ARCHIVED: Future of Law Libraries in the Digital Age Scenario #5: Academic - Academic Law Library as a Place

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(November, 2001)


The academic law library has traditionally served as the center of intellectual life of the law school, the place where faculty and students obtain legal information and assistance with research projects. Even in the fast changing world of digital legal information, where remote access to library resources and services is common, the law library continues to house significant print collections, to develop facilities for access to electronic resources, to provide on-site services, and to accommodate library staff and infrastructure. Another important traditional role for the academic law library is to provide space for group and individual study and research.

Accreditation standards demand, and legal educators agree, that legal education requires a residential component that includes significant interactions with instructors and classmates in and out of the classroom. While the proposed revisions regarding distance education provide more flexibility in this regard, they still emphasize this value - see proposed Interpretations 306-3, 306-4. Accreditation standards also continue to require library facilities to accommodate research and study space, and space for collections, services, staff and equipment.

Thus the academic law library as a continuing institutional presence and a place in the law school prompts this vision of the future.


This conception of the academic law library contemplates an institution with a proverbial foot in both the physical and the electronic worlds. As changes in library usage and the ways that patrons access its information sources have accelerated, the academic law library has re-examined its mission and redirected its focus towards maintenance of its vital institutional presence within the law school. The physical plant is designed and arranged for flexibility and to accommodate changing use patterns, technologies, programs and services. The library's collections and services are available remotely and on site. Library service desks serve as a central point of access and user support. Librarians with expertise in print and electronic legal research provide instruction (individual and group) and technical support to students and high level scholarly research support to faculty, and they also promote an overall environment of intellectual inquiry. This library is a central gathering space for student collaborations as well as quiet study.


The academic law library building is designed for flexibility and functionality, to respond to and accommodate technologies and applications over time. The building design reflects a redirected mission of the library to promote community and the learning environment contemplated by accreditation standards. Ample study spaces are available at carrels and tables, with laptop access (wired or wireless) to library, law school and other resources. Conference rooms, computer labs and library classrooms feature functional furnishings and the latest technologies. Comfortable lounge seating arrangements are strategically located to promote collaborative conversation without disturbing quiet study and research spaces, and in many institutions a café is located within the library. Service desks equipped with latest technologies offer functional on-site research and other support. A substantial proportion of the print collection - no longer a prominent and primary feature and not growing as fast as in the past, but nevertheless an important facility requirement -is stored on compact shelving or at a remote storage facility for the historical and less used print materials. Some stack spaces have been converted to new uses: computer clusters, conference rooms, lounge areas, service desks and staff offices and workstations. The library facility contains spaces for other law school programs such as legal research and writing, journals, clinics, (see "partnering" scenario).

The collection is a hybrid of print and digital resources. The print collection consists of historical legal texts, and the monograph/ treatise collection continues to grow in this format. Because the treatises are heavily used in print form, this collection is housed on the main floor where browsing and retrieval is convenient. The treatise collection is accessed through the library's OPAC which is incorporated into the research portal described below and in the Virtual scenario. Print versions of primary law sources and finding tools have been decreased substantially if not totally eliminated (perhaps the only remaining primary sources in print are the sets of codes).

The digital content is accessed through a research portal that searches across sources, from library computers and connections or remotely. It consists of legal and non legal databases, links to web sites, and a vast array of other commercial and non commercial sources. (See "virtual"  scenario for more information.)

Library reference, document delivery, circulation, technical support and other services and support are available on site, where patrons receive personalized and hands-on assistance with research and technical questions. Service areas provide easy access to professional assistance all hours that the library is open. Instructional sessions are provided to law students in the library's electronic classrooms. A faculty assistance center provides in depth reference support for research projects and instructional support. Librarians may be engaged in collaborative services and programs with other law school units - eg, Career Services, legal writing, clinics (see "partnering"  scenario).

Staffing levels are maintained to meet the demand for on site assistance as well as remote access by faculty and students. Service desks are staffed all hours the library is open. New service models have been developed to promote the redirected mission of the library. Technical processing staff, reduced in number due to the decrease in print sources acquired, nevertheless continue to perform acquisitions, cataloging and serials processing functions.

Librarians with a high level of expertise in print and electronic formats provide support and instruction to onsite and remote users, and are actively engaged in development and maintenance of the library's digital resources and its research portal. Collaborative initiatives within the law school and across campus keep librarians actively involved in the institutional enterprise, and bring a variety of people into the library.

A commitment to transforming and enhancing the role of the academic law library as a vital presence within the law school does not, for the most part, achieve financial savings. Facilities renovations, maintenance of print collections while moving forward with digital collections, the need to staff service desks for on-site services, all carry budget implications. Law school administrators are convinced that these commitments are worth the expense, however, as the library retains its important role in the institutional life of the law school and promotes the educational experience of its students.

SWOT Analysis


  • Academic law libraries have long served as an environment for research and study
  • Academic law libraries have substantial dedicated space within the law school that can be adapted to changing roles
  • Academic law library staffs with strong service orientation can provide incentives to come into the library for assistance


  • Decline in on-site traffic; faculty and student increasingly not coming to the library to take advantage of on-site resources, services, opportunities
  • Adaptation of library facility, designed primarily to house print collection, for a refocused mission may not be feasible


  • The academic law library as the interactive and intellectual "center" of the law school
  • Development of high level technological expertise and support centers
  • The law library with a refocused and revitalized mission, developing new resources and services for faculty and students on-site


  • Law school administrators unwilling to invest in transforming the traditional role of the law library
  • Technological advances undermining the library as place