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CTC2009 Question: why have a law library?

Posted by Joan Bellistri on September 24, 2009

The topic for this morning’s plenary session was Leading in State Courts: The Unique Challenges Facing Leaders of Loosely Coupled Systems. The moderator, Dr. Mal O’Connor,  began the program with the discussion of the differences between command and control systems and loosely coupled systems.  Many courts are the latter with many different entities working within the system to reach the same goal but with no clearly defined head in charge of the whole court.  All systems are social and technical with the loosely coupled system having its own set of challenges.  System wide change is understandably difficult for such a court system with tensions and contradictions seen in the relationship between the appointed and the elected,  judicial and legislative interests, trial and appellate courts, and between standardized practices versus localized practices.  The challenge to leadership involves the ability to protect and guide.  Fairness, collaboration and the sharing of information are key to success.

After the discussion of systems, there was a panel discussing change in terms of the introduction of technology projects in the courts.  What got my attention was the comment by Karl Heckart, Chief Information Officer for the Arizona Judicial Branch, that now technology drives the business and as such acts as an equalizer.  He stated that with the introduction of technology we have to ask ourselves questions such as: why do we have a law library or why do we have court reporters?  Needless to say that was all I could think about as the panel discussion turned to the implementation of court technology such as case management systems and e-ticket programs.  We were directed to discuss technology implementation projects in our own courts with those sitting next to us and then report those questions or problems to the panel.  No one took them up on the reporting request but now I wish I had been able to break away from my seat mate discussion group to answer that library question.

I could have at least said that libraries provide access to justice through access to information.  And, that although the nature of the source of some of that information may have changed, the role of the library with professional librarian remains the same: access to the information necessary to solve a legal problem or question.  Electronic information is not necessarily easier to access by nature of it being on the Internet, especially so for the ever increasing self represented litigants that law libraries serve every day. Librarians assist in the navigation and evaluation of  legal information no matter the format.  Law libraries are evolving as self-help center partners or even self-help centers in fact.  It should be clear that a court has a law library because of the valuable services provided there.

Later, at lunch I had to answer a deputy clerk’s question as to whether my library had any books any more.  Before I could answer, the clerk of that court stated that I should have gotten rid of them all.  (She was even older than I am.)  So, I had my chance to explain that we still have books even though we have Westlaw and Lexis and that no matter the format the librarian is necessary in the efficient use of any of those  tools.

It is important that I convey as much as possible the value of a law library to the court while I am here to everyone I meet.   All court law librarians should be on a constant campaign to make sure their courts are aware of that value.  Any court that does not have a law library should feel like they are really missing out on something.

3 Responses to “CTC2009 Question: why have a law library?”

  1. Joan, I’m enjoying your blog and appreciate your sharing the program and your reactions to it. Keep up your efforts to let other attendees know the library’s worth for the public. If they didn’t have us, what would the clerks of court and the court administrators do? Unfortuantely, the latter rarely have worked with the public, so they have no idea how hard it is for the unrepreented to access legal information and the appropriate judicial components.

  2. Minnie said

    We are facing this type of “attack” everyday. It is so hard to get the point across as to why law libraries are important. You don’t say why court technology, etc. think that courts should get rid of law libraries and books. Is it because that the SHC’s and online forms are the answer to everything or is it because IT would like the law library budget to make the world a better place? Thanks for the post and report -Signed, A Hopeful (new) Law Librarian

    • aacpll said

      It seems to me that the reasoning for not needing a law library is that “everything is online.” We know that it is not true but even if it were, the library and librarian are still needed for the navigation and selection of sources just as before. We need to emphasize that libraries are not just places with bookshelves but a point of service for many of the courts customers, in person and virtually.

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