PUBLIC LIBRARY COLLECTION GUIDELINES FOR A STATE AND LOCAL LAW COLLECTION
You may find that the majority of patrons looking for legal materials in your library will have concerns that involve state or local law rather than federal law. Therefore, it is very important that your state law collection be as comprehensive, current, and accessible as possible.
In general, a comprehensive state/local law collection should contain or have ready access to the following types of publications: state statutes, regulations, local city/county ordinances, good state practice materials, state form books, and directories (both legal and governmental).
Case materials may be costly and space prohibitive, but know that if a patron is researching a topic, cases are a primary source that must be checked (they plus statutes and regulations consitute “the law”), so a referral to a local public law library would be appropriate. Many libraries in courts and publicly funded law schools are open to the public; call before referring patrons.
Types of Materials
DESCRIPTION: Some states publish their own statutes, and some are published by a commercial vendor. If cost isn’t too prohibitive, an annotated version would be the preferable set to have, because it will list summaries of cases that were decided about the statute.
INTERNET: More and more states are putting their statutes on the internet. To find them, you could either go to your state web page (will usually follow a format like http://www.state.xx.us/ (substitute the postal abbreviation of the state you are looking for in place of the xx), or you could go to a site that will index the state information for you like the website called Legal Information Institute through Cornell Law School.
RESEARCH TIPS: The thing to be careful of with statutes is that you have them updated to the current version. For several months out the year, there may be a legislative session going on the same time you are researching. After the legislative session is over, it may take months to update the pocket parts. Make sure you are updating your statutes to as current as possible. Also, many patrons may be looking for bills in the current session, that haven’t made it into the state statutes. The best place generally to find bills is on the internet site for your state.
DESCRIPTION: The agencies within your state will publish regulations. If you can get a copy from your state, these are usually less expensive to maintain, and can be very helpful to your patrons.
INTERNET: The internet has been great for the publishing of regulations. Even bigger law libraries who were unable to purchase the regulations for each state are now finding that there are more and more state regulations available at no cost on the internet. State regulations are available on the Legal Information Institute by Cornell Law School.
RESEARCH TIPS: Regulations are also being revised all the time. Make sure you have the most current version possible. Most states have an administrative register or bulletin that updates their regulations; you must consult this resource to update the regulation you are researching.
DESCRIPTION: Court decisions are generally published for cases that make it to the appellate level. Only a few states will publish trial court decisions. Once a case is published it is then arranged chronologically in books called reporters. State cases can be an expensive set to maintain, depending upon whether you can buy your state cases directly from your state government (generally less expensive) or whether you go through a commercial vendor.
INTERNET: More and more states are putting their cases on the internet, though retrospective coverage is generally not good. Again, as with the statutes, you could go to the site called Legal Information Institute, and see if your state cases are listed there.
RESEARCH TIP: In order to determine if a case is still good law, you must perform a process called Shepardizing or KeyCiting. This process will tell you the subsequent history of your case, and will tell you how later courts have treated your case. To do this, you can either purchase set of Shepard’s Citators (available in paper) for the case series you are interested in. To Shepardize on the internet, the cost is $4.95 per cite. The paper set may be cost prohibitive for the amount of times your patrons may use it. Patrons should be referred to a local public law library to Shepardize. Instructions on how to Shepardize are listed on the updating page.
DESCRIPTION: Counties and cities within your area will publish ordinances (sometimes called codes). These will be helpful for your patrons to have because they contain laws on everything from traffic offenses to snow removal (unless you are in a sunny climate). The best way to find out who publishes your local codes or ordinances is to contact the city/county recorder or attorney and ask them.
INTERNET: There are a couple of sites on the internet that are starting to compile ordinances, such as the Municipal Code site.
RESEARCH TIPS: Currency is always a question with ordinances, so wherever you obtain your set, make sure you know the updating policy. For example, one publisher sends out notices that certain sections have been updated, but doesn’t actually send the section language changes that have occurred until they have enough to make a mailing. You (or the patron) can always check with the city or county to make sure you have the latest copy.
DESCRIPTION: Court rules govern the operations of the courts (and people bringing cases within those courts), and may either come as a separate volume with your state statutes or be contained within the statute set and not separated out. Thomson Reuters publishes one volume softbound versions of many state court rules.
INTERNET: Many states are putting their court rules on the Internet. To find them, you could either go to your state web page or go to a site that indexes state information like Legal Information Institute by Cornell Law School or the National Center for State Courts.
RESEARCH TIPS: There may also be cases decided about particular court rules, so if you have an option, always use an annotated court rule set.
DESCRIPTION: If you are lucky, your state will have what are called “practice materials”. These materials are meant to help people bringing cases in particular areas, and can be extremely helpful. For example, if there is a book on Family Law in your state, it should contain references to the most important cases and statutes in the area, and may even have forms. You should make a concerted effort to obtain any practice materials for your state. Contact the reference desk at your local public law library to see if they can give you suggestions as to the most helpful practice materials for your state.
INTERNET: Many state bar associations publish practice materials. Consult your state’s bar association homepage for publication information. To locate your state bar associations page, check ABA Lawlink at https://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_services/flh-home/flh-bar-directories-and-lawyer-finders/.
RESEARCH TIPS: Often, the updating on practice materials may be slow or non-existent. Out-of-date practice materials can be deadly to a person’s case, because patrons may rely too much on the text and do not go back to the cases, statutes, or regulations to see if they have been changed, or to see if they are still good law. It is always good to point out the date of the book to the patron, and indicate that the legislature may have updated any statutes mentioned, or a new case may have come out, so the patron can check for those.
DESCRIPTION: Patrons often come in looking for state specific forms and sometimes these are the hardest items to find for them, unless you are lucky enough to live in a state where they have a lot of good practice materials. The first place to check for forms would be to see if there are any forms included in with your state practice materials. Sometimes, there will also be forms within the statute sets, either close to the court rules, or sometimes as a statute itself (the legislature will lay out the language of a quit claim deed, or a living will). If you can’t find the forms you need there, you may have to rely on more generic forms. There are often forms included in the self-help legal books.
INTERNET: Several internet form sites are starting to pop up. Check out Findlaw or you can also check through your local court websites to see if they have put forms up on their sites as well.
RESEARCH TIP: This is an area that can feel uncomfortable to a reference librarian. The reason why is that very rarely can you say “for sure” this is the form that will do what the patron wants. And really, the patron is wishing you just sold fill-in-the blank forms. Many times, the patron will need to ask whoever they are going to present the form to (be it court or agency) if the format will be acceptable.
DESCRIPTION: Directories need no introduction, and the following types of directories would be helpful to your patrons and should be available for you to obtain from your State Bar (or they would know who publishes it), and from Government Agencies.
- A directory of attorneys in your area.
- Government phone directories
- Listing of any Public Law Libraries in your area and their addresses and phone numbers. (you may have to compile this one yourself by calling around – when you do, make sure to note their policies about serving the public.)
INTERNET: For Attorney Directories. Many state bars are beginning to put their membership rolls on the internet. A place that compiles a listing of state bars on the web is at ABA.
RESEARCH TIPS: For Attorney Directories. There is often an interest by patrons in finding out attorney performance records. The paper Martindale Hubbell Law Directory will assign attorney’s ratings, and they will list the criteria for ranking at the beginning of the Martindale Hubbell volume. Otherwise, calling the local bar association and seeing if they have a lawyer referral program may be an option (the Bar may also be able to tell the patron if there has been disciplinary action against the attorney).
Government Phone Directories. Although it is nice to have a phone directory just for the government offices, your patron could also check the blue pages of their local phone book. One handy reference book to have in this area that covers multiple states is the State Yellow Book published by Leadership Directories, 212-627-4140.
State-specific Public Library Toolkits
Visit the listing of state-specific public library toolkits.