Turning the Page

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Todd Melnick, keeping the library front and center

In February 2009, a dozen library directors from prominent law schools issued a statement following a meeting they had convened the previous November in North Carolina. “The Durham Statement,” as it has come to be known, called for law schools to cease publishing print versions of their law journals and instead prioritize open-access digital formats. This call to technological action did not particularly surprise Fordham Law librarian Todd Melnick who, as the recently appointed director of The Maloney Library, is eager to promote digital information.

“This is an amazing time for law libraries,” Melnick says. “Technology and big data are transforming the legal profession as they transform the world. Our job at The Maloney Library is to help the Law School community make sense of and profitably use data and information technology while never losing sight of the Law School’s core values.”

In an era of decreasing hard-copy pages and increasing web page views, Melnick understands well the challenges of the 21st-century library and how its evolution affects faculty and students alike. Over the past five years, the library has cancelled more than 950 redundant or underused print subscriptions and, in the process, saved about a half a million dollars in annual subscription fees. The current collection includes approximately 30% print titles and 65% online resources (the remaining 5% is made up of microfiche, videos/DVDs, and other material).

“Legal research used to be primarily about locating doctrinal authority. This is the top-down approach that prizes expertise, experience, and intuition. Now there’s a movement toward looking at the data that is generated by litigation and making practice decisions based on analysis of data and metadata rather than on carefully parsing authority. This bottom-up approach requires different skills and a different mindset,” Melnick says. “We law librarians have to adapt.” 

Of course, law librarians are not the only ones who must adapt to the shifts in the legal profession. Law students are among those who stand to gain the most from advances in legal technology, and Melnick understands the responsibilities of the law library in instilling this knowledge.

“The library has an obligation to train students to use the legal information technology that they will encounter on the job,” he says. “As law firms make more use of automated practice management, knowledge management, electronic discovery, and document review, librarians have to keep up with these developments and be able to teach students how to perform optimally in an ever-changing technological environment.”

To begin to address that need, the library will offer the inaugural section of Law Firm Automation in the spring.

Melnick, who succeeds Robert Nissenbaum (see sidebar on page 39) as Fordham Law’s top librarian, maintains a very proactive attitude regarding the Maloney Library. His goal is to make sure that the law library remains integral to the academic and scholarly life of the School.

“Our reference desk is purposefully front and center as you enter The Maloney Library, and we offer chat, telephone, and email consultation as well,” Melnick says. “Every full-time faculty member and senior administrator is assigned a library liaison to be that person’s primary contact with library services. No law student, faculty member, administrator, or staff member should have any question about where or how to find high-quality research and information assistance at Fordham Law.” 

Instruction is also central to the library’s mission. In addition to teaching the legal research component of 1L Legal Writing and Research for both J.D. and LL.M. students and offering a large number of advanced legal research courses, Fordham Law librarians visit both substantive and experiential classes to provide focused training sessions on researching specific fields of law.

Scholarship in a Flash

As the Durham Statement was making its rounds throughout the country’s law school libraries, Melnick was already busy creating Fordham Law’s response to it: the Fordham Law Archive of Scholarship & History. FLASH is the School’s online institutional repository, a one-stop shop for faculty scholarship, Law School history, and various publications and information generated by Fordham Law over its more than 100-year history. In leading the development of FLASH, Melnick ensured the repository is free and open access, searchable and accessible through search engine
optimization, and preserved for indefinite future use.

“Since law libraries worldwide have been eliminating print materials from their collections, it falls upon individual institutions to collect, preserve, and make available their own scholarly output. That is why we established FLASH,” Melnick says. “Because of our involvement with FLASH as well as SSRN (a commercial repository of scholarly preprints) the library is uniquely situated to help faculty members understand the impact of their scholarship.”

Since its launch, FLASH has had more than eight million total downloads of content from over 170 different countries. All six of Fordham Law’s student-edited journals are now freely available on FLASH without a subscription, making it one of the largest repositories of legal scholarship for law schools in the country.

“Now, we have other universities, corporations, and the federal government downloading articles from Fordham,” says Melnick. “Seeing our data in speeches, press releases, reports, and marketing is an extremely rewarding aspect of this job.”

Melnick joined Fordham Law in 2005 as a senior reference librarian and three years later was promoted to associate law librarian. In 2014, during the School’s move from 140 to 150 West 62nd Street, Melnick was integral in organizing the old library space to maximize efficiency as well as managing staff and faculty expectations of a new space for the library in a brand-new building. “Librarians are people who understand data and metadata,” Melnick says. “We have to look at the statistical measures within our own operations and measure the impact of any decision we make.”   

As the new library director and also clinical associate professor of law, Melnick will focus the library’s efforts on providing robust service to the Fordham Law community, maintaining and organizing electronic collections as well as the still-important print resources, making information easily accessible to faculty and students, teaching students the always evolving lawyering skill of legal research,
and preserving and widely disseminating the School’s scholarly output.

Melnick also intends to continue his predecessor’s legacy of total librarian engagement. To this end, Melnick asks his public services staff to teach, staff the reference desk, serve as library liaisons to faculty and senior staff, and attend as many Law School events as possible, including faculty workshops. And his technical staff “is behind the scenes doing the hard work of ensuring that the library’s resources are always available, rationally organized, and seamlessly findable. The Maloney Library fields a team of expert, dedicated, and experienced professionals and staff whose work is more vital than ever to the Law School’s mission. I am extremely proud to be part of that team.”

Story by Ruth Adams, photograph by Robert Essel

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