We are hearing more and more about budget crises impacting court-related law libraries.
For example, West Virginia is closing its regional law libraries.
Similarly, law libraries in Texas, Washington State, and Connecticut are facing urgent funding problems.
I note that the reason for the West Virginia closures is stated to be“lack of use,” and, indeed technology is fundamentally changing the attorney usage picture.
I know nothing about the individual law libraries involved, but to me the moral is clear: if court and government law libraries are going to survive, they are going to have to stretch themselves to meet the urgent and ever increasing need for assistance from the self-represented — and indeed from the public libraries that more and more are working to meeting that need.
There are now plenty of models for this work , and I doubt that law libraries will find the advocates they need unless they move in this direction.
Public law libraries and librarians do (and must) play a critical role in the access to justice community. Law Librarians are essential in helping self-represented persons find and use legal information. This is even more important today as families caught in the economic downturn face difficult legal problems and as resources available for legal aid continue to shrink. Judges literally direct pro se litigants to the courthouse law library to find forms and assistance. The Washington State Law Library, for example, provides legal resources to individuals, legal aid organizations, non-profits, rural government groups and municipalities, and state agencies; patron use increased 15 percent in the last 5 years, with a 65 percent increase in use of electronic resources. Thanks to an amazing effort by Washington librarians, lawyers, and concerned citizens the Washington State Law Library will continue to exist, although with a signficant $400,000 budget cut. The Texas State and Connecticut Libraries are still awaiting news of their fate; we are hoping for positive outcomes.
The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and its members and state-based affiliated chapters look forward to working with colleagues nationwide in efforts to improve access to justice through access to public law libraries. Echoing previous comments, in the fight for survival in these tough budget times, we must all work together to make sure that policy makers know the critical role public law libraries play in our democratic society.
On the closing of the West Virginia law libraries —
What are you willing to bet that these libraries did not have staff or the mission to assist self-represented litigants or did not look to reaching out to, and, meeting the needs of SRLs? “Lack of use” of a law library doesn’t mean “lack of need for legal information.” It may, however, mean “lack of focusing a library collection/service to meet the need.” Obsolescence is what will happen to court law libraries who don’t realize their patron base has already changed.
Law librarians must engage in advocacy at many levels to promote what we do for the general public. Coalition building is critical, even with small, like-minded groups. When our message, meaning and purpose with pro se are communicated, we get support!