Printless in Portland?

By , March 25, 2013 2:29 pm

by Tal Nozniskylawdigital

In her recent AALL Spectrum article “Cheaper Online? Our library’s gradual move to all electronic,” LaJean Humphries describes what looks like the road ahead for many libraries. Her library at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt in downtown Portland had to drastically downsize their print collection and go online as much as possible. Deselection and divestment was easy. Relocating the remaining print resources was almost as easy. The difficulty is in the intangible stuff of the Internet. I went to Portland last week, where LaJean was nice enough to fill me on the web-ward transition’s outlook and prospects.

In her article, she concludes that the migration is incomplete. As she explained it to me, three issues stand in the way. The first is access. The library crew made early leeway there by updating their web catalog by spotlighting their digital resources and recasting ebooks’ URLs with plain, descriptive English. Every publisher, however, requires a more or less convoluted way of accessing their ebooks. LaJean expects to seal a deal with Lexis in the next few months that will provide streamlined access to a fairly consummate digital collection. But it won’t simplify resource delivery through OverDrive, or support maintenance of historical materials.

The second issue is the spotty nature of many online resources, especially historical materials. Retrospective state codes, for example, are not well digitized, if at all. HeinOnline is interested in getting them online, but Oregon’s seem pegged as a low-priority. Treatises are also troublesome. Many have been digitized as PDFs, a format that’s exceedingly hard to retrieve, update, and replace. Formats aren’t the only hard conversion. Training lawyers for the web-based library is the third issue challenging LaJean. Some are coming in for optional training in their practice groups. Others are “burying their heads in the sand.” She is nonetheless confident that an aggressive training agenda through the next year will foster appreciation and flexibility.

The most striking element of LaJean’s outlook, to me, is the inevitability of a print-digital resources balance. She will certainly be able to assemble a high-quality digital collection through large publishers. An upward trend in born-digital publication will probably help the digital resource selection process develop. Historical and archival materials, however, won’t make their way online with the same alacrity. Not needing them any less, librarians and attorneys will require recourse to print editions. The death of print is often overstated, but the challenge of digital conversion is perhaps even more misunderstood. LaJean is pioneering the course of adjusting those perceptions in firm libraries.

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