Libraries in law schools find themselves with a unique role. They serve as a teaching laboratory.
In order to fulfill this awesome role, the law school library must strive to contain as many of the existing media formats as is possible. In its capacity as a teaching station, the Library must have examples of existing tools in several formats and the students must attain mastery of each of these formats. It is frequently not enough that the student be familiar with the content of a tool; the student must also be familiar and facile with the format of the tool. While a student may be fully aware of how to find the information he needs, he must also be aware of how to get to it and make it work for him. It accomplishes nothing if the student is looking at the information he needs so desperately and cannot get to it for lack of experience and education in using the tool.
We are therefore somewhat taken aback by discussions that pose an either/or choice of formats, for example, giving up key print reference texts for their online equivalents. While it is certainly true that budget parameters severely limit the quantity of resources one can acquire, it is a sad commentary when budget restrictions force us to recede from this primary role of providing information in all formats.
The provision of adequate instructional resources for teachers and students is our chief mission. We cannot be said to be doing an adequate job of preparing students for the practice of law if all we offer is print resources. The same argument holds if all we have is a collection of electronic resources. Nor can we offer only one of a type of resource; the students need to learn to compare and contrast these tools in their various forms. (What doth if profit a student to learn Shepard’s on-line when the employer for whom the student clerks does not subscribe?)
The more problematic situation comes when the same resource is available in multiple formats. The condition is exacerbated when budget limitations force us to choose between and among formats. If we could say with even 80% certainty that our graduates would encounter one format to the exclusion of the other, this having to choose between and among formats would not pose such a dilemma. Just as few law firms operate exactly the same, most students will not have the same approach to research, the same sources, or the same libraries to use. Those who find jobs with large firms might have full access to online database for searching and reading texts; those who work in smaller firms might face restrictions in the amount of time they can spend online, and have to do more print research; and those who concentrate in specialized areas, such as immigration and tax, might find that many of the resources they need are on cd-rom. Obviously, there is no way to predict what a student will encounter outside of academia. Additionally, there is no way to predict which resources will still exist in their current format as a student’s career progresses. It is our mission to provide the information students need in all available formats so they are able to deal with the changing means of information delivery. We do our student body no service when they are not taught the myriad of ways of accessing legal information.
We feel it is incumbent upon law school administrators to recognize the Library in the law school as the laboratory that it is and to see to it that sufficient funds are available so that there is no need to choose between or among formats. Research is much too important a skill to have its mastery of available tools left to chance. We cannot afford to have our graduates leave our institutions and face formats for which they are not familiar and on which they have not received instruction. The academic law library must contain the gamut of available legal resources in all existing formats.