Last fall I participated in the Allegheny County Law Library 150th Anniversary Symposium: The Future of County Law Libraries.
I was invited to speak by Joel Fishman, law library director emeritus, along with Sara Galligan of the Ramsey County Law Library in St. Paul, Minnesota, Larry Meyer of the San Bernardino County Law Library and Laurel Moran of the San Diego County Law Library. We tasked with answering the question: do county law libraries have a future? Our answer was, indeed, “YES”, there is a future for the county law library, but not without challenges. County law libraries are facing an increasing need for legal services and legal information and at the same time are experiencing decreased funding and staff. However, there are new opportunities to expand county law library services through partnerships and technology.
Sara and I concentrated on the role of the county law library in access to justice. Sara described how law libraries make a major contribution to access to justice by providing access to legal information on the basic level and the advice of an attorney at the most advanced level. I continued with a discussion of partnerships that aid in the expansion of library programs. Partnerships with the bar, legal service providers or, as in the case of the Allegheny Law Library, a law school, provide the ability for the county law library to be seen as an integral and important component of access to justice.
Larry started with the fact that most county law libraries have insufficient funding and that as result are doing so much more with less. He described libraries as the great equalizers and as such should have stable finding. Larry encouraged looking outside the box by utilizing advocacy and partnerships for support.
Laurel seemed to describe what so many county law libraries are experiencing with decreasing budgets. She described the development of a new acquisition policy emphasizing access rather than collection. Laurel set out a good plan for making it through the transition with tips on balancing the needs of users and access to needed legal information.
You can hear and see it all right here: https://law-duq.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=5ba86ca6-b329-4550-a728-36240c7c656
We hope that county law libraries can continue well into the future for at least another 150 years just like the Allegheny County Law Library.