Thursday, January 26, 2006

Now the Hat Trick: Why Law Libraries?

Here is a really dangerous question for me to ask. Sort of like a sword swallower with hiccups. (This picture of a daring sword-swallower comes from a website devoted to the dying (hah!) art: There are two parts to the question. Why have specialized libraries for law? And why do law schools still need libraries? They are both linked, and both are very dangerous to things I hold dear.

Why have specialized libraries?
There is a very nice article in Law Library Journal dealing with the founding of the American Association of Law Libraries If I recall, the main impetus seemed to be the feeling that legal researchers were not well served in general libraries, and that legal materials were not well-understood by general librarians. That may not have been fair, but since the explosion of legal publications in the century since, it is probably more true now than ever. Who can keep up with the changes in print: looseleafs, newsletters, new titles and new editions? Things change more rapidly all the time, and the online services keep adding and changing features. Having specialized librarians undoubtedly helps for reference, research and acquisitions management.

I recently heard a lawyer who visited a university in Europe talk about trying to use an integrated library where the law materials were mixed into the general collection. He said that being in a different country was not a problem -- he spoke the language fluently. But the integrated library drove him nuts. Unfortunately, our discussion did not reach a point where I could understand if his irritation really could be analyzed better than that or could be chalked up to "he was used to a different organization in his home library." I do think it helps to have the materials close together, but a subject organization, like Dewey or Library of Congress may well achieve that as well as a physically separate library. After all, the Library of Congress call number system relegates all the law materials to the K classification. So, sadly, I am not able to do more than voice my personal opinion that specialized librarians make a big difference, and therefore, a specialized library is good.

Do Law Schools Still Need Libraries?
Yes! I answer resoundingly. Here are the roles that the Law Library fulfills in my Law School:

* Teaching lab - We still have the entire 1-L class tour through the Library and each year, have 3 hands-on workshops often enough that each 1-L student participates in each one through the Suffolk version of LRW. We teach them on Digests, Statutes and Shepards. When Rick Buckingham pioneered these, the professor he worked with and her students were so impressed with the difference it made in their understanding of how to do the research compared with what they got in classrooms. We also teach most of the Lexis and Westlaw classes, cranking through all the 1-Ls in each, and offering specialized versions. The LRW teachers also meet their classes in the library for difficult assignments.

* Study Area - We purchase lots of study aids for the students (of course), and 2 copies of every required textbook, as well. At exam time, we hand out a hundred dollars worth of hard candy each semester and disposable ear plugs as well. Of course, like every other law school library, we offer extended hours during the exam reading period.

* Social Area -
(a) Students and other users
Every librarian knows that an awful lot of social activity goes on in the library. (Some more hanky than panky. I don't know what there is about reading law that seems to stir up some folks' libido. We actually added windows to the study room doors!) But, less hank-ful activities, too. There are soft-seating areas around tables where groups of students naturally congregate and chat. There are the study rooms, where we actually encourage groups of students to talk and work together. Teams and study groups and friends meet in the library to work on projects, study together or plan things. We all know that Bill and Hillary Clinton met in Yale's law library. I imagine a lot of legal couples did. And of course, there are the ubiquitous cell phones. These may actually count as anti-social, though, in the library.
(b) Faculty and Deans
I host a Faculty Tea every fall. This is quite the affair. I bake scones from a recipe I adapted myself. I shake cream til it's nearly butter. I bring in home-made jam. I have china tea-pots and make fresh tea. We have a very beautiful room with a lovely view of the Boston Common on the top floor of the library, that is set aside for parties. The good thing is it brings faculty into the library who might not otherwise come. I invite the reference librarians so they meet, face-to-face, the folks who have been helping them. They walk through a beautiful library, past shelves of books (even if they don't use them). And they have a beautiful, civilized, break, and attribute it all to the LIBRARY.

* Research Area - Gasp! Some people still do research in the library! There are a good fifteen or so professors who pop in fairly regularly for research here. And far more who ask the librarians to do research for them. This has been one of the library's services that has increased in usage most since I have been here. There used to be perhaps six users and only two heavy users. Now there are twenty-five regulars and of those probably six qualify as heavy users.

* Teaching Resources - Librarians will come to classes on request to teach students about research on a topic. On occasion, a librarian has continued throughout a course, nearly co-teaching it at the professor's request. The Director of the library does teach Advanced Legal Research and has co-taught Tax Research and Practice with a tax professor. Reference librarians prepare bibliographies for deans and for professors. They will also prepare webographies and other handouts for professors on research resources or techniques.

* Purchasing/Budget Management/Problem Solving - We buy the books, make sure the databases are there, CDs are available when faculty want them, reserves are all fixed, and buy stuff for faculty offices. And we make sure they KNOW we do it. Not too obtrusively, but we don't make it too invisible, either. And if they have any problems -- they get a bill sent direct to them (horrors!), or they don't get the pocket part, or whatever, WE MAKE IT RIGHT. A phone call. We make it right. But we also make sure they know IT WASN'T OUR FAULT. AND WE ARE THEIR FAIRY GODMOTHER. IF THEY ARE NICE, WE ARE NICE. (at least, I hope they understand that). I have a fabulous staff in acquistions and all of technical services right now. That is who takes care of all this and makes all this stuff work. That group is very important! We want the dean and the university to know that we will take care of the budget as well as we can (boy is that hard these days!), while the faculty feel like we will get them anything they need (boy is that hard these days).

So, do YOU think the law school could get these things done without a law library? Do you think they could get these services from the university library? Do you think they would be smart to save money and just count on Westlaw and Lexis and close us up? I hope I've convinced you that there is more to a law school library than just finding a case.

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