Introduction to Public Law Libraries

Introduction to Public Law Libraries

Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2184-8.ch001
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Abstract

Representing the smallest special library category, public law libraries serve the largest and most widely diversified constituency. They also have a convoluted developmental history that makes a simple definition impossible to determine. In this chapter, the authors define the public law library, review the history of law librarianship and public law library development, examine the field’s standing within librarianship, and reflect on future trends.
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History

Because history influences the definition of the public law library and public law librarianship, the public law library movement is fraught with confusion and contradiction. The wide variation of local, state and federal laws; regulations and user demands means that public law libraries did not develop linearly, but rather simultaneously in a wide variety of venues, shapes and forms. While government movers and shakers followed their own law library paths at the state and federal levels, those in need of similar resources at the local level began with informal personal and private law libraries, often sharing those resources with friends and colleagues. Eventually this informal sharing expanded to the more formally structured bar association and society libraries, some of which later developed into today’s public law libraries. As American society became more complex and laws changed, paper in the form of written opinions and statutory laws proliferated and the legal publishing industry was born. The increase in courtroom activity and legal publishing meant heavier research demands on the legal and judicial systems. Then, as now, costs increased along with the proliferation of legal publishing and researchers realized that it was no longer practical, financially or physically, to maintain complete personal libraries. As social issues became government concerns, more laws were written and researchers and librarians discovered research could no longer be limited to law only resources such as statutes and opinions. Lawyers now needed to determine not only whether a plaintiff was treated fairly when his supervisor fired him for failing to call in each day despite his having previously notified that same supervisor he would be out all week due to a family emergency; but he now needed to research both state and federal employment law, review the plaintiff’s contract with the employer and understand the role of the plaintiff’s union contract if the plaintiff belonged to a union.

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