, Excellence: Information Professionals in the Driver’s Seat.” Not sure what it is about the Midwest, but the turnout here (as it was for AALL two years ago) was far less than usual, about 3,000 strong. The attendance by law librarians was decent, but I would have loved to see more! FYI, the membership of the Legal Division now stands at 900+.

Keynote Speaker

As usual with conferences, there were far more sessions than I was able to attend — this is where cloning would come in very handy! I did make it a number of interesting sessions, including the opening General Session on Monday, June 8. The keynote speaker was Stan Davis, recognized as a visionary thinker and a business consultant to such firms as AT&T, Sun Microsystems, and Chase Manhattan Bank. His most recent book, co-authored with Christopher Meyer, is Blur: the speed of change in the connected economy (Addison-Wesley, 1998) that is to be read in conjunction with their Web site. Copies of this book were handed out to those attending this session.

Davis is a most entertaining speaker. He spoke, among other things, about the relatively recent shift (about five years ago) from the Second Industrial Age to the “Connecting Era,” noting that the PC, once a “cruncher”(of numbers and words) is now a “connector” (with words, numbers, plus sound and images). The focus for the next few years will be on bandwidth and how many of those numbers, words, sounds and images can be pushed through the pipeline. For those of us experiencing the slowdowns or traffic jams on the “Information Highway,” this is certainly welcome news.

Along with this focus, Davis also notes that there will be more of a shift to “real time” pricing, allowing companies to change their pricing on the fly as demand (or lack of it) dictates. Along with this, the scarcity of resources model is also shifting to the ubiquitous model (i.e., the more common, the more useful) which also provides more value for more service. He stated that all businesses are becoming software businesses which is also one reason why the old models will no longer apply. In a rather ‘Alice in Wonderland’ approach, as we are now seeing, the better a product is, the cheaper it gets, with wealth now flowing from innovation, not the production of the product. Witness what’s happening with the prices of PCs these days!

He also has an interesting theory about the life cycles of professions and organizations, noting that librarianship is in the “fourth quarter of its life cycle,” that is, winding down. At the same time, it is a profession that is evolving and entering its first quarter of a new life cycle which, although unsettling, is creating enormous opportunities. In fact, he stressed, this evolving economy will require evolving and changing on the part of librarians (or information professionals) or they will be left by the wayside. You could have heard a pin drop in the room when he said this. He then went on to discuss “churn,” the rapid turnover of jobs with the norm over a person’s lifetime shifting from the lifetime job to a number of jobs, including shifts in profession. He noted that, along with this, entrepreneurship is on the rise and, within the corporate environment and other institutions, there is a shift from a hierarchical management structure to a flattening of the organization. These shifts are giving rise to the notion of lifelong learning, a role most organizations are ill-equipped at the moment to provide and which the current educational structure has not yet recognized.

In terms of the corporate library (and the law firm library as well), he stated that “support activities can never win,” advising those of us who might have not already grasped this that we must align what we do with the core activity of the organization. Since all organizations are going through this shift, it is a time of great opportunity as well as a time for great upheaval or, as the Chinese curse goes, “May you live in interesting times.” Yes, I guess we are.

Davis certainly addressed the theme of the conference, which urges information professionals: 1) to find leadership roles within or outside their organizations;
2) to strive for high performance and add quality to the information technology products now so readily available, but not always well managed or interpreted (if we don’t, Davis stressed that someone else will); and, 3) to strive for excellence in their performance.

Law Firm Intranets

Inspired by Davis’ keynote speech, I went on to the session on law firm intranets, presented by Anne Ellis and Linda Will, both of whom, without a doubt, exemplify the theme of the conference. Both have a slightly different approach to their firm’s intranet, but both are firmly in control of this function. Ellis, in fact, is her firm’s Manager of Intranet Content while Will oversees the creation of departmental Web pages, providing them with a template her department developed.

Ellis, among other things, discussed with us the kinds of programs she uses not only to create the Web sites, but to maintain them. Among the software she mentioned are the following: 1) Linkbot (mentioned by some other speakers as well) that checks on dead, missing or problem links, an ongoing problem; 2) Transit, a program that creates HTML coding in documents on the fly; 3) Cold Fusion, used to make sure that departmental home pages are up to date; and 4) Verity, being used as the search engine for the Human Resource Department’s policy manual and the Library’s online catalog. She noted that the Library is not only an information provider but a Web publisher, referring to these publications as “Weblications.” Among her future plans, she would like to see a current highlights section for each practice group (in addition to the Daily Highlights now being provided).

Attorneys and other staff are encouraged to recommend links by filling out an online form. Ellis reviews these requests and makes the final decision whether to add them or not. Folks can also fill out an online form to add information to the firm’s daily administrative memo.

Ellis’s department also handles the firm’s conflicts’checking, as well as file services, advising us that the firm wrote its own docketing program because none of the currently available products on the market suited their needs. She also advised us that, while some have been offered on the intranet, she is eliminating as many CD-ROM products as possible because there are “too many problems” with them. As a substitute, she is using theWeb-based version of a product.

Will’s goal with her firm’s intranet is to use it for all access to research. As part of this goal, the firm is subscribing to Web publications and the Library has set up a page where attorneys and staff can find the passwords they need. As Ellis is doing, Will adds a Web-based subscription as attorneys request, but only after she reviews it. On several occasions, she has been able to advise an attorney that the subscription is either already available or that it is duplicative of another service.

She has also set up a separate Web site for librarians only and has an FAQ for all Library and other firm procedures. In response to a question, Will noted that, while hard copy has not been eliminated, it is slowly being phased out and new offices are not being offered hard copy but being advised to use the intranet.

Neither Ellis nor Will has a large staff devoted to their respective intranets. Ellis does much of it herself, while Will has one full-time Webmaster who has four assistants. In her firm, each department maintains its own Web site. In an interesting sidelight, Will noted that she created the library’s Web site, the precursor of the intranet, on her own, and after certain senior partners became aware of it, was able to parlay this into her current position. A pretty good demonstration of an information professional in the driver’s seat.

By the way, as a demonstration, too, of why we go to conferences (to meet with colleagues), I ran into Genie Tyburski, another LLRX columnist, and we attended this session and a few others together. She was also gracious enough to attend the session at which I spoke (with Tom Fleming) on Wednesday.

Keynote Speaker

Billed as “Bob Opens the Door on the Big Four: An Informal Chat With the Publishers,” Bob Berring asked penetrating questions (as only Bob can do) of five publishers representatives: Marian Parker (Matthew Bender), Greg McCaffery (BNA), Stacey Caywood (CCH), Paul Brown (Lexis-Nexis) and Roy Martin(WestGroup). Among the questions asked (and the answers) were: 1) Whether the vendors were taking into account training when developing and rolling out new products? Answer: To varying degrees, the answer for each was “yes”; 2) With the spread of Web-based products, is more marketing going to be aimed at the end-user rather than through the librarian/information professional? Answer: Mindful of their audience, each denied that the librarian would be cut out as the intermediary (although Davis certainly sees disintermediation as a growing trend), noting that they need librarians to assist their clientele with getting to the best information (their’s). 3) Are CD-ROMs a “bridge to the future” or are they a passing phenomenon? Answer: Again, the vendors all said that they would provide information in any format that their customers require, including CD-ROMs. Most agreed that it was an interim technology that would be around for a “few more years” but replaced perhaps by DVD (another interim technology). McCaffery of BNA thought that it would remain as an archival medium much as microforms exist today, noting that Internet access is increasingly a part of a CD-ROM subscription. Martin of WestGroup had the most provocative answer, stating that CD-ROMs were “obsolete before [they were] commercially successful,” while also commenting that the “predicted rate of change is faster than the actual rate of change” and that West continues to sell a lot of CD-ROMs. He thinks it is a first good step for the “technophobic.” 4) A two-parter: With the consolidation in the publishing industry and the loss of key personnel with both publishing and legal backgrounds, what problems does this pose? Is it true that legal information is different or is this changing so that it is more similar to other kinds of information? Answer: Again, the consensus was that “yes, legal information is different,” and that the personnel shifts have either not been as disruptive or as complete as they might appear. Many of the major players are still being run by publishers with legal backgrounds who are making the key decisions. McCaffery of BNA, the only still independent publisher represented here, noted that consolidation is not necessarily good for the consumer, reminding us that BNA is an employee-owned company and quite mindful of costs.

Berring then opened the floor to questions from the audience. Among the more provocative of these questions was one from a librarian (not identified) who invited the panelists to spend a few days in a law firm to see what “junk” came in in terms of advertising and requesting that the vendors consider packaging or consolidating their advertising efforts. She also asked Paul Brown why Lexis-Nexis couldn’t just offer Nexis. He responded that, at the moment, it just was not possible due to licensing agreements, among other issues. He did agree that there was a need for more sophistication on the part of his company with regard to “slicing” issues.

Building the Virtual Library

I arrived late for this session, sponsored by the Engineering Division, but was certainly inspired by the dynamic presentation of Janice Kragness of the University of St. Thomas, among others. She built, on a very slim budget, a “virtual library” for the Business and Science Departments at St. Thomas (not the Virgin Islands one), mainly because she had a storefront operation that lacked space, among other things.

Kragness described how she made the decision between purchasing the print or the electronic version of a publication, including: its sophistication, user-friendliness, on demand access and whether it was available in only one format. With regard to the latter, she described a set that became available only on CD-ROM and, even though she respected the publisher, the product was so bad, she went with the competitor. She stressed that no-one should be afraid to make a change to another publisher if their electronic product does not fit your requirements.

She discussed the issue of the duplication of resources, noting that a number of factors come into play, including the need for backfiles, whether graphics are reproduced and the purpose for which the material will be used. She used the example of an article from the “Harvard Business Review,” found in a number of formats, including online and CD-ROM. A number of people needed the article for a meeting, but found that it was impossible to refer to a particular page number because, except for the original, page numbering was not uniform.

Kragness stated that the access to the virtual library was within the institution but not remotely. In fact, trying to provide remote access was “a nightmare” because of proxy server problems and the existence of firewalls. She advised us that “your vendor is not a techie” so don’t rely on the vendor to solve access issues. She again stressed that “loyalty is a luxury” and to be critical of your current vendors and to explore other options when you have to. She finished up by noting that each library must develop its own unique blend of electronic and print resources.

In response to questions, one of the panelists noted that she had put heavily used items on the CD-ROM network because of the need for multiple points of access but had subscriptions to Web-based versions for lightly used publications. Another panelist noted that the Fee-based Librarians group had overwhelmingly declared that CD-ROMs were dead, but, just as the vendors to whom Bob Berring addressed his questions, this panel did not think CD-ROMs were dead just yet.

Copyright and Distributed Networking

Mickey Voges of Chicago-Kent College of Law gave a fascinating overview of where copyright law is today and how it applies in the brave new work of distributed networks. After giving us a disclaimer (this is not legal advice, consult a lawyer, this is a conversation among friends), she reviewed the historical background of intellectual property, stressing its underpinnings in the Constitution itself, along with some of the basic concepts of copyright protection.

In addition to a discussion of the Copyright Act of 1976, she referred to the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) which established, among other things, that scanning of images is not allowed and that the visual artist has the only right to reproduce his or her work. There is no fair use exception.She did note that, in spite of VARA, no artist has yet won a suit under it. However, she still advises that you ask permission before you scan in or download an image to be used in your intranet, for example.

Voges advised that trade secrets, in addition to trademark issues, are becoming an increasingly important part of software licensing contracts. As an example, client lists fall under this category. She also noted that “trade dress” suits are being pursued successfully in the courts. This concept, “the look and feel” of something, which lasts into perpetuity (unlike copyright) and, unlike a trademark, does not have to be filed for or actively pursued, is a growing area of law. The concept has been extended to the placement of holes on a golf course and products of al kinds.

With regard to researchers and writers, Voges noted that they are not giving up rights in their works and are, increasingly, copyrighting material in their own names. This makes it much more difficult to seek permission to reprint since you now have to track down the author, rather than going through his or her publisher. Copyright is also increasingly being pre-empted by contract, citing the Pro-CD v. Zeidenberg case, the prevailing law in the 7th Circuit. This case established the viability of shrink-wrap licenses where the defendant argued that neither facts nor compilations of facts could be copyrighted. The publisher argued that Zeidenberg had downloaded the information on the CD-ROM in violation of the terms of the shrink-wrap license (the contract) period. Pro-CD won, thus making it imperative for consumers to read that fine print very carefully and changing this one area of copyright considerably. Voges advised that this has been a focus of the proposed UCC 2B, so alarming some Congress people that several bills are pending in Congress to make sure that copyright provisions are not pre-empted by state law.

With regard to intranets, Voges noted that if you are putting material up on an intranet without a license to do so, then that is a violation of copyright. Original material created by the firm or the library is copyrightable and, although one does not have to do this, should be noted on the intranet Web site. She reminded the audience that, just because it is on the Internet, it is not fair game to download something to your own site and referred us to the section on notice in the Copyright Act. This applies to Internet news groups as well. She left us with the following caveats: 1) Anything fixed in place (a writing, a graphic, even if on the Internet) is protected by copyright; and, 2) If you ask permission to reprint or reproduce something, then you should be OK.

In Closing….

Tom Fleming and I had a lively debate about the “Electronic Library” on Wednesday afternoon, but I’ll leave it to others to discuss it. Suffice it to say that readers of this column would not have been surprised to hear my view of things! All in all, this year’s conference was most worthwhile and I look forward to the SLA Conference in Minneapolis in 1999. I’m off to Anaheim in July and will also report on those events.

Posted in: Notes from the Technology Trenches