A take on Jack of Kent’s defence of law libraries

Law Blogger and English lawyer, David Allen Green, writing as Jack of Kent, has posted a robust blog in the defence of law libraries and law librarians. Coming from a lawyer’s keyboard, it is a heartening read.

The full post by Jack of Kent can be read here.

It begins with a statement of why the existence of law libraries are in the public interest as a “leveller” in a system often cast askew through various privilege levels. A law library, in essence, gives equal access of good information for all legal practitioners on behalf of their clients.

The post continues with reasons for keeping the proper working usage of library space and it concentrates on the importance of trained information staff within that space.

There is only so much even the most experienced lawyer can know about legal materials and where to find them. An experienced law librarian will not only be familiar with the queries all lawyers tend to have (and so can use that experience to save the time of everyone) but will invariably be able to assist in solving the most esoteric of research problems. A good law librarian is not only responsive; he or she will anticipate the changing needs of lawyers and ensure new materials (physical and electronic) are readily available. And it is a simple truth that one cannot have good law librarians without having good law libraries for them to work in; it is not a “transferable skill” which can be somehow developed just on a training course.

It pinpoints the root of an argument against the over-reliance of online databases:

To rely on electronic databases is to make the lawyer the hostage of the whims of a handful of highly expensive vendors and their licensors.

A view complementing a blog by Ruth Bird on the subject of physical items still having a place on library shelves:

When online subscriptions are cancelled, you may lose access to everything you have paid for over the lifetime of your electronic subscription. People may joke about endless back-sets of National Geographic filling thrift shops, but with those, you subscribed for some years, you cancelled the sub, but you still had the tangible items you had paid for.

If you had bought an electronic subscription to the same magazine in the early 1990s you may have received issues on 5 and a quarter inch floppy disks. By 2000 you would no longer have had a computer that could read these disks. The same sub in the late 90s could have come on the 3 and a half inch floppy, and by 2005 no new computer could read it either.

In all this time your book or magazine in paper could have sat untouched on its bookshelf, but when you came back to it, the technology was still functional.”

It is important to understand how information is managed, curated and sensitively balanced in any working library collection. It is vital to understand where information comes from, how it is created and how it is maintained for use. Information professionals are best positioned not only to do this, but for educating library users in these aspects.

The opinion of Jack of Kent, as a whole, is framed in the context of a proposal to alter and substantially reduce the extent and collection of the Inner Temple Library for increased training and consultation rooms. This plan has been highlighted by BIALL and an online petition can still be signed via “Save the Inner Temple library” a site created for support to oppose the alterations.

Once space is taken from a law library, rarely is it replaced elsewhere or returned later.

…… ~ ……

The SLLG Blog would like to take one point Jack of Kent makes yet further, if we might be allowed.

We might change “Finally, a good law library needs law librarians” to rather: “Foremost, law librarians are needed for a law library to be good”. Just as a law library improves with resources, so too does the law librarian improve with support, having collaborative input in the design of the service, and the opportunity to develop thinking and skills in any professional direction available.

It is always the SLLG’s opinion that most valuable resource of any library is the librarian staff and they should be treated as such.

Bird, R. 2015, Libraries – the Value of Just in Case, Not Just in Time, viewed 15 September 2015.

Green, D.A. 2015, In praise of law libraries, and why defending Inner Temple law library matters, viewed 15 September 2015.

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