Books make you feel small

I’ve spent most of my professional career reading online periodicals and blogs, and using online databases like Westlaw. Conducting research in this fashion can make you feel powerful, like an awesome improvising chef. “Hey, I put a dash of a Supreme Court case PDF, and a whiff of a Paul Krugman column, and I produced this awesome post or memo!” The web makes you feel big, and powerful, and wise.

Fast forward to my induction to the law library today, where a librarian wistfully mentioned that many of the case law reporters are going to be taken off of the reference shelves and put into storage, “because everyone consults these items online nowadays.”

Feeling that I had limited time on a disappearing planet, I took some time this morning to explore.

Wow.

It is one thing to be able to consult excellent databases like italaw.com. But it is quite another to go through the shelves of ICSID Reports, alongside the compendiums of other case law, and touch them and feel their weight.

Online, all sources seem more or less equally credible. Online (not to mention in the thick of US politics), UN General Assembly resolutions seem pretty meaningless. But unlike political punditry, UNGA resolutions get a shelf or two or three at the top law libraries.

These stacks and stacks of books make me feel small, reminding me of how much there is left to know. While that is a bit anxiety producing, it is also inspiring – in a way that online improvisation is not.

Cue twinge of nostalgia for a rapidly fading era. But, hey, at least we’ve still got the Harry Potter robes.

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