Managing To Keep The Doors Open At Government Libraries

Managing government law libraries today

An article, “Managing Government Law Libraries Today: Challenges and Opportunities,” was recently published in AALL‘s Spectrum (November-December 2016.)  The article was co-authored by Jennifer Dalglish, Daniel Cordova, and Mark E. Estes, Director of the Alameda County Law Library.

image_from_managing_govt_libraries_1In their article, the authors review the history of public law libraries.  They also discuss the difficulties in keeping these institutions thriving under the current economic conditions of shrinking funding and growing expenses.  These professional law librarians have been on the front lines, working to maintain service levels within a changing political and economic landscape.

Here are some excerpts from their writing:

What are government law libraries?

Government law libraries vary widely in who they serve and how they are funded. Some, like the Supreme Court Library, serve only the court; others, like the Department of Justice or Attorney General libraries, serve only agency members; while still others serve everyone—attorneys and non-attorneys. Many county law libraries serve more non-lawyers than lawyers. Funding may come from a budgeting process at the federal, state, or county level or as a form of user fee as a portion of fines of the cost to file a civil suit. Government law libraries are often referred to as “public law libraries,” although some academic law libraries may also be “public.” Government law libraries are any law libraries administered by or organized under a government branch.

Recent experiences shared by the administrators of government law libraries

  • Recession-driven funding reductions and resulting budget crises left lingering effects.  When the economy began to recover, the law libraries fell too low on the list of priorities.
  • Reduced budgets mean fewer books, databases, and staff, which in turn cut the library’s ability to serve the users’ legal information needs.  This is especially hard when the majority of the library’s patrons are self-represented.
  • Continuing misconceptions that all legal information is available for free on the internet and that there is “a form”to meet every need.
  • Budget decision-makers’ lacking awareness about how law libraries are funded.
  • Lack of understanding by decision-makers that law library information resources must be continually updated to keep up with constant changes in the law.  The updates can cost as much as purchasing new titles.

Developing new service models to work through the challenges

  • Reducing the number of hard-copy volumes to better utilize existing and/or reduced space.
  • Switching from hard-copy to electronic access when money can be saved without a detrimental effect to the collection.
  • Charging for services when possible while maintaining commitment to the access to justice.
  • Rearranging the collection to provide additional/better self-service.
  • Limiting the number of titles on a single topic.
  • Implementing self-service printing.
  • Partnering with other organizations.

For more information about the state of government law libraries. read the full text of the article at this link: managing_govt_libraries_aall_spectrum_nd2016

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