PUBLIC LIBRARY COLLECTION GUIDELINES FOR A STATE AND LOCAL LAW COLLECTION
Types of material:
State-specific Public Library Toolkits
- You may find that the majority of patrons looking for legal materials
in your library will have concerns that involve state or local law rather
than federal law. Therefore, it is very important that your state
law collection be as comprehensive, current, and accessible as
In general, a comprehensive state/local law collection should
contain or have ready access to the following types of publications:
state statutes, regulations, local city/county ordinances, good state
practice materials, state form books, and directories (both legal
Case materials may be cost and space prohihitive, but know that if a patron is
researching a topic, cases are a primary source that must be checked (they
plus statutes and regulations consitute "the law"), so a referral to a local
public law library would be appropriate. Many libraries in courts and
publicly funded law schools are open to the public; call before referring patrons.
Several CD-Rom vendors are now putting state cases, statutes, and regulations all
together on a single CD-Rom, which may lessen the cost and space issue.
- Some states publish their own statutes, and some are published by a commercial
vendor. If cost isn't too prohibitive, an annotated version
would be the preferable set to have, because it will list summaries of cases that were
decided about the statute. Here is a listing of which
publishers publish which state statutes.
- More and more states are putting their statutes on the internet. To find them,
you could either go to your state web page (will usually follow a format like
http://www.state.xx.us/ (substitute the postal abbreviation of the state you are
looking for in place of the xx), or you could go to a site that will index the
state information for you like the site called
- There are publishers that will publish the state statutes, cases and regulations
all on the same CD. Common publishers are the
West Group, Lexis Law Publishing
and Law Office Information Systems (LOIS). Cost ranges from $50 - 100 per month.
Check the book Directory of Law-Related CD Rooms (published by Infosources Publishing)
for your state.
- RESEARCH TIPS
- The thing to be careful of with statutes is that you have them updated to current.
For several months out the year, there may be a legislative session going on the same time you are
researching. After the legislative session is over, it may take months to update the pocket parts.
Make sure you are updating your statutes to as current as possible.
Also, many patrons may be looking for bills in the current session, that haven't made it into the state statutes.
The best place generally to find bills is on the internet site for your state.
- The agencies within your state will publish regulations. If you can get a copy from
your state, these are usually less expensive to maintain, and can be very helpful to your
patrons. There is a listing of the administrative regulations for each state, along with
pricing, etc. in BNA's Directory of State Administrative Codes and Regulations
(Bureau of National Affairs).
- The internet has been great for the publishing of regulations. Even bigger law libraries
who were unable to purchase the regulations for each state are now finding that there are more
and more state regulations available at no cost on the internet. A site on the internet that indexes
available state administrative codes is at
- The BNA's Directory of State Administrative Codes and Registers, published by the Bureau of
National Affairs, will list who publishes an electronic version of the regulations for your state.
Also, there are publishers that will publish the regulations on the same disk as the state statutes
and cases Common publishers are the West Group,
Lexis Law Publishing, and Law Office Information Systems (LOIS).
Cost ranges from $50 - 100 per month.
- RESEARCH TIPS
- Regulations are also being revised all the time. Make sure you have the most current version possible.
Most states have an administrative register or bulletin that updates their regulations; you must consult this
resource to update the regulation you are researching.
- Court decisions are generally published for cases that make it to the appellate level.
Only a few states will publish trial court decisions. Once a case is published it is
then arranged chronologically in books called reporters. State cases can be an expensive
set to maintain, depending upon whether you can buy your state cases directly from your
state government (generally less expensive) or whether you go through a commercial vendor.
- More and more states are putting their cases on the internet, though
retrospective coverage is generally not good. Again, as with the statutes,
you could go to the site called Washlaw, and see if
your state cases are listed there.
There are a couple of fee-based internet sites that have better
retrospective coverage than most state pages. One is called
VersusLaw and a patron can do a full-text search of cases from all fifty states,
and pay a fee on either a daily, monthly or yearly basis. (See the Versuslaw page to see a listing of fees.)
The other is the LOIS site (these are the same people who publish the CD-ROMS you will read
about in the next section). They have cases (along with statutes and regulations) for over 20 states with more
states being added all the time.
- There are several vendors that publish state specific CD-Roms, and this may be an option for
you. West Group, Lexis Law Publishing,
and Law Office Information Systems (LOIS). Cost ranges from
$50 - 100 per month and the disc may even include the statutes and regulations in addition to the cases.
- RESEARCH TIP
- In order to determine if a case is still good law, you must perform a process called Shepardizing or KeyCiting.
This process will tell you the subsequent history of your case, and will tell you how later courts have treated
your case. To do this, you can either purchase set of Shepard's Citators (available in paper or CD-Rom) for
the case series you are interested in, or you can have the patron Shepardize on the Internet at the
Matthew Bender site. To Shepardize on the internet, the cost is $4.95
per cite. The paper set may be cost prohibitive for the amount of times your patrons may use it. Patrons should
be referred to a local public law library or to the Matthew Bender site
at http://www.bender.com. Instructions on how to Shepardize are listed on
the updating page. KeyCite is available through the internet at
http://www.keycite.com for a cost of $3/75 per citation.
- Counties and cities within your area will publish ordinances (sometimes called codes).
These will be helpful for your patrons to have because they contain laws on everything from
traffic offenses to snow removal (unless you are in a sunny climate). The best way to find out who
publishes your local codes or ordinances is to contact the city/county recorder or attorney and ask them.
- There are a couple of sites on the internet that are starting to compile ordinanaces, either
at the Seattle Public Library
or the Municipal Code site.
also maintains a listing of links to state and city information, and once
you find your city on the internet you could check the site to see if their code is listed.
- You would need check with the publisher of the ordinances in your area to see if CD-Rom research
is an option.
- RESEARCH TIPS
- Currency is always a question with ordinances, so wherever you obtain your set, make sure you
know the updating policy. For example, one publisher sends out notices that certain sections have been
updated, but doesn't actually send the section language changes that have occurred until they have enough to make a
mailing. You (or the patron) can always check with the city or county to make sure you have the latest copy.
- Court rules govern the operations of the courts (and people bringing cases within those courts),
and may either come as a separate volume with your state statutes or be contained within the statute set
and not separated out. West Group publishes one volume
softbound versions of many state court rules.
- Many states are putting their court rules on the Internet. To find them, you could either go to your
state web page or go to a site that indexes state information like Washlaw
or the National Center for State Courts at
- Many of the State law CD-Roms will also have the statutes and court rules on the same CD.
- RESEARCH TIPS
- There may also be cases decided about particular court rules, so if you have an option, always
use an annotated court rule set.
- If you are lucky, your state will have what are called "practice materials". These materials
are meant to help people bringing cases in particular areas, and can be extremely helpful.
For example, if there is a book on Family Law in your state, it should contain references to the most
important cases and statutes in the area, and may even have forms. You should make a concerted
effort to obtain any pratice materials for your state. Contact the reference desk at your local public law
library to see if they can give you suggestions as to the most helpful practice materials for your state.
- Many state bar assocations publish practice materials. Consult your state's bar assocation homepage for
publication information. To locate your state bar associations page, check
ABA Lawlink, at http://www.abanet.org/lawlink/associations.html.
- RESEARCH TIPS
- Often, the updating on practice materials may be slow or non-existent. Out-of-date practice materials
can be deadly to a person's case, because patrons may rely too much on the text and do not go back to the cases,
statutes, or regulations to see if they have been changed, or to see if they are still good law. It is always
good to point out the date of the book to the patron, and indicate that the legislature may have updated any
statutes mentioned, or a new case may have come out, so the patron can check for those.
- Patrons often come in looking for state specific forms and sometimes these are the hardest items to find
for them, unless you are lucky enough to live in a state where they have a lot of good practice materials. The first
place to check for forms would be to see if there are any forms included in with your state practice materials. Sometimes, there
will also be forms within the statute sets, either close to the court rules, or sometimes as a statute itself (the legislature
will lay out the language of a quit claim deed, or a living will). If you can't find the forms you need there, you may have
to rely on more generic forms. There are often forms included in the self-help legal books.
- Several internet form sites are starting to pop up. Check out Findlaw or the
Electric Law Library or
- CD-ROM / DISC
- Depending on the form needed, there are several publishers of business and estate forms, but fewer for court forms.
Check out the book Directory of Law-Related Cd-Roms 1999,(Infosources Publishing, for a listing.
- RESEARCH TIP
- This is an area that can feel uncomfortable to a reference librarian. The reason why is that
very rarely can you say "for sure" this is the form that will do what the patron wants. And really, the patron
is wishing you just sold fill-in-the blank forms. Many times, the patron will need to ask whoever they are
going to present the form to (be it court or agency) if the format will be acceptable.
- Directories need no introduction, and the following types of directories
would be helpful to your patrons and should be available for you to obtain
from your State Bar (or they would know who publishes it), and from Government Agencies.
- A directory of attorneys in your area.
- Government phone directories
- Listing of any Public Law Libraries in your area and their addresses and phone numbers.
(you may have to compile this one yourself by calling around - when you do, make sure
to note their policies about serving the public.)
- For Attorney Directories. Many state bars are beginning to put their membership
rolls on the internet. A place that compiles a listing of state bars on the web is at
For nationwide searches, you can check the
Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory or West's Legal Directory.
- RESEARCH TIPS
- For Attorney Directories. There is often an interest by patrons in finding out attorney performance records.
The paper Martindale Hubbell Law Directory will assign attorney's ratings, and they will list the criteria for ranking at
the beginning of the Martindale Hubbell volume. Otherwise, calling the local bar and seeing if they have a lawyer
referral program may be an option (the Bar may also be able to tell the patron if there has been disciplinary
action against the attorney).
Government Phone Directories. Although it is nice to have a phone directory just for the government offices, your
patron could also check the blue pages of their local phone book. One handy reference book to have in
this area that covers multiple states is the
State Yellow Bookpublished by Leadership Directories, 212-627-4140.
last updated December 30, 2009
Please send comments and suggestions to Lee Warthen