Research habits of the cyber scholars

Last week, as part of a Director’s brown bag series of lunch talks for HLS Library staff, we heard from HLS Professor of Law Jonathan Zittrain and the Director himself, John Palfrey, about their work in the field of cyberlaw, particularly work that led to the development of Herdict.

As they spoke, they also passed around some of the books they have written, and some of the books they use for their research–including area studies volumes and some technical works. Under most circumstances, books used for research are an entirely unremarkable phenomenon, but in this case, I was surprised to realize later that no one in the audience spoke of it during our question period. Books! And not ebooks, either.

So, I have some questions for our cyber scholars based on the not-that-surprising revelation that they too still find the regular old book to be useful a research technology. First, I will confess a small amount of surprise that books were mentioned more prominently than journal articles, SSRN publications, and the like. I understand that in the hard sciences, nearly all research is now produced and digested in article format, and would have guessed that there was sufficient infusion of technology into cyberlaw that it would also have a more article-driven research cycle–particularly given that it is likely evolving faster than more established areas of the law.

As for the books themselves, I’m curious how cyber scholars find the titles they need–though I have my suspicions, since all the books passed around appeared to be personal copies rather than library bound volumes. Given how librarians are often the first to complain about our online catalogs, do our tech savvy users even bother with them? Are there ways that libraries and librarians could do more to assist the cyber scholar demographic with their bookish habits or are there other library services and resources that we should focus on?

Robot & Books by King_Rolo on Flickr

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