Law Firm Library Marketing: Taking Advantage of Existing Opportunities | Part 2

SpeechBubbles

Welcome to Part 2 of this series, where we will cover specific marketing opportunities that currently exist for the law firm library. Most of these examples are opportunities hiding in plain sight and already part of a law librarian’s current day-to-day responsibilities. The key is to shift our perspective to recognize and take advantage of the marketing value of these responsibilities.

Part 1, available here, examined the value and need for marketing the law library.

  • New hire trainings/orientation – What if you had the opportunity to individually meet with your potentially highest usage patrons for 30-60 minutes before they learned and developed bad research habits? Law firm librarians who have the opportunity to conduct new hire orientations have a huge self-marketing advantage. The initial library orientation is fundamentally important to developing a new hire’s future relationship with the library. If you are lucky enough to work in a firm where a library orientation is standard for a new hire, congratulations! If not, it would be wise to consult with HR to see if you can establish orientations as a common procedure. During the orientation itself, rather than go through the nuances and heavy details of every research product you have, it is centrally important to use this opportunity to market the services of the library. The most important piece of information that can be conveyed to your new hire in this situation is how they can contact a librarian for help in the future. Giving an overview of the research products your firm has is great, as is establishing the expertise your department has with regards to these research products, but the real benefit of these sessions is to begin a relationship with another potential patron.
  • Internal presentations – More often than not, every individual department inside a law firm has regularly scheduled meetings. Practice groups, of course, have periodic meetings, but so do non-attorney groups such as paralegals and marketing. This structure is very advantageous to law firm librarians; our patron base does the legwork of organizing itself and segmenting itself into groups with specific research needs. More advantageous is that meeting organizers are typically in search of and receptive to programming;

    in my experience, offers to give short presentations on the library’s services are generally approved and encouraged. When the presentation is green-lit, the librarian is benefitted by having a captive, specialized audience for whom it’s easy to custom tailor the presentation. As for the presentations themselves I have found you can never assume your audience knows what the typical, modern law firm library does. And again, it pays to emphasize, more than anything else, how audience members can contact the library. The goal for this type of exercise is visibility, to make departments aware of the library, and to possibly expand your client base.

  • The Firm’s Intranet Page – Law firm libraries have a huge advantage in having an internal, organized patron-base; we do not serve a far-spread, scattered public or student body. A firm’s intranet home page isolates this patron-base perfectly. The intranet home page is viewed by presumably everyone in the firm, and because of its reach, it makes for an excellent distribution channel for marketing intranetmessages. More beneficially, these pages are usually in need of quick content. A message stating how many reference requests the library group has answered is an excellent way to quickly and effectively reach out; the message is quick, easily digested, hits all potential patrons, and establishes the relevancy of the department. The goal, again, is to promote awareness of the library—the A in AIDA as we covered in part 1—and posting a brief message on the firm’s intranet page is a great way of achieving this goal.
  • Event marketingEvent marketing entails promoting the law library via a themed event. At a basic level, the event is organized around entertaining activities that promote face-to-face contact with your patrons; games and demonstrations, for example, encourage patron participation, all the while promoting the law library. Notably, vendors are typically very receptive towards contributing to marketing events. You really have nothing to lose when you ask a vendor for assistance. In the past, vendors have donated prizes, led demonstrations, and sent representatives to help organize events we have hosted. Vendor receptiveness is logical: event marketing events are mutually beneficial for the library and vendors. The library contributes the legwork of organizing potential users and customers for vendors, while the vendors keep potential users and customers interested via gamification scenarios and the chance to win prizes, all under the auspice of promoting the library. Celebrating National Library Week is a great opportunity to employ event marketing; the week-long structure gives ample time to multiple vendors, and encourages daily events/more opportunities to event market. In 2016, according to ALA, National Library Week will occur April 10th-16th.
  • Host internal workshops – Vendor presentations and workshops are pretty common in law firms. Remotely, vendors consistently offer webinars to showcase new software and updates. And in-person, vendors make weekly visits to our firm to provide hands-on training. Law firm libraries do a great job of hosting vendor workshops, and connecting vendors to attorneys. There is much value to these activities: they generate interest about research offerings, improve research literacy, and even promote the library. But, we shouldn’t leave this activity just to vendors. Consider offering librarian-hosted workshops. The benefits of librarian-hosted workshops are numerous including clear promotion of the library, promotion of the individual librarian’s research expertise, and a more honest examination of resource strengths and weaknesses. The methodology of delivering the workshops can be similar to what vendors already provide: webinars or in-house presentations regarding specific areas of research (some example topics could be: public records, corporation searches, docket alerts and tracks, etc). Again, this is an activity that generates awareness about the library, as well as establishes the expertise of librarians over their research products.
  • Embedded librarians – At this point the concept of “library as a service, not a space” is likely second nature to law librarians; and embedded librarianship probably more accurately reflects your typical work environment and setting. Broadly, an embedded librarian is a library professional who still performs the duties of a librarian, but does not necessarily work inside a physical library. Rather, the embedded librarian is physically embedded among the patrons they support–in our case: the attorneys and support staff. To view the concepts of library-as-a-service and embedded librarianship specifically through the lens of marketing ourselves, we have to recognize the value the visibility our new situation affords us. Again, marketing must have the goal of generating awareness; being physically present in the environment of our patrons achieves this goal.

In review, the above examples show activities and responsibilities law librarians are typically already fulfilling. The key is to view these day-to-day responsibilities from the context of marketing, and really exploit the potential for marketing these activities possess. In short: go out and be seen!

Law Firm Library Marketing: Taking Advantage of Existing Opportunities | Part 1

Unfortunately, good researching alone does not make a law firm library. Though the importance of the library may seem obvious to us librarians, we still must value continually marketing ourselves in the law firm setting. Fortunately, if we recognize them as such, our common day-to-day responsibilities offer ample opportunities to market ourselves. In Part 2 of this series, we will dive deeper into specific examples of existing marketing opportunities, while this Part 1 takes a general perspective towards examining the importance of marketing the law firm library.

Why market?

Continual marketing efforts are essential in the modern law firm library; due to the nature of the firm environment, librarians have an on-going need to market their ability to provide cost-effective legal research. Faced with a constant influx of new associates and a continuously shifting landscape of resources, vendors, and contracts, the library staff’s need to provide training and research assistance is ever-present.

The revolving door of new associates underscores the need for librarians to make themselves known. Certain inefficient behavioral patterns are highly entrenched among new associates; left unchecked, these patterns only become harder to change. Amanda Runyon, in Marketing and Outreach in Law Libraries: A White Paper, explains the following dynamic observed in academic law libraries: “students turn to instructors rather than librarians for assistance because instructors are seen as experts in the field and they grade the assignments”. This pattern is certainly not foreign to law firm librarians: merely replace the term “instructors” with “assigning attorneys”. And,  we habitually observe the effects of this situation: new associates seeking guidance from books that have been out-of-print for years, or using researching terminology that was sunsetted before the associates were born, or simply employing strange/antiquated researching methodology because “that’s what the partner told me to do”. Through marketing the library and improving the visibility of our services, we can change this behavioral pattern.

Expounding the problem and underscoring the importance of marketing the library is the fact that poor researching leads to wasted time and money. Patrick Meyer, in Law Firm Legal Research Requirements for New Attorneys notes “Legal research in the law firm setting is a big deal. Research by ThomsonWest from 2007 found that on average, 45% of the new attorney’s first year of practice and 30% of years two and three will be spent conducting legal research”. Newer associates conduct a lot of expensive research, yet problematically newer associates may not be in the habit of consulting with the library.

Compounding the need for marketing is the ever-changing state of library subscriptions and contracts. Senior associates may be very well-versed in conducting cost-effective research, but their knowledge of what is in-plan and under subscription may be out-of-date. Vendors, of course, are always competing with each other; this creates new research software for the library to subscribe to, and new contracts that can easily result in vendors teeter-tottering with one another over the cost-effectiveness of their products. Long story short, some associates are inefficient researchers and the cost effectiveness of library software is continually changing: the library has a fundamental need to market itself as the solution to these situations. But, how should the library approach the action of marketing?

Simplify The Message

Brevity is king of the busy law firm environment, and this should translate into the library marketing campaign as much as possible. Kristin Cheney states in Marketing Law Libraries: Strategies and Techniques in the Digital Age that library marketing “promotions, as a general rule, should be kept short and to the point”. In my opinion, the real goal is simply to generate awareness of the library; presenting an exposition on every single service the library provides must be avoided. Potential users need to be reminded that the library exists—once a user is in more regular contact with librarians, a more nuanced telling of library services can be conducted.

Simplicity of the message folds in with the classic marketing strategy of AIDA (though existing in some forms earlier, the acronym AIDA is attributed to C.P. Russell, “How to Write a Sales-Making Letter,” Printers’ Ink, June 2, 1921); AIDA is an acronym for the stages of marketing: awareness, interest, desire, action. As we can see, in classic marketing strategy development, the first goal is to generate awareness. And the easiest method of generating awareness is to recognize the potential marketing opportunities available among the usual day-to-day responsibilities of the job. In other words, promote library awareness. And, in my opinion, the easiest way to promote awareness is to be visible; as Woody Allen said “80 percent of success is showing up”. Luckily for us, a lot of the most obvious opportunities for marketing that occur in our day-to-day job merely require us to be visible and to talk about the great job we already doing as librarians. In Part 2, we will discuss these opportunities in detail.

iBraryGuy’s DiGilio recognized for Career Achievement

DiGilioJohnAt the recent Special Libraries Association 2015 Annual Conference, iBraryGuy’s own John DiGilio was feted for his service. John was the recipient of the 2015 Thomson Reuters Award for Career Achievement. Presented by the Legal Division of SLA, the award is designed to recognize a member who has provided significant service to the SLA Legal Division. The award is generously sponsored by Thomson Reuters Westlaw. Continue reading

On Firmer Ground returns! It’s time to talk VALUE!

CaptureOn Firmer Ground, the blog dedicated to demonstrating the value of law firm librarians is back and better than ever! Continue reading

Judicial Profiles Show Judges are Humans Too

Cardozo

“Is this guy the second coming of Benjamin Cardozo, or is he a blithering idiot?”

The above quote may or may not be an actual line of dialogue spoken to me by an attorney during a recent judicial profile request. Though typically not as colorfully submitted, requests for judicial profile searches are ubiquitous. This is logical: there are 600+ federal judges swinging gavels around out there, way too many for a single attorney to become familiar with. And, each one of these individual appointments has his or her own personality quirks and idiosyncrasies (they are humans after all), variables that can easily play a role in a case’s proceedings. This creates a need for descriptive information about a judge’s judicial temperament, procedure, and–to take the above example, intelligence. And, the ideal source for this specific information has to be supplied by people attorneys can trust. Isn’t it shocking to find out this source may be…other attorneys? Continue reading

Predicting the Future with Analytics

AnalyticsHeader

“3D Bar Graph Meeting”, (c) Scott Maxwell

The term “jargon” has complicated social meanings. Jargon primarily refers to specialized language used by a specific group of individuals; conversely, this means individuals outside of the in-crowd don’t know what the heck is being talked about when jargon starts to be tossed around. Secondary dictionary definitions attribute vaguely morally-loaded values on the term, as per dictionary.com: “unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing; gibberish”, “language that is characterized by uncommon or pretentious vocabulary and convoluted syntax and is often vague in meaning”. These negative connotations suggest people don’t like or trust jargon, presumably because of its ability to exclude. But, we have a productive option: to find out what the jargon being used actually means. Continue reading

How Legal Apps Rank: Part 2, the Success Stories

In Part 1 of How Legal Apps Rank, available here, I examined the Apple App store category rankings of the WestlawNext and Lexis Advance apps. In this post, I will examine the legal apps we should all be paying attention to: the success stories.

In searching for as many legal apps as I could find, I stumbled across many legal app pathfinders, bibliographies, and “best of” lists, but a special thanks goes out to the two lists that especially stood out: the often-updated libguide created by University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School Reference Librarian Jenny Zook and UCLA School of Law Reference Librarian Vicki Steiner’s guide. Also, I tried to be as inclusive and search for as many apps as possible–from apps produced by the big publishers, to those put together by the start-ups and the little guys.

My methodology was to, again, plug the apps into App Annie, and examine the apps’ historical, categorical rankings. Again, I have limited myself to the Apple App store/apps designed for the iPhone or iPad.

Time for the big reveal–here are the apps that surprised and stood out:

trialpad

TrialPad, published, in name, by Saurian Communications, Inc., though really by Lit Software, is an award-winning trial presentation app. To simplify its features: while users are at trial or mediation TrialPad easily connects to TVs and enables attorneys to display documents, play videos, and more, all with a host of great annotation tools. TrialPad is for the iPad only, and costs $89.99. Here’s its “Grossing Ranks” chart:

TrialPad_Grossing_Better
First, we can see this app has hit the #1 position in the “Business” category on a number of occasions (note that the y-axis on this chart has been reduced to 1-30, showing how frequently this app ranks highly). The “Business” category in the app store is generally the domain of scanning apps, .pdf readers, invoice/timesheet creation apps, and other esoterica–TrialPad genuinely sticks out for having such a specifically defined audience. Also notable, this is the “Grossing Ranks” chart, as opposed to the “Download Ranks” chart. TrialPad, again, costs $89.99 which is higher than most apps and means less downloads are required to lead to higher grosses and therefore a higher ranking in the “Grossing Ranks” chart.

With all of this said, here is the “Download Ranks” chart:

TrialPad_Downloads

On this chart, I have extended the y-axis values to 1-100; we can see TrialPad is not consistently in the top 30 like it is in the Grossing Ranks, but it still is a very high-performing app, and one that law librarians and information professionals need to have on the radar (as an aside, it appears this app has been on our radar as, beyond the times I saw it in app patherfinders and guides, I also recall this app being demo’ed at the 2014 AALL Annual Meeting Cool Tools Cafe by Debbie Ginsberg, Educational Technology Librarian from the IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law Library).

Turns out TrialPad isn’t the only Saurian Communications, Inc./Lit Software, app to have on the radar–the other?:

transcriptpad

TranscriptPad provides attorneys with a bevy of annotation and review tools for use with legal transcripts. TranscriptPad, too, is only for the iPad and costs $89.99. Below, I have pulled TranscriptPad’s “Grossing Ranks” chart:

TranscriptPad_Grossing

Though slightly outperformed by its brethren TrialPad, TranscriptPad still exhibits stellar results. I reduced the y-axis to 1-30 in the above “Grossing Ranks” chart, which shows how often TranscriptPad is located near the top of the “Business” category. TranscriptPad even hit the #1 ranking on  July 17, 2014. TranscriptPad’s “Grossing Ranks” positions are aided by the fact this app also costs $89.99, meaning the grossing rank can be accentuated with less downloads. To that end, here is the download chart with the y-axis extended to 1-250:

TranscriptPad_Downloads

All in all Lit Software must be commended for producing two of the most successful legal apps on the market, even more impressive that this coming from a start-up and not one of the big legal publishers.

ijuror

Our next success story app is also another victory for the little guys, or in this case, guy. iJuror is published by the prolific Scott Falbo, who has 86 other app credits to his name. iJuror helps in the process of jury selection, enabling attorneys to quickly appoint characteristics and notes to potential jurors, as well as compile reports they can easily share with colleagues, among other features. Below is the “Grossing Ranks” chart for iJuror:

iJuror_Gross

This app is ranked in the “Business” category (same as TrialPad and TranscriptPad), and is available for the iPad only. The y-axis is reduced to 1-250 in the above, which shows a consistent placement around the #100 rank. This particular app does cost $24.99, which is more than what usually dots the “Business” category in the app store, and means less downloads equal a higher bump in the “Grossing Ranks” chart. This is an older app, introduced in 2010, and still able to remain relevant, as per the above chart.

Practical Law The Journal – Litigation

Now, to deviate, the next two apps display the importance of current awareness materials. The first is the Thomson Reuters published  Practical Law The Journal – Litigation app, which offers a convenient way for subscribers to read this publication on-the-go. Below is the “Download Ranks” chart:

PLJ-Litigation_Downloads

The above, with the y-axis filtered to 1-250, shows the app’s “Professional & Trade” category rankings; the app hit #1 on January 30, 2014. And, similarly, let’s look at another current awareness app:

ABA Journal magazine

ABA Journal Magazine is the mobile extension of the American Bar Journal’s magazine, ABA Journal. The app is simple, designed to enable on-the-go attorneys the ability to read the contents of the print magazine (subscription required). Below is the all-time “Download Ranks” chart for the iPhone delivery of this app; the y-axis set to 1-50, and this is the “Professional & Trade” category:

ABAJournal_DownloadsABA Journal Magazine has broached the top ten in “Professional & Trade” a few times, even hitting #1 early in its deployment, on Feb. 13th, 2014.

Both Practical Law The Journal – Litigation and ABA Journal Magazine exemplify that iPads (in particular) do an excellent job of displaying the content of serials. Not only are they visually appealing in app form, more than just the current issue is accessible, and navigation is not restricted to leafing through pages. The lesson: current awareness materials translate to tablets really well.

In summation, those are the legal app success stories–thanks for reading!

How Legal Apps Rank: Part 1, the Big Publishers

As we have experienced, the large law publishers have certainly devoted time and resources to developing legal apps. But, the big question for us law librarians is do attorneys actually download these apps? Using statistics available via the website App Annie, we can find the categorical rankings of apps, including those designed specifically for attorneys and the practice of law. What do the trends in these statistics tell us about the adoption of large publishers’ legal apps?

App Annie is a site that offers App Store statistics. On App Annie, category rankings charts about apps are available for free to users who register with the site. On a side note, the site has more robust usage analytics that quantify how often an app is actually used (rather than downloaded), however a paid subscription is required to access this information. Lastly, App Annie is worth paying attention to as Sarah Perez of techcrunch recently reported the service recently raised $55 million from investors.

To step back and explain a little methodology: first, I examined just the Apple App store rankings. The information for Google Play, Amazon, and other stores is available on App Annie, but I had to draw the digital line somewhere, and chose to focus specifically on Apple due to its reported more than $10 billion revenue in 2014, which still outduels the lofty revenue numbers reached by Google Play this year (though this is predicted to change by 2018).

And, more detail: the Apple App store categorizes the numerous apps it has—Candy Crush Saga, for example, is in the “Games” category. Importantly, for our purposes, App Annie provides the historical Apple App store categorical rankings of apps–for example, a user can find how often Candy Crush Saga was ranked in the top 5 of the “Games” category. The categorical rankings of these apps are determined by an internal Apple algorithm, though some enterprising bloggers have tried to crack  or game the code. We can presume the store ranks apps higher that have high levels of current downloads–there appears to be an emphasis not only on downloads but on currency as well.

So, how do the statistics for the big publishers’ legal apps look?

WestlawNext

Here is the chart for the WestlawNext app, published by Thomson Reuters:

WestlawNext_better

As can be seen from this “Download Ranks” chart, WestlawNext has consistently performed well in the “Reference” category, even peaking at #9 on Saturday, August 28, 2010, which is near the initial release date of July 12, 2010. However, we can see a recent obvious downward trend, as it is typically ranking in the 100s to 300s in 2015. Also of note, downloads appear to cyclically peak in August and February/March. Here is a graph with closer Y values to emphasize those peaks:

AugustMarch_Peaks_WestlawNext

lexis advance

Here is the chart for the Lexis Advance app, published by LexisNexis:

LexisAdvance_Better

Lexis Advance is categorized under the “Business” category, so unfortunately, we cannot do a categorical head-to-head against WestlawNext. Lexis Advance’s peak ranking is at #151 on December 11, 2011, and it, too, is showing a slight downward trend. Lexis Advance also shows cyclical peaks around August and February/March.

WHAT DO THE RANKINGS MEAN

First, let’s discuss the slight downward trends for both WestlawNext and Lexis Advance. Both Thomson Reuters and LexisNexis were early adopters and developers of these apps: the App Store first opened for business on July 10, 2008, the WestlawNext app was launched July 12, 2010, and the Lexis Advance app was launched Dec. 23, 2010. Both apps ranked relatively high in their respective categories before experiencing a more recent downward trend. So, does the downward trend actually signify waning interest or some other macro variable? One variable to consider is the App Store is much more saturated with competing apps; as of July 2014, there were 1.2 million apps in the App Store, in July of 2010, a date near both the release dates of WestlawNext and Lexis Advance apps, there were 200,000 apps in the store. There could be waning interest, but there are also 6x the competitors in the marketplace now, as well.

Second, what about these cyclical bumps in interest in August and February/March? August and February/March signify the beginning of Fall and Spring semesters for Law School students. This piece of data is really telling: these legal apps are presumably being downloaded by law students; attorneys-to-be clearly have an interest in these technologies. What we can conclude from this is, in private law, librarians can assume newer and summer associates are most likely familiar with or at least cognizant of legal apps. And, academic librarians have a further incentive to remain abreast of these technologies. On the topic of law student adoption of apps, check out the graph on Black’s Law Dictionary–its quite obvious peaks occur every August, again, the beginning of the fall semester:

Blacks_PeaksAugustComing soon, we will examine the legal apps developed by other companies.

Big Law, Social Media, and the Library

ATL_Good2BSocial

Big law’s relationship with social media is changing. Above the Law and Good2BSocial have collaborated, once again, on a review of how effectively big law firms use social media. They found AmLaw Top 50 firms have “substantially improved social media performance across the board.”

Good2BSocial_Score

Leading to this overall jump, the firms that were the best at incorporating social media in Above the Law and Good2BSocial’s 2013 study didn’t necessarily get that much better; rather, the average score increased because the firms that fared poorly in 2013 made large jumps in 2014. The previously poor performing firms are catching up.

The macro takeaway of this information is: big law takes social media seriously. But, how is big law social media effectively deployed? And, to take a grander view, law is a service-based industry, yet the preponderance of business/corporate social media success stories focus on goods-based businesses. How does being a service-based industry affect the methods of social media deployment?

It’s easy to assume your individual method of consuming and producing social media is more universal than it really is—at least, in a moment where I can admit my own solipsism, that was my perspective. I am not an active consumer of social media produced by big law—and really, when I even notice corporate social media it’s coming from goods-based rather than service-based companies. Outlets that report top corporate social media success stories bare this distinction out, as do sites oriented towards improving corporate social media presences. So, who is consuming social media created by big law?

One answer: big law social media gets followed by news media. Lindsay Griffiths on Zen & The Art of Legal Networking  reported how Nixon Peabody’s Twitter feed’s followers include a heavy percentage of media; journalists are always trying to find stories to break, and big firms generate stories. Twitter is really the perfect vehicle for news story dissemination: a close, or even friendly, relationship does not have to exist between content creator and consumer, and topical news blurbs are perfect, succinct-yet-noteworthy content for Twitter distribution. Twitter serves as social media newswire, providing a constant stream of potential stories to media.

LinkedIn and blogs are the other big winners for big law social media, according to Rhonda Hurwitz of HMR Marketing Solutions. Hurwitz reports on a 2013 study by Greentarget entitled In-House Counsel New Media Engagement Survey that found “blogs and linkedin as the two most influential platforms for lawyers to use in order to build influence and business relationships”. Unlike the institutional-level orientation of Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs really broadcast the expertise and skills of individuals who comprise a firm. The audience is not the news media, but typically other lawyers and potential business partners; accordingly, this audience has different goals in consuming social media. Hurwitz reports lawyer-authored blogs are trusted by other lawyers, and LinkedIn is tops in professional usage and credibility. Rather than search for content for a news story, the audience of lawyer LinkedIn and blog media is seeking expertise and credibility from particular, individual content creators that they may collaborate in the future with.

Facebook does not really work for law firms because it is not really business-driven. According to Michael Denmead of kscopemarketing, Facebook has “been slow to get traction [at law firms]. It seems to be the general interest posts that people want to see – for example, we do a Charity Run at Christmas and posted some photos. We got a lot of likes and comments on that!”. Social events trump business in Facebook, and accordingly, Facebook is the more social of social media.

Just like law, law librarianship is a service-based industry. The “libraries-as-a-service” philosophical perspective has really emphasized individual librarians and their skills over the idea of a library space. Therefore, it stands to reason librarians can learn and incorporate big law social media methodologies into their own social media deployments. By correlation, libraries should be distinguished by the expertise of their librarians. Just as lawyers can broadcast granular examinations of very specific areas of law, librarians can broadcast granular examinations of very specific areas of research. The emphases should be to blog and then cross-market using other social media. Institutional-level social media is more striated for law librarianship; for private libraries, I struggle to see the efficacy of producing news-oriented exploits via twitter–more internalized broadcasting avenues would be better, as, by default, all potential patrons are already internal. As for governmental and academic law libraries, digitally publicizing newsworthy items is more logical as the patron-bases are broader, and can include even the public. However, the difficult question to answer is: what is news? Luckily, one of the real beauties of social media is implementation costs are practically nil, so tweet away and study what content gets likes and replies.

Reliving the Past with the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine

WaybackMachine

The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine is a godsend to law librarianship. My undergraduate professors would be slowly shaking their wizened heads at me for starting a piece of writing with a “universal superlative,” but, count literary composition as just another thing the internet has changed forever. As transient and mutable as the internet is, however, it does a bafflingly horrible job of preserving its own history. How the internet handles its past is actually terrifying: content disappears as if it never existed, dead links accumulate, and information is continually extinguished — overwritten in 1s and 0s in remote, humming server farms. Making a personal logical leap to questioning what this suggests about our own, personal histories is inevitable, but, rather than tread down the depressing path of existentialism, let’s jump back to how great the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine is, and how it can be a feather in the cap of any law librarian. Jill Lepore, writing for the New Yorker, chronicled the origin story of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine and its founder Brewster Kahle. This feature is fascinating, touching on the development of the internet, how foreign countries archive websites, the implications of U.S. Copyright Law on digital archiving, and–similar to what we law librarians sometimes have to do–how to prove the existence of deleted web sites and posts. Lepore’s article is structured around a story involving a quickly deleted post made by a Ukranian separatist leader; this leader boasted about (and included a video of) downing a Malaysian passenger airplane, resulting in the death of 298 people. Again, the post was quickly removed from the site where it was posted; but instead of it being lost forever, archived versions of the post were made and retained in the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Turns out archiving the past can be a really important thing to do. My day-to-day job does not generally entail proving the existence of evidence that implicates someone/some group of mass homicide, however, the Wayback Machine has come to the rescue for a number of research requests that have hit my inbox. Looking through my closed reference requests, here are some of the ways I have used the Wayback Machine:

  • Searching old company press releases
  • Cite-checking now dead links
  • Pulling historical editions of a government document
  • Confirming employment of individuals via old corporation sites
  • West Virginia Pattern Jury Instructions
  • Locating historical weather information

THE INTERFACE

The interface is very easy to use–merely type in the address of the site you wish to find historical versions of: WaybackMachine_Interface If the site is archived, your results will include a timeline of captures. Clicking on the different captures enables you to access various incarnations of the site–for example, if you wished to access 2009 or 2010 captures of our iBraryGuy site, you would be able to do so by clicking into the year columns below (the vertical bars signal when, in the year, the captures were made): WaybackMachine_Timeline Clicking into a year column leads to a calendar view, where you can choose the specific date of the capture: WaybackMachine_CalendarView After clicking the date, the capture will load. For example, here’s how the iBraryGuy website looked on January 16th, 2010: WaybackMachine_iBraryGuyCapture To be noted, the captures themselves are not always complete–some pictures will load and some will not have been captured. Also, dynamic sites (those coded with queries to an underlying database or host, and with forms) will often lack some functionality. For further information regarding what is and isn’t captured and why, the Wayback Machine’s FAQ is a great resource. Enjoy reliving the past!