December 2013 Bar Bulletin
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The Law Library in 2020


Recently I was reflecting on the role of the law library and how it has changed over time. Our enabling statute states that the Board of Trustees shall have power to "purchase books, periodicals and other property suitable for the library." In 1919, when the statute was enacted, other property may have included typewriters.

Over time, libraries purchased information on microfilm and microfiche. Then they bought computers, first for the staff and then for public use. Later, law libraries provided access to services such as Westlaw and Lexis, both for attorneys and the public.

Our statute states that a law library like us, in a county as large as King County, provides services to the bench and the bar, as well as the public. Fifteen years ago, when I first joined the Public Law Library of King County, about 60 percent of the users of the Seattle library were attorneys. Visitors to the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC) were split 50/50 between attorneys and public patrons.

Now, about 60 percent of our Seattle users and 70 percent of our MRJC users are public patrons. Probably the biggest reason for this demographic shift is the advent of electronic services and the Internet. Attorneys have at their fingertips access to statutes, cases and court rules, while members of the public are more aware of the presence of a law library due to the searching capabilities of the Internet.

What's next? Joseph Janes, an associate professor and chair of the MLIS program at the University of Washington Information School, published Library 2020: Today's Leading Visionaries Describe Tomorrow's Library (Scarecrow Press, 2013). Janes called on 23 prominent librarians across the country to write a short essay that begins "The library in 2020 will be..."

In reviewing these essays, I found several themes that apply to public law libraries, academic libraries and public libraries:

1. Libraries are the gatherers of information, regardless of the format. Materials in the library have expanded from print to microfiche/microfilm, audio, visual (such as DVDs), to virtual.

2. Libraries not only support their communities, but they also partner with key community entities. Communities are not just towns or cities, but people interested in similar things, such as law, chemistry, business, etc.

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