The following article (preprint) was recently shared on SSRN.
James M. Donovan
University of Kentucky
49(4) Journal of Law and Education (October 2020 Forthcoming)
The context in which academic libraries operate is fast evolving, and the current COVID pandemic has underscored the new demands on libraries to reinvent themselves and their scholarship role. The library’s role has always been focused on scholarly dissemination and preservation, more recently by archiving their faculty work on mirror sites known as academic repositories. Libraries connect scholarship and users by offering the space for users to come and use the archived knowledge. However, if historically their role was to collect and provide secure access to sources, that role is in the midst of radical transformations.
In our age of the Internet, the connection between knowledge and library users has become more complex. First, users have formed attachments to print or digital knowledge according to the type of reading they engage in, moving fluidly from one to the other. In that respect, as James M. Donovan has recently explained, the library space remains an intrinsic facilitator of a type of academic reading. Second, when knowledge is accessed digitally, the flow of content becomes decentralized. Instead of expecting their needs to be found in the library, users seek out resources wherever they may be stored, anywhere on the planet. More interestingly, technology enables users to develop a different connection to the digital content, creating it while accessing it, from the mere “likes” or “dislikes” to virtual annotations through reader comments, for instance. Either way, libraries are seeing their passive intermediary role dissipate: even when shelving knowledge, as this article advocates, libraries may choose to become engaged in new ways as active participants in the scholarship enterprise.
After reviewing the background against which these challenges have appeared, we suggest that libraries define for themselves a more active role within scholarship production, which we define to include publication, distribution, access, and the process of scholarship impact assessment. The argument rests on the practical considerations of business organization. It is simply good business for law schools to curate the output of faculty scholarship, and many already do it through faculty repositories. Given that foundation, it seems logical for the library, as the institution which already manages those repositories, and which supports the students’ law reviews and journals in numerous ways, to step up and manage the full range of scholarship publication. This library management of student-edited scholarship production could cover all its aspects, excluding editorial publication decision and manuscript editing, from training and assisting to gather sources for cite checks, adding journal content to institutional platforms, administering technology services, and advising on copyright.
Another reason for supporting a more active role for libraries in the scholarly enterprise rests on the flaws of the current academic ranking of scholarship. Without human input, no automated system—including the newly-promoted Hein database—can meaningfully contextualize the value of a citation. For instance, only librarians can find the equivalent (if any) of scholarship cited and reviewed in the NEW YORKER or the NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS among scholarship cited in another law journal or review article, or calibrate the value of an article citation in a court decision. To the extent there is agreement that quantifying scholarship citation impact requires human expertise, then we argue for librarian expertise.