A roomful of people sitting in armchairs with laptops may not appear at first glance to be a place where library work is happening. It could look more like a tech startup, or maybe a student lounge (modulo the ages of some of the people in the armchairs). You don’t have to be a librarian to see it, but, as the only librarian presently working at LIL, I’ll try to show how LIL’s work is at the heart of librarianship.
Of our main projects, the Nuremberg project is the closest to a notion of traditional library work: scanning, optical character recognition, and metadata creation for trial documents and transcripts from the Nuremberg Military Tribunals, a collection of enormous historical interest. This is squarely in the realm of library collections, preservation, and access.
In its broad outline, the work on Nuremberg is similar to that of the Caselaw Access Project, the digitization of all U.S. case law. This project, however, is what Jonathan Zittrain has referred to as a systemic intervention. By making the law freely accessible online, we are not only going to alter the form of and access to the print collection, but we are going to transform the relationships of libraries, lawyers, courts, scholars, and citizens to the law. By freeing the law for a multitude of uses, the Caselaw Access Project will support efforts like H2O, LIL’s free casebook platform, another intervention into the field of publishing.
Over the last forty years or so, as computers have become more and more essential to library work, libraries have ceded control to vendors. For example, not only does a library subscribing to an online journal database lose the ability to make collection development decisions autonomously (though LOCKSS, a distributed preservation system, helps address this), but, in relinquishing control of the platform, it relinquishes the power to protect patron confidentiality, and consequently intellectual freedom.
Perma.cc is an intervention of a different sort, a tool to combat link rot. As a means of permanently archiving web links, it’s close to libraries’ preservation efforts, but the point of action is generally the author or editor of a document, not an archivist, post-publication. Further, Perma’s reliability rests on the authority of the library to maintain collections in perpetuity.
As library work, these interventions are radical, in the sense of at-the-root: they address core activities of the library, they engage long-standing problems in librarianship, and they expand on and distribute traditional library work.