If I had to write an essay on my summer vacation, this year's topic would be "Building a Relational Database." As I noted a few months ago, the LSAC funded our proposal for a large-scale longitudinal analysis on the production and content of legal scholarship (my co-PI's include Funmi Arewa, Ken Dau-Schmidt, Peter Hook, and Andy Morriss). The most difficult task in this endeavor is cost-effectively digitizing biographic information on every law professor who ever appeared in an AALS directory (from 1922 to 2007) and linking these individuals to the detailed bibliographic records contained in the Index of Legal Periodicals from 1928 to the present.
How does someone tackle a job this big? My legal training has negligible value here. It it really all about planning and collaboration among a team with a wide array of skill sets. With the input of a talented database expert, Mark Newton, and our co-PI, Peter Hook, who is a law librarian with graduate training in information sciences, we are developing and implementing a process that--we theorize--will (a) maximize the capture of information and complex relationships, and (b) minimize key strokes and errors.
So far, one of our greatest assets is the excellent workforce here in Bloomington. We currently have a research team that includes four graduate students from the School of Library and Information Sciences (SLIS), two excellent college graduates who are headed to law school in the fall, and a brilliant University of Chicago undergraduate with an eagle eye for detail. These talented folks are closest to the data and provide enormous insights that affect our planning process.
Although the relational database itself will not produce a scholarly paper, I am really grateful for the opportunity learn a lot of new technical and managerial skills. I am also developing a deeper respect for expert knowledge and team work.