Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Decline In Enrollment & The Impact On Law Librarians

Much has been written about the decline in enrollment, and law schools are seeing their smallest incoming classes since the 1970s. We also have a reputable investor service, Moody's, telling us that this downturn is not cyclical but rather a fundamental change in legal education.

We have seen faculty and staff cuts at some schools, and I suspect that will continue. And I can't help but wonder what this means for law librarians. The conferences that I have attended over the last five years usually have at least some programming dealing with alternative careers and the need for law librarians to promote their worth. Something doesn't sit right about all of this - especially in the new legal economy.

According to the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools 2013-2014, a law library and law librarians are essential functions of a law school.

CHAPTER 6 of the Standards covers Library and Information Resources.

Standard 601. GENERAL PROVISIONS 
(a) A law school shall maintain a law library that is an active and responsive force in the educational life of the law school. A law library’s effective support of the school’s teaching, scholarship, research and service programs requires a direct, continuing and informed relationship with the faculty, students and administration of the law school.
(b) A law library shall have sufficient financial resources to support the law school’s teaching, scholarship, research, and service programs. These resources shall be supplied on a consistent basis.
(c) A law school shall keep its library abreast of contemporary technology and adopt it when appropriate.
Interpretation 601-1 
Cooperative agreements may be considered when determining whether faculty and students have efficient and effective access to the resources necessary to meet the law school’s educational needs. Standard 601 is not satisfied solely by arranging for students and faculty to have access to other law libraries within the region, or by providing electronic access. 

This is an important standard that has come under attack as being too expensive to maintain. And some have called for the end of print, but as you can see in the interpretation of Standard 601-1, the Standard is not satisfied solely by providing electronic access. It does appear from practice, however, that the interpretation of Standard 601 has changed to allow for more electronic access with some accredited-school libraries moving in that direction.

Standard 604 deals with the law library personnel, including law librarians.

Standard 604. PERSONNEL 
The law library shall have a competent staff, sufficient in number to provide appropriate library and informational resource services.
Interpretation 604-1 
Factors relevant to the number of librarians and informational resource staff needed to meet this Standard include the following: the number of faculty and students, research programs of faculty and students, a dual division program in the school, graduate programs of the school, size and growth rate of the collection, range of services offered by the staff, formal teaching assignments of staff members, and responsibilities for providing informational resource services. 

As you can see from the interpretation of Standard 604, the relevant factors include the number of faculty and students. This means that if there are fewer students and fewer faculty, it is likely that some law librarians may be displaced. 

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