Appellate Court Libraries and State Law Libraries Standards

Approved by the Executive Board July 14, 2016, Tab 12


Access to justice is a fundamental right of every citizen of the United States. Meaningful access to legal information is an essential element of this right. Law libraries are integral to the administration of justice as providers of legal resources. Each state law library and appellate court library holds its resources in public trust to ensure that legal information is available to all citizens. The members of the Government Law Libraries Section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) offer these standards as guidelines for appellate courts or state administrative authorities to follow, in order to ensure the highest quality personnel, collection, and library services in appellate court libraries and state law libraries. Members of the Government Law Libraries Section acknowledge that, because of the great variation in size and governance among appellate court and state law libraries, certain standards will be harder to achieve than others.

I. Governance

Operational and financial stability for appellate court and state law libraries is best achieved when mandated by law. The law will help the governing entity to establish the service direction of the library. That direction goes hand-in-hand with an experienced, educated, and capable director who serves as a member of the entity’s governing team. The responsibilities of the law library director should be clearly stated to aid in the fulfillment of the library’s written mission statement and goals. The law library should be recognized as a separate unit within state government. Unless there is a compelling reason to the contrary, the law library should be a part of the judicial branch. In those states where the law library is part of the state library or is under the executive or legislative branch, the law library should be recognized as a distinct unit within its governing authority.

  1. The position of the law library within the structure of state government should be defined by law. In addition, the law library should have a written mission statement and goals. The statements should reflect the statutory mandate.
  2. The law library director should be recognized as a part of the management team of the library’s governing authority and should participate in policy-making that affects library operations. The law library director should meet on a regular basis with his or her superiors to discuss and determine policy directions.
  3. The law library director should prepare the law library’s annual report and submit it to the governing authority.
  4. The law library director should initiate or be involved in planning and implementation of decisions that affect the provision of legal information, including but not limited to:
    1. Developing the mission statement and goals of the law library:
    2. Developing and administering the library budget;
    3. Building a useful collection, with print, non-print, and electronic resources;
    4. Participating in related library or government projects;
    5. Coordinating the implementation and upgrades of the library network;
    6. Hiring, or recommending for hire, personnel to assist users, service the collection, and perform all administrative functions required of the law library;
    7. Planning and staffing branch libraries, where appropriate;
    8. Designing and maintaining the physical facility;
    9. Coordinating outreach and partnerships within the organization and to the outside community;
    10. Developing and managing the library’s engagement in access to justice initiatives;
    11. Developing a succession plan for key personnel; and
    12. Managing all other library operations.

II. Budget

A budget quantitatively describes the appellate court library or state law library’s projected operations. The budgeting process typically begins with a strategic plan that library management will apply to develop a master budget. The budget should accurately reflect all costs associated with the operation of the library, including personnel, technological requirements, and physical facility. The library director is primarily responsible for drafting and managing the library budget. The library budget should be recognized as an integral part of its governing authority’s overall budget process. Greater flexibility than the guidelines below is acceptable when the law library is part of a state library with a lump sum budget.

  1. The budget of the law library should be separate and distinct from the budgets of other operations of its governing authority.
  2. The budget of the law library, prepared by the law library director, should be recognized as an integral part of its governing authority’s overall budget process. The budget should accurately reflect all costs associated with the operation of the law library including personnel, technology updates, and physical facility improvements. The law library’s budget request should be defended vigorously by the governing authority.
  3. The budget of the law library should be adequate to ensure a complete, up-to-date collection, including print, non-print, and electronic resources, new acquisitions, and sufficient qualified staff to maintain an acceptable level of library services described in these standards.
  4. The budget of the law library should include but not necessarily be limited to, the following categories:
    1. Personnel, including salaries, benefits, recruitment, and training;
    2. Collection, including print, non-print and electronic resources, with upkeep and subscriptions;
    3. Supplies, equipment, and appropriate technologies;
    4. Collection repair and preservation. This may include binding, cleaning, and archival materials.
    5. Resource sharing, including online bibliographic utilities and other library networks;
    6. Physical facility and maintenance;
    7. Appropriate and meaningful professional development which may include webinars, memberships, meetings, workshops, and, when possible, professional association annual educational events;
    8. Resources that support access to justice initiatives; and
    9. Other categories as may be defined by law or practice.

III. Personnel

A sufficient number of qualified personnel is essential to the smooth operation of an appellate court library or state law library and to the delivery of research services. These personnel should be integrated into the workforce of the governing entity when possible, and should receive the support necessary to fulfill the library’s mission.

  1. The law library should be staffed during all hours of operations with professional personnel who are qualified through education, training and experience. As necessary to their individual duties, staff should have expertise in administration, acquisitions, cataloging, reference, technology, and instruction, and other skills to meet the goals of the library’s mission. The Competencies of Law Librarianship established by the American Association of Law Libraries may be used as an additional guideline. The library should be provided with sufficient personnel to fulfill the library’s mission and meet user needs.
  2. The salaries of the library director and all other library personnel should be commensurate with their education, training, responsibilities and experience in keeping with comparable positions.
  3. The library director should select and evaluate library staff. At the discretion of the library director, other supervisory staff may participate in the selection and evaluation of staff. All library positions, including the library director, should be specifically established within the governing authority’s personnel classification system and covered by the governing entity’s personnel policy.
  4. All law librarians should hold a graduate degree in library or information science. A law degree meets the requirement if the librarian possesses substantial law library experience or relevant knowledge. It is critical that the law library director has substantial administrative experience or relevant knowledge of library management.
  5. Most appellate court libraries and state law libraries are organizations within a broader government entity. In those cases, personnel from the related entity should be accessible to the library staff to support administrative and information technology functions.
  6. All library staff should be given the opportunity to pursue a program of professional development that is relevant to the interests of the law library. Such opportunity should include financial assistance.
  7. The library staff should be encouraged to participate in relevant local, regional, and national professional associations. The law library’s budget should make provision for such membership dues, conference attendance, and other related professional engagement expenses.

IV. Facilities

An appellate court library or state law library should be conveniently located in the same complex or adjacent to the courts, legislative, and executive branches of state government. Coordinated connectivity to reliable electronic networks is a crucial component of access to electronic information.

The importance of a user-friendly orientation cannot be overstated. It is not enough to make current, accurate legal information available; the library has an obligation to provide facilities and technologies that help users to find and use the law. The library should make available directional information, systems, and spaces that facilitate learning and ease of use.

  1. The appellate court library or state law library should be housed in the same complex or in close proximity to the courts and to court-related self-help centers and other providers of access to justice services. Additional considerations include proximity to the legislative and executive branches of state government and efficient access by members of the bar and the general public. For any materials stored at off-site locations, the library should provide regular and dependable means for retrieving requested items.
  2. The law library’s facilities must meet various basic structural requirements necessary to adequately house and provide access to informational resources in a variety of formats. Attention should be given to existing building standards and floor load-bearing capacity. Shelving and collections should be arranged in a manner that allows for easy access to the collection, including by those with disabilities. Sufficient shelving and adequate growth space should be determined according to accepted standards of the library profession.
  3. Space and facilities should be provided for the use and storage of historical, non-print, and all other fragile materials under environmentally sound conditions.
  4. Suitable equipment, work space, and comfortable seating is required for the library staff and users. Proper lighting and temperature control including heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and humidity control also should be provided.
  5. There should be adequate security for the protection of library staff, users, and the collection.
  6. Conference areas, equipment for duplicating and transmitting documents, computers, hardware and software, telephones, sufficient electrical outlets, and sufficient data lines and networking capability for computer use and Internet access should be provided in the law library and supported by the library’s governing authority.
  7. The library should provide or have access to an appropriately-sized computer training facility to allow computer-assisted legal research instruction to users.
  8. Directories, library guides, and other signage to assist users should be provided in languages and formats most appropriate for the user population.
  9. The law library must meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 as amended or and may offer other reasonable accommodations to meet user and staff needs.

V. Access to Justice

The economic changes of the twenty-first century have forever altered the legal landscape. Although there are free legal services for the poor who qualify, the demand far outpaces the supply of legal services attorneys. Average attorneys’ fees for many common services are still more than what lower and middle income families can afford. As a result, a large percentage of Americans do not have adequate access to the civil justice system and need legal help to solve problems and resolve situations. Americans, accustomed to a do-it-yourself mindset, are also seeking to handle their own legal concerns. Increasing numbers of people who are unable or unwilling to hire attorneys have started looking for help at local libraries. Many court staff refer them to law librarians who are able to direct people to appropriate resources.

  1. The law library is in a unique and important position to identify the needs and abilities of those seeking redress before the courts.
  2. The contribution of library professional staff should be included in any planning or programming that concerns citizens’ access to justice.
  3. The law library should be open to the public for legal research purposes and provide access to materials and services for all users seeking access to justice through legal information.
  4. The law library should network and partner with others for improved information delivery to self-represented litigants and the public. Such contacts may include:
    1. Other court personnel;
    2. Community legal services;
    3. Public libraries;
    4. Local and state bar associations and pro bono programs;
    5. Law schools;
    6. County law libraries;
    7. Self-help or legal resource centers; and
    8. Other law libraries.

VI. Information Services

Appellate court libraries and state law libraries should provide access to legal information in a manner that is efficient, economical, reliable, and in accordance with accepted standards and measures of performance. Service should support all users seeking access to justice through legal information. By sharing with other libraries and service organizations, a library can increase the information available. Technology has proven essential in these endeavors as the use of technology greatly enhances the information available while providing service to remote users.

  1. The law library’s mission statement and its goals should identify its user groups and the levels of information service provided to each of them.
  2. The library should provide reference and research assistance to its designated user groups in accordance with its written reference policies. Users should be able to request assistance in person, as well as by telephone, mail, email and/or chat, and other technology appropriate for users.
  3. The law library should provide access to legal information in a manner that is efficient, economical, reliable, and responsive to user needs.
  4. The library should develop and make available written policies to ensure that the levels and types of services provided to its users are clearly understood by both library staff and users. Policies should cover reference and research assistance, circulation, use of in-house computers and online services, and services to off-site users. Policies which set out the types and scope of specific services should be posted on the library’s website and be readily available to in-house users.
  5. The library should maintain a website that provides information about the library and its services. The website should also provide access to the library’s online catalog, maintain links to law-related sites, particularly for its own state or jurisdiction, and provide information on topics of frequent interest to users.
  6. The library should provide Internet access for its in-house users and should publicly display its policies concerning appropriate use of library computers and online resources.

VII. Technical Services

Written policies should cover collection development, preservation, and disaster preparedness and recovery. These policies should be coordinated by the law library director and approved by the governing entity. The law library should provide resources in various formats to assist its diverse user groups. The library’s collection should be accessible to users through an online catalog allowing them to identify resources.

  1. Acquisitions
    1. The library should have a written collection development policy that includes criteria for the selection and retention of materials and provides for the handling of gifts. This policy should be formulated by the law library director in consultation with staff and users, and should be approved by the library’s governing authority.
    2. The library’s collection development policy should provide for acquiring materials in a variety of formats to best balance the needs of legal research with the realities of space limitations, preservation requirements, and cost. Libraries must focus on providing access to legal information by utilizing both print and digital sources.
    3. The law library director should have the ultimate responsibility for the selection, acquisition and disposal of materials in accordance with the collection development policy.
    4. Materials should be kept current by the acquisition of supplements and new editions. The library should purchase multiple copies or provide alternative access methods for heavily used materials. Superseded materials should be clearly labeled as such.
    5. The library should attempt to collect and retain a complete historical collection of its state’s primary law, i.e., constitutions, charters, statutes, ordinances, administrative regulations, court rules, and case law, as well as appropriate secondary sources. As a comprehensive legal research facility, the library should retain all superseded primary law and critical secondary sources of the home jurisdiction, because the collection may serve as a “last resort” for users seeking specific information. For all non-print collections, the library should ensure that it maintains the equipment and technology necessary to store, retrieve, access, and print.
    6. The law library director should have the authority to negotiate, or participate in the negotiation of, vendor contracts and to join library or other information networks and consortia to facilitate acquiring, sharing, digitizing, and providing access to legal information.
    7. Libraries should comply with all procurement policies and rules of their governing authority.
    8. An integrated library system should be used for technical services processes including acquisitions, serials, and cataloging. The acquisitions unit is used to order materials, track receipts and costs, and to report budget expenditures. The serials unit is used to track receipts and claim missing issues. The cataloging unit is used to catalog materials for the online catalog or OPAC.
  2. Cataloging
    1. The entire collection, including non-print materials, should be cataloged and classified in a system that promotes quick, easy retrieval of materials by both users and library staff. National standards for bibliographic records should serve as guidelines for cataloging and organizing materials. These standards are undergoing significant changes in preparation for a digital environment which expands access to the collection beyond the catalog. The Anglo-American Cataloging Rules (AACR2) have been replaced by Resource Description and Access (RDA), and the Machine Readable Cataloging (MARC) format will be replaced by BibFrame in future library catalogs.
    2. The library should subscribe to a library cooperative for cataloging, resource sharing, and other library services. Complete holdings information should be included in the records of the cataloging utility to facilitate the electronic exchange and sharing of resources.
    3. The law library director should have the authority to oversee the planning, funding, and implementation of computer networks linking the library’s online catalog, other library files, technical processing operations, community-based legal information sources, and other online information sources available from remote locations into a single web-based electronic information resource. These needs and capabilities may be coordinated with an information technology department outside the library, but the library staff must have direct control of all library systems.
  3. Collection Maintenance and Preservation
    1. The library’s collections should be maintained in good physical condition, including systematic book cleaning, repair, and binding where warranted. The library should establish preventive maintenance, preservation, and disaster recovery programs, plans, and policies.
    2. Preservation has three aspects: The first is preventing damage from occurring. The second is the repair of damage already done to prevent further deterioration and to make the content available for future users. The third is the assurance of future availability of material for users. Consideration should be given to possible filming, scanning, or re-printing of important local resources.
    3. The preservation of born-digital information and otherwise digitized information should be a primary component of the library’s mission. Frequent routine backup of all electronic system information, including the library’s integrated library system, is required. Copies of backups must be maintained in secure off-site locations.

VIII. Collection

The library’s collection development policy should be based on the library’s mission statement and should address the scope of the collection, appropriate formats, selection criteria, collection maintenance, and deaccessioning. The collection development policy is used not only to set out the parameters of the library’s collection, but also to justify the library’s budget requests and space requirements. Particular consideration should be given to maintaining historical and superseded materials if the library serves as a library of last resort.

The library should provide print or electronic access to the following resources which form the basis of a strong core collection for an appellate court library or state law library. Format selection and language options should be driven foremost by user needs and preferences. The list may be used as a checklist for collection evaluation purposes, but should not be used to limit the scope or development of a collection that meets or exceeds the standards. The librarians should remain knowledgeable of available formats and be diligent in acquiring alternate formats as needs change.

Alternative forms of publication or cooperative agreements with libraries within a reasonable geographic area will satisfy the collection requirements if staff is available to assist users in effectively accessing remotely stored resources. Participation in federal and state depository programs enables the library to develop both essential primary and useful secondary collections.

Whenever possible, the library should provide access to reliable websites that provide access to case, statutory, and administrative law as well as forms, treatises, and other material from the primary jurisdictions serving the library’s user community.

  1. Home State Resources
    1. Legislative
      1. All editions of the state constitution;
      2. All constitutional convention proceedings and any related materials on the history and adoption of the state’s constitutions;
      3. Current official statutes and all prior editions;
      4. Annotated statutes, if not the same as the official version, and all prior editions;
      5. Current and historical session laws;
      6. Complete set of legislative journals;
      7. All legislative manuals; and
      8. Municipal and county codes, plus all superseded editions.
    2. Administrative
      1. Attorney General opinions;
      2. State administrative code, plus all superseded versions;
      3. Complete set of administrative registers; and
      4. State agency decisions.
    3. Judicial
      1. All published and unpublished appellate court decisions;
      2. Appellate court briefs;
      3. Current court rules and all superseded editions;
      4. Annual reports of the state court administrator; and
      5. Other reports, directories, and guides of a relevant judicial nature.
    4. Finding aids and other secondary resources
      1. Case law searchable by subject;
      2. State legal encyclopedia;
      3. State citator;
      4. State government manual;
      5. Significant treatises, form books, and practice books, plus all superseded editions;
      6. State and local bar associations’ publications; and
      7. Legal periodicals and newspapers.
    5. Depository status
      1. Many states have state depository programs and participation is encouraged if available to appellate court and state law libraries.
  2. Federal Resources
    1. Legislative
      1. Statutes at Large;
      2. Current United States Code, plus an annotated version; and
      3. Materials for researching federal legislative history, such as United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN).
    2. Administrative
      1. Federal Register;
      2. Code of Federal Regulations;
      3. Opinions of the U.S. Attorney General;
      4. Selected federal agency decisions; and
      5. United States Government Manual.
    3. Judicial
      1. Official United States Reports and one unofficial reporter of decisions of the United States Supreme Court;
      2. All published decisions of the U.S. District Courts, U.S. Courts of Appeal, and U.S. Bankruptcy Courts;
      3. At least one published reporter of federal rules decisions; and
      4. Federal court rules for federal circuit and district courts of the home state jurisdiction.
    4. Finding aids and other secondary resources
      1. Federal case law searchable by subject; and,
      2. Citators for reports and codes.
    5. Depository status
      1. The Federal Depository Library Program provides access to many primary federal legal materials in print format and electronic access is available on the Federal Digital System (FDsys)/govinfo. The highest appellate court library in each state is eligible for depository membership, as are state libraries.
  3. National Publications
    1. Access to the legislative, administrative, and judicial information from other states, particularly those sharing the same legal history or geography as the home state;
    2. Selected finding aids and other secondary resources, legal encyclopedias, American Law Reports, citators, Restatements, and law reviews;
    3. Basic collection of current legal texts and treatises;
    4. Legal reference tools, including dictionaries, compilations of legal abbreviations and legal quotations, and a law directory; and
    5. General reference tools, including dictionaries, thesauri, atlases, and almanacs.