Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Law Library Collections as Palimpsest

According to, Palimpsest is defined as:
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.


  1. "[S]table content without ownership" sounds like the potential for a disaster. If you don't own it, it's not yours.

  2. Agreed. But without the resources and support, we are left at the whim of the publishers