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Let’s Kill All the Law Libraries

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For the past 20 years, at least, law school deans, legislators, law firm managers, lobbyists, jail and prison managers, among others, have been asking why their organizations need law libraries, and heaven forbid, law librarians. After all, “isn’t all the law online?”

My brief response is:

1) No, it’s not all online; only a fraction of it is, and most of that is just online versions of (allegedly official and current) primary sources and a lot of very bad “legal advice”. In other words, the easy-stuff is online, but not the right-stuff (that treatise, that superceded statute, that legislative history, etc.). And, if you don’t know how to use these primary sources in any format, print or otherwise (i.e. do legal research!), woe to those of you who try to make sense of these materials, e.g. the Oregon Laws, online.

2) If all legal questions (which for real people are really legal PROBLEMS) could be answered online (without professional guidance or intervention or an extremely expensive legal database subscription), why would you need lawyers?

3) Oh, yes, one final point. You can be rootin’, tootin’ sure that when all those law school deans, legislators, law firm managers, lobbyists, jail and prison managers, etc. have legal problems of their own, they are on the phone to their very own lawyers, who we (law librarians) see later, uh, IN THE LAW LIBRARY.

There are much longer responses to people who say, “it’s all online,” when thinking it will save money to get rid of the law library, but I’ll leave those for future posts. If you need one more reason now though, read this post on Oregon Legal Forms, especially the parts about what it can cost you if you don’t do the research or consult an attorney.

(Aside: A lot of non-lawyers ask this question about their public libraries too. I usually assume that these are not people who do a lot of reading or research or even have children. But this is a problem our local public librarians will and do address. My local libraries (thank you to Multnomah County and Washington County!) are filled with readers, researchers, parents, and children, most of whom also have access to good bookstores and Internet access at home and school, but still find they need the public library. Go figure.)