The Law Library Story Isn’t About Resources

There has been a flurry of news pieces in the last few weeks about courthouse and county law libraries: here, here, and here for starters.  They shared a common thread:  look at all the great resources we have in the law library!  While the only bad press may be no press, this sort of law library marketing misses an important point.  Content is usually not the distinguishing feature of a law library.  If that is the value you offer – a collection of content or access points to it – then your library is fungible.

Every law library will have computerized access to primary law and most to secondary law.  It is still common to find extensive secondary texts in print in most law libraries, whether they come from the big legal publishers, the ABA, or public-oriented ones like Nolo.

When you market a library by listing the resources available, you miss an opportunity to distinguish yourself.  Lawyers who see the promotional materials may just say, “Oh, I’ve already got that”, and the public may not understand what the resources can do for them.

The hard question to ask:  is that all you provide?  If it is, why can’t a public library or a simple Web page, in the case of online resources, replace what your law library does?

A better approach is to try to explain the impact of using the services – reference help, expert searching, merely providing an extra set of hands to a busy professional – rather than the tools that are involved.  Once you’ve worked in a law library for any amount of time, you will have a greater facility than most lawyers – and the vast majority of  self-represented people – to use those tools. Tell the story of how you can save library users time or money, or how you’ll make them more self-sufficient or informed.

Those are the stories to tell: the ones that reinforce that it’s not the space, or the physical books, or the databases that make your law library valuable.  It’s you.

David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.