Event summary – Whats trending in US and Canadian Law Libraries

On 22 January, we started the CPD year with a fantastic talk from Jean Willis, hosted by the Law Courts. Jean, a Director at the Sacramento Public Law Library and American Association of Law Libraries Board Member, discussed the trends in the 3 primary sectors of the US and Canadian law library industry:

• law firms
• academic and law school law libraries, and • public law libraries.

Law firms
Private law libraries are moving past the disruption created by the global economic crisis to a point of stabilisation. Within the industry there has been experiences of downsizing and near shoring which has impacts both law firm libraries and other law firm support services. There have also been ventures into outsourcing by a few firms. Work outsourced to international companies/ offices includes the pro-forma work of temporary/contract attorneys, research attorneys as well as law library services.

What has received the most publicity, including news coverage, is the push within the law library industry toward digitisation and digital collections. Due to a range of factors including reduced space allocation, near shoring etc the law library industry is moving quickly towards digital collections.

Academic law and law school libraries
Within academic libraries a primary issue is the decline in students enrolling in law degrees. This decline has been attributed to a combination of:
• of the high cost of university education
• laws position as a post-graduate degree, and
• increased competition and decreased immediate reward/consideration from being a law graduate.

Whilst the decline hasn’t yet reached the prestigious law schools it is effecting other schools around the country. Schools are actively ‘selling’ the degree to students. This downturn in demand is impacting upon law school and academic libraries with downsizing taking place to combat the reduced student numbers.

Outside of this issue, the academic and law school libraries are working to create practice ready law students.

Public law libraries
US public law libraries operate on a funding model very different from that of Australia. A rapid rise in the numbers of self represented litigants in the 1990s caused law courts to transform from libraries solely serving the bar to providing support to the public.

The capacity of the public law libraries is dependent upon the funding structure of the library – particularly whether its funding comes from court filing revenue. Depending upon their budget and capacity public law libraries within America also have active outreach programs.

The primary service provided by public law libraries is facilitating access to the legal resources and information through physical and online collections as well as creating legal guides. The library may also provide access to pro bono lawyers either through having attorneys on staff or providing space for practicing attorneys to offer pro bono services.

We also discussed as a group the similarities and differences between the US/Canadian experience with that of Australia. Thank you to all our attendees for ensuring that it was a lively discussion.

Key resources that Jean referenced in her talk available here. The podcast from the session is available to members.

Are you a member? Email us at austlawlib.nsw@gmail.com and we will send you the podcast.

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