Notes from the Technology Trenches - July, 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 August 15, 1998)


 

As I reported to you in my last column (which covered the SLA Conference), this column will cover the AALL Conference taking place in Anaheim (and, yes, it is quite sunny here in Southern California). My focus will be on two of the keynote speakers, John Perry Barlow of the Electronic Frontier Federation (EFF) (as well as a junior varsity member of the Grateful Dead), and Burgess Allison, the Technology Update columnist with the ABA's Law Practice Management magazine.

Before I go any further, my apologies to Chip Cater of WestGroup who represented this publisher at Bob Berring's panel presentation at SLA. In my last column, I attributed Chip's thoughtful remarks to Roy Martin (listed in the program, but not on the panel) and wish to make amends.

Next: Did you know that law librarians are now "guerilla warriors on the barricades of liberty"? Even in your wildest dreams, I'll bet you really didn't think of yourself in this role. At the AALL luncheon on Monday, John Perry Barlow told us all that we should designate ourselves as such. Don't know about you, but I'm going right out to get outfitted with a carbine, fatigues and a bandanna (red) so that I'll be ready to mount those barricades (this column is not called the "technology trenches" for nothing).

Barlow had some fairly unflattering things to say about attorneys, while showing support for librarians. He noted that one of his missions is going around the planet "discouraging lawyers and encouraging librarians." He asserts that lawyers are among those responsible for creating a highly regulated society that lacks ethics. As an antidote to this, the Internet is helping to create a global community that transcends the nation-state model, creating an environment where communication is open, information is free and people behave ethically.

He also asserted that the Internet is an essentially cooperative feminine environment where the usual male aggressive responses just don't work well. He noted that women are at least half the population on the Internet, and he expects theirparticipation to increase.

Barlow's remarks were certainly provocative and, I suspect, familiar to those who are conversant with the EFF's positions. Barlow, along with Esther Dyson, certainly believes that information "yearns to be free" (and not subject to copyright or other restrictions), a popular notion among certain cybercitizens. As an author, I have a certain problem with this. On the one hand, I want to disseminate articles I write as widely as possible. On the other hand, I don't want someone to be able to take my work off the Internet (or from a hard copy) and make a profit on it, especially if I'm not. Let me put it this way: the information I disseminate is not yearning to be free, but yearning to be paid!

After my own presentation Monday afternoon to the Independent Law Librarians group (found at http://www.llrx.com/extras/ethics.htm), I was ready for the WestGroup party that night at the Hilton. Although the Grateful Dead was not available to entertain us, the group WestGroup hired was terrific. I'm convinced that more than half of those who attended were on the dance floor (along with yours truly) and we had a great time (a number of the WestGroup folks think this was the best one ever). Gerald Johnson of WestGroup (no, it wasn't Roy Martin this time) announced the appointment of the new Director of Library Relations, Anne Ellis of Holland & Hart. Ellis will start with WestGroup on August 3rd and will be meeting with as many law librarians around the country as she can.

We move on to the next keynote speaker, Burgess Allison. In addition to his column, he's also written at least two books, The Lawyer 's Guide to the Internet and The Lawyers Guide to Netscape Navigator, both available from the ABA. He is quite funny and very entertaining. He spoke to us about "Challenges on the E-Frontier: Library Science in a Pop-Culture Distortion Field," giving us his " Simple Rules for Not-So Simple Times," from the perspective of a "flatland settler" who is "husbanding the natural resources of the Net." He referred to these rules as "The Code for the E-Frontier."

These rules (in the form of beliefs) include:

1. I believe in small products that work well. These should work fast, be simple and be building blocks. He gave Alta Vista as a good example.

2. I believe that really good ideas produce "multiplier" improvements, not just "percentage" improvements. As an example, he noted the value of intranets and advises us not to get distracted by bells and whistles that are not giving us improvements.

3. I believe that the Internet is a library-science disaster of spectacular proportions. As you can imagine, everyone agreed with this! He did note that the Internet is incredibly useful, but difficult to use effectively and is being wildly oversold. As an example of how the Internet can be quite helpful, he directed us to CNET's Shopper.com and ZDNet's products page.

4. I believe that the librarians will lead us through this Internet wilderness. Again, wild applause. Unlike the view that librarians are in the 4th quarter of their existence (about to die out) that Stan Davis expressed at SLA, Allison is convinced that librarians are desperately needed today to provide leadership and to battle pop-culture perceptions both of the profession and the Internet. He then displayed LLRX as an example of just what law librarians have been able to accomplish!

Allison wants us to take a leadership role and counter the perception that the library is steeped in yesterday's technology. He also asserts that the Internet is essentially a self-help tool and that librarians need to provide a place for end-users to go when they need guidance. He advised us to promote what we've learned from our Internet experiences and, essentially, to "seize the day" by teaching end-users what we've learned.

5. Recognize the value of the accidental researchers and find an inlet for them. He identified both Lew Rose and Peter Krakauer (founder of LegalEthics.com) as examples and advised us to encourage more of these folks by having them work with us on adding information to our Web sites and intranets. He gave as an example his own suggestion to his firm's librarian about a reverse directory site. The librarian took his suggestion and told him about The Ultimate White Pages site that has a reverse directory capability. He told us that he had not only looked himself up, but found out that he could get the listings of all his neighbors, along with a map pinpointing his house. He noted that "I'm not sure I like that," while emphasizing that this kind of back and forth is very collaborative and very useful.

6. I believe that intranet technology represents the most important medium for managing and encouraging effective use of the Internet by lawyers and staff. He is quite enthusiastic about intranets, noting that while they are easy to create and not "bleeding edge" anymore, they have been trivialized by overblown publicity about them.

7. I believe that the path through the hype requires a thorough understanding of the basic, core technologies. Again, he noted that acquiring this understanding is not difficult. Basically, TCP/IP is part of standard Windows networking these days and that Web servers can be trivially easy as can setting up Web pages. He referred us to a Web server found on the Web, produced by Xitami. This application takes up 500K of space. Since he had it on his laptop, he then, on the fly, showed us how easy it was to change the HTML coding for the Xitami Web page we had just reviewed, using the AALLNET Web site for his demonstration. Echoing Barlow, he exhorted us to be on the front lines here (that "guerilla warrior" image again).

8. I believe in the Dirty Hands Rule: To get a really good decision, at least one person at the decision-making level needs to actually learn and understand the issues and technologies. He advised that we cannot delegate or outsource the decision and that we need to connect decisions to business objectives, being aware of the value of the time of our staffs and users. In other words, if some product is very cool, but will add nothing of real value, then it is probably not the product to buy.

9. Nurture the pioneers; leave the laggards alone. Sure you want to get that senior partner to use his PC, but he advises that you put your energies into supporting the pioneers in your organization and adding real value to support their efforts (e.g., with an intranet).

10. Leverage your community and give them context. Even though he does not think AOL is the best service out there, he gives Steve Case, AOL's CEO, a lot of credit for understanding this rule and creating an online community. AOL makes its subscribers comfortable with familiar locations, and builds on the nature of the group by tailoring it to specific users. He noted that, unlike lawyers, law librarians (and librarians in general) are cooperative and collaborative and build on each other's experience.

11. Equipment is expensive, but people are even more expensive. If the equipment can save end-users time and money, then it's worth buying. He then answered a few questions, including one inquiring whether he thought vendors were getting the message that consumers really were quite tired of bloatware. He didn't think so, noting that vendors seem to be caught up in the game of "my software is bigger than yours" (guess they haven't heard about the feminization of the Internet). He mentioned Xitami and Opera (a recent Web browser entry) as two exceptions to this.

In answer to a question regarding Internet privacy, he noted that this is a difficult issue, referring us to the recent court decision in Canada in favor of Philip Services Corporation, an Ontario-based recycling company. The company filed suit seeking to unmask a number of anonymous posters to an Internet message board. The court ruled for the company last month, ordering a number of Internet service providers to turn over the names of subscribers who had used aliases in expressing often vituperative opinions about the company. The decision was discussed in the July 13th edition of the Wall Street Journal and the July 14th edition of the New York Times.

Someone asked what to do when our users want to acquire large toys. Allison, an IS director, advised us that he will buy these toys to prevent these folks from doing any damage elsewhere! He does this within reason, however, noting that his ability to say no has been enhanced by building up credibility by delivering services with low-cost tools. For those of you who may not be familiar with Allison's point of view, his column in each issue of Law Practice Management can also be found on the Web at http://www.abanet.org/lpm/magazine/tu_index.html.

That's about all the news that fits. The AALL Conference ends July 15th and I'll report in my next column on any issues that come up that I wasn't able to cover this time. Continuing with the "guerilla warrior" theme, I may be reporting from some war-torn country (not).