Friday, September 29, 2006

Collection Development Issues and Knowledge Domain Acquisition

During an SCCLL meeting, I overheard a comment that SCCLL members do not participate in AALL committees outside of their SIG. A possible way to involve SCCLL librarians with academic law librarians would be for the two groups to jointly work on evaluations of materials.

Let me give some examples of incidents that prove the need to document the domain knowledge of librarians.

A law clerk came in asking for Patrick Wall’s Eye-Witness Identification in Criminal Cases (1965). I spent an afternoon trying to locate a copy in the NYC area. I was surprised at what a difficult time I was having trying to retrieve a book with a 151 citations in the Lexis combined federal/state case database. When I did locate a copy in a local university, the young librarian told me that she might have discarded the book because it was so old, but now that she knew how frequently it had been cited, she would mark it retain indefinitely. Older librarians that I spoke to about the title recognized it immediately.

Earlier this week, we were trying to decide whether or Corbin or Williston on Contracts was better for our library. My instinct and Svengalis’ Legal Information Buyer’s Guide was for Corbin, but New York state courts cited Williston more frequently. Why? And do I want to read those 1000 decisions? Not really. William Manz writes about citation practice in the New York Court of Appeals, but I don’t think he has gone into evaluations of titles.

Another time during a budget cut meeting, long-time reference librarians were able to point the value of sets for attorney practice. I learned a lot in that meeting. These insights were not documented anywhere, not in the catalog record or in the training manual. Such discussions are not lunch room chatter.

All those librarians upon whom I have relied are nearing retirement age; their replacements will be expected to do more with less. Without a program on reference orientation that is about more than being friendly while handling a busy desk, phones, and self-represented litigants, we fail to acknowledge that much of our job involves real knowledge. Svengalis’ book is wonderful, but I often feel the need for more in-depth treatment of materials, especially older books.

Has anyone thought about this? I don’t think that this issue can be handled by listserves


Betsy McKenzie said...

Jacqueline, this is an excellent point! I have been frustrated in discussions about retaining print and whether electronic materials take their place. It's hard to come up with individual titles to test as examples in the vacuum of debates framed as policy questions. Like courts, we need to have real life issues before us to make these pronouncements with any chance of wisdom in the long run.

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