March 5, 2013
ABA Proposes Revised Standards For Academic Law Libraries
A major snowstorm and a school early closing give me the opportunity to consider the proposed ABA standards revisions regarding academic law libraries. There are at least two items that stand out. One concerns the relative autonomy law school libraries have enjoyed in a university library system. The common model has the library budget coming from the law school and the director reporting to the law school dean.
The proposed revision still supports autonomy for the library:
Standard 602. ADMINISTRATION
(a) A law school shall have sufficient administrative autonomy to direct the growth and development of the law library and to control the use of its resources.
The revised interpretation, however, opens the door for the library for more accountability to the general university library system than under the current standard. Here are the changes to the Interpretation:
This Standard recognizes that substantial operating autonomy rests with the dean, the director of the law library and the faculty of a law school with regard to the operation of the law school library. The Standards require that decisions that materially affect the law library be enlightened by the needs of the law school’s educational program. This envisions law library participation in university library decisions that may affect the law library. While the preferred structure for administration of a law school library is one of law school administration, it is preferred that the law school administer the law library, a law school library may be administered as part of a general university library system if the dean, the director of the law library, and faculty of the law school are responsible for the determination of basic law library policies, priorities and funding levels requests.
I understand that a small number of law schools have integrated the administration of the law library as part of the larger university library system. I can imagine some issues in this context. One is whether a university acquisitions policy overrides that of a law school. Faculty members at a law school never expect that a book request may need to be approved by another administrator who is not part of the law library, which is a possibility under this kind of arrangement. Anyone who works in an academic law library knows how the law school administration tends to take money from the library accounts near the end of a budget cycle. Now add a university library system to that equation. One would think that part (d) of the proposed standard would protect the law library budget:
(d) The budget for the law library shall should be determined as part of, and administered in the same manner as, the law school budget.
I’m not sure how this would work as a sufficient safeguard in practical application.
The second major change concerns the collection. Standard 606(a) recognizes that a library collection can consist in part with purely electronic access to core (primary) materials:
Standard 606. COLLECTION
(a) The law library shall provide a core collection of essential materials accessible in the law library through ownership in the law library or reliable access. The choice of format and of ownership in the library or a particular means of reliable access for any type of material in the collection, including the core collection, shall effectively support the law school’s curricular, scholarly, and service programs and objectives, and the role of the library in preparing students for effective, ethical, and responsible participation in the legal profession.
I’m assuming that reliable access includes sources such as Lexis, Westlaw, Hein Online, BNA, and others. It’s not to say that libraries haven’t transitioned to electronic access to some items, but there is an awful lot of redundant print that eats at a library budget. I can easily see print versions of law reviews disappearing with or without this revised standard in place. Joe writes a lot about the “Shed West” era in law libraries. I think he’ll see a major acceleration if “reliable access” means Westlaw via text and PDF copies of reported cases and other materials. Shall we start dumping very expensive reporters? That would likely affect legal writing programs. At the same time, what skills are we teaching that require such an extensive and expensive collection of redundant print? Think of the shelf space savings in addition to the cash.
One of the major resource fights between libraries and legal writing programs concerns citators. Legal writing programs like print to teach how Shepard’s Citations work. The new proposed standard 606(b)(8) changes the necessity to keep Shepard’s print volumes:
(b) Interpretation 606-5 A law library core collection shall include the following:
* * * *
(8) those tools, such as citators and periodical indexes, necessary to identify primary and secondary legal information and update primary legal information.
Goodbye Shepard’s in print. Goodbye Current Law Index. Hello LegalTrac, Shepard’s online, KeyCite, Bloomberg Citator and others. Even Google Scholar’s limited free citator has some value. Whenever I’ve taught advanced legal research I’ve cautioned my students to avoid Shepard’s in print if at all possible. I’ll ask again, what skills are we teaching? I think in these days of BYOD (bring your own device) where students more or less have access to law school subsidized subscriptions it would be a welcome change to emphasize the electronic versions of some of these resources over print when they are functionally better. The fact that law schools can offer some on site database access to alums (Lexis Academic includes Shepard’s, for example) doesn’t mean access to these services has to end at graduation. Law schools love staying in contact with alums. Making the library and its online resources available is one way to do that.The full set of proposed changes (so far) to chapters 6 and 7 of the standards is here. More explanatory material is here. [MG]
Preserving America's Legal Materials in Print (PALMPrint), a recent joint initiative of the Legal Information Preservation Alliance (LIPA) and NELLCO, addresses some of the points raised here regarding redundant print collections. PALMPrint is a 3-year pilot project aimed at collaborative ownership, retention and access to core primary print legal materials (retrospective). The collection will be jointly owned and centrally housed at a high density storage facility in Windsor, CT, run by W. B. Meyer. We hope this will serve as a model for other similar initiatives and lead to further collaboration around the acquisition and retention of prospective print materials.
Posted by: Tracy Thompson | Mar 12, 2013 6:28:45 AM
I’ll ask again, what skills are we teaching?
Are we teaching "legal research" as a theoretical skill, or "use of legal research materials" as a practical skill? And, hey, if I'm at a firm, and I'm working with new associates who expect to use a particular resource, and now I can justify retaining that resource or buying that resource anew, works for me!
(And yes, a citator may be an extreme case, but I'm still a firm believer in teaching the mechanics of locating and accessing information in print and using print materials, whether a loose-leaf treatise, a multi-volume set with pocket parts and a separate index, or a stand-alone hardcover book)
Posted by: Mikhail Koulikov | Mar 5, 2013 8:41:48 PM