Book Review: Public Law Librarianship: Objectives, Challenges, and Solutions

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Public Law Librarianship: Objectives, Challenges, and Solutions, by Laurie Selwyn and Virginia Eldridge. IGI Global, 2012, 281 pages. Hardcover, $175.00.

Public Law Librarianship: Objectives, Challenges, and Solutions by Laurie Selwyn and Virginia Eldridge is an educational and insightful compendium of information for all types of law librarians who work as public servants. Through primarily experiential and anecdotal evidence of public law library operations, supplemented with data extracted from listservs, informal surveys, and industry news, the authors reaffirm the continuing validity of public law libraries as necessary venues for the provision of legal reference and research to a growing service population that includes private and public lawyers, judges, government officials, students, professors, inmates, members of the public, and pro se litigants. Each chapter of the book offers a detailed discussion of a discrete area of public law librarianship, including: patrons; governance and operations; management; personnel; public relations; collection development; technology, contracts, and electronic resources; technical services; and public service. While the authors summarize the history and current status of each of these areas, the key value of the book lies in its discussion of industry trends and predictions for the future of public law librarianship. Although many of their forecasts are already a reality at my law library, a few of their suggestions include provocative invitations to public law librarians to explore new service models and re-invent their libraries. As a taste to whet your appetite to read the book yourself, Selwyn and Eldridge repeatedly suggest that public law libraries could provide knowledge management and information technology services for their parent organizations in the form of pre-trial discovery assistance to prosecutors, digital preservation, and even dissemination of local ordinances. Although the authors recommend creating electronic reference desks and offering more remote access, they stop short of concluding that public law libraries will become completely 'virtual' any time in the near future. As they see it, increasing patron demands by self-represented litigants for reference assistance, training, and education, coupled with format issues and authentication concerns, will continue to drive the need for physical public law libraries and print resources. Along those same lines, one suggestion the authors made that I realized I should have already considered is the acquisition of adaptive and assistive technology to help disabled patrons overcome physical and visual handicaps. Lest you worry, I have not revealed all of the nuggets and secrets in Public Law Librarianship, which serves as a current anthology of information upon which public law libraries can rely to craft their future in a mixed world of digital and print resources. 

Kathleen M. Dugan, Esq. is the head librarian of the Cleveland Law Library Association/Cuyahoga County Law Library Resources Board

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