Volume 15, No. 3
My wife and I recently took advantage of incredibly discounted tickets on a new international flight from Charlotte, North Carolina to Paris, France in late January. Because of the weather in Paris, January is not high tourist season, but rather, is low, low tourist season. We planned to spend a week and, before we left, I arranged for a visit and tour of the Bibliothèque Cujas which is part of the Université of Paris I (la Sorbonne) and the largest law library in France. I referred to the Clearinghouse for Internships and International Personnel Exchanges web page listing of the Foreign, Comparative and International Law section of the American Association of Law Libraries (www.lawsch.uga.edu/fcil/clearintro.html) for information on arranging the visit. I e-mailed the contacts listed on that page for the Bibliothèque Cujas and Madame Catherine Forestier, the assistant to the law library director, responded and arranged my visit.
I visited the library on the morning of Friday, January 26, 2001. Still recovering from jet lag, I took the Metro to the Luxembourg stop near the Sorbonne and walked to the Bibliothèque Cujas near the Panthéon arriving thirty minutes late to my appointment. The security guard at the building had been notified of my arrival and called Madame Gautier-Gentès, specialiste de téléreférence et du droit comparé, immediately upon my arrival.
After making profuse apologies for my late arrival, Madame Gautier-Gentès (who seemed not to be bothered by my tardiness) began the tour of the Bibliothèque Cujas by showing me the large reading room where most of the basic French legal resources are located. In France, the study of law begins at the end of the undergraduate level. Frequently used French legal resources are located in the reading room as well as computers for the on-line public access catalog. Madame Gautier-Gentès informed me that there is not a reference desk like in American law libraries, but rather the library has an information desk for general questions and more complex reference questions are referred to specialist librarians who are physically located elsewhere in the library.
We then took a tour of a specialized legal research area used by students seeking more advanced research questions, known as the Centre de Recherches Documentaires (CERDOC - see http://www-cujas.univ-paris1.fr/cerdoc.html). There, more sophisticated computerized research resources (both online databases and CD-ROMs) are available. The Bibliothèque Cujas does not subscribe to either Westlaw or Lexis because neither on-line service directly meets their legal research needs and because of their expense. Madame Gautier-Gentès also showed me a proprietary database that the Bibliothèque Cujas with the cooperation of private law firms in Paris had developed. This database, the Doctrinale, indexes articles from legal journals searchable by keywords. Librarians at the Bibliothèque Cujas and documentation specialists at the partner private law firms prepare the abstracts and indexing. The key word indexing is extensive and allows for efficient searching. The abstract and key word indexes are in the language of the original article so there are French, English and German language materials within the index.
During our visit, Madame Gautier-Gentès discussed various issues concerning French law libraries and legal education. A recent concern is the lack of research skills among some law students in France. Even some advanced students do not have the legal research skills expected at that level. In her view, a weakness in French legal education is the inconsistent emphasis on legal research in the curriculum. As a result, the library has placed a new emphasis on training students in legal research and one librarian spends all his time on training law students (in French known as la formation) in legal research.
Likewise, the need and necessity for information technology in legal research is apparent at Cujas. However, the age of the buildings and the fact that the whole area around and below the Sorbonne (yes, subterranean) is a historical site and therefore subject to extensive regulation, has made the installation of information technology and computer networks very difficult.
The Bibliothèque Cujas operates a successful fee-based legal research service, a part of CERDOC. Fee-based research services at law libraries in France are unusual. However, the service at the Bibliothèque Cujas has been in great demand and beneficial to law firms located in the Paris metropolitan region. Graduate law students for the most part respond to requests, although reference specialists supervise and are available to help with the more complicated requests.
My short (approximately 1 ½ hour) visit to the Bibliothèque Cujas gave me a new perspective on the operation of law libraries abroad and the common issues all law librarians deal with such as physical and financial constraints for new programs and technology, the improvement of teaching legal research in the law school curriculum, and the constant battle to meet the mission of the law library within the constraints placed on it by the parent institution. All in all, an interesting Friday morning to spend in Paris with plenty of time left over to see the sights.