ARCHIVED: Future of Law Libraries in the Digital Age Scenario #13: State, Court & County - Riding the Circuit - Roving Law Librarians

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(November, 2001)

Introduction - What is a Circuit Law Librarian?

"Riding the Circuit" is a term that brings a nostalgic thought to many of us in regards to the Old West. It brings to mind pictures of judges on horseback riding the prairies in the pursuit of bringing justice to the citizens of the territory. Although the horse has given way to the automobile, many district judges still feel that they are riding the circuit in their states. With a trend toward centralization of public law library management, many law librarians may feel that they too are "riding the circuit."

Examples of circuit law librarians can be found across the United States and Canada. Oklahoma has consolidated 75 of the 77 county law libraries into a centrally managed system with one full-time law librarian to manage budgets and collections for those 75 libraries. In Canada, the Ontario Province has created a not-for-profit corporation called Library Co. to manage the 48 county law libraries. Library Co. has a roving librarian whose duty is to travel to each library to help the county law library staff with its overall planning and development of delivering legal information to the users of the law libraries.

Oklahoma and Ontario are different in many obvious ways, but the common thread between them is the centralized management of a library system comprised of multiple libraries across a wide area. The goals are to provide both legal researching abilities and professional service to the individual libraries whether the library is located in a large metropolitan area with thousands of users, or in rural districts where there may only be a handful of users.

Implications and Strategies

  • Facilities

    • The infrastructure of the public or county law library is normally housed within the confines of the courthouse. The courthouses can range in distance from a couple of dozen miles to hundreds of miles in some areas. Knowledge of the overall size of the library, shelving space, Internet availability, and even electrical capabilities are essential for the roving librarian. When the roving librarian understands the infrastructure of the local law libraries, the central management can then work to improve any deficiencies and better structure goals to fit the individual libraries.

  • Collections/Content

    • By understanding the infrastructure, the objectives of providing a quality legal research collection can be better achieved. Core library collections must be established so that the legal community has the tools needed to provide competent justice regardless of the size of the community it is serving. Primary law materials must be made available and updated appropriately. The roving librarian must work to ensure that the library collection does not fall into disarray. This means that the librarian must verify that the local staff has properly maintained the collection. The weeding of the collection may also be the responsibility of the roving librarian.

  • Staffing

    • The overall purpose of centralized management of these law libraries is to bring efficiency both to the budgetary process and the collection management. If the roving law librarians are to perform their jobs efficiently, they must be knowledgeable to the needs of each of the libraries in their charge. When they arrive at a law library, the central management must establish clear goals and those goals must be relayed to the local staff.

    • The biggest hurdle to centralized management is the animosity of the local management, whether it is the local law librarian, or the local judge that feels that he or she no longer has control of their law library. The building of trust between the local staff and the roving librarian is essential in order to make the overall process work. Roving librarians are relied upon to implement the goals established by the central management and are viewed by the local staff as ambassadors charged with relaying their needs back to that management.

  • Services

    • The roving librarian should be familiar with the services provided by the local law libraries. Outreach programs, training seminars, and library orientation tours may become an essential part of the roving librarian's duties. With the centralization of management, some materials may be made available through electronic databases. The roving librarian may be called upon to inform the users of the local library what services will be provided at the local level, and what services may be transferred to a central location.

  • Training

    • Depending upon the amount of change in collection and services, the roving librarian may need to train the local staff in adapting to the change and understanding the responsibilities placed on the local staff to maintain the day-to-day operation of the law library. When the collection is modified to include new materials, or converted from books to electronic information, the roving law librarian should work with the vendors, the local staff, and the users of the law libraries to provide appropriate training. The roving librarian may be required to conduct the training and create the necessary training documents to those attending a training session.

  • Budget

    • The roving law librarian is the primary liaison between the local libraries and the centralized management. Knowledge of the budgetary process is essential in order to provide the best services and collections. Depending upon the situation, the central management may be able to combine the budgets of multiple libraries and negotiate with vendors with a single voice. Other situations may require that the local library budgets must be spent locally. It is also important that the local libraries understand that the roving librarian is a service and that salary expenses for the roving librarian will be obtained from the local library budgets.

SWOT Analysis


  • Centralized management
  • Budget consolidation


  • Overall distance and reaction time for individual libraries
  • Ability to find qualified and willing roving librarian


  • More efficient library and staff
  • Negotiate with a single voice


  • Cookie-cutter approach to collection development.
  • Animosity of local staff