September 2012 Bar Bulletin
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September 2012 Bar Bulletin

Laboring Under a Misapprehension

By Kris Henderson
Reference Services Librarian


You have probably heard that libraries, including law libraries, are no longer necessary because "it," meaning legal information in our case, is "all available online." Implicit in that notion is the belief that legal information is all available online for free. Persisting in the belief that legal information is all available online - and for free - is laboring under a misapprehension.

My colleague Rick Stroup did a fine job of addressing the myth that all legal information is available online in his January Bar Bulletin column, "Rumors of Our Death Have Been Greatly Exagger­ated." In addition to dispelling that myth, he explained the need for a mix of print and online resources; for example, some people are not able to use online resources. And many of them are not free.

Although having a publication available online has its advantages, having it available only online limits the number of people who can use it at any one time. In addition, at present, the online information that we pay for is not portable; people cannot use it in their homes or offices, as they would a book. Also, our print collection comes from many publishers and the cost of subscribing to online alternatives, if they were available, would be prohibitive.

The purpose of this article is to tell (or remind) readers about some of the specific information at the Public Law Library that is not online at all, and provide some idea of the cost of our online subscription databases and print resources.

Not online at all: Many archival materials

The Public Law Library is a repository of archival materials that are invaluable in researching Washington, King County and Seattle legislative history; the history of a Washington regulation or court rule; or the reasoning and authorities underlying a Washington Supreme Court case.

For example, researching the history of a Washington statute involves reviewing both the House and Senate journals for the legislative session of enactment. The earliest year available online is 1993. We have a complete set of those journals in print from 1907 to the present and selected volumes going back to territorial times.

You may also need to look at a statute as it existed in an old statutory compilation - think Ballinger's or the Remington Code. We have a good collection of those, as well as a complete set of the historical RCWs.

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