Saturday, November 13, 2010

New scholarship alert: "How Academic Law Libraries can Shape Their Collections in Response to the Call for More Practice-Oriented Legal Education."

This one is by UNC School of Law reference/faculty services librarians Leslie A. Street and Amanda M. Runyon and can be found at 102 Law Lib. J. 399-439 (2010).

From the introduction:

Anyone working in a law library today is familiar with the traditional pressures on library collection budgets. The recent economic downturn has caused even more strain as libraries have sought ways to cut from existing budgets. In the current economic climate, cancellations of library subscriptions and reductions in collections are a necessity and have become the reality for all types of law libraries.

In addition to the stresses placed on law library collections due to budgetary concerns, law libraries face other institutional changes that impact their collections. Collections are fundamentally changing because of new technologies and a growing reliance on electronic materials.  Faced with this new reality, though, law libraries and scholars have done little research examining the impact of potential cancellations on legal research education. Instead, research has focused on the mechanics of collection development or the mechanics of cancellation.  In her 2009 article, Amanda Runyon discussed survey results quantifying the types of materials academic law libraries have been cancelling and removing from their collections  in recent years. While this survey explored big-picture trends in cancellation based on quantitative data, it did not address the possible effects of such cancellations on library services or on the law library as a component of the law school. Collections reflect the pedagogical and scholarly needs of their larger institutions, so changes in library collections should be placed within the larger frame of law school institutional changes.

Along with collection changes at law libraries, academic law libraries face complications stemming from the fact that their supporting institutions--law schools--may also be entering a state of flux. Scholars have pointed out that legal education addresses three activities: "the practice of law, the enterprise of understanding that practice, and the study of law's possible understandings within the context of a university."  These three purposes, though, are frequently seen as being in conflict with each other within the law school. One common critique of legal education is that it emphasizes theory at the expense of preparing students for actual legal practice. Although the Socratic/casebook method has been the bedrock of legal education for more than a century, critics of traditional legal education are gaining prominence.  A number of schools are introducing alternative curriculum models for second- and third-year law students as an outgrowth of the movement to modernize legal education. Legal educators have come together to study and offer suggested reforms to legal education.

Critics have also argued that legal scholarship itself is too far removed from the realities of the practice of law. Some even contend that legal scholarship and legal practice are diametrically opposed, saying legal scholarship has become "pure theory," while legal practice is motivated by "pure commerce."  If one accepts this portrayal of the situation, it appears that compromises between the study and the practice of law are difficult to make and that one is always doomed to misunderstand the other. For that reason, a number of practitioners, judges, and academics have called on legal scholars to give more consideration to legal practice in their scholarship.

 Despite these discussions within the academic legal community, there have been few discussions in the corresponding academic law library community regarding what these potential changes mean for library collections. Are our collections able to adequately prepare students for practical realities as well as meet the scholarly needs of our institutions? This article focuses on how our collections may or not be poised to respond to these changes by looking at collection cancellation decisions, chiefly in regard to secondary and practitioner-oriented materials. Because of the importance of these sources to the practice of law, we suggest that looking at the treatment of these materials is a good guide for assessing the ability of an academic law library to assist the law school in preparing law students for legal practice. We also look at the collection development decisions of law firm libraries, and their attitudes toward secondary-source legal research, to examine whether academic law library collections contain the resources that law students will use most frequently when they enter the practice of law. If law schools are attempting to prepare students for legal practice, then law students should be trained in legal research with collections similar to those they will encounter in practice.

The second part of this article discusses the conflicting purposes of the legal academy and the calls for its reform, particularly the need to offer better professional preparation to students; law school efforts to alter their curricula; and calls for more practical legal scholarship. We then examine the implications that these reforms may have for law library collections. We review the collection development decisions of law firm libraries regarding secondary sources and practitioner-oriented materials, and discuss the collection development decisions that academic libraries are making with regard to the same materials. That discussion is followed by a brief exploration of how the cancellation decisions of academic law libraries differ from similar decisions made at law firm libraries. We then consider whether this incongruence bodes well for the responsiveness of academic law library collections to the increasing push to revamp the law school curriculum to more adequately prepare law students for life as professionals. The article concludes with our suggestions for aligning academic law library collection management decisions with the needs of the changing law school curricula, with the ultimate goal of increasing the academic law library's role in the preparation of new lawyers.

Our basic premise is that although the realities of stagnant or shrinking collection budgets dictate that cancellation decisions are necessary for academic law libraries, cancellations should be made in view of larger considerations not only of pending changes in law school curriculum, but also with a view toward anticipating future needs of law students. In other words, academic law libraries should take time to consider larger implications of cancellations and not hurry through any major cancellation project simply in the name of reducing their budgets. Increased attention has been given to making legal education and scholarship more practical and more aware and reflective of practice, and academic law libraries should consider these developments when making collection development decisions.


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