Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Law Library Collections as Palimpsest

According to Dictionary.com, Palimpsest is defined as:
noun
1. a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text

In the case of most law libraries, the "other text" is now electronic. As late as 2015, I was still in denial about the transition. Many of my blog posts have centered around the benefits of print (here, here, here, here). I still love print, and I still believe that there is a beauty in the serendipity of exploring the stacks.

But even physically exploring the stacks is less relevant today. For example, our catalog now shows a preview of the books on the shelf near a book that we are interested in. When performing a search for Divergent Paths by Richard Posner, the following virtual browse display shows the books nearby:



Budget constraints coupled with patron preference for electronic access means that our print collections are dwindling. There's no use romanticizing print while denying that we are fully in the Digital Age (and moving toward the Algorithmic Society). Even though the issues surrounding licensing electronic content are still there, the outside pressures have overtaken these licensing concerns. We are decidedly relying on vendors to provide us with stable content without ownership.

As we continue to transition, reliable resource sharing should be our new focus. We don't all have to be everything to everyone. But we do need to create reliable sharing models to have access to material when we need it.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Law Libraries & University Libraries

As law school budgets continue to shrink, it's not unreasonable to presume that many law libraries are coming under increased scrutiny. Law school administrators cannot touch faculty salaries or law student financial aid. When a dean looks at a law school budget, the biggest expenditure after faculty salaries is the library, and many must now wonder "what are all those people doing with all that money?"

Accordingly, one of the budget-cutting measures may be to consider combining the law library with the university library.

Historically, as the heart of the law school, law school libraries have functioned apart from the greater university library community. In a 1957 study, forty of the forty-one responding law libraries did not want to be considered part of the university library system or be a part of its administrative structure, even if they currently were. This position was codified through section 602(a) of the ABA standards, which requires law schools to “have sufficient administrative autonomy to direct the growth and development of the law library and to control the use of its resources.” Law librarians generally have interpreted this statement as supporting a separation between the university library system and the law school library. Armed with this interpretation, they have resisted efforts to change the status quo, and recent revisions to the ABA standards have not removed the requirement that law schools maintain administrative autonomy.

Professor James G. Milles, in Leaky Boundaries and the Decline of the Autonomous Law School Library, notes that university administrations are now beginning to question assurances that law libraries' independence from the general library necessarily excludes the sharing of utilities, services, staff, and collections .... Administrators are now asking (and, in some cases, demanding) that law libraries cooperate with the main library to free up funds for other uses.

But it has been the view of many law librarians and law school deans over the years that any so-called benefits that are supposed to accrue from the integrated relationship [between the libraries] are more fiction than fact. The unvarnished truth in the great majority of cases would appear to be that any administrative connection with the general library is an unmitigated and chronic pain-in-the-neck, and a condition to be ardently avoided or from which to escape.

Additionally, it has been argued that the greatest single obstacle in the way of improving our [law] libraries and standards for [law] librarians, is the ignorance of our faculties and deans concerning the necessity of a good library in legal education and what is involved in building and maintaining a good library.

To that end, here are a few identified cons of an integrated relationship:
  • The domination of law library functions by the university librarian operates to impair the service of the law library through delays caused by centralized ordering, receipt, and cataloging of law library materials in the general library; the inability of the law librarian to monitor the status of law library funds; and arbitrary and restrictive orders pertaining to the use of materials.
  • Law is unique among disciplines in the way in which its bibliographic sources constitute a separate body of knowledge accessible and generally useful only to those within the law school. Using the sources of legal information requires unique education. 
  • To sever the law library from the law school of which it is an integral part and place it under the general library system is devitalizing to the law school. It should be a requirement that law librarians have a greater role in legal education.
  • Law school faculty members demand and get far better library services than any other faculty members on campus. A major reason that we have autonomous law libraries is so we can provide that type of high-level service.
  • While negotiation of licensing for databases is always for campus-wide access, Lexis and Westlaw, and many other legal database vendors strictly oppose it. This means that law databases must be separately negotiated and maintained. 
It's not to say that there should be no collaboration between the law library and the university library. For example, if the culture of the university encourages interdisciplinary work, then the libraries can work together to create structures to facilitate interdisciplinary work without the need for full integration. But given these valid concerns, full integration is not the best route.