Monday 30 August 2010

THOMAS Updated, now mobile-friendly

This just in from the Library of Congress:
"Just in time for the return of Congress from August recess, THOMAS has undergone its third major enhancement of 2010. Building upon the enhancements made in January  and June , the latest enhancements add a mobile friendly homepage, integrate features from the Library of Congress and Law Library of Congress websites into THOMAS, and add a new portal to state legislature websites.

THOMAS now has a mobile-friendly homepage that will display on devices with lower screen resolutions like BlackBerrys. The homepage has also been optimized for iPhones and Droids, leveraging their larger screens to provide complete access to the full version of the THOMAS homepage.

The global footer now available on most Library of Congress websites, including the Law Library of Congress website, appears throughout THOMAS. The global footer includes ways to stay connected with the Library including an "All ways to connect" link.

In addition to easier access to the Library's social media, there is a new box to highlight ways to connect with THOMAS and the Law Library of Congress through the In Custodia Legis Blog , Facebook, Twitter , YouTube  and iTunes U.

A link to State Legislature Websites  has been added to the THOMAS homepage. This new page displays a map with links to the legislative bodies for all fifty states, Washington, DC, and U.S. territories. It provides quick access to state legislative websites that are similar to what THOMAS provides on a federal level.

THOMAS was launched on January 5, 1995 in response to the bipartisan leadership of the 104th Congress that directed the Library of Congress to make federal legislative information freely available to the public. Named for the third president, the system represents Thomas Jefferson's ideals of an informed electorate. THOMAS is publicly accessible at"

OED not dead, just digital

There have been a number of reports and blogposts (for example on NPR, the Washington Post, Fast Company) about the imminent demise of the print version of the Oxford English Dictionary.  Some of the headlines paint this as a sad loss. Librarians on the whole, however, don't mind.  The behemoth print OED in all its volumes is massively heavy, takes up a lot of shelf space, and is daunting to the average reader. Some libraries - and people who want the OED but don't have the room - decided to get the wacky 2-volume "Compact Edition", which shrinks the size of the OED by the simple method of making the font so tiny you need a magnifying glass to read it (the magnifying glass is included). 
The electronic version, by comparison, takes up no room.  The first electronic version had a clunky cumbersome interface that was no joy to use, but several years ago was completely revamped and the electronic version is now very user-friendly with a supple, intuitive interface. 
Let's face it, reference books are just plain better when they're digital.
But you don't have to take my word for it: Pitt's subscription to the OED is here.

Sunday 29 August 2010

New York Times branches out into higher education?

Is this something new? In today's Sunday New York Times (the print edition) there is a section dedicated to the "New York Times Knowledge Network". This Network seems to be a partnership between the Times and a number of higher education institutions, offering courses both for-credit and not, certificate programs, and something called "NYT Programs of Study". These last are, according to the NYT Knowledge Network website, "Programs of Study courses, on various topics,... developed and are taught by Times journalists. Students can select any number of these courses: to stand alone, or be taken as a sequence. Each course is a four-week module, taught by New York Times journalists and delivered online."
The website lists courses of study in a whole variety of subject areas including Law: 2 courses in legal writing (in conjunction with Thomas Edison State College) called "Effective Advocacy through Legal Writing" and "The Tao of Legal Writing";  a course in Health Care Law.   A certificate program in Immigration Law is offered in a partnership with City University of New York and includes several immigration law courses for which you apparently pay the standard CUNY per-credit cost.  There's a course in "Journalism Law for Bloggers" (costs $175.00) which " will teach you the fundamentals of media law, including special concerns that apply to online journalists and bloggers. One of the most experienced lawyers at The New York Times will guide you through the standard definition of libel law (plus specific exceptions), the standards of proof and how they are applied, as well as various libel defenses. "
All the courses are online, though some offer a "face to face" version.  This is all very interesting; by offering reasonably priced educational programs the New York Times is tapping into the expertise of its journalists and perhaps seeing a new way forward for the declining newspaper business.

Friday 27 August 2010

DRAGNET federated search of free legal databases

The Mendik Law Library at New York Law School has recently developed DRAGNET, a search tool that allows the user to run a Google search simultaneously in more than 80 legal web sites and databases. DRAGNET stands for "Database retrieval access using Google’s new electronic technology".  A list of the active sites is included on the page, with hyperlinks. DRAGNET was developed  by librarians at the Mendik Library using Google’s free custom search option. The sites were chosen by Library staff for their reliability and utility to legal researchers; they include sites related to international law, tax law and cyber law, as well as a significant number of state and local government sites.  Search results are limited to the top 100 hits, so users are encouraged to be very specific.

Facebook files trademark infringement lawsuit against Teachbook

The Chicago Tribune reports that Facebook has sued a tiny start-up called over the use of 'book' in its name. The start-up, which has two employees and fewer than 20 users signed up for its free web community, aims to provide tools for teachers to manage their classrooms and share lesson plans and other resources. In a trademark infringement lawsuit filed in California district court in San Jose, Facebook said its use of 'book' in its name is 'highly distinctive in the context of online communities and networking websites.' Facebook, based in Palo Alto, accuses Teachbook of federal trademark dilution, trademark infringement and unfair competition.

Free iPads in the news

Two stories this week about free iPad programs:  first, Monterey College of Law in California is providing free Apple iPads to all students enrolled in a supplemental curriculum program that helps them prepare for the state's bar exam. According to a report by Campus Technology, all entering first-year students signed up for the program within the first week, as did 70 percent of the remainder of the student body. 
The second story comes from the UK's Telegraph, which reports that the Japan Sumo Association is distributing about 60 iPads among  51 sumo training centers to help improve communication: apparently sumo wrestlers' fingers are too fat to use cellphones, but the size of the keys on the iPad are just right.

SPEECH Act may be tested soon

Earlier this month, the US approved a new law against so-called 'libel tourism,' the practice of suing US companies in foreign jurisdictions (quite frequently, the UK) which do not have the same level of free speech protections. This new law, the SPEECH Act (Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage), may now get put to the test. Techdirt reports that UK lawyers, acting for a client named Jeffery Morris, have demanded the entire Techdirt site shut down due to unidentified comments on a 2004 Techdirt blogpost that upset Mr. Morris.
Techdirt says "As such, given the newsworthy nature of an example of where the brand new law (thankfully) protects us, as well as the fact that we do not feel it is decent or right for anyone to demand we shut down our entire site or be sued halfway around the world because he does not appreciate a comment someone made about him, we are publishing the letter that was sent to us. Thanks in part to the new law, we have no obligation to respond to Mr. Morris, his friend or the lawyers at Addlestone Keane, who (one would hope) will better advise their clients not to pursue such fruitless legal threats in the future. Should Mr. Morris and his solicitors decide that they wish to proceed with such a pointless and wasteful lawsuit against us, which will only serve to cost Mr. Morris significant legal sums with no hope of recovery, we will continue to report on it, safe in the knowledge that it has no bearing on us."

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Online OCR Tools for Converting Images to Text

The Digital Inspiration blog has a post today that evaluates and ranks online OCR tools. OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software can be used to convert images such as scanned pages that are in jpg or pdf format into text.  Once you have used OCR on an image you can search the text for words like any other digital document.

Monday 23 August 2010

National Archives treasure hunters

The Los Angeles Times recently featured a story about a small but interesting band of treasure hunters, called the Archival Recovery Team, working for the National Archives in Washington D.C. The story reports that when Paul Brachfeld took over as inspector general of the National Archives he discovered the American people were being robbed blind. Many important (and valuable) documents that should be in the Archives have gone missing. Examples: "The Wright Brothers 1903 Flying Machine patent application? Gone.
A copy of the Dec. 8, 1941 "Day of Infamy" speech autographed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and tied with a purple ribbon? Gone.
Target maps of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, war telegrams written by Abraham Lincoln and a scabbard and belt given to Harry S. Truman? Gone, gone and gone."
The small but dedicated team hopes to track down and reclaim missing items. They now have a Facebook page where you can keep up with their activities.

Almanac of Higher Education 2010

Today's Chronicle of Higher Education has an article and other information about the 2010-2011 Almanac of Higher Education. There are many interesting statistics about the demographics and finances of the higher education industry.

Saturday 21 August 2010

McAfee lists most dangerous celebrities for malware

McAfee, the big anti-virus software company, has named the "Most Dangerous Celebrities" in cyberspace for the year. Cameron Diaz has replaced Jessica Biel for the dubious top spot, as internet searches for her name result in the most links to websites loaded with malware. Cybercriminals often use the names of popular celebrities to lure people to sites that are contain malicious software. Fans searching for “Cameron Diaz” or “Cameron Diaz and downloads,” “Cameron Diaz and screen savers,” “Cameron Diaz and wallpaper,” “Cameron Diaz and photos” and “Cameron Diaz and videos” are at risk of running into online threats designed to steal personal information. Clicking on these risky sites and downloading files like photos, videos or screensavers exposes surfers or consumers to the risk of downloading the viruses and malware. The top ten celebrities:
1. Cameron Diaz
2. Julia Roberts
3. Jessica Biel
4. Gisele B√ľndchen
5. Brad Pitt
6. Adriana Lima
7. Jennifer Love Hewitt, Nicole Kidman
8. Tom Cruise
9. Heidi Klum, Penelope Cruz
10. Anna Paquin
Among athletes, tennis stars Maria Sharapova and Andy Roddick came in at (#13) and (#14) respectively. Most of the risky sites were uncovered when searching for screensavers featuring these sexy athletes. David Beckham ranked (#29) and Tiger Woods ranked (#33) this year.

Friday 20 August 2010

Google's online prediction API

Many "smart" web services rely on algorithms that can learn and respond to new information; examples are Amazon's personalized recommendations for books you might enjoy, or iTunes music recommendations that are based on the music you buy. Now Google labs offers the online Google Prediction API (API stands for "application programming interface") service for software developers, providing an easy way to help create smart software that learns to sort incoming data. MIT Technology Review article on the new service explains that "Google's service provides a kind of machine-learning black box-- ata goes in one end, and predictions come out the other...For example, the Google-hosted algorithms could be trained to sort e-mails into categories for "complaints" and "praise" using a dataset that provides many examples of both kinds. Future e-mails could then be screened by software using that API, and handled accordingly."
Currently there is a waiting list for invitations to have access to the Prediction API.

Thursday 19 August 2010

College boosts student retention by providing smart phones to faculty

Inside Higher Education today has a story about a small college in Georgia - Georgia Gwinnett College - that has decided to provide all its full and part-time faculty with smartphones and pay for the service plans. The college then encourages faculty to respond to any calls or texts from students within 24 hours. This is part of an effort to increase the number of students who stay the course for 4 years. The story says that the plan is working: the retention rate for returning sophomores at Georgia Gwinnett is 75 percent, about double the average rate for similar colleges in Georgia.

Facebook Places

Walt Mossberg's most recent All Things Digital blogpost he talks about the new Facebook service called "Places". The service, which is optional for members, allows you to check in to the places you go and share that info with your Facebook friends. It is similar to Twitter's Foursquare network. According to the blogpost, you initially can check in to Places only if you have Apple’s iPhone, though you can use a site at via your browser on other phones and laptops that can track your location and support HTML 5 technology.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

LexisNexis Congressional Topics: Gory, Gruesome and Grisly

LexisNexis is offering a Webinar on Friday Aug. 20 at 11 am EDT called "Congressional topics: Gory, Gruesome and Grisly. "
Their description: Are you responsible for teaching the incoming students about the reference databases? Are you working on handouts for using government documents? Looking to add some spice to your examples?
As we all know, sometimes it’s the off-the-wall topics that interest students the most. Join us on August 20th as LexisNexis presents “Gory, Gruesome and Grisly”. We will show you some of the quirkier content included in LexisNexis Congressional that could pique the interest of your students as you start of the school year. We look forward to having you join us!
This webinar lasts approximately 1 hour.
You can reserve a Webinar seat now at:

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Justia Forms Beta

Justia has a new Forms site (still in beta) containing links to "Free Legal Forms - US Federal & State Court Forms & Government Forms." You can browse the forms by State or Category. Included are 2,276 official federal forms - listed by category and/or federal agency - and 1,103 Pennsylvania state forms listed by category and alphabeticall by title.

AALL offers "Law Library Management" online course

The AALL is offering six-week online course, to be held from September 28 to November 2, 2010, designed to "help you achieve higher management performance and advance your career potential." The course will be taught by Maureen Sullivan, owner of Maureen Sullivan Associates and Professor of Practice in the Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science Ph.D. Program in Managerial Leadership. The course will consist of a combination of live interactive GoToWebinar sessions and course work conducted through RCampus, an education management system and collaborative learning environment. There will also be assignments and readings between sessions.
You can register for the course on the AALL website by Sept. 17; the cost is $275 for AALL members, $375 for non-members.

Online sources for stock video

Connie Crosby has a post on the slaw blog where she links to five prominent sources for stock video that can be used in presentations or websites. Note that some require fees or copyright clearance.

Survey of Electronic Research Alternatives to Lexis and Westlaw

Laura K. Justiss of the SMU Dedman School of Law has posted an interesting article on SSRN titled A Survey of Electronic Research Alternatives to Lexis and Westlaw in Law Firms (including a link to the downloadable 33 page pdf). The User Education in Law Librarianship blog has posted more information about the article, pointing out several useful tables in which she compares alternative resources and their usage in law firms.
From the abstract: "Justiss conducted a survey of law firm librarians in 2010 that identified electronic research database alternatives to Lexis and Westlaw and ranked them by subscription frequency. The survey included research databases for primary source alternatives; court docket and case information services; secondary sources for topical legal research and legal periodicals; financial, business and news sources; public records; and non-legal and legal-related sources, including intellectual property databases. The survey also generated information regarding suggested or mandated legal research policies in law firms for the use of alternatives to Lexis and Westlaw and examined their applicability to billable and non-billable research. Lastly, it examined the prevalence in firms of flat rate pricing agreements with Lexis, Westlaw or both. "