April 20, 2006
Comparing Law Libraries - A Librarian's Query
From Jonathan Franklin, Associate Law Librarian, Gallagher Law Library, University of Washington:
I am part of a group looking at ABA statistics and law libraries. We are grappling with the changes brought on by digital resources given that law libraries have traditionally been compared by volume count. In addition, because almost all law schools subscribe to the same large electronic resources, they level the playing field in some ways. Thus many newer schools argue that traditional volume count less important that it used to be. I'm curious how would one start thinking about ranking law libraries (or accounting for law libraries in law school rankings)?
We have started with the goal of finding a new measure or combination of measures, as qualitative measures don't work well when most faculty and students have extensively used two or three academic law libraries during their careers. A starting point is whether title count should replace volume count. For example, should it matter if school A has one copy of each of three different books (title count =3, volume count = 3) vs. School B with three of the same title & edition (title count = 1, volume count = 3)? Maybe School A offers more "information" while school B offers more copies for a larger student body that needs more than one copy of that one title. Since both have access to interlibrary loan, I'm not convinced title count is any better than volume count.
Step two rejects counting books in general and considers expenditures. Just as the Provost does not care what the Law School Dean's tactics are, the Dean should leave the tactics to the Law Librarian. This has lead some to think more about expenditures for the collection and for staffing? Once you go down that route, there is the question of whether the raw number matters or whether it really should be staffing/# of faculty?
Some have suggested that the emphasis on the collection is outdated and that there should be core services offered by the library and that libraries should be compared on which of those services they offer. This is as challenging as the collection examples, due to the divergence in library/law school missions, especially the scholarship expectations of some schools when compared to others.
Finally, some have advocated for dropping collection-based figures or service counts entirely and instead looking at the library's total budget (either absolute or per faculty member), leaving it to the Law Librarian to determine how best to use the available resources (or have that assessed as part of the sabbatical ABA site visit).
Thanks for any thoughts. Please submit your thoughts in the form of a comment to this post.
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Seems to me, we're too busy measuring input rather than output. I think we should be more focused on faculty/student satisfaction and services provided and less on the size of the collection or expenditures. Bigger isn't better if no one is using the collection.
As we move more and more to electronic, it does seem counting titles or copies becomes meaningless. If library A owns a print copy and library B has electronic access only, why should library B be penalized? With MOML, Hein Online, other university library sources, etc., libraries have access to many more titles. As libraries are squeezed for space, many are storing or dumping older runs of journals. Collection count becomes less and less useful as a measure. Should Library A that cancelled a number of journals available online due to rising costs of electronic sources be penalized if Library B continues to maintain both its print and online?
As mentioned in an earlier post, expenditures becomes meaningless when you look at size of school, number of students/faculty, area of the country where school is situated. Obviously a large urban school where living costs are high will pay its librarians more. Expenditures will be higher where tuition is higher. Perhaps we need a formula for a size of school... say Library A with 800-1200 students/60-90 faculty should spend between x and y. Library B with 200-400 students and 35-50 faculty should spend between v and w. Coming up with those formulas would be extremely difficult of course.
Could there be a formula for student body size/number of reference librarians/number of legal reference classes taught? Number of programs for faculty?
Measuring the number of full-time public service and tech services staff per number of students/faculty should be factored in. Without enough support staff, library collections can suffer.
Perhaps using faculty/student surveys, if they could be standardized and requiring a certain level or participation could be factored in.
Being rated for certain specialties also makes sense. It would be useful to know where our library stands in certain key collection areas.
Posted by: Lisa Arm | May 12, 2006 9:50:49 AM
1. Using the size of expenditures for evaluation has significant flaws. There is probably at least a 20% difference in cost of living between locations of various law schools in the United States. One can pay personnel considerably less in Akron, Ohio, Grundy, Virginia, and San Antonio, Texas to live. This is usually reflected in the law library budget.
2. A second factor in evaluation is what a law schools goals are. It is unfair to measure Harvard Law Library against the University of Akron if our goals are different. If we both expect to graduate future Supreme Court Justices and lawyers for the upper level of the legal profession then perhaps our libraries and legal education program and the amount of resources used should be similar. If we expect very different outcomes then our resources should be different.
Posted by: Paul Richert | May 9, 2006 7:03:48 AM
One additional concern with all the suggestions for "budget-based" methods -- any budget-based rankings would require a shared definition of what are "library services," but the boundaries between the library, law-school IT, and administration of educational technologies differ from one school to the next. So wouldn't the "total budget" suggestion also require some use of the "core services" suggestion? We might also look seperately at "content-provision budgets" (resources spent directly on print or electronic information) and "service budgets" for some defined core group of services.
On the other hand, any budget-based measure (absolute or proportionate) has the flaw of being a measure of inputs (money) rather than of outputs (service and collection quality) -- does that penalize (or at least fail to reward) efficient use of resources?
Posted by: Andrew Larrick | Apr 26, 2006 8:18:58 AM
How about a ranking by percentage of the law school budget that is spent for the library?
Posted by: Paul Lomio | Apr 21, 2006 8:24:41 PM
Any ranking system must be multi-faceted using objective standards to determine "good" collections, staff, services, facilities, etc. Any system also must include patron assessment (peer assessment is problemic IMHO).
I would like the ranking system to be divorced from the ABA/AALS site inspection process because ranking systems are far too controversial; I prefer the judgement of an experienced law librarian applying the current ABA/AALS standard in such situations (standard perhaps modified to be truly format neutral). For this reason, I think it wise that AALL look toward the development of a "good practices" standard.
The key to producing a useful ranking system will be the relative value given to each facet in a formula that generates one overall ranking, assuming that's what the profession wants. In my opinion, I don't think we need to know the Top 10 Academic Law Libraries. I would however like to see rankings by facets. Library administrators could use such ranking information in conjunction with the data provided in the ABA Composite to evaluate their operations.
We certainly have one example of how not to rank law libraries, namely the ludicrous National Jurist rankings. Any ranking that lists Harvard Law Library and my law library (U of Cincinnati) as being of equal rank is proof of a ranking system gone wildly astray. Why is the Cincinnati law library "as good as" Harvard in NJ's ranking system? Because our student to seating ratio is nearly 1:1.
We can do better... Easy enough to say, particularly by someone who isn't smart enough to develop a ranking system based on the above comments.
Posted by: Joe Hodnicki | Apr 21, 2006 11:45:03 AM
There needs to be more clarity in the ABA standards in regard to format and the core collection. If we all have access to state statutes on LN/WL, most reported cases on LN/WL and most law reviews through LN/WL/HOL why should we keep spending space and money on these things.
Ranking schools based upon the amount of money spent in some ways will mirror the results of the current rankings. Big budgets go hand in hand with a library that has off site storage and doesn't have to worry about running out of space and doesn't have to worry about the rising costs of serial publications and other materials.
I would be for moving toward rakings based on collection quality. Something along the lines of Lieter's Law School Rankings. I generally agree with Mike Chiorazzi's approach to the future of the collection - we should focus on building excellent in-depth collecitons in a few subject areas and rely on electronic sources and collaborative agreements for the rest.
Any type of quality ranking must take into account the level of service provided. Do the librarians teach? Do they teach in ALR, in LRW, in substantive classes? What materials are available from the library's website? Does the library publish research guides? Do the librarians have faculty status (says a lot about how valued they are by the institution), Is electronic reference service provided? What hours of reference are provided? And the big one - how do the library patrons rate the services? I am sure I left something off this list - so please supplement with more comments.
Posted by: Lee Peoples | Apr 21, 2006 5:59:38 AM
Has anyone considered weighing the unique qualifications and skills of the librarians? For example, if a law school has a center for national security law, and a law librarian has a distinguished record of publication in that area of law, why shouldn't that fact merit consideration in evaluating or ranking an academic law library? The emphasis on collections makes sense, of course; but why not also emphasize the unique value that librarians add to print and electronic collections?
Posted by: Michael | Apr 20, 2006 9:32:43 AM