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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September Is National Library Card Sign-Up Month

September is National Library Card Sign-up Month.  It’s true.  The American Library Association’s website told me so.Customizable_Joe_Cool_PSA-800cropped

In honor of NLCSUM, below is information on the availability and use of Alameda County Law Library library cards.

Circulation Policy – Generally.

First things, first –  NOT ALL MATERIALS CIRCULATE.  It is a collection staff call because many titles are expensive and/or irreplaceable.  (But see Footnote 1 “Membership.” We are legal industry information specialists. We know all about legal footnotes.)  Items such as the older CEB practice guides and the legal practice management titles do circulate. Titles that circulate have date return slips fixed in the front of the title.

Those items that do circulate, do so for for seven days. (But see, once again, Footnote 1 detailing ACLL Memberships.)

Alameda County Law Library circulation policy furthers the mission and vision of the law library by permitting qualified individuals to become registered borrowers and to borrow materials from the law library pursuant to the book borrower rules set forth below.

Library cards are issued to “qualified individuals.”

There are four categories of qualified individuals, including:

  1. An attorney licensed to practice law and in good standing.
  2. An adult resident of Alameda County. Proof of Alameda County RESIDENCE will be required at time of registration.  Examples include –  current government-issued ID or utility bill showing individual’s name and an Alameda County address.
  3. A judge with chambers or an office in Alameda County or a retired judge residing in Alameda County.
  4. An elected or appointed federal, state, county or city public official with an office in Alameda County.

Registration Requirements

Everyone must:

  • Complete the registration form (name, address, phone #, an email address to send overdue reminders).
  • Present a photo ID
  • Purchase a library card.  $5 for the first library card.

FN 1 – Membership Fees –  Other Membership categories that allow a borrower special benefits.

Additional benefits for larger annual membership fees

Attorneys and Alameda county residents receive additional benefits by becoming a library member:

$50 The ability to renew books for another circulation period provided the item doesn’t have a hold placed on it.
$75 The above plus (a) the ability to check out non-circulating books within the last hour the library is open provided they return them within the first hour the library is open (The late penalty is five dollars per hour.)  (b) a 25% discount on copying and printing (the copying requires a Copy Card).
$100 The above plus a 10% discount on MCLE programs.
$125 All the above plus a 10% discount on conference room rentals.



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Pssst -Thanks for reading this entire blog post.  As your reward for being a detailed oriented, read-the-entire-document-before-signing type of person, I will confess something to you.  I did not first read about NLCSUM on ALA’s website.  None of the law libraries blogs or websites mentioned it.  My daughter told be about it.  She saw it on RuPaul’s Drag Race’s blog. (For mature audiences only.) Thanks, RuPaul, for spreading the word on the value of public libraries into the less traditional public library cultural spheres.  (nfm)





Mark Estes, Director, ACLL — YouTube Interview About The History Of Law Librarianship

 An Oral History of Law Librarianship: Mark Estes, Director, Alameda County Law Library

ACLL‘s own — Mark Estes’ interview is featured this week as part of a series on the history of law librarianship developed by the legal publisher, HeinOnline.   Interviews are made available each month as part of the series, An Oral History of Law Librarianship, at Spinelli’s Law Library Reference Shelf.

The videos contain interviews of active and retired law librarians and others who made an impact on the profession.  This series showcases the individuals as they discuss and reflect on their experiences.

These full video collection is available via our HeinOnline YouTube Channel.

This week they are featuring Mark on the HeinOnline site but you can watch his full interview is below.



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National Library Week – Not Fun Funding


We’ll take a reliable source of funding to-go, please.  Hold the chocolate and tea.

Over the last few years, California’s county law libraries budgets have been battered — caught between the rising tide of ever-increasing subscription costs of legal research materials and the crumbling supports of the number of court filings.  Why court filings you say?  Because a percentage of those filing fees is the primary source of funding for county law libraries in California.

California Business and Professions Code §§ 6320 – 6326 established the funding of county law libraries through a portion of civil filing fees and set out the amount distributed to each. Thus, libraries are supported by civil litigants, their primary users, and not by state and local taxes.

Libraries have been forced to manage expenses by reducing resources and staff, seriously undercutting our mission.  If not addressed soon, the issue of funding will cause services to dwindle further, and some libraries or branches will be forced to close.

The county law library administrators are reaching out to Sacramento for help.  Please help us communicate the urgency of our situation to the state legislature by adding your name to a petition found at our Reference Desk that will be delivered to CA State Senator Loni Hancock.  Senator Hancock represents many Alameda County communities and is a member of the CA State Senate’s Standing Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review.

The petition can be signed using this link.

Thank you to our patrons who have already taken a moment to sign the petition as well as providing kind words of support for the Alameda County Law Library.


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National Library Week – More Than Just Books – ACLL’s Role In Access To Justice

Access to Justice – The Role of Public Law Libraries

The Alameda County Law Library is a public law library.  We try to help everyone who walks through our doors.

In addition to traditional library services of organizing and providing legal books and periodicals, the library envisions a future in which all people have effective access to justice.  To bring about this vision, staff gathers resources and assists patrons with gaining access to information required for participation in the legal system, resolving legal disputes, engaging in commerce, and tending to personal legal affairs and academic projects.  Staff members are specialists in the legal information.

What is access to justice?

The phrase “access to justice” was popularized in 1978 by Mauro Cappelletti and Bryant Garth.  These authors wrote:
The words “access to justice” are not easily defined but they focus on two basic purposes of the legal system – the system by which people may vindicate their rights and/or resolve their disputes under the general auspices of the state.  First, the system must be equally accessible to all; second, it must lead to results that are individually and socially just.
— Mauro Cappelletti and Bryant Garth, “Access to Justice: The Newest Wave in the Worldwide Movement to Make Rights Effective,” 27 BUFF. L. REV. 182 (1978)

What role do the California public law libraries play in achieving access to justice?

Law librarians and law libraries have a keen interest in and a duty to promote access to justice in the various law libraries in which we work, be they academic, firm, state, court and county, or special. We have the knowledge, skills, and resources to provide self-represented litigants with needed information and assistance and provide referrals to legal resources in the community.

It is important to distinguish between providing information and engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, however, e.g., giving legal advice. It is also important to maintain impartiality and neutrality.  Access to justice includes affordable legal services; readily available legal information and forms; the ability to bring a case to trial without hiring an attorney; the unbundling of legal services; fair treatment and equality in the justice system regardless of social standing; and confidence that the outcome will be fair and just.  It is all these things and more.

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Love and the Library Community. The Librarian in Black Speaks.

By Xequina Maria Berber, Reference Librarian, ACLL Hayward Branch.

The following are comments on the “Your Library Community Loves You” presentation by Sarah Houghton, Director of the San Rafael Public Library and author of The Librarian in Black Blog.  Houghton appeared at the January 29th, 2015 joint meeting of two Bay Area regional library groups – BayNet and the Special Libraries Association – San Francisco Bay Chapter.

Houghton spoke to a full house of BayNet and SLA participants about the popular trend of urging the community to love their libraries. She believes this is the wrong approach. She stated, “It makes us sound dysfunctional, needy and pathetic.  It’s defensive and rooted in fear.”  She believes this trend came from the fear of libraries becoming redundant and unnecessary in the age of Google.  “But we’re still here, we’re still needed.” Houghton said, “Bullying and guilting is the wrong way to market our services.”

Houghton believes the focus should be on how libraries and librarians love and appreciate their communities.  Directors should find ways their staff can show appreciation. For example, rather than “I love Libraries” week, it should be “The Library Loves You” week.  Houghton has instituted just such a program at her own library in San Rafael. Each day of that week, library staff actively tell patrons about the service being offered that day, such as, a day for free replacement library cards, a$1 fine forgiveness against their fines or giving away book bags made of recycled materials.

Houghton says, “Libraries must think like a business.  Communicate our responsiveness to the community.  Let patrons know we heard their suggestions and acted on them. Also, focus on individual contributions and recognize the people who contribute. Language should change too; instead of free, say ‘this is a gift from the library to you.’”