November 23, 2011
Right-sizing Academic Law Library Print Collections in and for the 21st Century: Cornell substituting print with digital like "all other top law schools are doing" but consequences need to be addressed
Most every academic law library director knows that when their institutions need more space, the law library's big footprint on the blueprint becomes an attractive target for a land grab. Law firm directors too. At least since the hiring boom of the 1990s, many firms have cut back firm library square footage to build new offices. One could argue the case that is why private sector electronic information budget spend increased proportionately higher than print info budget spend a decade ago and has continued to escalate.
Law firms led the way. Commercial leasing costs for increasing space was trumped by e-spend increases but that was back in the bill-back to client days. The new normal is for clients to view e-spending as law firm overhead (like p-spending for a law library collection was). Eventually, no client will pay for firm e-research spending. But I digress... . However, law firm e-spending is a leading indicator of where all law libraries are heading. Government and academic e-spend as a percentage of total information budget spending has reached record highs according to a recent survey of AALL reporting libraries. In terms of academic law libraries, reported e-information spend is largely based on virtual wholesale pricing for WEXIS and some other commerical vendors for near "total package" offerings. Imagine what it would be if academic law libraries had to face pricing options offered in the private and public sectors.
Substituting commercial e-Law access for law library square footage. At one time, the academic land grap of library space was fairly small ... a study room here, a nook there. No longer. A case in point is Cornell. Cornell Law School is enacting a three phrase renovation and expansion construction plan that will cost between $55 and $60 million. The project will be completed by 2014 at the earliest. Student, faculty, administrative and academic program spaces will be constructed. The law school's dorm will be re-purposed. Most of the Cornell Law Library's stacks on the bottom five floors of Myron Taylor Hall will be removed to accommodate other space needs.
About the law library, The Cornell Daily Sun quotes Law Dean Stewart Schwab: “As the world goes digital, libraries everywhere, including here, are replacing print collections with digital ones in order to reallocate space. Frankly, all other top law schools are doing this as well.” Indeed that is the case with respect to major (and minor) law school libraries. It's the Shed West Era. Who really needs print reporters, digests, Shepard's, legal encyclopedic sets, law reviews, federal and state statutory and administrative codes in print anymore? In the context of academic law libraries, why maintain lightly used practice-oriented sets of BNA, CCH and Matthew Bender loose-leafs in print?
The difference between academic libraries, particularly ones which other law librarians hold an antiquated tradition-bound perception that assumes our "great academic law libraries" will provide extensive research collections, and law firm libraries is the 21st century transformation of academic law library collection development mission statements. Academic law libraries are becoming just as insititional user focused as law firm and corporate legal department libraries have always been. Today the legal academy defines its user "community" much more narrowly. In The Cornell Daily Sun story Cornell Law Library director, Femi Cadmus, is quoted: "Both print and digital collections, important to the research and scholarship of our faculty and students, will continue to be maintained." In and of itself, I find this to be appropriate objective and not a radical departure in academic law librarianship as practice today, so no criticism of Cornell is intended or implied. However big-picture consequences do need to be addressed.
While many major (and smaller) academic law library collection development practices, if not official policies, can be viewed as format neutral, the reality is that many decisions are being made on the basis of whether or not the resource is available on WEXIS, HeinOnline and other e-vendors. Due to print price inflation vis-a-vis virtual wholesale pricing for WEXIS online, for example, one can expect more and more secondary titles to fall into this cancel-print-and-substitute-WEXIS-access decision. This has sometime been called the "law library without walls" approach. However, in many instances, there is the invisible wall of license-restricted access only to institutional users. What about the 21st century equivalent to good old interlibrary loan, namely document delivery fulfillment by way of a fair use provision in e-licensing?
Consequences: we are all pirates now. Aargh, a case in point. In response to an out-of-state public law library request for a practice-oriented overview on an Ohio state law topic, I downloaded and emailed my colleague a section of a Matthew Bender Ohio secondary resource we have on Lexis in both or user account and patron access plans (so sue me Lexis, if you think I violated our license; ah ... well, it is very rare indeed that I do any "ILL" work). In the good old days, we would have photocopied and mailed or faxed the material if we had it on our shelves. Those good old days are history.
(Note to Lexis: we have two copies of the title on our shelf but, you know what, when this aging and decrepit law library director is filling in for other staff, I'm not wasting my time to photocopy and fax p-text because I have to review my annual renewal notices. Note to readers: I didn't check my Lexis licenses to see if the Company accommodates "fair use;" perhaps it does. Note to self: Am I publishing this adverse interest admission today because it is just ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and I am hoping that Lexis forgets it next week? Plus I am taking today off as vacation time to extend the holiday weekend. Oops, my bad, some Lexis senior executives and my Lexis online and print account managers know how to contact me at home. Wendy and Jen, hope you enjoy Thanksgiving! Please note, I haven't shown my staff how to download multiple sections of an online title in one click but that doesn't mean they don't know how to do it. Loop back up to how we have two print copies of the title on our shelves for text I "ILL-ed" in 21st century.)
The notion that major academic law libraries are supposed to maintain the greatest print collections accessible to all researchers does not reflect the realities of the 21st century now and that will probably most certainly increase in the near future to encompass more substitute e- for p- secondary materials. Think possible eBook licensing restrictions. Yes, I know many current law library patrons inside and outside the legal academy don't like law eBooks but two factors will change that: (1) enhanced law eBooks, when they come to market in mass, will convert some users and (2) more importantly, generational shift from a user population that has not be exposed to enhanced eBooks to one that has been exposed to enhanced e-textbooks in grade and high school will change user attitudes.
Earlier this year, the Cornell Library System announced that it was rejecting all NDAs in publisher and vendor agreements because "an open market will result in better licensing terms." Perhaps Cornell will take the next step by insisting on a fair use provision in all e-licensing. Someone has to. [JH]